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Posts Tagged ‘helmets’

JBSN5A recent NY Times headline reads: Experts Back Mandatory Bike Helmets but Not All Cyclists Are Sold. This headline refers to that awful NTSB decision to recommended mandatory helmet laws. Looking at the official NTSB bio’s, it is unclear why the NY Times uses the term “experts” as neither the NTSB staff nor Board members have professional background in bicycle planning. Dr. Ivan Cheung, who wrote the NTSB report on bicycle helmets, previously worked for the insurance lobby. 

Of course the actual bike safety experts — who are are in places like Copenhagen and the Netherlands — specifically recommend against bicycle helmets. So contrary to the headline, bicycle advocates and the actual professionals are very much in agreement on the helmet issue.

However the press cannot be entirely blamed for mis-reporting, because the American cycling community has put out a confusing message:

The League of American Bicyclists, an advocacy group based in Washington, is opposed to that idea. “We certainly promote helmets,” Ken McLeod, the league’s policy director, said. “Helmets do make individual bicyclists safer. We just think a mandatory helmet law is the wrong policy for federal or state governments to pursue.”

It is incorrect to claim helmets make bicyclists safer. According to the NHTSA, virtually all bicycle fatalities involve a motor vehicle — and bicycle helmets are not designed to protect against motor vehicle collisions. It says so in the CPSC specs. Moreover motor vehicle collisions are not part of the helmet testing protocol (if they were, then every helmet would fail).

It is irresponsible for a cycling organization to promote a piece of safety equipment that is ineffective. Not only does this misinform, but it leads to this confusion. The general public doesn’t understand why cyclists are opposed helmet laws when cycling organizations themselves are promoting helmets as valuable safety gear. Cycling organizations need to be clear on the reason for opposing helmet laws: helmets don’t work.

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It is curious how it is cyclists who can get their vehicle confiscated, but rarely car owners:

PEABODY, MA — Police confiscated bikes from more than 30 kids who were riding without a helmet Thursday morning as part of “a concerted effort to educate those children who are riding their bicycles in an unsafe manner.” The crackdown comes after complaints in social media forums for Peabody residents about kids riding bikes. Children who had their bikes taken by police were told they could get it back by going to the Peabody Police Station with a parent.

 

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Because riding in 100+ degree desert heat with a helmet is so comfortable:

Assembly Bill 187, which was introduced on the Assembly Floor on Monday, would require that anyone 17 years old or younger to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle, scooter, roller skates or something similar. The bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel, D-Henderson, and is co-sponsored by four Assembly Democrats from Las Vegas: Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, Bea Duran, Ozzie Fumo and Connie Munk.

One of the things that differentiates children from adults is that children don’t have the ability to make these decisions for themselves. So I want to make sure that they’re safe,” Spiegel added.

Apparently, Spiegel does not believe parents have the ability to make decisions for their kids either.

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Electric scooter-sharing is revolutionizing transport in California cities. But riding e-scooters without helmets is also illegal. California vehicle code (CVC 21235) requires all operators of motorized scooters to wear helmets. This will inevitably lead to selective police harassment:

Since Lime — formerly known as LimeBike — brought its fleet of 250 electric scooters to South Lake Tahoe earlier this month, the machines have been a controversial topic of conversation — much like the green bikes when they first arrived on South Shore last summer.

From a law enforcement standpoint, though, the arrival of the e-scooters has been complicated. “It’s both a public safety concern and a compliance with the law concern,” said South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brian Uhler.

Take a quick drive down U.S. 50 in South Lake Tahoe, and it’s not difficult to see almost every single one of those rules being broken. “The simple reality is that most people who come to visit Tahoe are not traveling with their bicycle helmet. At any given time there are probably 100 people riding around town without a helmet or two people on the scooter,” said Uhler. “I have limited police resources to address this. We will enforce violations that are egregious, but we can’t cite them all.”

California’s mandatory helmet law was passed over a decade ago, long before the advent of scooter-sharing. The law was passed with no debate, and without any data showing motorized scooters were causing head injuries. Mandatory helmet laws helped kill off early bike-share experiments, so it is imperative to remove this provision in the vehicle code.

 

 

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France has taken a u-turn in its efforts to promote safe and convenient cycling. Thanks to a new law, kids aged 12 and under will be required to wear bike helmet. Failure to do so risks a whopping 135 euro fine. The rule applies even to kids riding in a bike trailer.

The new law was announced at the end of 2016 and is part of a raft of measures contained in a report published last October by a government committee for road safety, following a recent rise in road fatalities. The other measures include fines for drivers caught using their mobile phones while driving and stiffer penalties for speeding.

Youth helmet bills are largely based off a law passed by California back in 1994. The California law has been quite ineffective, and yet it is still being used as a model.

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You see these stories in the news all the time. A bicyclist gets hit by a car and suffers a major head injury. It could have been much worse, we are told, but thankfully he was wearing a helmet. A shattered bike helmet is shown, with the implication that this could have happened to his skull:

helmet

While pictures like this are scary and dramatic, they are actually further evidence that bike helmets are ineffective. This helmet did not function in the way it was intended. In fact, it failed spectacularly.

Let’s review the physics of a bike helmet. They are constructed out of polystyrene foam (styrofoam) which is supposed to compress in a collision. This compression spreads the force out and reduces the acceleration of the brain as it smashes into the inside of the skull. At least that is how it is supposed to work — under ideal laboratory conditions where the impact force is perpendicular to the helmet. Actual collisions are chaotic events involving complex interactions. When subject to an oblique impact, the styrofoam will typically crack and break off without compressing. This is what appears to have occurred in the helmet shown above. If there is no compression, then it is unlikely the helmet absorbed the impact.

What is unfortunate about these kinds of news stories is that they give false hope about the effectiveness of bike helmets. And rarely do these stories ever mention the dangerous road infrastructure that caused the crash to happen in the first place.

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We all know that mandatory helmet laws discourage cycling. But even after such laws are repealed, the effects can linger:

The city of Dallas has decided that Edward Adkins doesn’t need a bicycle helmet or a bogus fine and arrest warrant hanging over his head.

Adkins received a $10 ticket for failing to wear a bicycle helmet in September 2014, even though the Dallas City Council had changed the city’s safety ordinance months earlier to only apply to minors. Adkins said he couldn’t afford the ticket, which caused the fine to balloon to $259 and turn into a warrant for his arrest.

Adkins said he didn’t show up to court because he didn’t have the money to pay and thought he was guilty. He didn’t know the law didn’t require him to wear a helmet until a reporter told him.

He ended up giving away his bicycle because he didn’t want to pay for a helmet.

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