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Agency Pushes for All Cyclists to Wear a Helmet

— November 28, 2019

Experts recommend that all cyclists wear a helmet while riding.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently is asking that “all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, require that all persons wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.”  The agency says helmets help to protect cyclists from potentially serious injury, and therefore, while riding, all cyclists should wear one.  It’s important, too, to make sure the helmet fits properly (with a snug strap, and the helmet level and low on your forehead), the agency warns, and that the head gear is “certified by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.”

The NTSB said, “Research shows that less than half of bicyclists wear helmets, and that head injuries are the leading cause of bicycling fatalities.”  Robert L. Sumwalt, the agency’s chairman, added, “If we do not act to mitigate head injury for more bicyclists, additional bicyclists will die.”

Researchers found that helmets “reduced the likelihood of serious head injury by 60 percent, and that in cases where it was known whether cyclists were wearing helmets, 79 percent of those who were fatally injured between 2010 and 2017 were not wearing them.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a report that “857 cyclists were killed in traffic crashes last year, the highest number of fatalities since 1990.”

“The investigators’ primary focus was on crash avoidance,” the NTSB statement said. “But in those instances when crashes do occur, they said the use of a helmet was the single most effective way for riders to reduce their chances of receiving a serious head injury.”

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The Cleveland Clinic also recommendsd all cyclists wear head gear, stating, “All bike riders should wear bicycle helmets. Each year in the United States, about 800 bicyclists are killed and another 500,000 end up in hospital emergency rooms. About 2/3 of the deaths and 1/3 of the injuries involve the head and face. Wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury to bicyclists by as much as 85 percent.”

However, the League of American Bicyclists, an advocacy group based in Washington, is opposed to the NTSB’s recommendation.

“We certainly promote helmets,” Ken McLeod, the league’s policy director, said. “Helmets do make individual bicyclists safer.  We just think a mandatory helmet law is the wrong policy for federal or state governments to pursue.”

Jennifer Homendy, an NTSB board member, contended the “helmet recommendation was a small part of a very comprehensive report that devoted much of its focus to roads, drivers and cars.”  She added, “Any mandatory helmet laws should involve cyclists’ input…How we envision it is that the stakeholder community would be brought in, and they would talk about how all of this should be addressed.”

Ian Walker, a professor of statistics and traffic psychology at the University of Bath in England, said the debate is a difficult one but wearing a helmet is just logical.  He explained, “The issue of helmets just seems to kind of bother some people.  I can’t help suspecting that somehow it just troubles people because it feels like an affront to common sense.”

Walker went so far as to say that wearing a helmet is so ‘common sense’ that it need not be enforced by a federal agency.  “It’s really sensible to eat a healthy diet, and it’s really sensible to brush your teeth.  Are we going to pass a law making it mandatory?”

If riders are into competitive cycling, in most cases, they will need to have a helmet handy.  Bike racing facilities, like the Lexus Velodrome in Oak Park, Michigan, have strict requirements for riders, which include everything from safety classes and waivers, to wearing helmets, knee pads, and other gear.  Jon Hughes of Downtown Ferndale Bike said sports enthusiasts of all ages looking to compete are welcome at the velodrome as long as they agree to certain safety precautions. Hughes explained, “Once a month we will have rider competitions.  Riders can sign up and sign a waiver…[and] we can fit them with a rental bike, special shoes, helmets, and all the proper safety gear.”

So, perhaps the debate should focus on regulating certain aspects of cycling and allowing riders to ride at their own risk when doing so simply for pleasure.


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