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Do all-ages helmet laws work? An update from Vancouver, WA

Posted by on November 24th, 2010 at 11:43 am

What happens in places that have a mandatory, all-ages helmet law on the books? Do injury rates decline? Does bike ridership go down? That’s the conventional wisdom; but is it true? Nearly three years after passing such an ordinance, the effect of Vancouver’s helmet law is difficult to ascertain. Our Vancouver correspondent Marcus Griffith took a closer look and found some surprising results.

Former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard brought his
own helmet to city council to make
his case for an all-ages helmet law
back in 2008.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Passed by city council in 2008, Vancouver’s all-ages helmet law has largely gone unenforced and, it seems, widely ignored. Bike use continues to climb in the city and for some reason, a local hospital reports that bike-related head injuries are actually on the increase.

According to Vancouver Police Department (VPD) spokesperson Kim Kapp, enforcing the helmet law is a “low priority,” when compared to responding to 9-1-1 calls. Judging by how few violations have been issued, it seems most patrol officers would agree with her.

Between January and October 2010, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) issued a total of 20 citations for violating the helmet ordinance, according to Kapp. (The specific type of activity — biking, skateboarding, and so on — the person was doing when cited was not immediately available.)

“One of the concerns [with the helmet law] was that it would discourage bicycling, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.”
— Todd Boulanger, a former transportation planner for the City of Vancouver

In addition to the formal citations, the police department has conducted “a lot of public education” and given numerous warnings, but according to Kapp, the warnings would be “verbal in nature” and not tracked by police or court records.

Although Kapp highlighted the public safety aspect of the law, she pointed out the helmet law provides a valid reason for a law enforcement officer to stop someone riding without a helmet who is suspected of a more serious crime.

Such was the case, Kapp said, when a VPD officer arrested 46 year old Harold Akey in late October for suspicion of several home robberies.

“The patrol officer noticed that [Akey] seemed out of place loaded down with a large bag and a really nice bike,” said Kapp.

Vancouver Helmet Law Protest Ride-13.jpg
Riding helmetless as part of a protest ride
against the law in March 2008.

Akey’s lack of a helmet while biking is what allowed the officer to stop and investigate his suspicions, according to Kapp. It turned out that not only did Akey have a duffle bag full of stolen property; the bike he was riding was also stolen, according to Kapp. Akey plead guilty to felony charges related to the incident a few days ago.

With the relative lack of enforcement and limited outreach, it should come as no surprise that the helmet law has little influence on helmet use.

According to city staff, the City of Vancouver allocated $5,000 for public outreach and the purchase of helmets: $3,200 was spent in 2008 and $1,800 in 2009. However, due to budget constraints, the police and city personnel involved in the outreach program were laid off and could not be reached for comment.

Bike-related Head Injuries*
in the ER at Southwest
Washington Medical Center
(*whether or not a helmet was
used is not known):
  • 2007: 98
  • 2008: 109 (helmet law went
    into effect in 2/08)
  • 2009: 123
  • 2010: 129 (so far)
  • An informal survey of 37 adult cyclists in the Vancouver area was conducted by the author last week. No respondent indicated the helmet law was a factor in deciding helmet use and 12 (32%) indicated they didn’t know Vancouver had an all-ages helmet law.

    Interesting enough, while 24 (65%) of the respondents stated he or she wore a helmet at least most of the time when cycling, only 3 (8%) of respondents reported favoring the all-ages helmet law. Nine (24%) stated they rarely, or never, wore a helmet.

    The results of the survey did not surprise Vancouver resident and daily bike rider Todd Boulanger, who’s also former Senior Transportation Planner for the City of Vancouver.

    “There is a weakness in local, versus state, implementation of a law,” said Boulanger, who commented as a private citizen and not as a representative of the city or any other company.

    “My analysis was that the helmet law would be a great third or fourth step [in promoting cycling safety] but there were other options that would be more effective,” said Boulanger.

    Enforcing state laws regarding motor vehicle laws, light and brake requirements for bicycles and increasing driver awareness were options Boulanager listed as options likely to result in more significant increases in safety than compulsory helmet laws.

    Tour of Tomorrow

    Riding in downtown Vancouver.

    If the helmet law has not increased cycling safety, at least it has not discouraged bike riding.

    “One of the concerns [with the helmet law] was that it would discourage bicycling, but that doesn’t seem to be happening,” said Boulanger.

    Increases in local cycling rates could explain why an increasing number of people are ending up in the emergency room with head injuries.

    Southwest Washington Medical Center, the only hospital located inside Vancouver city limits, has had a steadily increasing number of head injuries sustained while biking. Emergency room visit from bike-related head injuries are up over the last four years says hospital spokesperson Ken Cole.

    In 2007, the hospital had 98 bicycle related head injuries in its emergency room. In 2008, the year the helmet law went into effect, the number rose to 109. In 2009, it rose to 123. So far this year, the number is 129.

    Whether or not a helmet was used, or if the injury occurred on or off road, was not immediately available.

    The City of Vancouver and VPD denied having any data regarding cyclist injury rates before and after the helmet law went into effect and the most recent statistics by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) is for 2007, a year before the law was passed. (Download PDF of those 2007 stats here).

    Additionally, because there is no state wide law on helmet use, WTSC has not taken a stance on compulsory helmet laws. “Personally, I think helmets are really important, but our agency has not taken a position,” said WTSC Program Manager Lynn Drake.

