Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Portland Tribune: “Helmet law’s a no-brainer”

Posted by on August 7th, 2008 at 10:38 am

Whether you are for or against a mandatory helmet law, I think it’s safe to say we haven’t heard the end of this yet.

Playing into my hunch is an editorial in today’s Portland Tribune: Bicycle helmet law’s a no brainer. In the piece, the Tribune shares the type of soundbyte that will be very persuasive to a number of Oregonians. Here’s an excerpt (emphasis mine):

“… Prozanski was on exactly the right path in suggesting that bicyclists of all ages – not just those under 17 – should be required by law to wear helmets.

Objections to such a law are based on personal freedom. But when it comes to vehicle safety, why should those who ride bicycles be treated differently from the operators of motorcycles or cars?

Oregon law requires that motorcyclists wear helmets. It requires that all drivers and passengers wear seat belts. The rationale for these laws is that society must pay the price of immediate and lifelong care when a helmetless motorcyclist suffers a head injury, or when someone who is not wearing a seat belt is hurt in a car wreck.

That exact rationale applies equally to bicyclists. If Prozanski isn’t willing to pursue this safety initiative, then another legislator should take up the cause.”

If you are against a new helmet law, I would suggest reading this editorial carefully and honing your rebuttals. I would not be surprised if “another legislator” took the Tribune’s advice.

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  • Dave Sohigian August 7, 2008 at 11:00 am

    I like your emphasis:

    why should those who ride bicycles be treated differently from the operators of motorcycles or cars?

    Does this mean that we should do some studies on the benefits of wearing a helmet while driving a car? I bet that would save even more lives than airbags.

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  • B.C. August 7, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Dave has a great point. You have the draw the line at mandating safety requirements somewhere, otherwise we would be covered in bubble wrap and locked in our houses.

    My main counter arguement would be this: how many people die on bikes each year because they were not wearing a helmet? How many people would die each year if they weren\’t wearing seatbelts?

    People are required to wear seatbelts and cars are required to have airbags because car/truck accidents are so much more traumatic since they are typically going much faster than the average bicyclist.

    If I hear someone use the logic the Tribune uses again, I am going to ask them if they wear a helmet while driving, and if (no, when) they say \”no\”, I will tell them to politely stop talking (shut up).

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  • El Biciclero August 7, 2008 at 11:40 am

    No one has yet explained how forced helmet-wearers will be persuaded/educated in proper and safe use of those helmets.

    Any safety device protects only to the degree that it is properly used.

    Suppose a law were passed to \”require helmets\”:

    Will there be language in the law that states that helmets must be approved by a recognized safety organization?

    Will there be language in the law that requires helmets to be no older than recommended by the manufacturer? (Remember the news stories about \”expired\” child car seats? Does anyone enforce that?)

    Will there be language in the law that requires that helmet straps be buckled?

    Will there be language in the law that requires that helmets fit properly and are worn level on the head?

    A helmet worn improperly is no safer–and may be more dangerous–than no helmet at all.

    People who take responsibility for their own safety also tend to make the effort to educate themselves on proper safety procedures and proper use of safety equipment.

    People who are forced to use \”safety measures\” do not.

    This is why a helmet law–as much as I might want everyone to wear a helmet like me–is not the answer.

    Another question: Why does my bike helmet warn that it is not approved for motorsport use? Because bikes are fundamentally different from Motorized vehicles. There is a difference between operating a 50-250hp motorized vehicle and a–I don\’t even know–1/25th? 1/50th? what kind of horsepower does a human generate?

    Also forcing \”safer\” behavior on bike riders without forcing \”safer\” behavior on drivers (e.g., no cell-talkin\’, burger-eatin\’, or make-up-applyin\’ while drivin\’, or perhaps a refresher driving test every 10 years or so) who pose the greatest risk to bike riders smacks of victim-blame and biased law-making. But then making a helmet law is cheap, and it only places a burden on a minority that we\’d all like to just go away anyway…

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  • DGC August 7, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    I\’ve been in two extremely serious traffic accidents. One wearing seat belts – which, most likely, saved my life. One not wearing seat belts – which, most likely, saved my life. Let me emphasize; in both accidents, the witnesses all said I should be dead. Two completely different accidents with the vehicles involved reacting very differently.

