On billboards, buses, and bus stops, Californians have been inundated with fear-mongering advertisements, like the one shown below. They come from the First-Five which collects 50-cent per pack of cigarettes to fund various child welfare programs.
Children wearing bike helmets are featured prominently in the billboards. Rather than promote cycling as a healthy activity for youngsters, the image gives negative portrayal of bikes. Surely any activity that involves crash helmets can’t be good for kids, right? Of course, the statistics say otherwise. Helmets are now known to be completely worthless as crash protection, and their widespread promotion are attributed with decline in popularity of cycling.
Compare California’s public service advertisement with those found in Holland — where bicycling is heavily promoted as fun, healthful activity. No helmets are ever seen on posters or TV advertisements. Indeed, Dutch planners actively discourage the promotion of bike helmets as a safety measure.
By far, the greatest risk to kids isn’t drowning, walking to school, or riding bikes (as implied by the posters), but childhood obesity. Traffic engineering and suburban development have shrunk the environment available to kids. As a result, incidence of childhood diabetes and heart disease have exploded in the US largely due to kids’ sedentary behavior — and fears parents have about allowing their kids out of the house to ride bikes.