    Regardless of one’s stance on the helmet law, it seems it will take a few more years before enough data is available to determine what effect — if any — the law has on bicycling and safety.

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    Comments
    • VIE November 24, 2010 at 12:17 pm

      Kapp is full of it: The officer’s observation that the perp “seemed out of place loaded down with a large bag and a really nice bike” was sufficient reasonable suspicion for the officer to stop the perp. The helmet law may have given him a more convenient excuse, but the helmet law was totally unnecessary to justify a stop in that situation.

      So Kapp’s assertion of the law’s utility in helping enforce other laws is false. Given that, it seems that the law has no actual utility at all … unless you count having a convenient excuse to harass people safely and otherwise legally riding a bicycle. And, as we know, that would count as utility for some PPB officers who make a hobby out of harassing messengers (you know who you are).

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      • Spiffy November 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm

        very true, cops only need the excuse that you “look suspicious” to be able to pull you over, I have first-hand evidence of that…

        it’ll be interesting to see how some of these stats evolve… or even to see some stats for similar cities for comparison…

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        • Pete November 24, 2010 at 9:47 pm

          I was pulled over for driving a cargo van in Menlo Park, CA, at 2 AM one night. Turns out there had been a rash of break-ins and witnesses reported seeing a white Ford Econoline (most are white) with out-of-state plates. The reason the officer gave when I first asked him was that I was driving suspiciously slowly (the speed limit was 25 MPH). Apparently driving the speed limit in California is reason to be suspicious… ;-)

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    • Skid November 24, 2010 at 12:26 pm

      Yeah I have to laugh at the idea that a Police Officer needs a legal reason to pull you over. If they want to, and you’re not doing anything wrong, they will make something up. Not all Police Officers mind you, but just enough to make it annoying.

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    • wsbob November 24, 2010 at 12:29 pm

      “… Passed by city council in 2008, Vancouver’s all-ages helmet law has largely gone unenforced, widely ignored and associated with an increase in bicycle related head injuries at the local hospital. …” maus/bikeportland

      Maus, would you be willing to be a little more direct in what it seems you may or may not be implying here? That somehow, Vancouver’s bike helmet law is resulting in a greater incidence of head injuries reported to the local hospital? It’s hard for me to believe you would seriously imply any such thing, but that’s the appearance your writing has created. Use of stats down the story a piece seem to push that idea further.

      It’s kind of funny to read the result of such a preposterous stretch of imagination, but I’m not sure I see how it’s supposed to help people understand what effect an all ages mandatory bike helmet use law would have on a community.

      The story about the bike thief was funny, certainly one that fits into the ‘stupid thief’ anthologies. Thief steals a whole bag of someone’s things, conspicuously carried over his shoulder as, rides away on the also stolen bike, but doesn’t think to steal a bike helmet? Must not have known about Vancouver’s bike helmet law.

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    • matt picio November 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm

      Thanks, Marcus for putting some data together. The statistics don’t seem all that surprising to me, but it’s definitely good to have some numbers to spur debate.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm

      wsbob

      Maus, would you be willing to be a little more direct in what it seems you may or may not be implying here?…
      It’s kind of funny to read the result of such a preposterous stretch of imagination, but I’m not sure I see how it’s supposed to help people understand what effect an all ages mandatory bike helmet use law would have on a community.

      Hi wsbob,

      First, please realize this story was written by Marcus Griffith, not by me. However, as the publisher and editor of the piece I take full responsibility for everything in it.

      I hear what you’re saying about that passage and what it implies. I will re-read it in the context of the story and will consider making an edit and/or issuing a note of clarification if necessary. Thanks, as always, for your detailed and thoughtful comments.

      —-
      UPDATE: After reading the paragraph again I decided to edit it to remove the implication that the law lead to more head injuries. I regret not catching that initially. Thanks again for your feedback

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      • wsbob November 24, 2010 at 12:57 pm

        “… First, please realize this story was written by Marcus Griffith, not by me. …” maus/bikeportland

        Oh geez. Well thanks for pointing that out maus. I knew I should have had breakfast a while ago.

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    • Another Doug November 24, 2010 at 12:36 pm

      There are many good reasons to oppose mandatory helmet laws. However, it is irresponsible to suggest that the Vancouver ordinance caused an increase in bike-related head injuries based solely on the data reported by the hospital. While those data do suggest an increase in the number of head injuries during the last couple years, there are any number of reasons that that could be the case. It would take much more analysis to understand why that has occurred than simply looking at the numbers reported by the hospital.

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      • Opus the Poet November 24, 2010 at 1:25 pm

        Actually to correlate head injury data with helmet usage, and determine if helmet usage is responsible for any change, the best thing to use is the ratio of head to leg injuries. If the helmet law is working there should be a reduction in the number of head injuries as a ratio to leg injury. If the head injuries go down but the ratio of head to leg injuries remains constant within the noise of previous measurement periods then all the helmet law is doing is reducing the number of people riding bicycles. Now if the ratio of head to leg injuries goes up while the number of injuries goes down, then you are getting some really bad helmets. ;)

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        • spare_wheel November 24, 2010 at 1:59 pm

          i’ve had several bike accidents where i injured my leg without even minor trauma to the upper body. i would think that severity of “head trauma” would be a far better variable to study when investigating the effect of helmets on traumatic head/brain injury.

