Another angle on bike helmets

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An interesting op-ed in The New York Times had ACSH staffers questioning the mantra: Always wear a helmet while riding a bike!

The piece pointed out that numerous European cities are taking part in bike-sharing programs, which notably reduce traffic and carbon emissions while obviously providing physical benefits for cyclists. As a number of American cities have begun implementing similar programs, ACSH supported the initiative until we found out in May that 80 percent of riders do not use helmets. As ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan pointed out at the time, head injury accounts for about a third of all bicycle injuries and about three-quarters of bicycle related deaths, thus helmets should be more readily available at bike rental kiosks.

But not so fast, writes Elisabeth Rosenthal in her Times analysis: Recent experience suggests that if a city wants bike-sharing to really take off, it may have to allow and accept helmet-free riding. Rosenthal also cites an interesting comparison between Melbourne, Australia and Dublin, Ireland. The Aussie two-year-old bike-sharing program requires helmet use and has only about 150 rides a day, even though Melbourne is flat, with broad roads and a temperate climate. Dublin, on the other hand, has no requirement for helmet use and is cold, cobbled and hilly, but ironically, has more than 5,000 daily rides in its bike-sharing program, which has only been around for one year longer than Melbourne s. It is, however, important to note that children are required to wear helmets in many European countries.
Piet de Jong, a professor of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, believes that pushing helmets really kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn t justified in fact, cycling has many health benefits. Indeed, using mathematical modeling, he found that the benefits may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.
Thus, with statistics like these, it appears that for adults, the benefits of riding without a helmet may, surprisingly, outweigh the potential for risk.