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When it comes to helmet laws, language matters

Posted by on October 24th, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Bike camping at Champoeg St. Park-134
Mandatory helmet laws say
the little guy should wear one.
(Photos © J. Maus)

After reading about the helmet survey launched by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance last week, I wanted to share a cautionary tale about helmet laws. I live in Vancouver, Washington where we’ve been living with a mandatory, all-ages helmet law since 2008.

If you’re of the persuasion that mandatory helmet laws are a good thing, keep in mind that not all mandatory helmet laws are created equal and — as Vancouver is finding out with its 2008 ordinance — subtle wording can have a profound effect on the scope of the law.

Sidestepping the seemingly non-existent impact Vancouver’s law has had on helmet use, bike ridership and injury rates, it contains a few real-world complications that highlight why it’s important to pay attention to subtle wording.

The most complex dilemma of Vancouver’s all-ages helmet law is one that it shares with Oregon’s helmet law (which applies only to people under 16 yrs of age): both apply to infants despite a lack of on-the-market helmets that fit them and questions surrounding if it is even safe to put helmets on infants to begin with.

“I got stopped by an officer over the summer. He said I needed a helmet for my three-month old riding in my kid trailer. When I told him no one makes helmets for babies he told me that ‘I guess you can’t take him in your bike trailer.’”
— Christy Patterson, Vancouver resident

According to Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Kim Kapp, “If an infant is a passenger in a bicycle the parent or guardian is responsible for requiring that child to wear a helmet. An infant passenger is not excluded due to their age.”

The coupling of the helmet law with a lack of available infant helmets leaves some Vancouver parent’s feeling like Vancouver is “banning” infants from not only bikes, but kid trailers as well.

“I got stopped by an officer over the summer. He said I needed a helmet for my three-month old riding in my kid trailer,” says Vancouver resident Christy Patterson. “When I told him no one makes helmets for babies he told me that ‘I guess you can’t take him in your bike trailer.’”

(UPDATE: I just heard from an Oregon Department of Transportation official that said the Oregon law was written specifically to not include a child in a trailer. A trailer is a vehicle, my ODOT source said, not a bicycle, and therefore the under 16 bicycle helmet law does not apply. — Jonathan Maus)

Banning babies from bicycles isn’t new as Section 1238 New York State Vehicle and Traffic law states: “No person operating a bicycle shall allow a person who is under one year of age to ride as a passenger on a bicycle nor shall such person be carried in a pack fastened to the operator.”

However, in that case, the infant bicycle ban is a clear part of an active, rather than an indirect complication of, a helmet law. It also doesn’t pertain to infants riding in child trailers.

Eric Ophardt, a New York State Department of Transportation spokesperson told me that their law “does not address children less than one year of age as passengers in a trailers or pedicabs.” (Don’t even get me started about Oregon’s now infamous 2011 baby biking ban fiasco.)

Another confusing part of Vancouver’s law is whether or not it means people in pedicabs are required to wear helmets.

Most pedicabs are essentially three-wheeled bicycles or trailers pulled by two-wheeled bikes. That means they fall under the legal definition of a “bicycle” as per Vancouver Municipal Code Section 9.62.020.

Now, requiring pedicab passengers to wear helmets might not be an issue in pedicab-less Vancouver, but what impact would a similar requirement have on, for instance, Portland’s thriving pedicab industry?

Vancouver’s legal definition of “bicycle” further muddies the helmet law waters when it comes to electric-assist bikes. The law says bicycles are “propelled solely by human power,” so you’d think that means e-bike riders are exempt from wearing a helmet right? Nope. Not according to Vancouver patrol officers I talked to for this story. And court records indicate that no one has been cited under the helmet law on an electric bike yet so there’s no established city case law to clarify the matter.

Adding further potential confusion to Vancouver’s helmet law is the exemption it allows due to religious beliefs and practices and the fact that it doesn’t specifically list four-wheeled surreys (popular with tourists) as vehicle types included in the helmet requirement.

Considering the numerous grey areas in Vancouver’s law, the true debate might not be whether or not helmet laws are needed, but whether or not a confusing law does more harm than good.

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Comments
  • Jack October 24, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Perhaps the constitution needs another amendment:

    Congress shall make no law without both:
    a) a clear declaration of the end result is intended to achieve
    b) an explanation, backed by scientific study, as to how the law, as written, will achieve that end result

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  • Charley October 24, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    I doubt there is a way to write a helmet law that doesn’t result in legal impossibilities or practical improbabilities. That’s one of the reasons these laws make no sense. If they can’t decide what a “bicycle” is, or who should wear one, or what religions do or don’t allow helmets, they should just butt the heck out. Without legislating every fine point about riding a wheeled vehicle and what a “helmet” is, they’re just leaving room for already busy police to try and figure out the law on the street, thus unintentionally banning young children from any wheeled conveyance. Any law that is that vague and unclear just gives the police a convenient reason to harass someone they’re unhappy with.
    -
    Talk about nanny state.

