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Boston Bike Share: The helmet issue

Posted May 01 2012 3:05pm

Look at the above picture; why is this woman not being hauled off to jail for child endangerment? Why are these children not being taken into protective custody?

The answer is simple; the picture is from Holland where 99% of the population ride a bicycle at some time or other; for most it is their main form of transportation.

Very few Dutch people wear a helmet while cycling, and as far as I know there are not huge numbers of people dying from head injuries. In fact Holland (The Netherlands.) is one of the safest places in the world to ride a bike.

By contrast the City of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, has a bike share program with 600 bicycles than can be rented and dropped off again at 61 stations. The program only nine months old is already drawing fire from the medical profession because it doesn’t offer helmets for rent.

It is my opinion that insisting that people who rent a bike wear a helmet is a good way to kill off a bike rental program; even suggesting it or making it optional is not good. People who think wearing a helmet is a good Idea, and want to wear one will bring their own.

There are those who say helmets could be rented along with the bike, but who feels comfortable wearing a helmet that someone else has used? Even if it is sanitized. The whole helmet issue really screws up a simple idea.

Bike rental is really an extension of walking. Let's say you are a tourist and you would like to visit a certain place, but it is a little too far to walk. You rent a bike with a minimum of formalities, you ride to where you need to be and you drop the bike off.

Add a helmet to the picture and all of a sudden a simple idea becomes a little more complicated. The person thinks, “Oh yes I could get hit by a car.” The point is you could get hit by a car while walking across the street, but no one suggested you put a helmet on your head when you put your shoes on this morning.

You could fall from your bike without another vehicle being involved; yes, and you could trip on a raised paving slab and fall on your head while walking. These rental bikes are usually heavy “clunkers,” very stable and not built for fast riding.

As previously mentioned, this Boston bike share program is still very new; is there any indication so far that large numbers of renters are getting their heads busted? The article that prompted me to write this is flawed anyway.

It implies that there were 630 cyclist deaths in the US during 2009 due to head injuries. I think you will find that is the total number of cyclists killed, not all will have died from head injuries. Those who did, getting hit by a car doing 50 or 60 mph, wearing a helmet or not will make little difference to the outcome.

The whole issue here is that motor vehicles, driven by careless, inattentive people kill most cyclists and pedestrians. The medical profession should be addressing that fact. 

Until our society also wakes up to that fact and local governments start changing infrastructure, speed limits, etc. and law enforcement start doing their job; insisting that cyclists wear a little Styrofoam helmet will have little or no impact on cyclist fatalities and injuries.  

I have said this before, but it bears repeating. Implying that even a casual bike renter should wear a helmet is like allowing everyone to fire guns randomly anywhere they please, and then suggesting that we all wear bullet proof vests.

Don’t pad the potential victim; control the missile, slow down the projectile.



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