City's new ads urging bicyclists to wear helmets are like a 2x4 to the face

Have you seen the new Boston Public Health Commission ads with the guy with the blood-drenched face? Boston Biker has, and is not amused:

Helmets are good, and people should wear them. But showing a kid who looks like someone took a bat to his face is not going to get more people to ride their bike, and I think we would all be better off if more people rode their bikes, with or without helmets.

The Atlantic Cities picks up on the theme, says European cities where few wear helmets are safer for bicyclists simply because there are so many of them.

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    THANK YOU

    Those are the most overbearing, obnoxious ads. A guy from Melbourne told me today about how much backlash his city got when they implemented mandatory helmet laws, like lots of people switching back to driving instead of biking because they couldn't afford helmets or didn't like them. Helmets (good-fitting, comfortable ones, anyway, not the shit ones that MGH, Boston Med, and CVS's sell) are expensive. And really, the sort of injuries that those ads are showing don't really look like they could've been prevented or lessened by a helmet - particularly the dude with blood all down his face. If you hit the ground hard enough to smash your face like that - you're gonna get hurt, whether you're wearing a helmet or not. They're not a magical panacea.

    I can't find it right now, but I read a study (a scientific, data-based study) where a guy proved via ultrasonic sensors that cars passed him something like a foot closer when he was wearing a helmet versus not, leading him to the hypothesis that drivers unconsciously associate helmetless cyclists with being more vulnerable, and therefore give them a wider berth.

    I'll be the first to say - I don't like helmets. They make my head itch, give me a headache sometimes, and I generally find them uncomfortable. Also, I'm kind of worried that this whole thing will lead to people buying helmets that don't fit properly, or wearing them incorrectly. I see at least one person a day wearing a helmet backwards, or so loose it's almost falling off their head.

    Another voice for the anti-zealot choir

    My worst bike crash ever left me with facial injuries similar to these, despite wearing a helmet at the time. Indeed, since modern helmets are designed as single-use items (versus the hard-shell models that were common in the '80s), and will compress to a fraction of their original thickness on impact, it's hard to imagine many scenarios in which the helmet will do its job and not leave the nose or jaws or ears in position to scrape hard against the ground.

    Actually had on the glasses

    You can't really make it out in that photo or either of the others that I still seem to have handy, but there's a small cut under my left eye in the photo from where the glasses dug into my cheekbone. It was responsible for a great deal of the initial blood, but it cleaned up easily enough and didn't leave much of a scar. The chin, OTOH, looked like hamburger for the better part of a month.

    I think I have those glasses in a box in my bike room somewhere as a souvenir. I should dig them out for a laugh.

    While I always wear a helmet

    While I always wear a helmet when I ride a bike, I am also annoyed by these ads. The safety of bicyclists would be much better guaranteed by creating safer infrastructure for mixed modes of travel. In other words, adopting the Swedish style of thinking where traffic fatalities are simply considered unacceptable (from a planning perspective) rather than basically blaming bicyclists for killing themselves (though they should, BTW, also take responsibility for their safety).

    That means making it safer for cyclists, pedestrians, drivers, and others who use the road. Separated bike paths, buffered bike lanes, and so on. Sanely designed intersections for both cyclists and pedestrians. Traffic calming where appropriate.

    enough!

    I'm always taken aback by the strident indignation of bicyclists every time someone suggests that they should wear a helmet. Every time this agreement comes up, it's the same thing over and over... if there's an accident, the driver should have been more careful, or the city should be more accommodating.

    In other words, everyone but the bicyclists should be liable if there’s an accident. That’s wanting all the rights and privileges, and none of the responsibility. That’s child’s logic.

    Well guess what… by in large, no one here can make motorists act more responsible. No one here can completely reconstruct the Massachusetts road ways to keep bicyclists segregated from both pedestrians, and motor vehicles. These are things that are not in your control.

