Man dies from head injuries in bike crash and fuels helmet debate

If you're a CBC Radio nerd like me you might have heard a renewed mandatory helmet debate this morning with the news that a cyclist died from "life-threatening head injuries" in a crash a month ago at Caledonia and Davenport. The media and police have jumped on the fact that the cyclist was not wearing a helmet.

Police claim they discovered that "the severity of the head injury indicates that he was not wearing a helmet". (I wonder why they couldn't discover he wasn't wearing a helmet by just looking for an absence of a helmet in the area. I also wonder why the media is taking the police's take on the cause of head injuries when this is normally the role of health professionals.)

The man was riding southbound at Caledonia Park Road "at high speed" as he approached a green light on Davenport, according to police.

When the light changed, the man made a sharp left turn eastward onto Davenport's westbound lane, and then lost control and fell onto the roadway.

Police also issued an advisory in the Monday release that said: "While helmets are not mandatory for those over [18], Traffic Services would remind everyone that helmets are your best defence against brain injuries that result from falls. Parents need to be vigilant in ensuring children wear their helmets at all times when riding their bicycles."

This news follows a study at the University of Manitoba that helmet legislation works to get more people to wear helmets (while also reducing the number of people willing to bike).

While it is often a good idea (in my opinion) for an individual to wear a helmet to reduce the chance of a head injury, the broad statistics are not clear if helmets help all that much. We should not arrive at a conclusion and decide policy based on these individual cases where people have head injuries. It is known that helmets are of very limited value in the event of a collision with a car; and many cyclists negate the protective effect of helmets by taking more risks. The promotion of helmets implicitly shifts responsibility of care to the cyclist and away from drivers, and away from the provision of safer streets by means of street calming or bicycle facilities.

The truth is, strong calls for mandatory helmet legislations happen mostly in countries - such as United States, Canada, Australia - where the cycling modal share is very low and where injuries and deaths per kilometre travelled are much higher. It's not hard to argue that a big reason for this is that it's easier to shift the blame onto cyclists rather than taking effective steps in configuring our urban spaces to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians.

Source: www.cyclehelmets.org/Source: www.cyclehelmets.org/

What we can take away from this is that helmet wearing is only a tiny part of the overall picture. We must look to other elements of cycling policy in countries where injury/death rates are low; elements such as bike lanes/paths and early cycling education.

Comments

While it may be true that wearning a helmet is only a part of the entire picture, it is a simple rule to apply. People like rules, and for the most part, follow them. What is the difference between mandatory seat belts and mandatory helmets? If we say that wearing a seatbelt is mandatory, because it saves lives, why can't we say the same for bike helmets? It is a scary experience to ride a bike in Toronto. How many more deaths do we need before the lights go on?

It's funny how those pushing for mandatory helmet laws claim to want to make cyclists safer but rarely mention one of the quickest ways to decrease cyclist (and pedestrian, and motorist) deaths and serious injuries: reduce the speed limit for motorists. We are human and make mistakes, but with a reduced speed limit, the consequences of those mistakes are greatly reduced. (And yes, this is another one of those strategies that some European cities, e.g. Amsterdam, take to make cycling safer.)

I'm with Bike Helmet. If wearing a helmet can and will reduce my INDIVIDUAL risk of serious injury or death, then I'm going to wear one. Just like wearing a similar helmet is helpful when skiing and a seat belt whilst in a car.

I don't think seat belt enforcement has detracted from other moves to increase road safety and I don't think a mandatory helmet law needs to detract from other efforts to reduce incidents on the roads for cyclists.

This feels like the same arguments against mandatory motorcycle helmets and seatbelts in the 70s. And both of these public health initiatives have reduced deaths and injuries.

And there are lots of ways a helmet can help even when you're not riding in traffic. That concussion I got when I flipped over my handlebars in the school yard when I was 10 comes to mind...

If we follow the logic of commentators above, that we should have mandatory helmet laws for cyclists because it saves lives (which it doesn't, it MIGHT reduce the chance of a head injury but you can still die of all the other injuries that a car running you over will inflict - but let's put that aside for now), and that we've proven this point with mandatory seatbelt laws and motorcycle helmet laws (which is comparing apples to oranges, but let's put that aside for now too), then by that logic we should also have mandatory helmet laws for pedestrians. After all, as many or more head injuries happen to pedestrians as they do to cyclists. Pedestrians are just as likely or more likely to be hit by motorized vehicles as cyclists. Pedestrians are just as vulnerable when they are hit by motorized vehicles as cyclists.

