Like it or spike it? A mandatory bike helmet law in NYC

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Via Craftzine

While we’re on a libertarian bent at the moment, let’s take a minute to talk about City Councilman David Greenfield’s proposal last week to mandate that all bike riders wear helmets. Greenfield says the law is long-overdue and will go a long way to cutting down on the number of bikers who end up in emergency rooms. “Helmets save lives, plain and simple. It is common sense,” Grenfield said, according to the NYO. We would never dispute the fact that helmets are smart, and that the people who wear them are smart too. But, as Team Brokelyn has suffered any number of bike accidents in recent years (from Dave’s major wreck that put him in a wheelchair to my own endo-onto-the-sidewalk faceplant that resulted in a broken arm) some of us have a problem with the notion that bike helmets are a panacea to bike crash problems. Because you know what’s a bigger threat to bikers? Not unadorned heads, but CARS.

Bike helmet laws raise up my own repressed libertarian hackles for one reason: it’s only my own life I’m putting at risk by not wearing one. A smoking ban keeps you from polluting other people’s lungs, a trans-fat ban stops restaurants from unecessarily fattening you up on the sly, but not wearing a helmet only puts me at risk of taking my too-stupid-to-bike genes out of the Darwinian pool of humanity.

That’s why I say “spike it:” To argue that bike accidents will suddenly stop with a mandatory helmet law is some awful false logic. Because there will still be doors that open into bike lanes, still be speeding drivers, still be cabs in a rush that try to cut you off when you have the right of way, and still an overall sense by people in cars that they have the most right to use the roadways, even if they are the most wasteful, dangerous, largest and LOUDEST-FOR-GOD’S-SAKE-STOP-HONKING-YOUR-HORNS-AT-A RED-LIGHT-NO-ONE-IS-GOING-ANYWHERE thing on the roadways. With that in consideration, making helmet use mandatory sounds like if a building inspector came into your house, pointed out all the dangerous asbestos in the wall, and then required you to wear a toxic safety suit from now on.

What say you?

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  1. You mischaracterize the logic behind this legislation. The intent is not to eliminate bicycle accidents but to reduce bicycle fatalities. Regardless of your opinion on the government intervening in the personal choices of its citizens, it’s very likely that this law would reduce bike fatalities in New York City.

    From 1997 to 2005, 97 percent of those who died on a bike in New York City were not wearing a helmet. See the report here:

    That statistic is convincing evidence that helmets prevent death in the event of a collision with a motor vehicle.

    The consequences of bicycle fatalities and their grim brethren, traumatic brain injuries, extend well beyond the victim, including to loved ones forced to pay for funeral costs or care for lengthy and costly health care.

    Increased emergency room visits and expensive rehabilitation also lead to higher health insurance premiums for all.

    The economics and logic of this legislation are likely sound.

    But the program would cripple the City Bikes launch, which should concern bike advocates throughout the city.

    • That’s another point some people are bringing up: would it make the bike share launch a failure if it became illegal to ride a bike casually without a helmet? The whole purpose of the program is to encourage people who don’t normally bike to hop on a set of wheels to get somewhere. If they have to be carrying helmets all the time, they might as well have their own bike.

    • If you get nailed by a car in NYC, the driver has to pay for your health care, which comes from their insurance. If you think about it, not wearing a helmet provides a caregiver a job teaching you how to eat and walk again. To get this economy moving, it makes sense to ban helmets. Especially for small children.

    • You unfortunately do not understand statistics. You confuse correlation with causation. 100% of bike crash fatalities are air breathers. By your logic we should outlaw air. You can infer all you want but your data do not prove nothing.

      Maybe those who don’t wear helmets are just more reckless bikers. Forcing a helmet may give them an additional sense of safety and be even more reckless, causing even more deaths than without a helmet.

      Sadly it is this low level of understanding data that goes into policy making and uninformed opinions.

      Please don’t be convinced by this data. You look silly to non liberal arts majors.

      • Correlation is not causation but when two distributions fit on top of each other you might then look for a causal relationship. Like, you know, physics. I learned both of these (correlation coefficients and F=ma) as a biology major :P

        • Right. And the causal relationship could be caused by a third factor e.g. those who don’t wear helmets are more reckless riders causing them to have more accidents. I’m gonna agree with egads on this. Please stop pretending to know about statistics.

          Also – this is a classic argument similar to seatbelt legislation. The results there? Drivers felt more safe wearing seatbelts and the amount of car accidents increased in response to people driving more recklessly at increased speeds because they felt safe wearing a seatbelt.

          I propose making a biker safety course a mandatory part of passing a driver’s test and putting more bike lanes around the city.

  2. True, it’s only harming yourself, but think about the poor schmuck who hits you and has to go through life with the image of your brains splattered on his windshield. I actually saw this once….one of those accidents where you look and wish you hadn’t. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

  3. Sure, you’re not putting anyone else’s life at risk, but without a helmet, you’re using up more services. If you crack your skull, that’s more time and effort an ambulance ends up spending on you.

    Now, if you were bent far enough into the Libertarian view of the world, you could opt to have “DO NOT RESUSCITATE OR CALL AMBULANCE” printed plainly somewhere on your person every time you ride without a helmet.

  4. Don’t forget about pedestrians who oblivously walk out into the bike lane in the middle of a block. Should they be required to wear football pads in case they get broadsided because they chose not to look? I up First ave at least twice a week and honestly have personally had more close calls with pedestrians than cars, in Manhattan anyway.

  5. As Tim mentioned, I survived getting run down by a car, but what he didn’t mention was that I wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time. I somehow avoided any traumatic brain injuries, minus a concussion that left me nauseous for about a week. I wear one now, but that’s mostly because I figure my odds of surviving ANOTHER car hitting me when I’m not wearing a hemet are pretty low. But considering the fact that I’m slowly killing myself in six or seven different way every day as it is, I support the right of each individual bike rider to choose or not choose to wear a helmet.

  6. As a bike rider for many years, it seems a bit inconsistant to me, that laws have been enacted that require motorcycle and motor scooter riders to wear helmets but not bicyclists. I’ve crashed on a bike at over 40 mph more than once and while those events put me in the hospital for up to 6 weeks, largely because I’ve always worn a helmet, I’m still here to talk about it.

  7. It will probably save lives, but the government doesn’t have the right to tell us what to do with out lives as long as you’re not hurting anyone else. Obviously, that’s debatable, but that’s the way it should be!

    This country is supposed to be free, which means less rules.

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