A question of systems and complexity: do cycle helmets make things better, or worse?


The big bike helmet debate: ‘You don’t make it safe by forcing cyclists to dress for urban warfare’ | Cycling | The Guardian

This is really a great case study for anyone looking for a systems thinking topic for students – or serious research. In either case, have them do a simple cause-and-effect diagram first using maximum creativity and thinking, to see if anything they intuit maps to the reality.

Prejudice, opinions, beliefs, passion, science, disputed science, contextual sensitivity, and deep nebulousity. What is a policy-maker to do?

Some things that seem fairly clear:

  • IF you have a bad accident, a properly-fitted cycle helmet could save your life or mitigate damage (though while it might help with head injuries – some brain surgeons say they’re too flimsy to be *much* use – they do also increase the risk of neck injury – and of course it might look like it saved your life, but the helmet took a blow that would have been a near-miss to your head)
  • Most people do not wear them properly fitted.
  • If you are planning on going fast or dangerously, you should wear one.
  • They are fairly unlikely to subconscioulsy make you cycle more dangerously.
  • They are very likely to make cars be just a bit more aggressive and drive closer to you.
  • Increased wearing of helmets possibly has a small negative affect on overall health outcomes.
  • Mandatory helmet rules definitely dissuade cycling, and seem to increase overall accidents.
  • It would be a far more powerful intervention for public safety and health to create a positive and safe cycling environment.
  • Almost nobody wears hi-viz or helmets in the Netherlands. But of those injured, a really high proportion of them wear helmets.
  • More people have cycle accidents when drunk. Very few drunk cyclists wear helmets.
  • The most effective interventions are in increasing car driver capability and awareness.

What seems very clear is that teenage car drivers and their passengers should definitely wear helmets and neck braces.

Personally, I favour the requirement to make all cars absolutely as safe and protected as possible, as long as all the drivers are situated at street level in a balsa-wood box with a dagger embedded in the steering wheel.

PS I have had two bad cycle accidents in my younger days – once I was doored by a car and did a flying somersault over the top of the car door, and once my bottom bracket snapped and left me sliding under and into the back of a car in front. Both times I was greatful to be wearing a helmet, which I habitually do.

The big bike helmet debate: ‘You don’t make it safe by forcing cyclists to dress for urban warfare’

The big bike helmet debate: ‘You don’t make it safe by forcing cyclists to dress for urban warfare’ | Cycling | The Guardian

An article: https://www.cyclehelmets.org/1249.html from a whole dedicated website: https://www.cyclehelmets.org/0.html

  • https://www.howiechong.com/journal/2014/2/bike-helmets

NB this was prompted by the current (as of 1 January 2021) UK Prime Minister being accused of something for cycling seven miles from home (two women were cautioned and fined recently for meeting up five miles from each of their homes… were they exercising? Did it matter they brought tea? Were they on a bench chatting? Was it really a picnic? Did they need three police cars to arrest them? etc) – and in this stock phot from 2013, he is helmetless – though I have definitely seen him wearing one in such a manner that it was pointless anyway.