So do you wear a helmet when you are out walking about? If not, why not? Is it because the risk of acquiring a head injury is so low that you don't feel the need to wear a helmet? If that's so, and you're risk is the same or less as a cyclists, why do you feel the need to wear a helmet when cycling? Is it because the media/government/marketing companies/car companies etc have not constantly drilled into you that walking is UNSAFE and you are STUPID if you walk without a helmet?

If you're answer to why you don't wear a helmet when walking is because of the sidewalks which make it safe to walk, then I have two responses: (1) well then, clearly we need "sidewalks for bicycles" i.e. segregated bike lanes and (2) most motorized vehicle - pedestrian collisions occur at intersections - just like with cyclists.

So for all you mandatory bike helmet law people out there - are you also in support of a mandatory pedestrian helmet law?

just see how many cyclists wear their helmet while shopping, after parking their bikes. I used to think it was weird to wear your helmet other than on a bike, but carrying it you tend to bang it against things, drop it, put it down and forget it, be tempted to use it as a weapon on the asshat who parks in the bike lane!

Better on your head!!

Shame on you for even posting that silly graph. At least you didn't look at it and conclude that helmets kill people. Safety in numbers(or hiding the same absolute level of fatalities by dissolving them in a sea of numbers) isn't really a good thing either, it is primarily first about the infrastructure - all those countries with the lowest rates deliberately built bicycles into the transport policies. The same thing is played out everywhere, from Montreal to Vancouver.

Being hit by a car, a helmet will still work, the problem is your body won't be protected in anyway. So the fatalities, what everybody focuses on, tend not to show a benefit for helmets if your body is smashed.

There are so many other solid reasons to wear a lid in Toronto...

1)car doors
2)street car tracks
3)pedestrians
4)ice
5)getting clipped by a car mirror/bumper and being sent flying.
6)rider error
... ETC.

Now don't get me wrong, sometimes I ride without a helmet , but on those occasions I go slowly and stick to the pathway like the martin goodman.

I am also not in favour of mandatory laws for one HUGE reason - Helmet laws are panacea. That doesn't mean I won't wear a helmet or that a helmet is of no value. What it means is that I think helmets are treated as a band-aid solution to cover up the gaping gaps in the city's transport policy which are leading to these fatalities.

*misuse of panacea I think... Doesn't it mean cure all?

Let me be more explicit for you Dave, I object to Helmet laws as panacea. A lot of officials just say "slap a lid on them all" and claim they've done everything possible.

Hey dances_with_traffic: I suspect that you and herb are not all that far apart at all! The main point in herb's post seemed to be that helmets often get used as a proxy for all of bike safety, when they're merely a component, a position you seem to endorse. I think we can all agree that greater individual helmet use would improve safety somewhat (hard to predict how much), and that much much more needs to be done in the realm of infrastructure.

Andrew wrote:
"I think we can all agree that greater individual helmet use would improve safety somewhat..."

Kevin's comment:
Count me out! I do not agree that greater individual helmet use would improve safety. Wearing a helmet sends a clear signal to others that there is something dangerous about cycling. I find it hard to think of a better way of discouraging cycling.

One of the best ways of encouraging cycling is by example. I always try to set a good example by cycling to work wearing my ordinary work clothing and never a helmet. People who see me can say "hey, that's someone like me. I can do that too!"

Getting more people cycling is the best way to improve safety. Not only because of the safety in numbers effect, but more cyclists means the politicians will see the numbers and give us better cycle infrastructure.

There is a very good reason why the safest country for cycling with the highest cycle mode share (that would be The Netherlands) has very few people wearing helmets. They realise that it is a bad idea.

"After all, as many or more head injuries happen to pedestrians as they do to cyclists.

What are the numbers, please?

From the article, it doesn't sound like he was hit by a car, it sounds like he had a wipeout on a turn while going at a good clip.