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          • Opus the Poet November 25, 2010 at 7:13 pm

            Yes, people do injure their legs without injuring their heads, but they do so in a fairly constant ratio. If that ratio changes drastically with head injuries being much lower without a corresponding decrease in leg injuries means that the helmet laws work, people are wearing helmets and having wrecks where the impact is within the helmet’s protection envelope.

            Now if the head injuries go down in a study look at the leg injury ratio before and after the helmet law. Helmets don’t protect legs, if the leg injuries also go down then the main thing the law did was reduce the number of cyclists. Leg injury is the barometer of helmet laws effectiveness, not head injury.

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            • wsbob November 26, 2010 at 5:30 pm

              “… Helmets don’t protect legs, if the leg injuries also go down then the main thing the law did was reduce the number of cyclists. …” Opus the Poet

              Depending on a variety of factors, reduction in the number of people riding could possibly be one of the outcomes of a bike helmet law, but that outcome is by no means certain. Another Doug November at 12:36pm answered best about interpretation of data. I’d forgotten about his remarks as I struggled to respond to some of the attention paid to the increase of bike related head injuries reported to the local hospital.

              The uncertainty of all those variables and their susceptibility to subjective interpretation is a big reason I don’t like to rely much on studies in deciding whether I should personally wear a bike helmet, or to what extent laws should be affected to oblige members of the public to wear them.

              I don’t need the conclusions of a study that positively support bike helmet use to advise me that wearing a bike helmet in certain riding situations, will increase my personal safety over that offered by some other typical cycling head gear, such as skull caps, watch caps, etc. etc. Most adults with a fair amount of common sense shouldn’t either.

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          • Greg November 26, 2010 at 4:42 pm

            Sigh. The idea is that wearing a helmet is expected to *not* have an effect on those accidents – so the number of them should track the general increase in exposure to accident risks (e.g. more folks biking would lead to more leg injuries *all other things being equal*). So if you get a rise in leg injuries and a drop in head injuries then perhaps helmets are helping. But several of the studies that are supposed to show that helmets help also involve helmet wearing folks showing decreased leg and arm injuries.

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      • Another Doug November 24, 2010 at 3:11 pm

        Jonathan – Thanks for the editing in the first paragraph to eliminate the suggestion that injuries had increased because of the helmet ordinance.

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    • JAT in Seattle November 24, 2010 at 12:49 pm

      The first three commenters are simply wrong: the police may not pull you over merely because you look suspicious. Of course this may change under the Roberts court, but for the time being the police still require articulable suspicion. Looked out of place probably isn’t good enough. Looked out of place and wasn’t wearing a helmet, though…

      As for helmet laws “working” – looks like they work as well as speed limits…

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      • Spiffy November 24, 2010 at 1:23 pm

        my incident was in California so maybe it’s different there… so maybe they can’t legally do it but it happened to me so it certainly happens…

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      • q`Tzal November 24, 2010 at 4:30 pm

        Outside the confines of our bike paradise just being on a bike “profiles” you as a criminal. Cyclists are extremely unusual in some parts of our country. As such police education on what laws apply to cyclists is even worse than in Portland.

        At the very least the choice of bicycling does not allow the cops the opportunity to do a stand off background check on you based on the license plate.

        So, while they can’t, legally, arrest you for no reason and the police need probable cause to search your person there is nothing to prevent the police from stopping you and questioning you.

        In South Carolina I heard, anecdotally, that the traffic police would stop and ticket cyclist that deigned to pass through their turf. The officer would most often not show up to defend the ticket should the cyclist actually show up in court to object to these shaky shake-downs.
        But it had the intended consequences: most just pay the fine and the little towns get revenue and by simple intimidation cyclists would avoid their town.
        I simply avoided these areas by bike but can personally vouch for similar treatment of auto drivers in the same towns.

        Really, law enforcement is given a lot of leeway in dealing with what might be perceived as suspicious.

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    • Dabby November 24, 2010 at 1:01 pm

      So many points to hit here…….I will pick a couple.

      I was “educated” as to the helmet laws in a Vancouver park, when a female officer threw her hands in front of my face as I slowly rolled by.
      A minute later she walked over to where i had stopped (family gathering), and asked me why I didn’t stop for her? I told her the truth, I thought they were security guards who had no right to pull such a bonehead move, so I rolled on.

      After I was briefly educated, I started reverse “educating”…
      As to the actual danger that she had put me in to enforce a law based on fear of liabilty.

      When the 12 year old next to me started laughing with me, I did the right thing and became quiet.
      Though I had so much to say.

      And, oh the irony of WSBOB’s comment, for a doctor has done a study, using himself as the subject, showing that it was less safe to ride in or near traffic with a helmet on..He was actually hit while wearing one during the study… Sorry I do not have a link to it..

      In conclusion,
      I am all for kids wearing helmets. My issues the docs say came be boiled down to a fateful bike wreck on my hill as a child.

      I however am not for regulations based on fear of liabilty, or really on not having a good grasp of the reality of the situation.

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    • Dabby November 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm

      A helmet should not be a tool used by anyone other than the soul it rests on.
      Or doesn’t rest on for that matter.

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    • wsbob November 24, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      “… a doctor has done a study, using himself as the subject, showing that it was less safe to ride in or near traffic with a helmet on..He was actually hit while wearing one during the study. …” Dabby

      Dabby…do try and locate that study. Wouldn’t be surprised if the doctor turned out to be one of those people from Australia that got their knickers in a twist over that countries mysterious adoption of a mandatory helmet law some years back. I wonder how it is that the doctor can possibly believe that a person wearing a bike helmet while riding a bike in traffic can possibly make riding a bike in or near traffic less safe.

