Helmet use is an evergreen topic widely debated by cyclists and non-cyclists everywhere. Conclusion? No one agrees and this debate will rage until the end of days.
I decided to jot down a post about helmet use yesterday, when talking to a friend as I prepared to leave my building on my bike. Somebody walked by and said casually, “Nice cycling cap. You wear a helmet, too, don’t you?”
Man, those kinds of comments rankle me. Perhaps they originate out of concern, but they come across as judgmental.
No matter how I answer, I feel like it’s a no-win. If I say “Yes, I wear a helmet,” I feel like I answered a question that was really no one else’s concern but mine. Responding with “None of your business” sounds ridiculous, as a helmet’s overall obviousness negates it as a matter of privacy. If I say “No, I don’t wear a helmet,” I’m opening the door to a talking-to, frowny disapproving look, a recitation of accident statistics, or anecdotes starting with “I had this friend who wasn’t wearing a helmet…”
I do wear a helmet. I’ve been in two accidents since I began riding in D.C. In one instance, I was doored. In the other, I was cut-off by a driver that made a left turn right in front of me. The driver didn’t see me until I went bouncing across the hood of his SUV.
In both instances, I was wearing a helmet. In the case of my dooring, I don’t remember how I fell or if wearing my helmet protected me in some way. When I was cut off, it was my chin and upper body that took the brunt of the impact, and I don’t remember the rest of the collision. Perhaps my helmet helped me out as I landed on the ground, but I can’t recall. Accidents make the memory foggy.
Luckily, I was going at fairly slow speeds when these accidents happened and neither my bike nor I sustained any long-term injuries. In addition, I was glad I wore my helmet not only because of the possibility that it could have helped my noggin somehow, but also because I did not want to have any onlookers say, “And she wasn’t wearing a helmet.”
I did a completely unscientific Google search of “bike accidents.” As I read through the newspaper articles it returned, I noticed that about half of them (four of the nine I reviewed) stated whether the rider was wearing a helmet. I actually thought it would come up more frequently so my search did not feed into my righteous anger as much as I anticipated. Still, it was mentioned about half the time.
What I perceive as judgmental comments about helmet use serves as one of my primary reason for wearing a helmet. If I am ever involved in another collision, I don’t want anybody to tweet, write a newspaper article about, or utter anything akin to, “And she wasn’t wearing a helmet.” That’s just crap.
I know people will continue to ask me this question about wearing a helmet, and I’ll continue to be somewhat ticked when they ask and reply “Yes.” I wear a helmet because, in addition to getting people to leave me alone with these stupid intrusive helmet comments, I think it can also possibly help in an accident, depending on where the impact occurs.
In the larger picture, though, safety on the roads doesn’t boil down to a cyclists-only, wear-a-helmet issue. Like it or not, it’s everybody’s responsibility. A helmet may help a little bit. However, there’s a whole lot more that goes into keeping cyclists safe than the use of bike helmets.