Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Our Response to Some
Negative Views on Helmets
Summary: Here are responses to some arguments about helmets often posted and reposted on blogs. Please do not quote this page out of context. Provide the URL and let the reader decide.
Disclaimer: you may not consider this a balanced view! We are helmet advocates.
For studies and references see the Harborview Injury Prevention Center's summary of helmet effectiveness studies. We still see messages about helmets on Internet blogs that fall under the heading "helmet wars." Initially most of the opponents were inspired by opposition to helmet laws. But more recently they go further to question the effectiveness of helmets. The best example of their approach is the concerted effort to make the Wikipedia entry on helmets negative.
As long as the messages simply repeat the anti-helmet law view over and over, we do not get involved. But readers should not take this to mean that those views are generally accepted, so we have put up this page to tell the other side of the story. And we have an additional page to take up some issues with one Danish video posted in 2010.
First, a disclaimer. We consider anti-helmet law views as legitimate and rational positions in the spectrum of political viewpoints. We do not consider ourselves "better than" those who oppose the laws, or even better qualified to make public policy, for which every citizen in a democracy is equally qualified.
The negative assertions are in bold italics below, followed by our responses. They fall into two categories: helmets and laws.
Bicycle helmets restrict vision and hearing, endangering the user. Response: We have never found this to be the case. Bike helmets do not affect vision. If the helmet intrudes on upward vision it will be evident to the user, who can adjust the tilt of the helmet to raise the front lip. Bike helmets also do not affect hearing, since normally they do not cover the ears. That question is easily settled by riding with and without a helmet, or by standing beside a road with helmet on and off. The US DOT has conducted a study on this question using motorcycle helmets and found that even these larger helmets with additional coverage do not affect hearing, and have little effect on vision.
Helmets are heavy, hot and uncomfortable.
Response: This is a subjective judgment for each individual, and is easily tested by the user. Most riders find today's helmets light, comfortable and cool enough.
Helmets are inconvenient when getting off the bike to shop or go to class. Response: Putting a helmet on takes less time than putting on bike gloves, but it does add another step every time you get on the bike, and we agree that it can be a nuisance on very short trips from one store to another. So is fastening your seat belt in a car, but you do it for safety. The helmet can be left with the bike, locked if the bike needs to be locked in that location.
Helmets are not effective except in minor crashes.
Response: We have ample evidence from medical studies that helmets are indeed highly effective, and you will find references on our statistics page and our Journals page. Although bicycle helmets are tested in labs in impacts at 14 miles per hour, they usually do a fine job of protecting the rider in a crash where the initial forward speed is higher, because the severity of the impact is normally determined by the closing speed of the head and pavement, not by the rider's forward motion. Research on crashed helmets shows that most people hit the ground at a relative speed of about 10 MPH. If a rider is hit by a car or hits a brick wall at 30 mph and the head takes a direct blow at that speed, no helmet will prevent injury or death. But that type of crash is rare, and...