      I mean, really…what could his theory be? That the sight of a bike helmet on a cyclist’s head somehow conveys a subconscious message to other road users: ‘crash into the person wearing the helmet’?

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    • spare_wheel November 24, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      Whether or not a helmet was used, or if the injury occurred on or off road, was not immediately available.

      the key quote.

      to the best of my knowledge every peer-reviewed medical study has shown that helmet use is associated with a decreased risk of serious head injury or brain trauma. in many cases, the effect was highly significant.

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    • Jeff November 24, 2010 at 4:21 pm

      Dabby, the “doctor” was actually a United Kingdom PhD (Ian Walker) who published one article in 2007 in Accident Analysis and Prevention….the “significant difference” he found was something to the “fact” that cars travel closer to helmet users, when his stated effect size was quite small, and other confounding factors were discussed (you conveniently left that out) This was one study, its methods weren’t lauded, it has not been replicated, there is no external validity. Taking it as gospel while overstating the results and ignoring the limitations of the study would be a mistake.

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    • dabby November 24, 2010 at 6:17 pm

      Did not take it as gospel, I threw it out there as in interesting study done by a dude….

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    • Marcus Griffith November 24, 2010 at 8:48 pm

      It is a matter of document facts that since Vancouver passed the all-ages helmet law, SW Washington Medical Center reports it has increasing number of head injuries.

      That is not an “irresponsible” statement, that is just stating the temporal relation between the two items.

      And note, the correlation is with the passing of the helmet law, not with actually helmet use (helmet use info wasn’t available for the ER visits).

      Maybe less people wore their helmets to protest the helmet law, maybe helmets increased risk of being in a collision, or maybe there is just an explosion of growth of cyclists in Vancouver… who knows. There isn’t enough data for the Vancouver area to know at this time.

      I wonder if the statement have been viewed equally “irresponsible” if it said the helmet law was associated with a decrease in bicycle related head injuries? Which wasn’t the case.

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    • Mia Rio November 24, 2010 at 10:14 pm

      WSBOB: Did you even read the article before jumping to the conclusion that Maus/Griffith was “Vancouver’s bike helmet law is resulting in a greater incidence of head injuries reported to the local hospital”???? No one said such a thing, all Marcus did was point out that an hospital is seeing more, not less, cyclists with head injuries. Maybe the law has nothing to do with the trend, but it doesn’t look like the law is reducing Vancouver cyclists getting their noggins knocked.

      Marcus: it’s not about what you write, its about what people read. You gotta be careful with your wording when dealing with controversial subjects.

      Opus the poet: I agree, there needs to be a more detailed look into the types of injuries before any final word can be had. Personally, I think Vancouver’s increasing population and growing bike use accounts for the increase in head injuries at the ER.

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    • jim November 24, 2010 at 11:32 pm

      If I was the insurance co. and my customer was riding illegal (no helmet) and got a head injury I would deny medical payments

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    • CaptainKarma November 25, 2010 at 12:50 am

      They should not make a law that they are not going to enforce. It only teaches kids (and adults) that abiding by the law is optional, as long as you don’t get caught.

      I’m not one of those tea-drinkin type protesters, but I really hate having more & more laws that law enforcement can harass me with. BTW, I would not ride without a helmet.

      Besides, a cop can pull you over by lying (they’d do that?) and saying you were swerving, or shoulda been in that bike path, or whatever.

      I hadn’t been pulled over by a cop in this century until I came here. Turns out a car I just bought had a tail light out. I was treated as a coke-dealing pimp terrorist crackhead for having tail light out. I used to believe the cops were our friends. hahhahaha not since coming here. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing and getting sent to Guantanamo. Shheesh.

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    • Schrauf November 25, 2010 at 7:13 am

      “If the helmet law has not increased cycling safety, at least it has not discouraged bike riding.”

      Definitely no basis for that statement. Overall, cycling has increased, but how much more (or less) would it have increased without the helmet law? No way to know.

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    • Mike Quigley November 25, 2010 at 7:46 am

      I hope an all-ages helmet law is not enacted. I hate the damned things and never wear one. Hot in summer, cold in winter, no sun protection, induces headaches.

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    • Jeff B November 25, 2010 at 8:18 am

      Helmets are a safety issue as were seatbelts in the early days. My neighbor, 40 years old, got on her bike to just ride 10 blocks to her mother’s house. The next thing she remembered was waking up in the trauma center. As the story goes, she just reached down to do something, turned the wheel, and went down. Your head always leads. You just never know.

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    • DDDeebo November 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

      Of course helmets prevent head injury but thats really irrelevant. It is not the government’s job to hold your hand as you cross the street and make sure you tie your shoes correctly so you don’t trip and it is also not their job to tell you that you must wear a helmet. I am an adult with free-will who has the ability to make decisions and accept the consequences. There is an endless list of similar things that could be mandated to reduce both perceived or actual risk: eating healthy foods, exercising, brushing your teeth, not engaging in any activities deemed to be beyond some vague margin of safety (don’t walk too fast, and certainly don’t run!), etc, etc. Yes, perhaps these are all things that would be beneficial to my well being but these are my choices. I decide the quantity vs quality of my life and refuse to concede that power to anyone, elected official or otherwise.