    What is in your control is the ability to take precautions. Wear a helmet. If it’s dark, wear something reflective. Like any precautionary measure (e.g.: looking both ways before you cross the street, wearing a seat belt), it’s mildly inconvenient, but it’s the responsible thing to do. Yes, it’s not going to be a huge help if you are hit by a bus, or if you fall into the Charles, or if a cougar jumps out of the sewers and bite your nuts off… but if you fall and there’s a cranial impact – which has been known to happen to bicyclists (surprise surprise!) - then it will lessen the damage, or even save your life.

    In short, be a god damn adult.

    They don't save your face

    They save you from brain hemorrhages.

    They don't even save you from bleeding on the outside that drips down your face. The bleeding inside the skull is what matters.

    I went down on a wet railroad track and smacked the right side of my head so hard that my helmet deformed and split 5" up the back. I was knocked out for almost a minute, and had a concussion that messed up my head for about a week.

    I would not have survived that impact without a helmet.

    My face? My face was fine. Not even a scratch. Sure, I had blood on my face ... from the impact spitting my scalp.

    It would be much more real to show people rehabilitating from head injuries and say "most people who ride without helmets don't think they will end up coming here".

    I always wear a helmet, have one attached to the hubway key, and pack one when I travel. But I have had a number of concussions already and my brain is my livelihood.

    what?

    Woah there Jefferson Davis. Firstly, there has always been restrictions on freedom when it comes to safety. Are you saying you don't think there should be gun control laws? Or perhaps you think there shouldn't be a speed limit? Better yet, we should let people put 2 year olds on the top of cars and let them ride around like Mitt Romney's dog!

    Obviously, these are extreme examples, but so are safety laws. People dying unnecessarily creates a strain on medical services, social services and is astoundingly traumatic. Have you ever seen someone's brain matter leak out of their head? Oh, but children in passing cars can because your helmet is itchy?! If your life so pointless that you have no responsibility? No one who depends on you?

    As someone who meets with families of traffic fatalities on a regular basis, screw everyone who does something selfish. Do you know that family members often go a little nuts trying to make sense of "he ignored the signal and walked in front of a bus" or "she blew through a light on her bike and nailed the side of a truck and wasn't wearing a helmet" simply because they cannot actually imagine their loved one doing anything so stupid?

    Since when is this place about doing whatever I want whenever I want to do it? If freedom is selfishness then sheesh, I'll just deliberately door bicyclists until they fall down and then steal their wallets, because apparently laws are for suckers.

    I went down on a wet railroad track

    Is that so?

    So you weren't on a paved street or a paved bike trail.

    This nanny state ad campaign is absolutely ridiculous and even the Europeans are rightfully mocking us.

    Different gear for different situations.

    There she was

    In the middle of the forest, engaged in pleasurable consensual fun with a wet railroad track and...

    Oh, wait, it occurs to me that railroad tracks have been known to cross roads after all. And that one may be traveling along the road, and find the railroad track in one's path. In the road. And that at times such a railroad track may even intersect the road at an oblique angle... oh, never mind.

    The reason we have a nanny state is that it's cheaper than a nursemaid state.

    Oh, for goodness sake. He

    Oh, for goodness sake. He could have been crossing railroad tracks on a road. Get over yourself. Potential "lawless behavior" doesn't negate the validity of his helmet experience.

    FTR

    There are these things called STREET CROSSINGS. You know - where ROADS cross TRACKS.

    Such lame weirdness.

    Bad Ad campaign

    Yup, a bicycle helmet would not have protected the guy's face.

    An off-road motorcycle or bicycle helmet with jaw protection is called for. People would look less like dorky 40 year old virgin, more BMX star.

    Yes there is a study showing drivers give unprotected riders more space.

    The best reason to not wear a helmet is so that cyclists ride slower and more cautiously, perhaps even obeying road rules and not playing bike messenger or Lance wannabe.

    Hockey store

    Go to any local hockey store and get a helmet with cage for around $100. Then your face will have a chance.

