The Helmet Wars: a few URLs
Related links: De's Bicycle Page and
Alternative Transit Page,
The Barnes NYT Article
Helmet Sound Bites
Conventional Beliefs about Helmets
Do Helmets Work?
Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (how statistics can be overinterpreted)
Bad Science and Traffic Safety Policy
Meditations on the Helmet Wars
Better Strategies for Cyclist Safety
For those who, like myself, enjoy hard numbers as opposed
to (or as well as!) hand-waving, here are some URLs for further reading.
- Ken Kifer's
Bike Helmet Page
- (this fellow can write; his accounts of
long distance bike touring trips are great reading as well)
The Ontario Coalition for Better Cycling
is just about the best web site on bike justice, bike helmets, etc. that I
know of. In addition to an excellent FAQ debunking many of the exaggerated
claims made by helmet manufacturers and vendors, these folks offer
international news items covering various "bike justice" topics.
- Bicycle Helmet Laws
- A brief history and analysis by the Alberta Bicycle Association, rebutting
most of the stock arguments for mandatory helmeting. They have amended the
obtrusive background pattern which used to make this page hard to read.
The format is still a little confusing at first, but lots of good
for a better cycling future, British Medical Journal Dec 2000,
perhaps the most concise (and humorous) debunkings of the Helmet Faith that
I've read so far, highly recommended and completely ignored by the mainstream
British media. And here's a pithy
New Scientist from Wardlaw, as well.
John Franklin Cycling Page
Mr Franklin is a keen cyclist and long-time cycle advocate who has done a fair
amount of research on cycling safety issues. His conclusions lead him to challenge
the road safety establishment emphasis on helmets and separate cycle paths.
Also from Franklin:
Address to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign Oct 1999 by John Franklin;
he says here that in retrospect, by over-emphasising issues of risk and safety,
the pro-bike lobby of the last 20 years "is guilty of a massive own goal."
- Survey of Helmet Research
This partial bibliography covers many of the key papers on the topic, both those
which concluded that helmets are effective in reducing cylist injury and death,
and those which concluded that helmet use has little to no beneficial effect.
- Mayer Hillman paper from 1993
- Mayer Hillman is an indefatigable member of the Institute for Policy Studies,
London. Over a long and distinguished career (over 30 books and innumerable
papers) he has repeatedly challenged the road safety establishment on its
flawed metrics, poor methodology, and underlying car-centric ideology. Now,
in his sixties, he has the dubious satisfaction of finally being treated as
an expert and and advisor by that same establishment. Too little, too late?
Or better late than never? I love this guy. Also by/about Mayer Hillman:
- Bike Biz 2004
- The helmeteers are at it in the UK now. Relevant correspondence/oped
appears in the bicycle trade journal Bike Biz.
Daniel Convissor's Bike Pages
are terrific, if you can get used to the colour scheme :-) Definitely
- Mechanics of Head Injuries
- short paper by Peter van Schaik presenting research on types of brain/head injury,
some of which are mitigated by cycle helmets and some of which are not.
- For humour on wry, try the Right Of Way pages
- Right of Way is an articulate, angry, and funny-as-hell New York City bike/ped
advocacy group. Their pro-cycle, anti-auto rants are a pleasure to read.
- London Cycling Campaign briefing on MHLs
- Most serious cycling advocates are opposed to MHLs. As a EU pro-bike organization
notes, non-cyclists are generally far more keen on helmet laws than cyclists!
In fact, the more urgently any organization pushes helmets-for-cyclists, in
general the friendlier that organization is to the automobile/highway establishment
and the less friendly it is towards cycling and other alternative means of transport.
Chris Gillham's Bike Helmet Page
is probably the single most
exhaustive (and exhausting) reference online. It's a huge monolithic
page; don't get so overwhelmed by it all that you miss his collection of
The Aussie Cyclists' Rights Action Group was formed in response to the helmet laws Down Under.