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  • J .D. October 24, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    As a person who always wears a helmet and generally supports helmet laws for minors, it’s refreshing to see Bike Portland start a conversation on the finer points of helmet laws. I for one am sick of the same old pro/anti helmet law debate.

    I wouldn’t support a helmet law that applied to pedicab passengers or prevented infants from riding in child carriers.

    I would demand a helmet law includes language that not wearing a helmet wouldn’t decrease a driver’s liability if he hit someone biking.

    I would want a helmet law to apply to mini-bikes on the roadway, i.e. Zoobombers, but I wouldn’t want the law to apply to a toddler playing on his trike in a back yard.

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  • Case October 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I was just talking with a client about mandatory helmet laws and their impact on him and his religious counterparts. Interesting to know Vancouver took these in to significant enough consideration to specifically exempt those situations.

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    • Joe Adamski October 24, 2011 at 2:09 pm

      are you saying evangilists on bicycles, ie mormon missionaries are exempt?

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      • Case October 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm

        Not saying that, but Sikh men would be. Until a company makes turban specific helmets I guess. :)

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  • GlowBoy October 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I didn’t take my child in a trailer as an infant, not least because infants’ neck muscles are not well-developed, and (at least for car transport) you are required to use a REAR-FACING seat.

    If I’d had an easy way at the time to transport my child facing backward by bike, I might have attempted it occasionally. Presumably some of the bakfiets-type bikes have a large enough deck to strap down a rear-facing infant seat.

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    • bikey mama carie October 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm

      We were able to bolt in a car seat belt and use a car seat rear facing/ facing me in our bakfiets, until he grew out of the little car seat. now we have the car seat belt with a forward facing car seat. I”m ready for him to turn one, fit into a very small helmet and use the buckle system that came with the bakfiets. the bigger car seat he is in now ( 6-? months) doesn’t fit under the raincover facing backward, darn.

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  • wsbob October 24, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Solutions for the need to protect infants heads while being transported in bike trailers aren’t probably easy ones, but they certainly seem to be ones most everyone would agree are worth working on.

    Hard to see clearly in that little picture of maus’s illustrating this story, but that baby carrier appears to have some really good, thick padding, which is visible to the left of the baby’s head. That type of thing is probably a better solution than trying to fit rapidly growing kids heads into bike helmets.

    Good choice of wording in creating laws is critical. That’s why lawmakers’ legal consultants need to be top drawer, so we don’t wind up with goofy situations like the one about ‘There’s no bike lane in the intersection because it’s not marked by a solid white line’.

    Still, I don’t think lawmakers should take a ‘hands off’ position if creating a good helmet law that clearly spells out responsibilities and limitations, poses an especially difficult challenge. There are people whose care needs special attention, and infants and very young kids are some of those people. Most everyone well understands, that laws help society to protect kids that would otherwise go without.

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    • q`Tzal October 24, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      wsbob
      Solutions for the need to protect infants heads while being transported in bike trailers aren’t probably easy ones, but they certainly seem to be ones most everyone would agree are worth working on.

      How about something:
      that resembles an infant car seat,
      has an egg shaped roll cage (graphite tubes) that doubles as carrying handles,
      and something like an inflatable bladder version of a 4 point racing harness?

      Kinda like a bike helmet for the entire child.

      I envision that it could be securely coupled in to a car seat, bike carrier, stroller rig or even a bicycle trailer.

      If loose on a hard floor, indoors of course, I imagine that a securely fastened child might even enjoy gently rolling around in such a device.

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  • Champs October 24, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    As an adult and a regular helmet wearer, it seems that the safety benefit of helmet use is easily overstated. I’ll take what I can get, but a helmet requirement for all cyclists makes as much sense as it does for people who run six minute miles. Joggers certainly aren’t exempt from accidental falls or collisions with motor vehicles.

    Mandatory helmets for minors, on the other hand, are not at all outrageous. Custodians have a duty to keep their children safe, and a helmet is one of those things that is reasonable to require. Discovering that this responsibility cannot be fulfilled, however, reflects a good faith effort to comply, just like driving a car with a headlight out until you can get it into the shop, instead of deliberately neglecting it for months.

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    • Tacoma October 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      “Joggers certainly aren’t exempt from accidental falls…” True dat. I have had two concussions in my life, one from running (patch of ice on a hill) and one walking (backwards, crack in sidewalk).

