‘The Bicycle Helmet Paradox’ (The Atlantic)

Are bicycle helmets actually helpful? Although some statistics show that they can reduce head injuries, there are plenty of people who question whether they deter people from riding their bikes, which is bad for the environment and bad for one’s health — and paradoxically, can make bicycling even more dangerous.

A new report by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that there is a lack of substantial data on the effect of bike helmets on injuries. The report does find, however, that in the U.S., kids and teenagers ride less in places with helmet laws. And with fewer people on the road, it makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network, The Atlantic points out. “The safest biking cities are places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where middle-aged commuters are mainstay riders and the fraction of adults in helmets is minuscule,” it quotes The New York Times.


  1. Jeff Welt says:

    It would shock me if any helmet wearing cyclist, skier, motorcyclist, climber, hockey player or… who has suffered a head trauma would not be thankful they had effective head protection. Modern helmets are safe, comfortable, inexpensive and provide excellent ventilation.

    Wearing a helmet has spared me from significant head injury in a bicycle accident and also in a motorcycle accident. When I cycle, which is about 20 miles daily, putting on a helmet is a reflex. The lack of a helmet leaves me with a feeling of significant vulnerability – for good reason.

    When cycling in Europe I have noticed few people wearing helmets. To conclude that there is a negative correlation between helmet wearing and safety is convoluted. A large percentage of riders in cities such as Amsterdam are commuters who travel shorter distances on roads/paths which are developed for bicycles. Most citizens have been lifelong cyclists. Countries like Holland and Denmark are very bicycle friendly. Roads and facilities are built to accommodate cyclists, cycling laws are enforced, auto/truck drivers are well acquainted with the rules of bicycle travel and are generally very respectful of cyclists on the road. In addition, European cyclists seems to practice much greater adherence to rules of the road.

    Any suggestion that a cyclist maybe be “safer” without a helmet is a dangerous conclusion. It would be interesting to learn more about the data used in the report – how it was collected, evaluation criteria, economic factors which may be key in the decision to own a bike, helmet, etc.

  2. Charlene Jackson says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with you, Jeff

  3. Whitney Barnard says:

    This story illustrates the sort of conundrum which comes along with the nanny state. These are personal, not government decisions.

    My first 30 years of cycling were sans helmet; the 25 years since – bringing parental responsibilities and increasingly manic motorists – strictly with helmet. Both my wife and I have survived potentially fatal accidents thereby. I agree with Jeff Welt
    completely – we need both helmets and much more respect for and observance of the rules of the road.

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