Monday, May 24, 2010

Op-Ed: Don't you know that bicycling will KILL YOU!

I don't know if any of you caught the article "Grown-Up Cyclists Need Helmets, Too" in the New York Times last Thursday but it really got my blood boiling when I read it. Simply put, this article screams "CYCLING WILL KILL YOU!!!" It even equates bicycling with smoking. No joke! Nothing about the health benefits, the joy of riding or anything else good about cycling. The underlying message is just "Wear a helmet or die." Plus, the timing was just perfect being right before Bike to Work Day.

Now I'm not against the use of cycling helmets. I use one just about every time I ride. When I ride for speed, where I'm pushing the limits of my skills and my machine(but not the law) I feel that there is never really any choice. I know from experience that pushing the limits can cause crashes. If your riding for maximum speed, I think one would be a fool to not wear a helmet, but I still believe this is a free country so I will leave that choice up to you if your an adult.

However, even when I'm casually cruising to work or to the local store I will wear one even though I wish I could do otherwise. It's not that I feel that the act of riding a bicycle like this is dangerous (my point is exactly the opposite), however unlike Holland, Denmark or Germany (and Davis, California), where riding a bicycle without a helmet is considered normal and safe, I don't feel like we live in a culture here where vulnerable road users are treated with the proper amount of respect we deserve. Shoot, I have experiences about once a week with drivers who find it amusing to purposely drive inches away from taking my life! In such an environment, I feel like I have not other alternative but to wear a helmet as a necessary last ditch, last line of defense.

Still, riding a bike is not the dangerous, deadly activity as these cherry pickers of statistics in this article would have you believe. I don't argue that 90% of those who died in bicycle crashes weren't wearing helmets however there is much more to this statistic than just the use of bicycle helmets. My casual observations from reading many bicycle crash reports is that most deadly bicycle crashes, when they do occur, involve an automobile and a crash injury for which a bicycle helmet would be of little use. Many victims were also breaking the law themselves or were the victim of a driver breaking the law and involved in a crash where 12 ounces of Styrofoam would have been of no help (ie. massive internal injuries to the body from being run over or hit at high speeds). And crashes with motor vehicles rarely involve experienced and well trained cyclists (who often wear helmets) and also know how to keep them selves out of predictable crashes. What actually makes cycling somewhat hazardous in this country are our homicidal drivers, a lack of proper infrastructure for bicyclists and unsafe bicycle operation by the cyclists themselves.

Anyway, the best way to avoid a brain injury is to avoid the crash in the first place. To work on this front the article could have mention using lights at night but it fail to do so even though it touches upon riding during the evening. The article instead gives you bad advice by giving the reader the impression that a bright colored helmet is all you need even though that would be illegal in all 50 States. It also says nothing about learning how to ride a bike safely and legally. Somehow, that Styrofoam cup on you head takes the place of all that.

If the brain injury people really want to make a real impact in reducing brain injuries in the US, they should help to reduce bicycle crashes on the fronts I list above. They also need to stop being hypocrites. Driving or riding in an automobile is the leading cause of brain injury in the US. Clearly a well engineered helmet for car passengers could prevent many of the brain injuries people suffer every year. However that idea would likely cause a riot because it would be suggesting instead that "DRIVING A CAR IS MUCH MORE LIKELY TO KILL YOU THAN RIDING A BIKE!!!" It also might actually require some of them to change there own habits. While that would be a real solution to reducing brain injuries, it's politically safer to pick on cyclist instead.

In the end, this New York Times article won't get people to wear helmets while riding a bike. In fact, I'm quite certain that many more people who read this will be convinced that cycling is just too dangerous and give it up entirely.

1 comment:

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