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  • Arnold October 24, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Why after 20 or so years are we still debating if helmets are a good idea?If you fall from your bike at 15 mp/h and strike your frontal lobes on the curbing (or even the hard pavement),there may go all that makes you who you are. Brain injuries (as far as we can tell right now) are FOREVER! Can you tell I am pro-helmet? And no, I am NOT affiliated in any way with the big makers. Just average Joe bike rider. Who would no sooner think of riding without my helmet, than I would go riding naked. Just a thought,

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    • John Lascurettes October 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      Don’t knock riding naked until you’ve tried it. It’s great. Okay, I’m not naked at WNBR. I’m wearing a helmet and shoes.

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    • Jack October 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      This debate is not whether or not helmets can protect your head. It’s about whether or not cities/states/countries should dictate (via law) whether or not people are required to wear a helmet.

      Interesting that you compare riding without a helmet to riding naked. Both are pretty common and in many cases may be done for a lot of the same reasons…

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    • was carless October 24, 2011 at 3:08 pm

      You clearly have not ridden in the WNBR.

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    • Randall S. October 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm

      What happens if you’re walking to your car and trip over your kid’s toys and strike your frontal lobes on the curbing or hard pavement?

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      • Chris I October 25, 2011 at 8:58 am

        People are generally better at not striking their heads while falling from a walk vs. falling from a bike. The bike complicates things, making it harder to catch yourself. Additionally, the horizontal velocity is lower, reducing the overall force, and increasing your ability to avoid objects like curbs.

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        • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 9:07 am

          There is literally zero evidence to back up that statement.

          Furthermore, having a helmet on increases the weight of a person’s head, reducing the amount of control they have, increasing the chance of impact. Additionally, the size of the helmet increases the total volume of the headspace, turning what would have been near-misses on an unhelmeted person into impacts.

          My conjecture is just as good as yours.

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          • Chris I October 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm

            Please. Use some logic. We’re talking a difference in horizontal velocity from 2mph while walking to 16mph while cycling. That’s a 800% increase in velocity. A helmet probably increases the weight of someone’s head by 10% at most. Have you taken physics?

            Or let me pose the problem a different way. I’m going to bash you over the head with this 10lb concrete paver. You can take the hit with a helmet or without one. What do you choose to do?

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          • Marcus Griffith October 25, 2011 at 12:19 pm

            I have taken classical physics, atomic physics, crystallography, chemical physics and a few other fields, but I admit I have a soft spot for astrophysics but alas, other than the general E=MC^2, bringing up someones physics background is a real third derivative of position thing to do.

            As a former operator of a nuclear power plant, I must say the finer points of the slow neutron life cycle are under-appreciated by the general public. It’s quite fascinating once you understand the neutron-moderator interactions, esp, with non-water moderators….

            Oh, you were saying about physics again?

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          • El Biciclero October 28, 2011 at 9:37 am

            Chris I–

            What does horizontal velocity have to do with hitting one’s head on the curb or hard pavement? Besides a greater risk for abrasions (which an old-school leather “helmet” would fix) there is no difference in impact strength between falling from 6ft. up at 3mph or 20mph. In fact, it seems as though greater horizontal velocity would put one at a greater risk of so-called “torsional” injuries, which a helmet–with all its increased size and straps and vent-holes–would likely exacerbate, rather than mitigate.

            I think the point a lot of folks are trying to make here is that, sure, helmets might be a good idea for people engaged in all kinds of activities, why are we only so concerned about cyclists? Shouldn’t we be promoting helmet use for all? If “everybody” thinks it is “common sense” that cyclists wear helmets, why don’t they think it’s common sense for everybody? Do those that consider cyclists to be “stupid” or “insane” for not wearing helmets all the time consider themselves the same for not wearing a helmet to the grocery store? Why, when someone falls and cracks their head on their own driveway because they were blowing leaves off of the roof do we not immediately ask “were they wearing their helmet?”

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  • 9watts October 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I want to get back to a claim made in the comments section of this blog recently:
    “The Dutch have a nearly 0% helmet wearing rate, and the lowest rate of injuries and fatalities in the world. The US, at anywhere from 50-80% helmet wearing rates, has 6x the fatalities and over 20x the injury rate of the Netherlands.”

    I asked Randall S. who wrote this to offer supporting evidence and am still waiting. If what he said is true, I think it pertains to this question of helmets. I have worn a helmet on a bike for the past twenty-six years, but am open to learning new things.

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    • Randall S. October 24, 2011 at 9:20 pm

      Ah, I hadn’t seen you’d responded.

      The Dutch government, and video of any place in the Netherlands, and any reading anywhere ever show the Dutch helmet wearing rate.

      This paper here: http://www.vtpi.org/irresistible.pdf

      covers much of what you asked about though.