Among their interesting postings:
- Report and URLs from the Third International Conference on Injury Prevention and Control
- a review of the
by now (in)famous "Henderson Paper," a pro-MHL piece written by Dr
Henderson on behalf of the NSW (Australia) Motor Accidents Authority
to defend and justify their MHL. See also
the original Henderson paper
that seemingly causes some cyclists to become helmet evangelists, and
others to spit.
- Michael Bluejay's Bike Pages
- This energetic activist from Austin TX has stories to tell about
the brief experiment with all-ages helmet law in Austin, about bike
safety, and about injustice to cyclists.
Is it SAFE? a guide to Road
produced by the
Road Danger Reduction
Forum, primary author Dr Robert Davis
- "Traditional road safety thinking has defined cycling as
dangerous and cars as safe. This is totally contrary to the danger
reduction approach which defines the most dangerous as those with
the power to do the most damage." This short paper summarizes the
basic reasons why current 'road safety' thinking is so misguided.
It tells a couple of success stories about cities where road danger
has really been reduced, and offers a draft Road Danger Reduction
Charter which can be adopted by local authorities.
The Internation Pro-Choice
Bicycle Helmet Coalition a Swedish group,
- seems to have disappeared. I'm looking for their new home.
Their page used to offer some insights into
helmetization politics in the cold bits of the world; their
English translation is not so good, but way better than my Swedish :-)
Dorothy Robinson's paper from 1996
- Ms Robinson presents probably the most careful and readable analysis
of the great Aussie Helmet Experiment.
- Proceedings of Velo Australis conference offers this
carefully researched paper
More analysis of the Aussie MHL
- Contrarian Medicos:
Since many physicians, especially in the US, have thrown their medical
authority behind MHL, it's as well to remember that there are also
doctors who disagree!)
- Do Helmets Save Lives
by Dr. Edward Walker, accident/emergency practitioner, in The Guardian June 1999
- Dr. Thomas Demarco Paper
- Another Physicians' view from some Canadian doctors.
And don't miss the irrepressible
Ken Kifer on why (some) doctors think bikes are dangerous
Article abstract from the British Journal of Sports
- It concludes that far more lives would be saved if pedestrians and
drivers wore helmets.
- Even the question of helmets for kids,
- which few people in
the US want to go near, is challenged in this journal article.
The best site you can visit for the pro-helmet argument is
BHSI (the Bicycle Helmet Safety
Institute site). Although I disagree with them, I have to admire
their willingness to post references to the most cogent and
substantial opposition research, and so I return their courtesy.
One of the most dedicated, creative, and principled bicycle safety
experts in the US is John
Forester, whose work will challenge many assumptions about
the value of bike paths, bikeways, and mixing bike and pedestrian
traffic on scenic routes and in parks. Highly recommended reading.
Forester pulls no punches in his critical analysis of how we
don't teach kids or adults how to ride safely.
Although Forester carefully avoids getting sucked into the
Helmet Wars, I think his scholarly, impassioned, and deeply
informed papers on the marginalization of cyclists, paternalistic
cycle policy, and governmental disregard of fundamental
cycling safety issues serve to illuminate brilliantly the
inadequacy and irrelevance of MHLs.
See also How Not to Get Hit by Cars
by cycle advocate Michael Bluejay.
An interesting sidelight to the bike helmet furore is that
more than one state in the US has now repealed its motorcycle
helmet law, in many cases requiring proof of medical insurance
and issuing a sticker permitting unhelmed riding. Whether our
civil liberties should be contingent on an insurance company's
underwriting, and what this implies for those too poor to
have health insurance, we can only ponder.
The reader may wish to study the history of
motorcycle helmet law repeal in Florida.
After the July 2000 repeal of the all-ages motorcycle helmet law in
this state, some predicted that there would be a sharp rise in the
number of motorcyclist fatalities and major injuries. However, the
actual numbers show little to no effect of repeal. PDF version