Saving your life vs. having a good hair day | August 13, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 13, 2010

Saving your life vs. having a good hair day

Safety professionals urge wearing of bike helmets

by Georgia Wells

Bike accident statistics are clear: Helmet-less, riders are 14 times more likely than those with helmets to die, according to Safe Kids USA. So why do so many choose the wind in their hair over protection for their skull?

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Editorial Intern Georgia Wells can be reached at


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Posted by lisa
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2010 at 4:04 pm

I think the tone of this article is insulting and not very well informed: "if you don't wear a helmet you'll die, and you're vain!" There are plenty of reasons to not wear a helmet, and it is by no means incontrovertible that helmets contribute to safety. For deeper discussion on this issue see Web Link

I personally agree with Andy's take: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by charlie
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 13, 2010 at 7:51 pm

"By wearing helmets, cyclists are at best only marginally reducing their chances of being fatally or seriously injured in a collision with a motor vehicle which is the predominant cause of these injuries." -- Dr Mayer Hillman, in a study from 1992.

Granted, that article was written almost 20 years ago, but I'm beginning to wonder if helmets are really as great as they're made out to be. Whose numbers do you trust?

If you're interested in the study: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 13, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Before motorcycle helmets were the law, riders where a major source of young organ donations.
Cyclists without helmets can fill the gap-- fill out your organ donation cards--there is a long waiting list in CA for healthy livers etc

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2010 at 9:04 pm

If you really want to reduce your risk of death, don't use your bicycle on a medium not designed for it.

Motor vehicle roadways are just that. For motor vehicles, Any other use is outside of design.

Pedestrians have their own infrastructure which is not on the motor vehicle roadways. Bicycles should too.

Like this comment
Posted by share the road
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 15, 2010 at 10:07 am

Reckless drivers like "Outside Observer" are why bicyclists need to take extra safety precautions. Helmets are only a last resort. Helmets will not help in many types of car crashes.

Like this comment
Posted by EcoMama
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 15, 2010 at 2:21 pm

My then-58 year-old mother was sideswiped while road biking (the car crossed into the bike lane). Despite her helmet, she took 28 stitches the face, having been hit at a high enough speed that she flew through the air and was covered head-to-tow in abrasions, cuts and bruises. There is NO question that she would have died had she not been wearing her helmet -- she landed on her head, and the helmet cracked but protected her brain from injury. Doctors were surprised, and the helmet is now part of a firefighters' display that they use when talking to schools about bike safety.

If people don't want to wear helmets, they'll find a whole bunch of ways to justify it. Does anyone really believe that seeing a cyclist wearing a helmet makes drivers act more irrationally? Andy's argument (linked to by the first commenter) and others drive me batty. If you can opt-in for protecting your brain from injury, why on earth wouldn't you?

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Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Being in a car crash or being hit by a car as a pedestrian are also sources of head trauma. Many accidents in the home such as falling in the shower or down a flight of stairs also result in concussions and serious brain injuries.

In all these cases those injuries could have been avoided, if only the party involved had been wearing a helmet! I think it's clear at this point that our cranial structures are not strong enough for the modern world. We need to enact mandatory helmet laws for all people at all times from birth. This is an attainable goal! We could eliminate almost all serious brain injuries if we just act!

I realize some people may object to this proposal for superfluous rationalizations like not wanting to "mess up their hair", or that wearing a helmet in the shower is "bulky". They may even say that they are unlikely to be in an accident which involves brain trauma. The fact is: people go about their lives _every_ _single_ _day_, and sometimes accidents like these can happen. We should not let things like "vanity" come in the way of protecting people as often these accidents can be fatal! Isn't it worth it if we even save a single life?

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Posted by Pro-helmet neurologist
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 15, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Thank you, Palo Alto Online,for addressing this.

Ecomama---you hit the nail on the head, so to speak; a car hit your mother and this resulted in a life-threatening injury. This is why helmets are so important. On a bike, motorcycle, skateboard, etc., no matter how careful you are, you have no protection if someone in a car does something stupid or there is a problem with the pavement surface. Hence, the need for a helmet.