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    • Randall S. October 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm

      Also, just to be clear: there’s nothing wrong with wearing a helmet. If you are in a low-speed, non-motor vehicle involved crash that involves a head impact, then there’s a chance that a helmet could reduce the severity of a head injury. Of course, that’s also true for head injuries incurred while on foot as well.

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      • wsbob October 24, 2011 at 10:46 pm

        Randall S.
        Also, just to be clear: there’s nothing wrong with wearing a helmet. If you are in a low-speed, non-motor vehicle involved crash that involves a head impact, then there’s a chance that a helmet could reduce the severity of a head injury. Of course, that’s also true for head injuries incurred while on foot as well.
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        It’s also true that a bike helmet can offer a wearer of a bike helmet that’s riding a bike, a good chance for a reduction in the severity of a head injury in a collision with a motor vehicle that involves a head impact.

        Any comparison it seems you would like to make between people that walk and people that ride bikes and the rate injury associated with each activity, is not clear.

        Traveling on foot and traveling by bike are two very different modes of travel, that occur in traffic conditions that are markedly different from each other.

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        • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 7:17 am

          Actually, to quote a recent research article “there was no significant interaction between motor vehicle impact and helmet wearing.”

          But really, I’m sure you don’t seriously think that a piece of styrofoam offers any protection against a 2,000lb piece of steel, right?

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          • Chris I October 25, 2011 at 9:03 am

            You don’t really inspire confidence in your analytical capabilities when you refer to helmets as “thin pieces of Styrofoam”. Give the helmet engineers some credit, and do some research about the physics of an impact, material deformation, etc, etc…

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          • wsbob October 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

            A

            Randall S.
            Actually, to quote a recent research article “there was no significant interaction between motor vehicle impact and helmet wearing.”
            But really, I’m sure you don’t seriously think that a piece of styrofoam offers any protection against a 2,000lb piece of steel, right?
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            A bike helmet, is designed to offer the wearer protection within limited criteria, from an impact resulting from collision with a surface.

            Since the impact surface used in testing procedures to estimate bike helmet efficacy consists of a solid steel anvil, logically, a bike helmet would have some capacity to protect against motor vehicles, whose solid steel components are mostly buried deep within the softer bodies that many motor vehicles have.

            That bike helmets have this capability is why personal accounts of people involved in car-bike collisions, in which, for example, the person on the bike was vaulted off the bike onto the hood of a motor vehicle with their head colliding with the motor vehicles windshield, attribute a positive benefit to having been wearing the bike helmet.

            I suppose though, there will always be somebody insisting that a person on a bike in such a collision would fare just as well, bareheaded.

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  • Paul Johnson October 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Wow, was unaware Fort Vancouver had a helmet law. You’d think they’d post that over the northbound cycleway on the Interstate Bridge and the center roadway on the Glenn L Jackson Bridge to remind people of this, along with other locations going into city limits to remind folks of the law, since Portland doesn’t have this. Likewise, if Washington doesn’t require bicyclists 16 and under to wear a helmet, Oregon should probably post this on the southbound interstate cycleway and the center roadway on the Jackson Bridge…

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    • Paul in Vancouver October 24, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      Don’t worry Paul J. They don’t enforce it. I still see 50% of elementary students riding without helmets and 75% of middle school students. I’ve never seen an enforcement or even a warning effort around my local schools (and I travel there most days w/ my kids). The only population I see with higher compliance is exactly as I predicted – the homeless. The homeless guys learned quick to wear a helmet to avoid getting harassed. Outside of that I haven’t noticed any increase in helmet usage in Vancouver.

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      • steve scarich October 25, 2011 at 8:36 am

        In Oregon (well, Bend at least), there is zero enforcement of kid’s helmet law. I have actually seen officers at scene of bike/car accident allow kids to ride away after minor accident without wearing their helmets.

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      • mabsf October 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm

        That’s a really scary thought…

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      • Paul Johnson October 25, 2011 at 8:16 pm

        Seems stupid to even pass the law if you’re not going to enforce it. Then again, par for the course, right?

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  • wsbob October 24, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    “…I still see 50% of elementary students riding without helmets and 75% of middle school students. …” Paul in Vancouver

    If the percentage of kids not wearing bike helmets while riding bikes to school, that you’re seeing is accurate, that’s interesting, especially as it relates to elementary students. It would lead to the question about whether or not Vancouver elementary school teachers and principals are advising students and parents about the new law and urging them to comply with it.

    Fortunately, falls from bikes with resulting head collisions tend to be infrequent, but if one happens while a kid not wearing a helmet is either on their way to or from school, and the school hasn’t been making a decided effort to keep the kids appraised of the law, that’s not going to go so good for the kid, the school, or anyone.