Riding a bike will often be more risky than walking. If I enjoy biking at 20km/h, I have to think about what happens if my head hits the pavement at that speed, whatever the cause. I could have been avoiding a car, a pothole, a dog. I could have had a mechanical problem with my bike. I could have been distracted by some one else's amazing bike.

A helmet is not a force field that will protect me from all threats. But it is a reasonable way to mitigate the risk associated with high speeds and the chance of a wipe out where my skull meets an immovable object.

I don't wear a helmet to protect myself from the dangerous cars on the road. I wear my helmet to protect me from physics.

Wearing a helmet is not selling out and sending the message to people that cycling is too scary for anyone but the reckless. It's a reasonable response to a situation where you've increased the risk of a fall (few cyclists are more stable on their bikes than on their feet) and you've increased the amount of damage that can occur because of a fall (you're likely higher off the ground and moving faster than you would be when walking, or even running).

Caledonia road has some steep hills and questionable pavement. If you're going to ride hard in those conditions, and not wear a helmet, you're increasing your risk.

I'm fine with helmet laws not being mandatory, but perhaps physics and risk assessment classes should be.

Oh, also, a helmet is a fantastic place to mount a rear view mirror. Increased road awareness probably saves my butt more than my helmet saves my skull on my day to day commute.

In the end, it's the individual cyclists choice. Helmets won't protect your body if you get hit by a car, but they still might help in other instances. I was hit by a car once and was sent flying through the air. I landed hard on my back and if it weren't for the backpack, stuffed with my work clothes, that slid up over my head as I landed - I probably would have had a concussion. Because of this experience, it's my own individual choice to wear a helmet and it's not fair to say that cyclists who wear helmets are sending out a negative image of cycling and it's not fair to say that cyclists who don't wear helmets are reckless. To each their own!

If you feel it is "a scary experience to ride a bike in Toronto" (I happen to disagree) then wouldn't it make sense to try and push for change - ie. a better cycling and pedestrian infrastructure so that you would feel (and really be) safer, rather than rely on a helmet to protect you from the 'scary' stuff.

I have to disagree with the notion that wearing a helmet sends the message that biking is unsafe and therefore discourages others from cycling, whereas not wearing a helmet will encourage more cycling. Many non-cyclists look at non-helmet wearing cyclists and think of them as risk-taking yahoos. These people are more likely to respond by thinking "Wow, only crazy risk taking yahoos bike in Toronto. I'm not like that. Cycling in Toronto is definitely not for me... " To each his own...

I do not agree with Annie. My goal for Toronto is to become like a Dutch or Danish city. Or Tokyo or Bejing, to use Asian examples. All these places have high cycling mode shares. In Groningen, the cycling mode share is 55%. And almost nobody uses a bike helmet unless they are racing or stunt jumping.

Ordinary people wearing ordinary clothing going to work and about their everyday tasks on easy-to-use bicycles. No hassle transportation. That is the example I am trying to set and the city I am trying to build.

Places that by law or custom encourage helmet use all have one thing in common: very few cyclists. That is not the Toronto I'm trying to build.

So let us all strive to set a positive example. Let us show to everyone seeing us that cycling is a safe and effective way to get around Toronto. Let us not wear helmets and send a scary message that cycling is a dangerous activity. Let people look at us and say "That looks easy. I can do that too!"

Please, please, please. I beg of everyone. Please do not wear a cycle helmet in Toronto.

Kevin Love

"Ordinary people wearing ordinary clothing going to work and about their everyday tasks on easy-to-use bicycles. No hassle transportation. That is the example I am trying to set and the city I am trying to build."

How fast exactly do these "ordinary people" going, and how far are they traveliing? I've got at least 16km to get downtown from home. Putzing along upright at 15 km/h in dress slacks isn't going to make that a reasonable ride. I generally average, including all stops (yes I stop for stop signs, red lights, and streetcars with doors open) in the low twenties km/h range. Somehow I don't think a flower basket on my handlebars is going to help me maintain this speed.

Are you looking to build a city where space/time is compressed, making a distance of 10 km only 2 km by bicycle?

"Please, please, please. I beg of everyone. Please do not wear a cycle helmet in Toronto."

This is all-too-trollish.

