Put a lid on it

Although bike season technically started in February this year, helmet-free biking is just starting to get underway on our roads and trails. While I love seeing people on bikes, the lack of helmets on over half of the riders I’ve seen on the highway in recent weeks is alarming.

I know some people don’t like hearing it, but study after study shows that bike helmets reduce the risk of serious injury and death. There are some critics out there (e.g. cyclehelmets.org) who refute the stats in the name of personal freedom, but the agencies we should be trusting on this issue — Health Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, the Brain Injury Association of Canada, etc. — are unanimous. They’re not out to make money from helmet sales, and don’t have any vested interest in stripping us of our freedoms. The only stake they have in this matter is our health and well-being, and maybe putting the brakes on our rising health care costs at the same time.

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Obviously you need to put any numbers into context — no piece of safety gear is 100 per cent effective, and yes, it is a possibility that wearing helmets might encourage some people to take more risks. If bicycle injury rates are level or increasing despite helmet laws, however, then it’s likely because the number of bike parks and cross-country trails is increasing, road riding is increasing and the way people ride their bikes is changing as well. Still, that’s not really the helmet’s fault. Helmets help protect our brains when accidents happen, but everything else leading up to the accident has always been up to us.

Accidents can and will happen. Some may be your fault, some may be the fault of others, but eventually everyone crashes on their bike. Like everything in life, it’s a numbers game, and the best numbers we have clearly demonstrate that wearing a helmet lowers the odds of sustaining a brain injury while increasing your chance of survival.

If you’re still skeptical, I’ve included some links at the bottom of this letter.

To me, the helmet debate has a lot of similarities to the so-called vaccination debate. On the one side you have overwhelming medical consensus and research in support of one reasonable and thoroughly tested course of action: on the other you have junk science, bad rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and anecdotal evidence. The two sides are not equal —not even close — and even treating it like a reasonable, rational, two-sided argument is dangerous, and puts people at risk.

Like everything in life, it’s a numbers game, and the best numbers we have clearly demonstrate that wearing a helmet lowers the odds of sustaining a brain injury while increasing your chance of survival.

You either trust doctors and the larger medical community — and all of the agencies out there who track and analyze statistics — or you don’t. If you’re pro vaccination, then you can’t possibly be against wearing a helmet because the source of the advice is exactly the same. You can’t cherry pick.

If you have any doubts, I recommend talking to any of our local doctors and nurses before you go scour the Internet in search of sources that refute anything I’ve written, and all of the data that’s out there. It’s far easier for everyone if you just to follow the advice of the recognized authorities on the matter, and buy a helmet.

And if nothing I’ve said will convince you, then there’s always the law. They’re not enforced as often as they should be, but helmets have been required to cycle on all provincial roads since 1996.

Unlike a lot of issues out there, there are no grey areas here — only grey matter.

Here are some links:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov/healthcommunication/toolstemplates/entertainmented/tips/headinjuries.html

Canadian Paediatric Society: cps.ca/documents/position/bike-helmets-to-reduce-risk-of-head-injury

Canadian Medical Association: cmaj.ca/content/early/2012/10/15/cmaj.120988

This article in Bicycling Magazine, often cited by helmet law critics, says that helmets still don’t do enough to protect people against concussions, but are good at preventing injuries and death: bicycling.com/training-nutrition/injury-prevention/precious-protection.

Andrew Mitchell,

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