Helmet Law? It’s a CAR problem not a BIKE problem…

Many cyclists oppose helmet laws.  I am certainly one.  Without going into the whole debate here, I just don’t like the “gummint” telling me what type of HAT to wear when I chose to become a legitimate user of the public roadways.  No one tells a motorist that she/he has to wear a Kevlar suit or a helmet and there are 30,000+ motorists and passengers killed each year and far less than 1000 cyclists.

Here’s a cartoon from Yehuda Moon which gives one  perspective…

HELMET Debate -

I love that line – It’s a CAR problem… why make cyclists fix it with a Styrofoam hat???

Steve Magas

The Bike Lawyer

Printed from: https://ohiobikelawyer.com/uncategorized/2009/09/helmet-law-its-a-car-problem-not-a-bike-problem/ .
© 2024.


  • Joe Stafford says:

    From the civil liberties perspective, I do agree that mandatory helmet use is not appropriate. Helmet laws send the wrong message to the general public–wear a helmet and you’re safe and conversely, don’t wear a helmet and you’re at fault if you crash.

    However, since bicycling is an inherently risky activity, I’d like to see positive promotions of helmet use for injury reduction when a crash occurs. Since about half of the reported bike crashes don’t involve a motor vehicle, bicyclists should wear a helmet any time they are astride a bicycle.

    It’s not helpful to berate or mock helmet users or those recommending helmet use. And, it’s certainly not a CAR problem.

  • Ann Wineland says:

    Enjoyed the cartoon and agree about the styrofoam hat thing! I notice so often that when the newspaper or radio report a cyclist struck by a car, the story mentions whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet, as if that is significant. If the cyclist happens not to have had a helmet, this seems to instantly shift the blame to the cyclist, regarless of any other factors.

    However, I think the helmet is a good idea and I always wear mine. I have seen plenty of bike incidents and accidents, my own and others, that did not involve cars, and in many of these cases the helmet prevented or mitigated injury. The road has many hazards; cars are only one of them. Thanks for reading!

  • TedRe123 says:

    A lawyer saying we don’t need a helmet law? Ha 🙂 I bet the health insurance lawyers are all for it.
    I’ve crashed off road, and on road, as I ride all the time. Accidents happen anywhere, cars or no cars. Even a slow speed contact with a curb could kill, so why wouldn’t you wear one?

  • Roger says:

    I am 67 & have cycled for more than 50 years including five trans-America tours. Helmets are a good practice; anyone who chooses not to wear one is socially irresponsible and personally stupid. Wearing a helment has saved me twice from death or at least severe brain damage and neither incident involved a car. I’m still riding and adding to my life log of 165,000 miles. Put aside juvenile resistence to authority; just be happy to wear a helment!

  • Steve Magas says:

    THANKS guys for checking this out… my thoughts on helmets are
    1. WEAR ONE – I always do, every time. I preach and teach wearing helmets. I’ve seen what can happen when you don’t – death, or serious brain injury.
    2. HELMETS can be helpful in certain circumstances for reducing or preventing serious injuries. I have a collection of smashed helmets in my office from my cases. Each one represents a living breathing human who might be dead, or breathing but not “living” in the sense of having any awareness if she/he were not wearing a helmet.
    3. I do NOT think the government should dictate what type of hat we have to wear or fine us if we don’t wear the right one while using the roads.

    Thanks again for the notes, though. Definitely food for thought… check out the “Helmet Debate” cartoon further on down the blog!

    Steve Magas, The Bike Lawyer

  • Steve Magas says:

    To address Joe’s initial comments…
    1. The cartoon is about helmet laws, not just people who advocate helmet use.
    2. it IS a car problem. Many bicycle accidents ending up with a head injury are caused by motorists, car operators, doing something stupid or careless.