From a recent article in the NYT: "Bike riders who play against those odds do not fare well in accidents. More than 90 percent of the 714 bicyclists killed in 2008 were not wearing helmets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety."

I worked in a trauma unit for years. Yes, death from a head injury is terrible, but often, so is surviving TBI (traumatic brain injury). Many people who have this are left as a mere shell of their former selves. They may not be suffering if they are really vegetative, but their families certainly are. The serious ones almost always max out on their insurance and end up on Medi-Cal, making it everyone's problem.

Yes, it is annoying to wear those ugly, hair-smashing helmets. However, I would suggest that those who attempt to justify going without them consider whether they want to risk putting their loved ones through this kind of misery.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Aug 15, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Don't want the risk, don't ride a bike. How much more obvious can it get.

There are better, more efficient and modern transportation methods available.

Like this comment
Posted by Irate Shane
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 15, 2010 at 10:33 pm

OK. When we roamed the plains with the wilder beast, we had generally soft dirt underfoot and our speeds were low. Our brain cases are quite robust enough to withstand head to soft dirt collisions.

But ramp it up to a decent cruisy cycling speed of 20 - 30Kmh for the average person, toss in the possible impacts with objects like other vehicles, poles, concrete gutters and the ever non compliant sealed road - and you can have really bad head injuries, really quickly.

We are designed to survive assorted degress of impact with progressively worsening outcomes - being a simple ratio of the harder the object and the higher the speed equates with the worsening of the outcome.

So I am absolutely and totally all for wearing bicycle helmets.

But where I now live - in the middle of no where, the sealed roads are flat and straight and carry about 10 cars a day.

The dirt roads carry about 1 car a week.

In the hot weather I am far more likely to die of skin cancer than anything, and I'd much rather toodle along with a broad brimmed straw hat.

So on one hand I absolutely insist on wearing a helmet - because head meets concrete kerb = dead; but I have the occasional times where it's stinking hot with no traffic in the blazing sun on a dead flat road - and I think "Well you know".

But saying that helmets should not be required is just plain stupid. Our heads are not designed to hit HARD objects at 20 - 40 kmh..

This is a fundamental fact of bio-engineering.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Aug 16, 2010 at 9:49 am

Since utilities are under ground in many parts of Palo Alto, the streets are a patchwork of bumps and patches. I don't see how one could cycle on these roads without a helmet.

Like this comment
Posted by Adam Selene
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Observer is incorrect. The bicycle is the most efficient vehicle available.

Also, the only "motor vehicle roadways" in PA are 101 and 280. The rest allow bicycles.

Like this comment
Posted by Opus the Poet
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I'm sorry but the plural of anecdote is not "data", and all those stories about "a helmet saved my life" are just that, multiple anecdotes not "data". Bicycle helmets in the US were designed for an impact speed of 12.5 MPH, which can be reached by a 6' tall person seated on a bicycle simply falling over with no forward speed whatsoever. I have my own "my helmet saved my life" anecdote as well, but I know that had I had a different kind of impact my helmet would have been just a styrofoam hat. The major cause of cyclist and pedestrian death is not head injury, it's blunt force trauma to the torso and tearing wounds causing massive bleeding and there is nothing short of putting people in cars, or banning cars, that can prevent that. The major cause of death for the non-motorized is the motor vehicle. There are more pedestrians killed on sidewalks by motor vehicles in NYC in a year than in the entire country in every environment by bicycles. I could ramble on for pages about where the source of danger is, but I think you get the point... Cars kill, they kill more people in the US than any other single cause.

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Posted by Boult
a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Opus the Poet,
Thank you for posting your comment, you are right, I agree!