    Coincidentally, on my way to play hockey last night I saw a guy on a bicycle speeding through that long intersection where the BU bridge is. It was dark and damp and he was lucky that the car on my right saw him just in time to slam on the brakes. But it would have been okay, because the kid on the cycle was wearing his protective bandana.

    A helmet will save your face

    I've broken my fair share of bicycle helmets, and yes, they will in fact save your face from injury, and you don't need full-face BMX gear. The idea of a helmet is that it protects your head so you don't have to, allowing you to tuck up into a ball and hit the ground. Helmets also do a pretty good job of saving you from a broken hand, arm or collarbone.

    Granted, this won't hold true if you get doored in the face, and your first reaction if you just got sideswiped by a pick up truck might not be to tuck and roll, but to minimize the importance of a helmet to just protecting your head isn't painting the whole picture.

    Also, the idea that they cost too much is BS, you can find the best of last years models online for $40, and newer high-end helmets are so light weight and well ventilated that the only real complaint is that they might be too cold in the winter.

    Why do you people even ride bicycles in the city?

    This is like reading an emergency room textbook. Sounds like if you ride in the city, it's not if you get into an accident, it's when. Do you people all have death wishes and if you are parents of young children riding around on bikes I hope your life/disability insurance agent is your best friend and you are his/her best customer.

    You all make Darwin proud.

    Why not?

    It's how people get from point A to point B in a fairly efficient manner. Hey, I'm out in the burbs and don't ride in the city, but I can certainly appreciate the usefulness of a bike in the city. I wouldn't hesitate at all if I lived there.

    There's risk in everything. I mean, you could do nothing at all and try to be as risk-free as possible, but that's a terrible way to go thru life. Everybody has their own risk threshold. I'm having rotator cuff surgery tomorrow from a mt bike crash last March. Does that mean I'm going to stop riding because I got hurt? No way.

    Minor clarification...

    Every time I've crashed it's been either a) in the woods or b) after being chased off a dirt road by a hillbilly in a pickup truck.

    Bicycling in the city and suburbs has always been relatively worry free, for me, or at least no worse than driving a car down Storrow.

    I was merely pointing out that wearing a helmet at all times is a good idea not just for your head, but also for all of those other body parts which will instinctively try and protect your head.

    It Will Certainly Help

    I went over the handlebars in my last crash and landed flat on my face. Except it wasn't on my face -- the impact was absorbed entirely by the top front of my helmet. My head hurt, sure, but if it hadn't been covered by a hard shell then my forehead and nose would have been ground off.

    It's not magic but there's such great benefit at such little cost that you really have to be stupid, stubborn, or just vain not to wear one.

    What I hate most about this

    What I hate most about this helmet fearmongering that these ads play into is not only does it make bicycling look much more dangerous than it is, but it has created a culture where if I am in a crash, even if it's 100% not my fault but I wasn't wearing a helmet, I will be blamed by pretty much everyone (including the police and legal system) because I wasn't wearing a helmet. When I choose not to wear a helmet (usually because I don't have it with me), I'm not worried about my safety so much as I'm worried about how people are pre-judging me as being an irresponsible risk taker. Never mind that I'm riding predictably and obeying ALL traffic laws. Nope. If I get in a crash without wearing a helmet, well then that's just too bad for me I guess because I'm so careless. Never mind the cyclists who are wearing helmets but riding with a total disregard to everyone around them. At least they're wearing their helmets!

    exactly. what needs to change

    exactly.
    what needs to change is the attitude of motorists (some get downright angry when they see someone on their road on a bike), but also of those cyclists that think they are king. just because you are on a bike doesnt mean you can ignore all traffic rules and drive over pedestrians in a crosswalk!
    helmets are overrated. its the attitude that needs to change, and, ofcourse, more separate bike lanes...

    Still trying to find the stats on all these pedestrians

    getting plowed into by wayward cyclists. The way some of you write it's like you can't even get across the street because there are whole gangs of scofflaw cyclists blocking your path. Let's be honest: there's only one day and under three hours during that day when that happens and even then I've yet to see a cyclist-pedestrian collision.

