Mar 012013

Here’s the Bike Helmet Challenge.

1. Spend a week driving your car with a bike helmet with you.  To make it easy, you don’t actually have to wear the helmet.  Of course wearing the helmet might call attention to the irony of not requiring helmets for the biggest cause of head injury deaths in the U.S. (driving) or to the mussed hair problem. But for this challenge, you just have to keep the helmet with you in the car.

2. But when you get to your destination, you can’t leave the helmet in the car.  You have to take it with you. You don’t have to have it with you at every moment… if you’re at work you can keep it in your office and still walk to lunch.  But then it has to be stowed in a safe place that’s not in your car.  And you can’t drive anywhere, not without the helmet.

If you lead a typical suburban lifestyle, you’ll discover pretty soon that you have to carry your helmet into the grocery store, into the mall, on the train if you drove to the station, into restaurants, to the movies, and on and on. You’ll have to hold it, wear it, lay it on the ground or attach it to your backpack or purse while shopping for clothes, browsing books at the bookstore, ordering at Chipotle, wherever.

What irks me is that people who casually think mandatory helmet laws are a good idea don’t understand this hassle factor.  They think of biking as as set of joy rides you take whenever you have the time, not as transportation.  Transportation means making a lot of purposeful trips to places where you spend more than a few minutes but less than a day. And unlike seatbelts, a helmet isn’t attached to your vehicle.  It has to be toted around.  You can’t leave it on your parked bike in most places because the helmet could get stolen.

I accept the hassle because I am an ardent helmet wearer.  But the hassle changes the formula that guides the decision of whether to wear a helmet or not.  Even I might leave my helmet at home for a short trip, whereas I barely drive my car out of the driveway without my seatbelt on (after all, the seatbelt hassle factor is almost zero).

To understand this,  supporters of mandatory helmet laws should take the Bike Helmet Challenge.

Helmet graphic by Allison Cochrane

  3 Responses to “The Bike Helmet Challenge”

  1. I loop my helmet through my bike lock, and have never had a problem. If you wanted to take my helmet that I bought on sale for $20-30 without cutting the strap, you’d have to unthread several buckles which are annoying enough just to adjust. Doesn’t seem worth it. If helmet theft really is a common problem, I’m going to go file a patent for a helmet with a special hole to feed a lock through.

    If it was raining or you’re riding bikeshare, that’s obviously not an option and the hassle of using a helmet is just as you describe.

  2. I sometimes lock my helmet up, but I’ve also had helmets damaged by other people locking too close in the past. It’s also not an option when it’s raining (eew), it gets the straps dirty, and obviously doesn’t work with bike share.

    The thing about toting a helmet around is that I’ve never found a really good way of carrying one around. They’re round on top, so they roll around on flat surfaces. The chin straps can be buckled around something, but there’s enough free space that the helmet bounces around. You can’t just wear it around without getting laughed at, even though it’s just a hat. Security guards at art museums have made me check the helmet, but not the bag.

  3. Forget drivers, head injuries are the leading cause of death among people just walking around. If you aren’t lying in bed or sitting in a chair motionless, wearing a helmet decreases your chance of death dramatically. Yet, strangely, our lawmakers don’t seem to be rushing to sponsor bills requiring pedestrian helmets. Hmm…

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