Helmet would have to be replaced every time you bang it on any surface because it is encased in a shell that you can't see inside if it is cracked or not. Some people can be ignorant of when to. Web Link

I grew up in the 70's and 80's riding bike all over town WITHOUT helmet! Those days helmet were designed for track bike ride or any race (i.e. breaking away)

Did you know that there are several automobiles in Europe trying to instill fears by campaigning and advocate helmet uses for bikers.
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by John Ciccarelli
a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2010 at 1:22 am

The "bicycle driver education" perspective on helmets is that although they are important protective gear if you're ever in a crash (just like seat belts in a car), it's more effective to learn how to prevent, deter, and evade crashes (i.e. "defensive driving" applied to bicycling) so you rarely if ever need to depend on the helmet. You wouldn't hand your teenager the car keys with only a seatbelt as "training", would you?

For a framework that positions helmets within a layered safety perspective, see the California Bicycle Coalition's new "Bike Safe California" education site, Web Link. For a great illustrated and animated overview of bicycle driving, visit the "Confident Cyclist" pages on the Commute Orlando site, Web Link.

The short Stanford Health Improvement Program classes mentioned in the article are open to all, not just Stanford folks. Our next two are tentatively scheduled for October 6 and 20.

There are also *free* comprehensive bicycle driving classes available in several cities around the Bay Area, including in San Francisco and San Jose. In just 2 sessions (4 hours presentation/discussion on a weekday evening, followed by 6 hours with your bike in a group on a weekend day) you'll learn what you need to be a confident street cyclist.

John Ciccarelli
League Cycling Instructor
San Mateo
Web Link

P.S. Regarding "Outside Observer"s contributions, look up "flamebait" and "troll" in the Internet context (try Wikipedia). As has been said for decades online, "Don't feed the Trolls".

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2010 at 8:59 am

I heard on the radio last week (KLIV) a report about the "most important safety feature for the cyclist". I think the most important safety feature for the cyclist is the bicycle itself. It is imperative that the bicycle is in good working order - particularly brakes and lights, correctly adjusted seats and handlebars, correctly inflated tires with good tread. The next most important feature is the ability of the cyclist to ride their bike according to traffic rules and a defensive attitude. Everyone should be in charge of their own safety.

We have all seen bicyclists do unsafe things, just like we have seen motorists doing unsafe things. The problem is that if a car has a fender bender it has many safety features built in to protect the occupants. The problem with a bicycle is that there are no safety features built in. It therefore follows that a bicycle rider in traffic must be much more diligent about their safety and not assume that everyone else can read their mind about what they are going to do. Looking behind before changing lanes, using hand signals, stopping at stop signs and red lights, traveling on the right, using lights at night, etc. etc. are all necessary components of good bike riding.

A bike helmet may or may not help in an accident. Not having an accident in the first place should be the aim.

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Posted by Pro-helmet neurologist
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 17, 2010 at 9:31 pm

There have been many good comments in response to this article. I hope cyclists and automobile drivers are paying attention.

I think I would rank the most important safety feature to be an alert and well-informed brain (protected by a helmet) and then a well-maintained bike, but that is my professional bias.

People who think that a helmet is expendable should go spend an afternoon volunteering at a rehab center for people with TBI.

Like this comment
Posted by Commander McBragg
a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2010 at 10:07 pm

I'd like to find out how many patients at the TBI are there because of bicycle accidents and how many are there for other reasons. What other common causes of head injuries are there besides bicycling?

Like this comment
Posted by Alex
a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2010 at 10:07 pm

"What other common causes of head injuries are there besides bicycling?"

Motor vehicle crashes. Falls. Assault. Having things fall on your head. These are more common causes of head injury than bicycle crashes.

Like this comment
Posted by Earthling
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 13, 2010 at 10:05 am

Outside Observer, what planet are you living on!!?? Geez...

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Sep 13, 2010 at 10:52 am

A planet where roads are for cars, and bicycles are for children.

Like this comment
Posted by Ken
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Hah. A fat lot of good a styrofoam bucket on your head will do if you get crushed by a truck.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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