    I have yet to meet a single cyclist who wants to hit a pedestrian.
    A. It's embarrassing for both parties.
    B. Even the heaviest bikes are lighter than the lightest motorcycles--it's not like the bike isn't going down too in a bike-pedestrian collision, save for a handlebar-bump.

    Just this morning I avoided a collision with a wayward pedestrian who was jaywalking and I noticed him crossing the street in front of truck that I was passing in the bike lane on the right. The minute the truck slammed on its brakes, I slammed on mine as well and, sure enough, there goes Mr. Pedestrian darting across the middle of the street. If I hadn't done so, I'd be telling a different story right now!

    Learn some physics

    Energy = 0.5 time mass times velocity squared. At higher speeds, velocity dominates, so rider+bicycle going fast has more energy than scooter/sport bike+rider on the brakes going slowly at the time of impact.

    San Francisco and NYC have published some interesting accident papers. Elderly Asians are the most likely to be injured jaywalking. Recent pedestrian deaths in Waltham and Quincy were Asians.

    BTW, most motorists don't want to hit each other, cyclists or pedestrians. Cyclists could ruin a wheel which is usually less costly than a new windshield and front end repair. A few motorists sadly do try to intimidate, for sure.

    Unnecessary risk?

    An unnecessary risk to one person is a calculated risk to another, or not a risk at all.

    You can live your life in a bubble if you like. I prefer to actually do stuff, but that's just me. Gee, people are different, whaddayaknow.

    I find that people consider activities risky only because they don't understand the activity. Take rock climbing, for example. Ask any rock climber, and they don't consider themselves risk takers at all. Everything they do has a purpose, climbing is very methodical. Sure, you can make it risky, but people choose not to because they like living. People that don't understand rock climbing look at people hundreds of feet above the ground and think it's suicidal. The rock climber knows what he's doing, has his protection, is doing things correctly, and knows that he's perfectly safe.

    Not biking is an unnecessary risk

    Most of the adults in my family weighed 300-400 lbs by the time they were 40.

    I was headed that way myself when a bike path appeared in my neighborhood, I started to use it, then started commuting, then sold one of our two cars.

    I'm 45 and I'm half the weight my brother was before he made drastic lifestyle changes, and about 170 lbs less than my father or my aunt at that age.

    Therefore, if I want to live long enough to see my grandchildren, losing a 2000 lbs of unnecessary vehicle weight 20 years ago was a very wise choice indeed.

    So you've given up driving?

    Nearly 40,000 Americans are killed every year from car accidents. That's very risky indeed.

    I happened to turn on a local TV news channel the other day, and three reports in the ten minutes I was watching were about horrific traffic accidents.

    Doesn't seem to faze anyone though. Why don't folks got worked up about car accidents as much as they do for bike accidents?

    You are many years out of touch

    Go look up current morbidity rates. Also consider that Massachusetts has far more drug overdose deaths than traffic deaths, often twice as many some years. Compare with deaths from hospital errors or lack of hand washing and disease transmission.

    Those other things don't make for exciting video, hence, people get the false perception of relative risks.

    i looked up those rates and

    i looked up those rates and it's pretty high it seems, even in massachusetts. Looking at causes of *early* death, for my purposes under 50 years old (no offense to anyone over 50, but it seems more apples to apples to compare ages before heart attacks and other things start creeping up the charts). Anyway, for 35-44 it is the 6th most frequent cause behind poisoning, suicide, heart disease, lung cancer and breast cancer. For 25-34 it is #3, for 15-24 it is #1. I don't see drug overdose, hospital error or lack of handwashing anywhere near vehicular accidents on those lists. This is per worldlifeexpectancy.com, which i can't speak to in terms of accuracy, but am wondering where your numbers are from.

    Bizarre logic

    So the argument is, a city with a large number of cyclists without helmets is safer for cyclists than a city with a few cyclists with helmets; therefore we should do everything possible to encourage cycling - including eliminating helmet laws.