There are places where I'm going along at 35 km/h, and other places where I'm trying to get around obstacles. Does this fit your definition of "racing or stunt jumping"? Am I then justifiied in wearing a helmet?

In addition, the helmet keeps my bald spot from being sunburnt in summer, my head somewhat drier if it starts raining, and holds down my hat in winter so my ears don't freeze. What's not to like?

"Let us not wear helmets and send a scary message that cycling is a dangerous activity. Let people look at us and say "That looks easy. I can do that too!""

Unfortunately (based on my non-statistical, anecdotal experience), the majority opinion I hear in response to cyclists not wearing helmets is that they are reckless risk-takers. Drivers (erroneously, of course) often use this opinion as a justification for their own reckless actions around cyclists.

Not that I agree that all cyclists not wearing helmets is that they are reckless risk-takers. But my opinion isn't loud or sticky enough to sway that view, so I don't agree with you that if I take off my helmet, I will be encouraging others to cycle. In another country, or at some time in the future, maybe; but not here, and not right now.

Kevin: There is a very good reason why the safest country for cycling with the highest cycle mode share (that would be The Netherlands) has very few people wearing helmets. They realise that it is a bad idea

It's mainly because most of the bike infrastructure there is built to segregate bikes and cars. Cyclists in the Netherlands spend much more time on their own bike paths and among other cyclists, rather than in mixed traffic with cars.

When cyclists there are in mixed traffic, chiefly in urban areas, collisions still happen and are sometimes fatal.

When bike infrastructure along main roads in Toronto looks like this:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=van+heuven+g...

then maybe helmets won't be so important.

In the words of another, sticking feathers up your bum does not make you a chicken. Likewise taking your helmet off won't turn Toronto into the Netherlands for a cyclist. A nice vision anyways.

Like I tried to communicate before, it isn't the helmet's fault. How could it be? There is no black magic happening in Toronto, no evil spell cast by a helmet wizard to be broken by burning your helmet. The troubles run far deeper than a simple helmet, which is why forcing everybody to wear one won't address the real issue and simply will be a red herring in the grand scheme of things. In some cases you're better served by wearing chest/spine protector of having a blazingly bright light. It is all just equipment to cope with the underlying issue we have in Toronto.

Wear the helmet or not, it's your choice... but PLEASE don't be swayed by the casual idealistic comments of others who's own bum isn't on the line. Your choice.

Helmet use would also improve the safety of cars, bathrooms, stairs, and walking in winter.

But maybe we could all just be a little more careful out there?

If the cyclist was cutting a corner so fast that he lost control maybe that should be the focus of concern?

My ride to work is 10 km, from east to west meaning I'm going up and down hills to traverse the Don River ravine. I wear my work clothes, ride an upright bike and rarely exceed 20 km/hr . And I stop at stop signs and red lights (unlike most of the helmeted cyclists I ride past each day). And still it only takes me about 35 minutes door to door. So yes, 'ordinary people' are doing exactly what the previous poster had said - enjoying their ride as they get from A to B and getting to their destination with a calm frame of mind. No, it is not troll-ish. And no, I don't feel unsafe and in need of a helmet any more than I feel the need of a helmet while walking down the street. But if you feel the need for a helmet, I'm okay with that. Now can you please be okay with my need not to wear one?

Mr Knowitall: *Helmet use would also improve the safety of cars, bathrooms, stairs, and walking in winter.

But maybe we could all just be a little more careful out there?

If the cyclist was cutting a corner so fast that he lost control maybe that should be the focus of concern?*

Being a little more careful soon runs up against the limits of other people's care and attention. That's when you become a victim of SMIDSY (sorry, mate, I didn't see you).

Yehuda Moon.

Another Yehuda Moon, perhaps more suitable for this discussion.

Comics are wonderful in that they convey truth through humour. In this case, Yehuda is definitely right. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is a car driver problem.

That is why I strongly recommend that everyone who encounters a car driver doing anything illegal or dangerous should get their license plate number and call 911 immediately.

Comics are wonderful in that they convey truth through humour. In this case, Yehuda is definitely right. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is a car driver problem.

That is why I strongly recommend that everyone who encounters a car driver doing anything illegal or dangerous should get their license plate number and call 911 immediately.

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