In helmet we trust

in helmet we trust
Red, white, blue and a lack of logic

My ire for bike helmets is well known, but only after being sent a fascinating article questioning the efficacy of helmet use in the NFL (American football for our foreign readers), have I realized that we have a broader  reverence towards encasing our heads in foam and plastic.  Rather than focusing on changing behavior and avoiding unsafe situations, we focus on mitigating the effects of an accident.

I’m inherently distrustful of the statistics provided by both pro and anti-helmet advocates, but there are some parallels that can be drawn between football and cycling.  Some studies have claimed that head injuries have actually increased as helmet use has gained popularity with cyclists.  Similarly, Australian football, which is hardly a girly man’s sport, has far lower incidents of brain damage than American football, even though the Yanks are decked out in protective gear head-to-toe.  Why?  The false perception of safety caused by wearing a football helmet has driven riskier behavior. Use of  the football helmet in the 1940s changed the sport so radically that the bulk of “hits” are now led with the head.  The argument for getting rid of helmets in the NFL is simple.  If the players didn’t have all of that “safety equipment” they wouldn’t be tackling players with their faces.  It also turns out that football helmets themselves are having no effect in curbing the number of players suffering from long term brain damage.

Likewise some feel that the pervasive use of bike helmets is driving riskier behavior with both cyclists and automobile drivers.  Even though bike helmets are not designed to help a cyclist in a direct vehicular collision, many cyclists are wearing helmets to guard against that very scenario.  The biker feels safer amongst the cars, and the automobile driver feels more comfortable passing a helmeted cyclist; everybody is delusional and clinging to emotional logic.

Of course, the NFL, just like hardcore-helmet zealots, have their proverbial heads in the dirt (or helmets I should say).  Instead of changing the sport of football and getting rid of the helmets, they want to design a better helmet or start throwing more flags when players tackle head first (as if the sport doesn’t have enough penalties already). Einstein said that, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Don’t expect the NFL or American cyclists to ditch the helmet any time soon.  It’s far easier to put our faith in a helmet than to tackle the complexities of proper infrastructure and accountability for reckless-human behavior.  By that measure, we’re quite insane.  In helmet we trust.

6 responses to “In helmet we trust

  1. Hi Minn. Rad, do you know the several helmet films on my blog?

    I think you’d like; Sue fights helmets and also; No Helmet , please.

    Then again you have probably seen the first one since you are an avid reader of Mikael’s great blog, and he carried the former.

    Since helmets are not about to stymie you bike share scheme, as it seems they may well do in Melbourne, you probably have less need to see; Bike Share and Helmets don’t mix?

    But maybe you should look just in case. When Bixis came to Montreal, there was a big push by some local neurosurgeons to bring in helmets with the Bixis.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Mike. I fully understand how Australians would feel a greater urgency around the bike helmet issue. Some States here in the USA have passed mandatory helmet laws for those under 18, and I feel that this too is a misguided and unreasonable law. In a country with sky high child-obesity rates, does it really make sense to scare kids off bikes?

    Misguided bike culture seems to be a problem primarily in the English speaking world. The Germanic nations have it figured out. Current and former subjects of the Queen are veering into insanity via the prevelence of “the Nanny State” and a desire to blame others for the natural rolls and ebs of life🙂

  3. I’ll never know for sure, but my helmet might have saved my life once. I’m really glad I was wearing it when I hit the pavement and broke bones in spots other than the top of my skull. I respect everybody’s right to not wear a helmet, but after my own accident and my friend’s accident (after which he has never been the same), I’ll take my chances with looking dumb in a helmet.

  4. I’m with you on the helmet issue. The tough part of arguing against helmets, is it’s hard to point to the people who have had better, healthier lives because they got past the campaign of fear and hopped on a bike. I wore a helmet for 5 years and even had it protect my head in an accident(I was taking chances.). But when I became convinced that “helmet-first” is a distraction from really making biking safe and fun, I took the helmet off. The big picture is that more people on bikes and better infrastructure will do much, much more to make all cyclists safer than encouraging people to “wear your helmet!”. I don’t deny that in the short-term a helmet might protect me from a head injury, but in the long run I won’t be any safer, if the conditions of the road don’t change. I won’t even get into how it seems the magic helmet can give you a sense that you’re invincible…

  5. My friend was riding along the side of a quiet neighborhood street, 3 blocks from his home, when someone suddenly opened a car door without looking. He bashed into it, went flying over, and landed head first on the pavement. After nearly a week on life support, he died without ever regaining consciousness, leaving behind 2 young kids. He was not wearing a helmet. No one knows whether it would’ve made a difference, but since then, I wear my helmet AND I pay more attention to others sharing the road, in cars, on foot or on bike, moving or not. For me, it’s not an either-or thing, it just makes sense.
    I get the idea that helmets in football could lead to riskier behavior, but I don’t see how that necessarily translates to cycling. Most football players are looking to bash into other players, but what cyclists actually plan on flying off their bikes or crashing into solid objects? (Okay, so I know a few, but at least they’re doing it intentionally and understand the risks!)

  6. Thanx for the info!
    I recommend purchasing the foldable helmet Fuga by http://www.closca.co

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