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    • Steve Scarich November 25, 2010 at 9:23 am

      A little off-topic, but….in Bend, the Bend PD does not enforce the kid’s helmet law…True story: Last year, I walked past a mini-mart parking lot and saw two cop cars and an ambulance, all involved in an incident where two BMXers crashed into the side of a van. It appeared to be mostly the kid’s fault, since they were cutting across the parking lot at high speed. They were not wearing helmets, but, luckily, were only bruised a bit. After the kids’ mom arrived, the kids were allowed to leave, riding their bikes, without wearing their helmets. WTF?

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    • Dick Fitz November 25, 2010 at 10:05 am

      If you don’t want a helmet, fine. Just don’t make me help pay for your brain damage.

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    • driveabus November 25, 2010 at 11:17 am

      Since a helmet law was forced on motorcyclists then it should be forced on bicyclists too. Either that or repeal the mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists. A head injury is a head injury! Personally I do believe that both types of riders should have the choice. But I don’t believe that public money should be spent at all in the care or rehab of someone who suffered a head injury and had taken no preventative steps to mitigate such an injury. Such as wearing a helmet.

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      • Opus the Poet November 25, 2010 at 12:03 pm

        There is an enomous difference in the ability of a motorcycle helmet to prevent injury and a bicycle helmet. Motorcycle helmets are designed to a much higher impact speed and are also required to have a shell that prevents objects from damaging the impact absorbing liner. Very few bicycle helmets have any kind of hard shell, and all have the structural integrity of a collander because of the nature of using your body as the prime mover is different than using internal combustion.

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      • Robert H. November 25, 2010 at 10:04 pm

        driveabus,

        Helmeted motorcyclists get head injuries all the time. Everybody knows motorcycling is a relatively dangerous way to travel. Why should society pay for these injuries which result from a personal choice to use a vehicle type which is clearly more dangerous, just because the operator chooses to wear a helmet? Doesn’t make much sense.

        And the driver out for a recreational drive on a Sunday afternoon. Why should society pay when this guy crashes and receives a head injury, a completely unnecessary injury resulting from unnecessary driving on dangerous roads? I mean, it’s his choice right?

        And why should society be okay with paying for the overeater’s stroke-induced brain injury, the end-result of a lifetime of questionable personal decisions about food and exercise?

        Where does it end? Surely you’re not going to just put the screws to unhelmeted cyclists and leave it at that. That would be pretty unfair.

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    • wsbob November 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm

      Re; Marcus Griffith comment November 24, 2010 at 8:48 pm:

      Marcus, as writer of the lead story which this thread represents, here’s what you originally had written (the story has been since edited to eliminate the word ‘associated’):

      “… Passed by city council in 2008, Vancouver’s all-ages helmet law has largely gone unenforced, widely ignored and associated with an increase in bicycle related head injuries at the local hospital. …” Marcus Griffith/ ‘Do all-ages helmet laws work? An update from Vancouver, WA’/bikeportland

      Sounded to me like you were implying that the bike helmet law was associated with an increase in head injuries sustained while people rode bikes. Okay, maybe. How so? You didn’t follow that statement up by explaining how there could actually be a bonafide causal correlation between the law and an increase in head injuries.

      If the law isn’t helping people riding bikes(and other non-motorized vehicles on city streets) within Vancouver’s city limits, to be safer, something solid is needed to establish that. Wild, unsupported conclusions aren’t going to fill the bill.

      By the way…aside from this, what I feel was an oversight, the rest of the story was informative and helpful.

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    • Marcus Griffith November 25, 2010 at 10:52 pm

      WSBOB:
      Other than the brief mention that increase in cycling could be the cause, no attempt was made to explain why the helmet law is associated with an increasing number of cyclists ending up in the local ER.

      The raw data is just not available to explore why that relationship exists.

      Maybe its due to an increase in cycling use in Vancouver, maybe its due to cyclists using more dangerous roadways, maybe its due to increasing recreational cycling or maybe its due to purple aliens who hate bi-wheel transportation. The studies and statistics are simply not at hand to do anything more productive than guess.

      But what is known is that the helmet law passing is correlated, i.e. associated, with an increasing number of cyclists with head injuries at the local ER.

      I am curious to find out why that counter intuitive relationship fact exists, but I am not going to make irresponsible guesses just to please a few people who have trouble distinguishing between a bona fide correlation and true causality.

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    • wsbob November 26, 2010 at 12:12 am

      “…But what is known is that the helmet law passing is correlated, i.e. associated, with an increasing number of cyclists with head injuries at the local ER. …” marcus griffith

      There’s no correlation whatsoever between the two, except that they apparently occurred in somewhat the same time frame. If you think that their occurring in the same time frame is more than pure coincidence, maybe say: ‘I think so, but I’m just not sure.’.

      I hope you won’t make irresponsible guesses, but maybe, in writing your original sentence as part your story, that was exactly what you hoped other people would do. Go ahead and check into that “…counter intuitive relationship …”, you know…the “… temporal relation between the two items. …” that you mentioned in an earlier post.

      If and when you find a tangible relationship between the two, establishing that the big bad Vancouver bike helmet law is causing people to have head injuries related to biking, go ahead and write another story for bikeportland. I’m looking forward to reading it.

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    • Angie November 26, 2010 at 1:46 am

      The pro-helmet mob would brag about the “success” of helmet laws if Bike Portland reported less cyclists were ending up in the ER. Since, the opposite is true, they are calling it “irresponsible” journalism to talk about it.