    Most of my clients tend to be what I would call “good” riders – they ride a lot, they know the rules, they respect the rules of the road and they ride defensively. I’ve got 30 some “bike cases” pending right now and a car [or dog or errant toddler on the bike trail] was at the root of every one! So, for the “good” riders of the world, it IS a “Car” problem. The “good” riders don’t typically just fall over and whack their heads…they are put on the ground due to the carelessness of others.

  • Steve Magas says:

    Also, Joe, the “safe crashing” concept is very valid. Having dealt with legislators on many issues, they seem to have a false sense of “parens patriae” – i.e., standing in for our parents and protecting “us” – the cycling public. I’ve seen time and time again the passage of new “safety” laws in the face of an incident which catches their attention. A cyclist gets clobbered during rush hour – “… here’s a solution, we’ll just BAN BIKES on that road during rush hour – that way, none of them will get hurt…”

    In 2006, I worked on the “Better Bicycling Bill” with the Ohio Bicycle Federation [OBF]. A key element was a provision limiting the ability of municipalities to pass laws that contradict, or are inconsistent with, state law. What we found was in a county like Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, there are 49 separate political subdivisions, which meant a cyclist could face 49 different legislative bodies passing 49 separate versions of “bike laws,” helmet laws, road bans, sidewalk laws, equipment laws, etc. Frequently, a small local government would pass something in that “knee jerk” way, and the ONLY time it would come up was when a cyclist was hurt in a crash and some smart insurance company lawyer would find it and argue the cyclist was in violation of the law…

    Helmet laws have that “parens patriae” feel – people passing laws cyclists in an effort to keep them “safe.” I love helmets, I just don’t want the government mandating their usage and fining us for leaving the helmet in the garage.

    Steve Magas

  • Laws should be based on facts, not beliefs. And the facts, as they stand today, are twofold: (1) Cycling is not an inherently risky activity. It is one of the safest ways to move from point A to point B. Again, according to the research, I am less likely to suffer a head injury while cycling helmetless than I am to suffer a head injury while in an automobile or in the shower. And, (2), helmets are ineffective at reducing cycling mortality or morbidity.

    Like ’em or not, them’s the facts. Thus, laws requiring helmet use are not only illogical, they have (yet again, looking at the research) had the effect of increasing cycling risk.

    Sure, wear a helmet if you want to. But you will find that more and more of us, having thoughtfully examined the issues and the research, are declining to put our health in the hands of marketeers who are more interested in our dollar than our safety.

    –a former helmet-wearer.

  • Steve Magas says:

    Part of the problem is perception vs. reality. The Perception is the cycling on the roads is scary and dangerous and politicians need to protect our fragile skulls. The reality is that virtually every bike ride in the country each year is happy and successful. The number of crashes, given the miles and sheer numbers of cyclists out there, are really minimal. Cycling is VERY safe.

    There are factors which increase risk of course. Some are self induced – poor riding behavior, failure to be “conspicuous” – and many are completely out of our control. Everything I have read, though, points to a conclusion that the more cyclists there are the LESS risk there is since motorists are not shocked at the sight of one!

  • Daniel Janes says:

    Loved the cartoon. I doubt a helmet is going to prevent the fracture of ribs and severe bruising. I also read somewhere that giving a biker a helmet doesn’t necessarily decrease the risk of head injuries or any others in general; rather it gives the biker a false sense of protection making them more daring or reckless. In the end, I still believe almost every biker puts their safety first when they’re on the road and the problem resides in the motorist impatience or lack of awareness.

  • Steve Magas says:

    I agree Daniel. Helmets guard against limited types of injuries – but potentially very serious ones. I’ve read those studies as well – however, like motorcycle operators, each bicycle operator has to THINK for her/himself, and take all steps they feel are necessary for their own self preservation. Nobody else will do it for them. This is drilled into the heads of motorcycle riders from Day 1 – Some cyclists seem to think that government ought to be “protecting” them when they are on the road – I’m not a fan of this approach, frankly… I’m anti-helmet law for sure – and certainly anti-mandatory bike lane. Each cyclist is a part of “traffic” – and has to act like it…

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