No new helmets!

Here’s an article by a good friend of mine arguing against bicycle helmet safety laws. The basic argument is that forcing people wear helmets suppresses bicycle use, even though when a lot of people in one place ride bikes, they’re all safer for it. The net effect of these laws, then, is a negative one. I’m sympathetic to the overall argument: I would wager that the number of bike riders on the UCSD campus would plummet if they were forced to wear helmets (even if it was just the laziness factor here), and I’ve personally noticed that bicycle density really does seem to make drivers more aware.

I only have a couple of comments. First, the example of Western Australian children is a poor one. When you go from 80% to 5% of children riding their bikes, I’m guessing it’s not due to some helmet-wearing death spiral. Clearly something else culturally is going on here, and by overstating the case it makes me more suspicious of the rest of the argument. I would also take exception with the quote “We can either promote cycling or we can promote helmets. We cannot do both.” Really? I mean, you can’t promote general bicycle safety at the same time as bicycle use? Just because helmet laws might be a net negative, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be promoting safe practices.

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