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  • Racer X October 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    One of the other under-discussed issues with helmet laws in WA State is…should the public health committees (King County helmet law) and city councils (Vancouver, etc.) be responsbile for transportation laws such as this.

    Did we have seat belt laws by each town before it was a statewide law? I doubt it.

    But if this the way to do it…how about citizens approaching their city councils to ban studded tires, have helmet laws for car drivers and passengers (in cars without side airbags, etc.), etc.?!

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  • kiel Johnson October 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    This problem would be solved if we also had a mandatory motoring helmet law. Only then would there be a large enough market to diversify the styles of helmets available, I could see the eventual creation of turban helmet or helmet that has a kippah painted on the top. Here is some more info about motoring helmets and a place to purchase your own! http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/05/motoring-helmets-for-real-high-risk.html

    Remember a seatbelt won’t protect your head!

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  • sabes October 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Talk to any ER doctor about the importance of wearing a bike helmet. Maybe if you don’t wear a helmet, you don’t get to use your health insurance, since that increases everyone else’s premiums.

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    • Jack October 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      Please cite some statistics before you start making such short-sighted claims. What is the total cost of head injuries resulting from collisions/falls by people commuting by bike and not wearing helmets? Do you believe it exceeds the total cost of injuries sustained due to drunk driving? Or distracted driving? Or even sober, attentive driving without a seatbelt? Pretty sure in all those scenarios everyone still gets their health AND auto insurance coverage. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, but you can’t single out one mode of transportation, especially when it’s probably by far the least costly when it comes to resulting medical bills.

      It’s likely that a large number of cyclists who end up in the ER due to a head injury were not wearing helmets. That makes it reasonable to conclude that wearing a helmet is a good way to prevent a head injury. It does not mean that not wearing a helmet causes head injuries.

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    • Richard October 24, 2011 at 5:39 pm

      And if you smoke you don’t get to use your health insurance?

      And if you eat too many french fries and drink too many sodas your don’t get to use your health insurance?

      And if you use your car for short trips in your neighborhood instead of walking, you don’t get to use your health insurance?

      Do you work for one of those health insurers that exists to collect premiums, but not pay claims?

      I wear a helmet, but if “any ER doctor” isn’t enough to talk someone into wearing a helmet, I’m not going to make it a hanging offense. And I’m not going to strip them of health insurance and leave their loved ones with not only the pain of an injured family member, but also with crushing medical bills.

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    • nom de plume October 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm

      I loved it when I went to the ER with a broken wrist and the Dr. asked me if I was wearing a helmet when I crashed. I knew I was in good hands at that point…

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    • mabsf October 25, 2011 at 4:42 pm

      What does the ER doctor say about all the car accidents… 1000 every day?.. even with airbag and seatbelt…

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      • Paul Johnson October 25, 2011 at 8:17 pm

        Yeah, and I bet they still make a note of it if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt.

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  • Legendary Fall October 24, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Helmets are like condoms: wearing them is less fun when you don’t need them but if you needed one and didn’t wear one, you have some problems.

    Personally, I only wear helmets on trips I plan on having my head hit sort of like I only wear a condom when I plan on sleeping with someone with an STD.

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    • Randall S. October 24, 2011 at 9:16 pm

      I’m ecstatic to see that you wear your pedestrian helmet every day, to protect yourself from the hundreds of thousands of head injuries caused by the millions of falls every year.

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  • Mike October 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    I wonder if you anti-helmet folks would have been anti-seatbelt when it became law. Is it just the “government can’t tell me what to do” mentality or is it just plain ignorance. If any of you don’t believe they prevent or at least decrease the severity of head injuries don’t have a clue!!!! Also, pretty sure most pediatricians would not recommend placing a 3 month old in a trailer.

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  • jim October 24, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    We’ve been over this before so nothing new here. Infants are not safe on bicycles, this is the consensus of medical professionals. If parents have wishful thinking that is magically going to protect their baby, they are in for a sad surprise.
    Car seats are designed for cars, not bikes. Bikes have their own unique dangers that are different than cars. If a bike with a trailer crashes, more than likely it will roll over. Some sort of a bar needs to be above the strapped in child to protect him in a roll-over. Infants heads are big and heavy, their neck muscles are not able to withstand a jolt of a crash. There is a valid reason why there aren’t helmets for infants.
    I wouldn’t be worried about the law as much as the consequences of what can happen to a small infant. You are the grown up, act like one, be responsible.

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  • Bill October 24, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    “The Dutch have a nearly 0% helmet wearing rate, and the lowest rate of injuries and fatalities in the world. The US, at anywhere from 50-80% helmet wearing rates, has 6x the fatalities and over 20x the injury rate of the Netherlands.”