    I\’ve been in one bike/auto accident. Car turned in front of me doing a righty into an Albertson\’s parking lot. I corner-of-the-eye saw it just in time to turn the front wheel so it didn\’t become a \”taco,\” but I hit the ground head first. Helmet saved me from big time hurt, and maybe death.

    Not all circumstances are the same. Not all accidents are the same. Not all safety equipment always works. Even if we were wrapped in bubble wrap and couldn\’t leave the house, we could drown while drinking as little as 2 oz. of as-safe-as-they-make-it pasturized/homogonized/1% milk (it has happened!!!)!

    I don\’t like legislation or being told what to do any more than the next person. However, when going for the \”common good,\” we all need to excersize \”common grace.\” We all need to remember that in some cases helmets will save some, while not others.

    It\’s amazing how automatic it is now that I buckle up when I \”have to\” drive the 6,200 lb. E350. Back in the day, we didn\’t wear seat belts, we ate paint for dessert, and we drank our beer out of lead steins! Wearing a helmet could and most likely should become just as automatic – whether our lawmakers pass the legislation or not.

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  • Whyat August 7, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    I\’m curious if the same anti-helmet law people think we should throw out all existing seat belt laws?

    Dave Sohigian- Cars have a metal saftely cage to protect the occupants, which when combined with seat belts provide an extremely effective protection system.

    B.C.- Low speed bike accidents can be much more traumatic to a cyclist\’s head than a high speed motorcycle accident due to the distance of the cyclists head to the ground. There are many factors that influence the severity of an injury in an accident.

    I would be completely against a helmet and seat belt laws if taxpayers didn\’t have to pay for the care of injured riders/drivers etc. Since that is not the case, I gotta grudgingly lean towards a helmet law even though I am going to be totally flamed because of it.

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  • Lynne August 7, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    I wear a helmet. I think all cyclists would be well-served if they wore helmets. That said, the law would then give law enforcement yet another way to harrass cyclists. It is blatantly obvious is one is not wearing a helmet. It is not blatantly obvious that one is not wearing a seatbelt. I don\’t see \”seatbelt stings\”. I could easily see \”helmet stings\”.

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  • Dave Sohigian August 7, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    @Whyat #5
    I am not necessarily anti-helmet, but I do think that the argument about treating people on bikes differently than those in cars is not a fair. Given the number of car related deaths (45,000+ per year) vs. the number of bike related (770+ per year) it really is possible that helmets in cars might save more lives than helmets on bikes.
    Enforcing safety can have some unforeseen effects. For an example, watch Steve Levitt\’s talk about child carseats. I agree that wearing a helmet is important when riding a bike because it reduces the chance of a life-threatening (or altering) occurrence. I wear one whenever I am out on a bike and I think everyone should wear one. But what are the practical effects of requiring them?

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  • BicycleDave August 7, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    The most persuasive argument against helmet laws is that they make us less safe.

    Yeah, you read that right less safe. Here\’s how: Some people don\’t like wearing helmets. Helmet laws discourage those people from riding. The fewer people riding bikes the less familiar automobile drivers are with how to react around bicyclists.

    There is at least one study about this. I\’ll try to look it up when I get home. There is also a study that shows drivers drive closer to and less cautiously around bicyclists with helmets than those without.

    I\’ll continue to wear a helmet and encourage others to as well, but I\’ll fight against a mandatory helmet law for adults.

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  • SkidMark August 7, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Wearing a helmet is a no-brainer.

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  • jrep August 7, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    I always wear a helmet while bicycling and always wear a seatbelt while driving or riding in a car. I think it just makes good sense. I would support making helmet use mandatory, but I think a higher traffic safety priority and benefit would be achieved by random sobriety stops of motorists and mandatory jail time for those convicted of DUI. We could probably save multiple thousands more lives annually by concentrating on getting drunk drivers off the road as opposed to dozens by mandating helmet use.

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  • Whyat August 7, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Dave Sohigian #7- I think you\’re correct. If drivers had to wear helmets they would not doubt save lives… so I don\’t know… maybe we should just ban people from ever leaving their houses and then there would be no traffic deaths what so ever :p

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  • Dave Sohigian August 7, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Whyat #11.

