I love it when facts get turned on their head. And when the new idea comes to me from a 15-year-old high school student who took the initiative to do his own research, all the better.
Bicycle ridership drops considerably when helmet laws are enacted, or even when wearing a helmet is advised. Why? Some people simply view helmets as inconvenient, but the primary reason is thought to be that these campaigns cause potential riders to view bicycling as less safe.
If the goal is increased ridership then communities should do as little as possible to discourage cycling. Makes sense. But what about safety?
A 2003 paper argued that, on average, when the number of cyclists doubles, the total number of injuries increases by about 32 percent. The risk of injury per person is reduced. Here in Minneapolis, we’ve done even better.
So the injury rate varies with the number of cyclists on the road. If there are more ducks on the pond with the same number of hunters, wouldn’t any individual duck have a better chance of survival? I’m not sure that would give me much comfort if I were one of the ducks. Perhaps the effect is the result of increased driver awareness or the presence of more dedicated bicycle lanes.
Even without a helmet, the health benefits of cycling appear to far outweigh the risks. A 2010 study quantified the benefits and risks of cycling. The study concluded that the benefits, such as physical activity and less air pollution, outweigh the risks by a factor of seven.
So the bottom line is this: if you’re not currently exercising, get off your duff and go ride your bike with or without a helmet.