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 information here.
Malcom Wardlaw's Three lessons 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 letter to 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:
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 recommended reading.
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 other links
The Aussie Cyclists' Rights Action Group was formed in response to the helmet laws Down Under.
Among their interesting postings:
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 Danger Reduction
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!)
  1. Do Helmets Save Lives by Dr. Edward Walker, accident/emergency practitioner, in The Guardian June 1999
  2. Dr. Thomas Demarco Paper
  3. Another Physicians' view from some Canadian doctors.
  4. And don't miss the irrepressible Ken Kifer on why (some) doctors think bikes are dangerous
Article abstract from the British Journal of Sports Medicine
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 here.
De Clarke