    …ban people from ever leaving their houses…

    I think that is the mission of television. So maybe we should propose mandatory television watching. With a helmet, of course 🙂

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  • inwe August 7, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    Let\’s keep in mind that one need not be in an traumatic would\’ve-been-thrown-from-the-car accident to appreciate a seatbelt. Just a abrupt stop or minor rear-ending will do. Anyone who rides the bus should certainly know this. Even at very slow speeds, a sudden stop can propel half the bus from their seats. A helmet is not the seatbelt-equivalent for bikes. It\’s more on the worst-case-scenario end of accidents; perhaps the bicyclist\’s airbag?
    There\’s nothing to say all automobiles must have working airbags for every seat. Let\’s see a legislator take that one up, it\’d sure help with traffic.

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  • - Asher Atkinson August 7, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    While I am not opposed to a helmet law and think anyone riding without a helmet takes an enormous risk, I believe other safety initiatives can be more effective in terms of saving lives and reducing societal costs for injury treatment. An initiative I can imagine is a voluntary cyclist insurance program where helmet use and some type of safety accreditation are requirements for participation and claims. Here is what I mean:

    Though I haven’t seen any numbers, I’d guess many cyclists don’t have any heath insurance. And while I am fortunate enough to have good heath insurance, I don’t own a car and thus don’t have auto insurance and the mandatory liability insurance that comes with it. Not only do I get slammed with high rates for supplemental liability insurance when renting a car, my worst nightmare as a cyclist is injuring a pedestrian and being liable with their medical bills and other damages. So for cyclists without health and/or liability insurance, I’d think a cyclist insurance program could be attractive. If designed to cover only those in compliance with safety requirements – like attendance in safety class and helmet use at time of incident – the participant pool would be low risk and thus the policy premium would be low. Essentially this would be a voluntary licensing and helmet use program in exchange for participation in reasonably priced insurance plan.

    While this may smack of too much social engineering for some, I believe ideas like this can be more practical and effective than trying to put in place and enforce a blunt instrument like a helmet law.

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  • gus August 7, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Deaths per capita are so much higher for pedestrians but why is there no agitation to require helmets for it?

    Is it the thrill of attempting to impose ones will upon non-consenting others?

    Meanwhile the schools go to hell, a $4 billion boondoggle looms on the horizon, the \’pearl\’ continues to get tax breaks, etc., etc., ad infinitum… and THIS is what they choose to write about???

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  • GF August 7, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    I think not wearing a helmet, and blowing stop signs and other disregard of basic road rules, is just an example of evolution in action. Time will sort it out, and the car drivers will win. It\’s simple physics. Being an asshole will not protect your head.


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  • mark August 8, 2008 at 9:13 am

    I trade you my mandatory-helmet-law for your mandatory-no-cell-phone-in-vehicle law.

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  • Ron August 8, 2008 at 11:23 am

    If you ride in Washington you will note their mandatory-no-cell-phone-in-vehicle law isn\’t working very well.

    I like the no cell phone law (if it were enforced/followed) in that it proactively reduces accidents. Where the helmet law is more of a reactive measure.

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  • Cøyøte August 8, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Whyat, the public cost argument is a non-starter for me. I pay for medical treatment for the uninsured for all sorts of elective and risky behavior. I pay for smokers heart attacks, cancer treatments, respiratory thearapy, et. al. I pay for fetal alcohol and drug addicted babies. I pay for careless drivers crashes. I pay for diabetes treatment for the obese. I pay for heart disease treatment for people who are just damn lazy to get off the couch and do something.

    Traumatic brain injuries do to bicycle crashes where the rider was not wearing a helmet is a tiny portion of the costs associated above risky behaviors. The real problem is the healthcare system.

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  • steve August 8, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Universal, free, state of the art healthcare for all.

    Problem solved, right?

    Pay for it by halving the defense dept\’s budget. Should be enough left over to build new schools in every city. House the houseless. And so forth.

    Or pass a helmet law that will only be used to deny affixing liability to a motorist when injuring a cyclist, even if the motorist is at fault. Or be used to harass the homeless, as has been shown in other cities. Or to terrify people back into their cars. And so forth.

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  • todd August 10, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    um except bikes aren\’t like motorcycles or cars. they\’re slow. huge difference. if you must have another law, how about one making seatbelts in cars optional below 20mph, and bike helmets mandatory above that speed? until speeds are more consistently measured and limits enforced, this is all wanking.

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  • joeb August 10, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    I always wear a helmet and a seatbelt.