    Id like to see a real study on where you get a statistic like 50-80% of Americans wear helmets. I could see around 50% but Id venture to say not in most cities across the US.
    I have done my own counts in Portland on many occasions and the percentages are never this high. Not even when Im just riding along and not taking an actual count would I say I see an average greater than 50%.
    If the Dutch statistics are accurate, Id have to guess the difference has to do with bicycle infrastructure and the idea that motor vehicle drivers are more aware of riders on the road. cyclists and drivers are probably taught how to interact with one another better.

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    • Randall S. October 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm

      So then you understand that helmets offer little in the way of safety in the big picture, and that the way to actually make cycling safer is not to suppress the cycling rates with helmet laws, but rather to encourage cycling by educating drivers, building cycling infrastructure and cutting back on car culture?

      Great! Then we’re on the same page.

      Also, here’s a study from bikeportland showing an 88% helmet wearing rate in Portland:

      http://bikeportland.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/bikecount2009reportfinal.pdf

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      • Randall S. October 24, 2011 at 9:40 pm

        Oops: 77% rate, not 88%.

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      • Chris October 25, 2011 at 7:56 am

        “So then you understand that helmets offer little in the way of safety in the big picture?” Really? I think you missed the point of his post. The statistic he was questioning has nothing to do with helmets, it has to do with the different cultures. One is aware, considerate and looks out of cyclists, the other is oblivious, distracted, and feels its their right to drive their SUV 10mph above the speed limit while checking their email on a smartphone….I’ll let you guess which is which.

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        • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 8:06 am

          Their culture(s) are that way because they MADE them that way. There isn’t a Danish attention gene that’s lacking in American culture. The solution to the problem is not “force all cyclists to wear helmets, then drivers won’t have to worry about injuring people when then run them down.”

          One of the solutions is to start holding the people (like the one you mentioned) accountable for their actions, which we currently don’t do to any serious degree (see, e.g., the WA driver who incurred a $42 fine for killing a cyclist).

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          • wsbob October 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm

            “…The solution to the problem is not “force all cyclists to wear helmets, then drivers won’t have to worry about injuring people when then run them down.” …” Randall S.

            And I don’t believe anybody…Anybody….no individual, not Austrailia, not even Vancouver Washington, has ever suggested that people that ride bikes should be forced to wear bike helmets so that “…drivers won’t have to worry about injuring people when then run them down.” .

            The reason you’ve given isn’t even close to the reason the mainstream bike riding public is being advised to wear bike helmets.

            People are being advised to wear bike helmets because bike helmet design offers a good chance for reduction in the degree of injury they may sustain through an impact to their head, compared to an impact sustained while not wearing a helmet.

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          • Paul Johnson October 25, 2011 at 12:39 pm

            True, but what’s wrong with expecting people to minimize the odds of traumatic head injury as much as possible until then? It’s not like anybody here is trying to claim that bike helmets are ablative armor, but something that gives you a statistically better chance at reduced injury severity?

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  • G Shaw October 25, 2011 at 7:50 am

    What about riders of trikes, ie recumbent trikes?

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  • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Chris I
    You don’t really inspire confidence in your analytical capabilities when you refer to helmets as “thin pieces of Styrofoam”. Give the helmet engineers some credit, and do some research about the physics of an impact, material deformation, etc, etc…
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    I assume you’re joking. It’s pretty widely known that helmets aren’t designed to protect from car impacts. The testing standard is a drop onto an anvil from standing height. As I’m sure you’re also discovered in your research: bicycle helmets don’t protect at all from torsional injuries, which are the type of injuries that are most likely to cause brain damage.

    http://www.bhsi.org/testing.htm

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    • wsbob October 25, 2011 at 11:55 am

      “…It’s pretty widely known that helmets aren’t designed to protect from car impacts. …” Randall S.

      Explain what you mean in your statement, by ‘widely known’, and ‘car impacts’.

      I’m having difficulty understanding exactly what type of car impacts you’re implying, and who is amongst the widely known that knows about them relative to the use of bike helmets.

      If you’re referring to car impacts arising from collisions between a person on a bike and a motor vehicle, in which the car or other motor vehicle directly impacts the head of the person on the bike, it would help if you make this perfectly clear this is what you’re referring to.

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      • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm

        By “widely known” I mean “if you’ve ever read anything about bicycle helmets, then you should know this.”

        By “car impacts” I mean “motor-vehicle involved cycling injuries.”

        I’m not sure what the problem is here. This is pretty plain language. I’m also not sure what kind of motor vehicle-bicycle collisions involve the motor vehicle directly striking the head of the cyclist, since it’s extremely unlikely that would happen.

