Culture and Bike Helmet Usage

It is clear from personal observation how much bicycle helmet usage has increased in the U.S. in the last 20 years-especially among children.  Looking back on my BMX and middle school biking days, I didn't own a helmet and none of my friends did either. 

I'll never forget the time my older brother went on a ride with his friend.  It was a warm summer day and my family was sitting on the patio.  As he retrieved his Trek 1000 from our garage in Sheboygan, my parents reminded him that he had to wear his helmet.  He and his friend traveled off down the road.  Unbeknownst to us, about a block down the road, he threw his helmet in a bush.  Several miles later he hit a pot hole going about 20.  I was sitting with my parents on the patio when a police car pulled up front.  The officer opened his trunk and took my brother's bike out.  He carried the bike up and told us my brother crashed and had some bad road rash but was o.k.  When my parents asked, "he had his helmet on right,?"  the officer said, "No, I don't remember seeing any helmet." 

Why did he throw the helmet in the bush?  Probably because he thought it wasn't cool to ride with a helmet.  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, only 0.1% of Dutch bikers where helmets.  It appears to be the result of tradition and image.  For example, during a recent push to get children to use bike helmets, one father of four said his children would rather go to school naked than wear a bike helmet.  Others say helmet usage in the Netherlands is limited because of the safe bike paths and bikers are less succeptible to bad drivers.  Also noted was bikers concern of helmet appearance and the fact that no one uses them.  Some bikers are even ridiculed for wearing helmets including a man mentioned in the Wall Street Journal article who said people yelled at him, "We're not in Germany," when he rode with a helmet. 

Despite the unpopularity in the Netherlands, various groups are working to increase helmet usage and are wisely targeting young children who may be more inclined to make a change from the local customs.

Posted by Clayton Griessmeyer, Bicycle Injury Lawyer


Dave Reid said...

I think pushing helmet use is counter productive to get more people riding, which in turns makes biking less safe. As the safest thing bikers can do is get more bikers on the road. The Netherlands is the model to follow.

PS If one wants to wear a helmet that's fine, but pushing use or requiring it discourages ridership.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Dave. Biking is no more dangerous then walking or driving, and yet we don't recommend waring a helmet for for cars or pedestrians. What you are actually saying when pushing for more helmets is that biking is inherently dangerous and that is simply not true. That can't help but discourage people from dusting off there bikes.

To make biking safer then it already is we need better infrastructure that separates cars from bikes. Treat cars, bikes, and pedestrians as equals. Also recognizing that car are the real danger on the road. That would go a long way towards making the public streets safer for everyone.