    When I put on a seatbelt, I always have to distract myself by thinking how I like the secure feeling of a seatbelt so that I don\’t think about being required/forced to wear it. Yes after… what is it 20 years, I still resent the seatbelt law.

    Every person on a bike is one less car which right there makes the roads safer. It also makes drivers more aware and helps reduce speeds. I don\’t want to see people penalized for riding a bike.

    I think Cøyøte\’s list of people who tax the health care system really puts bicycle head injury\’s burden to society into perspective. That argument is a non starter for me too.

    Unfortunately, this argument will not stop and I expect will eventually become a helmet law. Then I will console myself by saying, \”I chose to wear helmets before it was a law, so nothing has changed and I am still putting this helmet on by choice.\”

    But if I take out my being a baby about my personal freedom being diminished, I feel this would be a step backwards. What about the one time a year your helmet was left in a friend\’s car? Do you then get in the car and drive legally until you see the friend again next weekend? Just one situation that will reduce ridership and increase car traffic.

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  • Eileen August 11, 2008 at 3:37 am

    Although I am old enough to remember bouncing around the back seat of the car when I was a kid, I do wonder if the seatbelt laws were even necessary. I think it is the type of thing that people were going to start doing anyway. I mean, only 20 years before that law, cars didn\’t even always come with seatbelts (or so I\’ve been told). Sometimes I am nostalgic for the road trips with 4 kids, 2 dogs, sleeping bags and a mattress in the back of the suburban- something my kids will never experience. But my kids LOVE their carseats and they never knew it was a law to wear them. Well, they knew it was mommy\’s law. But nonetheless, they actually freak out if we start a car and someone has forgotten to buckle them. And all the parents I know have been way ahead of the laws by staying up to date on the recommendations. And people I know who ride motorcycles didn\’t need to see many pictures of the guy who wasn\’t wearing a helmet to feel it was important. (I still won\’t even look at that e-mail that was being passed around – no thank you!) And even on the hottest day, my dad wears his \”leathers\” (a sight his grown daughters should NOT have to look at) because he knows he is safer. My kids are the same way about their bike helmets. I have trained them and now my son practically won\’t go outside without it, just in case he decides to climb on his \”motorcycle\” while he\’s out there. No one had to tell him it was the law. It just took mommy forcing him enough times that now he feels more comfortable with it than without. I am afraid for him to get a taste for the wind in his hair, as it is a delicious feeling, but I think his own sense of self-preservation will prevail. In any case, I think we all prefer to live than die in an accident, we\’re kind of programmed that way. And as we learn about what is safe and what safety features are available, most of us choose the safer option in most cases. And I think the fact that helmet use has steadily increased over the years, WITHOUT a law, says a lot. I gather it will peak at some point and there will always be that last 5-10% of riders who won\’t wear helmets and I\’m not sure if a law will make a difference for those people. I still occasionally see people who allow their kids to bounce around the back seat of their cars.

    I think that the number of deaths per year that could have been prevented with bicycle helmets is so small that safety isn\’t what this issue is really about. What it\’s really about is people who drive cars and motorcycles whining and saying \”if we have to, so should they.\” and is part of the resentment drivers are currently feeling towards bicycles. The tribune editorial as much as says this. I don\’t know, maybe we should give in on this one, maybe it would just be good PR.

    But mostly I just think that it is a waste of time for our legislators to worry about this when there are such bigger issues. Let\’s start with better healthcare!

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  • Lenny Anderson August 11, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Most bicyclists have much more in common with pedestrians than with motorists or motor cyclists. The safety problem is one of excessive motor vehicle speed, and that is where enforcement of existing laws needs to happen.
    What\’s next? a law requiring use of belay while rock climbing?

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  • Val August 11, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Okay, \’fess up – everybody is just copying and pasting arguments from all the previous helmet law posts, right? Same old arguments and rebuttals, same chorus of anecdotes about times people have fallen, blah, blah. Here\’s a somewhat fresher link, anyway: http://www.copenhagenize.com/2008/08/helmets-or-health.html A slightly newer perspective on the same old stuff. My bottom line assessment is in the comments there, but I\’ll repeat myself here (not to be left out): We will only see true progress toward road safety when law enforcement and safety promotion efforts shift their focus from the most vulnerable road users to the most harmful road users. \’Nuff said.

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