      Vancouver claimed the helmet law would save lives and make it safer for cyclists, but 30% more cyclists are ending up with hurt noggins since the city started enforcing the law.

      Sorry for the WSBOBies of the world, but when two variables increase together, they have a positive correlation. Sure, there is no evidence that the helmet law is the cause and there is no way to find out if its a weak or strong correlation, but there is enough to say the helmet law is “associated with” increased head injuries.

      On the flip side, there is no way to know how many pedal friendly heads were saved because of a helmet, or how many cyclists are wearing a helmet because of the law.

      I for one would like Bike Portland to look deeper into the matter.

      PS: I’m pretty impressed how on topic this thread is staying. Normally the helmet debate breaks down into arguments about civil rights and scofflaw cyclists.

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    • Hank November 26, 2010 at 6:02 am

      It does look like the helmet law is linked somehow with an increase in head injuries in Vancouver. That is not what most would expect, but it isn’t the first someone came across data that indicated helmet laws actually increase the rate of head injuries in cyclists. (http://www.nohelmetlaw.org.uk/nhl/headline-concepts/do-helmet-laws-work) But I don’t think Maus or Griffith were saying such was the case in Vancouver so much as they were pointing out that the helmet law is associated with an still increasing number of head cases at the hospital.

      Clark County Bike Plan didn’t mention anything about a county helmet law, does anyone know if the county is going to follow the city’s lead and enact an all ages helmet law?

      I am sure wsbob will post another four or five comments, as he or she seems to have a lot to say on this.

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    • Sammy November 26, 2010 at 9:12 am

      I agree with Todd, there were other actions the city could have done that would have protected more cyclists. The goal should be to prevent accidents, esp ones involving cars.

      Helmets only work if:
      1) Your involved in an accident
      2) Your head gets hit in a place the helmet protects
      3) Other injuries don’t kill you (or the force of the

      I don’t care what helmet you have one, nothing is going to save when the SUV’s tires run over your chest or the semi pegs you at 75 m.p.h.

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    • middle of the road guy November 26, 2010 at 9:33 am

      Any time this issue gets discussed it becomes apparent to me from the comments that cyclists will continually resist any attempt to require some responsibility from them.

      It’s all “we need more money for separate lanes, etc….but please don’t even suggest any behavioral changes. Those are for ‘cagers’ “

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    • dabby November 26, 2010 at 10:33 am

      It is easy to see why in fact there would be more head injuries where there is a mandatory helmet law.

      Drvers become generally less careful when a supposedly more careful (helmeted) cyclists is riding near them than when a cyclist without a helmet rides near them.

      Denial or not, and many people will jump right on this, it is a fact.

      I cannot say that the head injury numbers are related in anyway to the helmet law… No one really can say that they are.

      But good luck showing they aren’t either….

      And even these coments sadly show that many are still willing to let laws be passed that are based strictly on a fear of liabilty, and not on public safety. Not even close to based on public safety.
      If it was based in reaity it would be enforced.
      Might I remind you to research the comments and reasons given by City Council when passing this law…..

      Keep your ideals off of my head!!!!!

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    • wsbob November 26, 2010 at 11:49 am

      “… when two variables increase together, they have a positive correlation. … but there is enough to say the helmet law is “associated with” increased head injuries. …” Angie 1:46 am

      In this situation, what variables?

      What do you think there is there enough of, to say the helmet law is “associated with” increased head injuries? Marcus Griffith, yourself, and perhaps some others may have some theories about how the law and head injures are associated, but you haven’t detailed them here. At least, not yet.

      p.s. Angie: “WSBOBies”. That’s kind of cute. Sounds like wsbobby. You can call me wsbobby if you like. Cheerio!

      “… It does look like the helmet law is linked somehow with an increase in head injuries in Vancouver. …” Hank November 6:02 am

      Why, to yourself, does it look like the the two events are linked? What is it that you think is the ‘link’. You folks seem to be grasping for straws. I can understand not having a lot of admiration for the law or the way it conceived and allowed to be implemented, but trying to get it repealed on such flimsy grounds will come to no good. By the way, I didn’t read the article you provided the link to. If you want people to read the article, summarizing it with a sentence or two might help.

      “It is easy to see why in fact there would be more head injuries where there is a mandatory helmet law.

      Drvers become generally less careful when a supposedly more careful (helmeted) cyclists is riding near them than when a cyclist without a helmet rides near them. …” Dabby 10:33 am

      Here in comments to bikeportland, I recall people on occasion suggesting that to be the case . Someone may have even made an effort to study whether there’s any truth to the idea, or whether it’s just people imagination.

      I can understand that some drivers reaction to the sight of a cyclist wearing a bike helmet might be that the helmet implies the rider has more competence in operating the bike on the road. What’s your idea as to why a driver might be more careless at the sight of a cyclist wearing a bike helmet?

      That they might be doing that doesn’t add up. Are you thinking drivers are figuring it’s ok to take risks that might cause a cyclist with a helmet to crash, because the helmet will protect the cyclist?

