As a Central Syracuse NY bike accident lawyer, I have seen first hand some nasty head injuries from fallen bicyclists. So I was not very understanding last April when my 13 year-old son informed me that it was so totally uncool to wear a helmet on a bike that he would rather not ride at all than put one on. Didn’t I know that only nerds wear helmets? And didn’t I know that if his buddies in our city (Geneva, NY) ever caught him riding with a helmet on he would be a laughing stock? Was I trying to ruin his life or something?!
I said, “nice rant, now put your helmet on..” And he said, “no helmet, no way”.
I figured he would eventually cave. But he didn’t. For a full month he did not ride his bike at all. When I finally realized that he meant what he said, that he would not “get caught dead with a helmet on”, I capitulated. I let him ride his bike without a helmet.
Irresponsible parenting? Maybe. But my thinking was that I would rather accept the relatively small risk of him getting a head injury from a bike fall than accept the certain downside of his not getting good exercise by riding his bike all summer.
Then just last week I ran across a New York Times article that hit home. It made me realize that I was not alone in my “helmet dilemma”. The New York Times reported that all successful city bike-sharing programs around the world (like the velib in Paris) have one thing in common — no helmets required. By contrast, city bike-sharing programs with a mandatory helmet rule — like the one in Melbourne, Australia — have all failed.
The Times reporter explains::
In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. . . . On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, discourage them from riding bicycles. That means more obesity, heart disease and diabetes. And — Catch-22 — a result is fewer ordinary cyclists on the road, which makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network.
Will I continue to wear a helmet myself when I bike? You betcha. And will I continue to try to convince my son to wear one, too? Absolutely. But will I suffer to see him not ride around town at all because he has to wear one? No I won’t! Life is like that. Sometimes our ideals must give way to reality . . .
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