Being a cyclist, I read a lot of articles about cycling and I listen to other cyclists talk about cycling, sometimes joining in the conversation. The articles I seek out range from outfitting the bike for long, touring rides to cycling safely alongside motorists to what to wear. Most often, I gain something helpful from the articles. Even the discussions with others can be fun as cycling really is fun, but I've come to realize I have very little patience for an argument I hear a lot: everyone should always wear a helmet. The "always wear a helmet" mantra seems to seep into every casual conversation with family, friends, and the women's cycling group of which I am a member (though I tend to stand on the sidelines with this group--that's another post for another time), and this is okay in and of itself. What's not okay is the snarky, snide, "those who don't wear helmets are stupid" tone that goes along with the conversation. Most often I ignore these comments, but it's becoming more and more difficult not to respond.
I get that helmets protect the noggin. I do. That being said, I don't think I should have to wear a helmet every single time I'm on the bike. And I sure as heck don't think others should take it upon themselves to tell me how stupid I am for cycling sans helmet. If you are that person who feels the need to tell me I'm an idiot for taking such a risk, think about these four things before you open your mouth.
1. Falling in the home can be fatal. In fact, the National Safety Council suggests that upwards of 25,000 people died from falling in their homes in 2009 (I know, I know--this was 5 years ago. I tried to find stats for 2013 but came up empty handed. I'm sure a more current number would be even higher anyway). This is scary stuff. We're in danger in our own homes! Should everyone wear a helmet while walking from the kitchen to the living room? Should everyone wear a helmet while taking a shower?
2. Just walking along, minding your own business can be fatal. Yeah! I know! Mind-blowing! Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, in 2011, 4432 pedestrians lost their lives. Should every pedestrian wear a helmet while window shopping and especially when crossing the street? Not to mention those open manholes. They really put a damper on a person trying to text while walking.
3. Over 30,000 people die in car crashes each year. When looking at the info offered through the CDC, of these 30,000 deaths, over 7500 of them were due to traumatic brain injuries suffered in the car crash. Hmmmmmm. This is a real head-scratcher. That's a lot of people. So why do motorists as well as their passengers not wear helmets?
4. In 2012, 726 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents. The number of cyclists deaths represents 2% of all traffic fatalities. Just 2%! I know I have a tough time when it comes to numbers, but this seems like a really low number in the big scheme of things.
I do realize many of the cyclists who lost their lives had traumatic head injuries. It's probably very likely they also suffered from severe internal injuries. How could they not? A heavy moving object striking a human body will create irreparable harm. A helmet isn't going to help in these instances. No one, though, likes to talk about the damage done to a person's chest cavity, liver, or kidneys. For some reason, these injuries are overlooked in favor of trying to drive home the importance of wearing a helmet. I'd really like to know how many of these deaths were due to traumatic bodily injury. A clearer picture of the injuries in general would be very helpful.
Cycling really is a very safe activity. Just look at Portland and what it has accomplished not just one year, but several years. In continuing to press the idea that cyclists should always wear helmets, the underlying message presented is that cycling is dangerous and injury is likely. That's just not true. In fact, if you look at the numbers and how the head injuries occurred, removing those due to car-cyclist collision shows just how minuscule the number of deaths due to traumatic head injury truly is. Also, in advancing the argument that cyclists should always wear helmets, all the responsibility for safety is put on the cyclist. Motorists are given a pass. Instead of saying all cyclists should wear a helmet, maybe we should instead say motorists and cyclists should share the road, all following the rules of the road, being respectful to one another to ensure the safety of all.