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    • Dabby November 26, 2010 at 6:50 pm

      WSBOB,
      There have been studies, one of which I referred to earlier in these comments.
      You will see that I casually referenced it, and one of the next commenters suggested I was using it as the gospel……

      This one was a 2 year study, there have been others…

      I can answer your questions with my answers, but someone is just going to jump down my throat about it if I do……

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      • wsbob November 27, 2010 at 1:22 am

        Dabby, if you’ve got something you think is worthwhile and important to say, say it. You’re the only one that can decide for yourself whether it’s worth having people possibly jump down your throat for having said, or reported something they disagree with or feel doesn’t add up.

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    • Dan November 26, 2010 at 8:55 pm

      Actually, I have hypothesized that wearing a helmet might allow less awkward tumbling in a fall (what with not being so concerned about bumping your head), possibly preventing leg injuries.

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    • Opus the Poet November 26, 2010 at 11:13 pm

      Something that has been lost here is that helmets do prevent some head injury. That is what they are designed to do, prevent head injury inside a certain envelope of impact velocity. The problem is that bicycle helmets have a very limited envelope of protection, basically a single low-speed impact on a flat or smoothly rounded impact point with no translation at the impact site or rotation of the cranium. I don’t know the exact test for motorcycle helmets, but I do know they are much more severe than the test for bicycle helmets with higher retention test forces and a penetration test that no bicycle helmet can pass, not even hard shell downhill or BMX helmets. Even with that motorcycle helmets are only credited with a 35% reduction in head injuries, nothing even close to the 85% figure that is constantly used by the pro-helmet side.

      What is needed is a study that compares head injury with another part of the body to determine a ratio of head injury to that other part of the body with a standard deviation of that ratio without a helmet law, then compare the same body parts for injury after the helmet law. If there is a reduction in the ratio of head injury to the “control” body part that is greater than the standard deviation of the pre-law group then we can say the helmet standard is good enough at protection to rise out of the “noise” in the statistics. If it doesn’t then for the population a a whole helmets are a waste of money. I would still wear one as a matter of personal choice, but a law requiring one would be a waste of personal resources and public resources in enforcement.

      In my Gravitar you can see my helmet hanging from my left hand, the red and white Bellistic. I wear that helmet every time I ride my bike, because I had a wreck where I had a head impact that was slightly out of the envelope of the CPSC certified helmet I was wearing and as a result had a smidgen of brain damage, just enough to keep me from ever getting a job again since the wreck. The Bellistic is the best bicycle helmet I could find, and I still consider it to be marginal since it is only certified to the CPSC level of protection required to sell in the US. Bell used to make a hardshell helmet that was tested to DOT motorcycle levels of protection except for the penetration test, but the bicycle standard reduced the level of retention on the chinstrap and added a maximum retention force because children were wearing the helmet on playground equipment and getting strangled by the chinstraps, so now Bell only tests to the CPSC standard so their products can be sold to children.

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    • Mike Shea November 27, 2010 at 4:30 am

      I don’t understand why they do not require pedestrians (much more at risk than cyclists) and automobile drivers to wear helmets. And why not start mandatory sunscreen checks? Skin cancers kills!

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    • middle of the road guy November 27, 2010 at 9:52 am

      Mike Shea
      I don’t understand why they do not require pedestrians (much more at risk than cyclists) and automobile drivers to wear helmets. And why not start mandatory sunscreen checks? Skin cancers kills!

      Maybe because pedestrians do not walk in the roads, but on the sidewalks instead?

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    • Todd Boulanger November 27, 2010 at 1:49 pm

      In observing many utility cyclists in the west side, the helmet law in Vancouver is currently more of a helmet possession law vs wearing law. Before the law these cyclists would not be wearing a helmet.

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      • jim November 27, 2010 at 11:28 pm

        kind of like having a life preserver in the boat? What good is having protection if your not wearing it?

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    • Todd Boulanger November 27, 2010 at 3:07 pm

      A bit of interesting history on this topic, I was a witness to Mayor Pollard’s crash noted above. What was lost in his story telling that he was riding distractedly in Esther Short Park and went down a set of stairs without expecting them. This was risky behavior, as ideally he would not be riding there as it is posted as a pedestrian area.

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    • dabby November 27, 2010 at 9:24 pm

      Todd,

      That is the same spot where my helmet “education” occured.

      The police also told me I should not be riding in the park by the way… In the park….riding my bike, in the PARK!

      It was and probably still is illegal to skateboard there,(having been kicked out of the park and ticketed there not for riding a skateboard, but for having one) so I have no doubt it is illegal to bike there.

      A better or as silly story I think is the other council member who voted for this helmet law who (and she told the story) ran over a cyclist while pulling out of a fast food drivethru?

      You might remeber better than I…

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    • trendpopper November 28, 2010 at 2:15 pm

      Helmets are like condoms; if you “knew” you needed to wear one that night, you wouldn’t have done what you did. It’s the not being able to know which partner is STD positive or which driver is distracted that mandates their use.

      It’s up to you if you wear one, but don’t complain if you end up screwed for not wearing one when you needed it.

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    • Ippy November 28, 2010 at 3:28 pm

      This article stirs up memories of all times the BTA blew off Vancouver. The way the BTA ignores the city, its a wonder there are any due paying members left in Vancouver.

      Expect Portland city leaders to use Vancouver as ‘proof’ helmet laws should be passed.

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    • Kt November 29, 2010 at 10:32 am

      middle of the road guy
      Maybe because pedestrians do not walk in the roads, but on the sidewalks instead?

      Except where there aren’t any sidewalks.

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    • Kt November 29, 2010 at 10:39 am

      One should not state something as fact unless they have the data to back it up. Therefore, WSBob was correct in asking JM to change the wording– there was no concrete data to back up what was written.