    I'm not sure I buy it. Regardless, where is the tipping point? How many cyclists do we need for the roads to become magically safe? What about before the tipping point, where we have hundreds of poor schlubs riding around without helmets on dangerous streets, getting their brains mangled? And what if we never reach that mythical tipping point at all, because Americans hate riding bikes?

    Ones head should be the least of ones concern

    The most dangerous bike injury in my opinion is the handlebar impalement. This is the reason BMX racers will wear chest plates, but is also a problem on the street as well. In a crash it is not infrequent for handlebars to twist around so that one can land with the full force of their torso on the end of ones handlebars.

    I used to BMX race in full gear, including said chest plates. And messengered and still ride in the city with no helmet. Honestly, a head injury is the least of my worries... But maybe I should be wearing a chest plate still.

    Kneepads are another item to talk about. Knee injuries are some of the most common when cycling. Should we all wear those?

    At a certain point, when you start looking like an Imperial Stormtrooper, it becomes silly. Just wear comfortable clothing and go for a bike ride. People should stay away from you in their cars and the city should maintain the roads, and then there wouldn't really be any crash issues.

    Easiest possible fix - change your bars

    I've never had a bike with straight handlebars, and consequently have never had to worry about this. Landing on your drops (when I was young) or moustache (for us old farts) is not such a big deal. You whippershappers can use bullhorns if you like. Or little bar-ends. None of the above will impale you.

    Finger injuries, on the other hand...

    Statistics, please

    Handlebar impalement? Seriously? I mean, my kid got a brake lever smashed into his leg, but I've not seen any statistics even collected on it - then or now. (and, as an epidemiologist, I looked for how common an injury it was)

    HOWEVER, brain injuries in Canadian pediatric practices dropped by half and the severity of those shifted when helmet laws went into effect - even at a 50% compliance rate. Same numbers for other bike-related injuries, just a lot fewer head injuries and a lot less severe head injuries.

    Let's see a comparison - I dare you to even find stats on it, given the rarity of it.

    Meanwhile, if you work with your head and have had concussions in the past, helmets are an extremely good idea - even if they mess up your precious hair or make you feel whiny.

    Not infrequent?

    I've ridden bikes my entire life, and this has happened once, and I wasn't so lucky to have it be my torso...

    But outside of a nasty thigh bruise, it wasn't that bad. Also, it was from a botched landing on a jump, not something that happens often on the road. If you twist your bars that much while traveling at road speeds, you should have no problem clearing the bars...

    I've also never injured my knees. I suspect all of the knee injuries you hear about are actually internal, and are due to riding an ill-sized bicycle.

    Current Helmet Laws

    The current law says that kids under 16 have to wear helmets.

    That's all.

    The risks you take in not wearing one are up to you after that.

    My 16 year old was only two when I smacked open my helmet, but he remembers. I have never had to ask him to wear one.

    Helmets may increase the risk of collisions

    There was a study done in the UK that showed that car drivers allow less room to cyclists who are wearing helmets. No one knows why but speculation is that it's a form of risk compensation.

    Most territories in Australia instituted mandatory bicycle helmet laws for adults in the mid-1990s. Cycling dropped off substantially (about 40% IIRC) without a rise in other forms of exercise. Detractors of helmet laws have been quick to point out that with the loss of the health benefits of cycling for many adults, helmet laws have actually resulted in a net *loss* in quality-of-life years, and are thus a failure from a public-health perspective.

    Helmets create the impression among the general public that bicycling is a dangerous activity that requires specialized equipment, a notion that simply doesn't jibe with reality. That's enough to scare many people away.

    I'm not convinced, therefore, that bicycle helmets for adults are a net win. I still wear one, mostly because my Significant Other is more comfortable with me commuting on my bicycle every day if I wear a helmet, and out of an overdeveloped sense of caution that I brought with me from motorcycling. (I'm a motorcyclist also, and wouldn't be caught on a motorcycle without a helmet regardless of whether the state I'm riding in has a helmet law.)