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        • wsbob October 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm

          “…I’m not sure what the problem is here. …” Randall S.

          The problem lies with your making a vague, unspecified claim, that when obliged to explain in greater detail, turns out to not have any basis in truth.

          Contrary to what you’ve said, bicycle helmets most certainly are designed to protect…specifically, people’s heads, from “…”motor-vehicle involved cycling injuries.” ….” .

          The whole point of the lab tests with the weighted helmet dropped onto the anvil is to attempt to estimate some of the forces that a person’s head would sustain in an impact with a given surface. The surface could be a motor vehicle, but could also be any number of other surfaces, not necessarily the same hardness.

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          • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm

            No, they aren’t. Either you didn’t read the testing page, or else you think a large portion of automobiles travel at 10 or 14mph.

            http://cyclehelmets.org/papers/c2023.pdf
            The giant quote on the first page states “cycle helmets are designed for falls without any other vehicle involved.”

            http://cyclehelmets.org/1139.html
            “In cases of high impact, such as most crashes that involve a motor vehicle, the initial forces absorbed by a cycle helmet before breaking are only a small part of the total force and the protection provided by a helmet is likely to be minimal in this context.”

            AA President Edmund King:
            “Our view is that helmets do not protect against cars”

            Perhaps you could point me to the people who think that bicycle helmets will protect you when you get hit by a speeding car?

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          • wsbob October 27, 2011 at 6:04 pm

            “…The giant quote on the first page states “cycle helmets are designed for falls without any other vehicle involved.” …” Randall S

            The group whose website you provided a link to and from which you say the above quote is from cyclehelmets.org, appear to hate bike helmets and the very idea that people would consider wearing one for protection in a fall from a bike.

            The group is entitled to make a claim that bike helmets are designed for falls without any other vehicle involved, but their doing so doesn’t make the claim true. Their claim isn’t true.

            Bike helmets are designed to protect against impacts to people heads when their heads collide with a surface. Collisions involving people’s heads with surfaces can occur when people fall from their bikes. Interaction with other vehicles are a reason people fall off their bikes.

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    • Chris I October 25, 2011 at 12:08 pm

      Again, I’m going to pose a question. You get hit by a car. The back of your head is flying into the windshield at 5mph. You can choose if you want to wear a helmet or not. What do you do?

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      • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm

        I’d wear a helmet. My turn:

        You get hit by a car while walking across the street. The back of your head is flying into the windshield at 5mph. You can choose if you want to wear a helmet or not. What do you do?

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        • jim October 25, 2011 at 5:23 pm

          The windsheild you hit- was the car moving??

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      • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm

        Also, since you (and many others) still don’t seem to get this, allow me to reiterate:

        IF you are in any sort of accident
        AND the accident involves a head injury
        AND the head injury was not torsional
        AND the head injury was severe enough to compress the helmet liner
        AND the head injury was not so traumatic as to overcome the protective value of the helmet, then a helmet
        MIGHT reduce the severity of the injury

        I’m not saying “helmets don’t ever protect you.” If you trip in your garage and fall on the concrete, gloves will protect your hands. If you slip in the shower and hit your head on the tub, a helmet will protect your head. If you hit a light pole in your car and your head slams into the window, a helmet will protect your head. If you are washing a knife in the kitchen chain-link gloves will protect you from getting cut.

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  • enough flaming October 25, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Why do cities pass ill-worded helmet laws? Because cyclists are too busy moaning about helmets to give meaningful input to their elected leaders.

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  • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Chris I
    Please. Use some logic. We’re talking a difference in horizontal velocity from 2mph while walking to 16mph while cycling. That’s a 800% increase in velocity. A helmet probably increases the weight of someone’s head by 10% at most. Have you taken physics?
    Or let me pose the problem a different way. I’m going to bash you over the head with this 10lb concrete paver. You can take the hit with a helmet or without one. What do you choose to do?
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    That’s a lovely canard, but totally irrelevant. The ad hominem doesn’t help make your point either.

    Let me pose the problem a different way: ~20,000 people die in the US each year from slipping and falling in the shower. Why do you not wear a helmet in the shower?

    There are 8 MILLION falling injuries per year in the US, many of them same level. Why no walking helmets?

    There are 35,000 MV deaths per year, and hundreds of thousands of injuries, many of which are head injuries, but not a single driver wears a helmet despite the plain fact that a helmet could protect in an injury.