      Similarly, the study in Britain about how drivers act around helmeted/non-helmeted/female/not female cyclists applies to drivers in Britain. Where is the data showing that Oregon drivers, or even PNW drivers, act the same way? I’d be interested in seeing that study, provided it was conducted as scientifically as possible.

      Correlations and links made here are usually subjective– I could point out that because Portland has a car race track within its city limits, that drivers in Portland are more aggressive/worse/better/more in control/less in control than elsewhere. But the presence of PIR does not have an impact on most drivers in Portland. Except on race weekends, when traffic on I-5 gets all jacked up with people trying to get to and from the track.

      It doesn’t have anything to do with behavior, though.

      Give me the data, a scientifically conducted study, relevant to the people/culture HERE.

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    • Dabby November 29, 2010 at 11:33 am

      I state as fact that drivers react differently around a helemted cyclist than they do around a non helmeted cyclist because my mucho experienceo tells me IT IS SO!

      I see it, I deal with it, IT IS A FACT. To me. Which is what matters.

      And when my personally reality is corellated to a farily well done 2 year study, whether British or not, I will once again state my belief in it.

      We can live our lives, relying on stats and studies, scientific evidence, etc, denying what we want, believing what we want.

      Or we can take a some of the scientific evidence, and a lot of our on road experience, and discover the real facts for ourselves.

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    • wsbob November 29, 2010 at 6:02 pm

      “I state as fact that drivers react differently around a helemted cyclist than they do around a non helmeted cyclist because my mucho experienceo tells me IT IS SO! …” Dabby

      Your mucho experience tells you that around a cyclist wearing a bike helmet, drivers react differently in what way? I believe what a few people to this thread have suggested, is the idea that drivers, for reasons not explained, operate their motor vehicles with less care for the safety of cyclists, when near cyclists that are wearing a bike helmet, as opposed to the level of care drivers exercise when operating their vehicle around a cyclist not wearing a helmet.

      That premise seems bogus to me, but, as I asked someone commenting to this thread earlier, explain to those of us reading, why the presence of a bike helmet on a cyclists head could possibly have any bearing whatsoever on the manner a driver chose to operate their vehicle in the presence of cyclists.

      If somehow, the premise is valid, how widespread among the driving public might a response of less careful driving be? I prefer to wear a helmet in the event I’m in a crash and subsequently bonk the head on something, but if wearing the helmet is going to have drivers going Mr. Hyde on me and everyone else that wears one while biking, maybe something needs to be done about that.

      Earlier in this thread, I think I asked someone that mentioned the UK study to summarize in a couple sentences, what the study’s facilitators conclusions were, and how they felt their study results supported them. No response.

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    • El Biciclero November 30, 2010 at 12:32 pm

      The premise that drivers act less carefully around helmeted cyclists is not bogus at all. To observe the least careful driving (i.e. close/fast passing by motorists) wear an aero helmet and team lycra and ride a fancy-looking bike.

      There is a technique known as the “Crazy Ivan” which originated with submarine operators, but is used by cyclists as well: it is is the intentional wobbling/swerving of one’s bike to give the appearance to motorists that you are a less experienced cyclist. It induces motorists to give you way more room when passing than they would if they perceived you to be an experienced cyclist riding a tight line. You may be correct that a helmet alone does not influence driver behavior, but the perceived experience/skill/safety level of a helmeted vs. non-helmeted cyclist does.

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    • Todd Boulanger November 30, 2010 at 5:00 pm

      The best tool I have found for drivers to share the road with me or respect my road use is to ride with a large trailer (not kids type) or bakfiets.

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    • Todd Boulanger November 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm

      Dabby…you are correct – the park has been posted as ‘no bike riding’ since it opened. Though I have not seen it well enforced.

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    • Todd Boulanger November 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm

      Dabby – the council member you were referencing was Councilmember Harris. A recording of her comment used to be on the Bike Portland web site. I could not find it just now.

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    • Todd Boulanger November 30, 2010 at 5:12 pm

      And Ippy…when asked I have been told by the new BTA leadership that they will be taking a more hands of approach to Vancouver in most situations – not just legislative. (I hope this changes.) They have been in discussion with the Bike Alliance of Washington to take on more activities down here in SW WA. I doubt many bike commuters in Vancouver will send dues checks to both groups – I do but it can be tough.

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    • resopmok November 30, 2010 at 11:17 pm

      I’ve been commuting regularly by bike for six (?) years now. I started wearing a helmet regularly about 1.5 years ago. I notice no difference in the way I am passed by drivers either before or after. My greatest fear still is getting doored (though I’ve been hit twice by cars that don’t stop at stop signs) which, if I understand the physics correctly, a helmet will protect my brain but unfortunately not my face. Frankly I’d rather be ugly than in a coma, but that’s personal preference.

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    • Alan December 1, 2010 at 12:30 am

      resopmok
      …if I understand the physics correctly, a helmet will protect my brain but unfortunately not my face. Frankly I’d rather be ugly than in a coma, but that’s personal preference.

      Well, you could wear it to protect your face, but then we’d really get into the “helmets cause accidents” issue.

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    • Memo December 2, 2010 at 9:49 am

      Lots of good numbers – http://video.tedxcopenhagen.dk/video/911034/mikael-colville-andersen-why via the TheLazyRando.wordpress.com

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