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  • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Marcus Griffith
    I have taken classical physics, atomic physics, crystallography, chemical physics and a few other fields, but I admit I have a soft spot for astrophysics but alas, other than the general E=MC^2, bringing up someones physics background is a real third derivative of position thing to do.
    As a former operator of a nuclear power plant, I must say the finer points of the slow neutron life cycle are under-appreciated by the general public. It’s quite fascinating once you understand the neutron-moderator interactions, esp, with non-water moderators….
    Oh, you were saying about physics again?
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    I assume you mean things like lithium moderated reactions? I only have a casual knowledge of moderated reactions, although I did spend a few years working with, ah, “unmoderated reactors,” so to speak. Speaking of which (OT)…

    There’s guided tours (free) of the Hanford B Reactor now. It’s cold, obviously, and has been for decades, but it’s fascinating if you’re ever out in the Tri-Cities area. Also, the nearest Taco Johns is in Richmond. Just sayin’…

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  • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Paul Johnson
    True, but what’s wrong with expecting people to minimize the odds of traumatic head injury as much as possible until then? It’s not like anybody here is trying to claim that bike helmets are ablative armor, but something that gives you a statistically better chance at reduced injury severity?
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    What’s wrong with it? Absolutely nothing. My point is simply that if you are scared of being injured, you should be wearing your helmet 24/7. If you want to be safe in general though, you’re probably better off just not getting into an accident in the first place.

    Riding safely, obeying traffic laws, and not riding while drunk eliminate the majority of accident causes.

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    • Paul Johnson October 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      Except the ones caused by other people, which are the problem. People have a self-preservation instinct.

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      • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 1:27 pm

        You can’t hide from everything. I’d rather live my life than cower in my house because I’m afraid of being killed while driving, being poisoned, cancer, heart attacks, killing myself, being murdered, AIDS, liver disease, a stroke, diabetes, septicemia, the flu, lung disease, kidney disease, falling, drowning, hepatitis, fire, high blood pressure, aortic aneurysm, non-metastatic cancer, complications during pregnancy, anemia, suffocation, exposure, hitting something in a non-traffic accident while on foot, accidental gunshots or being hit by a car on foot, all of which kill more people in my age group than bicycling.

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  • 9watts October 25, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Perhaps you could point me to the people who think that bicycle helmets will protect you when you get hit by a speeding car?

    http://bikeportland.org/forum/showthread.php?t=3350

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    • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 1:51 pm

      No one in that link appears to believe that the helmet actually saved that person. In fact, it seems like literally every single comment except the OP are pointing out how unrealistic it is to think that a styrofoam helmet would withstand an SUV running over it.

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    • Marcus Griffith October 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      <—- here's one. I got hit by a negligent driver in speeding truck in 2009. My head hit the asphalt first resulting in a less than pleasant head injury with lingering effects for more than a year. Had I not been wearing a helmet, I likely wouldn't be here today.

      Sure, helmet's won't protect major organs or stop all head injuries, but in my case, the helmet reduced what likely would have been a fatal head injury to one that had complication that I could live through.

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      • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 2:43 pm

        I’m sure you’re been told this numerous times, but you don’t actually know if that’s true (although it might be).

        If the styrofoam liner wasn’t crushed, your helmet didn’t actually protect you. Even if it did help you, the actual statistics speak louder than any anecdotes:

        The vast majority of cyclists never get injured.
        In most cases where a cyclist is hit by a car, a helmet doesn’t help.
        In most cases where a cyclist in injured in a non-car involved accident, injuries are very minor.

        Like I keep saying: a helmet could save your life. Wear it 24/7 for full protection.

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        • jim October 25, 2011 at 5:26 pm

          They do test helmets, they do work.

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          • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 5:37 pm

            Again, I’ve never said they didn’t. I mean, they don’t work for car collisions, as actual research has proven. But yes, they “work.”

            But anyway, that’s not the point. If wearing a helmet is what it takes to get people on bikes, then I’m all for it. I say gear up in your reflective yellow vest and your helmet and your protective goggles and your leather gloves and your leg armor and your chest armor and your steel-toe boots and get out there and ride!

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      • Randall S. October 25, 2011 at 2:46 pm

        Also, a few anecdotes of my own: I’ve had 5 head injuries that I can recall in my lifetime, one of which was serious enough to cause a concussion. I wasn’t wearing a helmet for any of them.

        In your opinion, do you think I should have been?

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  • anthony sands October 25, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Randell S. I wear one at all times especially in the shower, in the car, crossing the street, and cooking bacon. You never know man

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  • john October 25, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    helmets for everyone and anyone going faster than 6.67 mph!! and full face NASCAR style helmets and neck padding bracing, especially for babies, in any convenyance that has the ability to go faster than than 46.69 mph on flat ground ! and or Bubblewrap for Babies !

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  • WillB October 27, 2011 at 8:25 am

    As an effective work around, the Obligatory Church of Non-compulsory Helmet Use is beginning to look like a viable option.

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    • Marcus Griffith October 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm

      Possible headline: Cycling to salvation?

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