Mikael Colville-Andersen on Why We Shouldn’t Bike with a Helmet (Transcript)

For me this really is — the ultimate example of the slippery slope that we’re on — is this really where we want to be headed after 250 000 years of homo sapiens? I don’t know.

Another example — another example is close to the home. Apart from the Netherlands, Denmark is the safest country in the world in which to ride a bicycle. Never before has it been so safe to do so than it is right now. So for me it was a bit bizarre to see this recent wave of bicycle helmet promotion in this country. And when it started I became sincerely curious. I knew nothing about it and I decided to check out the facts for myself. This is what I was taught to do.

To my surprise, it didn’t take me very long to figure out that bicycle helmet doesn’t have a very impressive track safety record, scientifically. Scientists, the scientific community has been completely split, for years, on the subject. Fifty-fifty, down the middle. If you look at it this way, if a bicycle helmet was a vaccine or a medicine, there’s no way you’d be anywhere close to getting approved by Ministry of Health, there is simply not enough proof.

Now, it’s been over two and a half years researching this subject, and damn, do I need a new hobby? I can tell you that right now. When you come from a literary background this is, you know, reading scientific reports, is not that much fun.

But it is amazing the things you find out. I mean, it’s an ocean of science out there but, there are actually scientific studies that show your risk of brain injury is higher when you are in a helmet, and that you have a 14% greater chance of getting into an accident with a helmet on. These are not things that we hear about too often so much for showing us the big picture —

The way that these helmets are tested — well, actually industrial design of the helmets, first of all — My son helped me out with this.

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From an industrial design perspective these helmets are designed, I found out, to protect the head from non-life threatening impacts in solo accidents under 20km/h. We can all hear that, that excludes getting hit by the car, so please, don’t do that. Whether you’re wearing it or not.

The way that they’re tested in the laboratory is interesting. They’re tested only for impact on the crown of the head. They’re not even tested for impact on any of the sides. And, actually, the test that they go through the laboratory, is nothing more than a simulation of a pedestrian falling and hitting their head on the sidewalk. So, I thought, ‘Wow’ — It’s true — Well, wouldn’t that really make them great for pedestrians?

I was surprised to find out that pedestrians have a higher risk of head injury than people on bicycles do. You know, it’s my amazement that Danish Road Safety Council doesn’t have any campaigns for pedestrian helmets. I was shocked. So, I made one for them –

The PDF is freely available for download, at no cost for a tax payer — It works better in Danish, but it says, “A walking helmet is a good helmet.” And, if it is a slippery slope that we are on, then this is probably a very good idea.

But the thing about the culture of fear, is it doesn’t really worry about facts or science. They’re a nuisance. They clatter up the ideology, and they get in the way of making a lot of good money as well.

So, I thought, you know, hey, pedestrian helmets, ha-ha, what about, hey, motorist helmets? Maybe motorists should wear helmets? Wouldn’t that be funny? Boy, was I amazed when I found out that motorists’ helmets are actually and all seriousness being invented — I could’ve even made this up —

The Swedes played with the idea, of course, the Swedes in the 1960s — But in the late 1980s the helmet, the TOG, came on to the market, the company started producing and said, ‘Enough is enough’.

In 2001, the University of Adelaide and Monash University in Australia produced this motorist headband. They did so after an Australian Government study showed that that country could save up to $400 million a year in reduced injury and death, reduced societal harm, as it’s called, if everybody inside the cars were wearing protective headgear even with seatbelts and airbags. Does anybody here own one? Have you ever seen them on sale at the supermarket? Have you ever been offered a free one when you buy a car? No!

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God, that might be logical or rationale.

Another teaser, sorry —

I’ve discovered — well, I didn’t discover, but the helmet industry is actually very interested in everybody buying their products, you know, there’s no surprise there.

I’ve discovered that one of the other main promoters of helmets is the insurance industry. Even in this country. Again, no-brainer as to why.

What I did discover was that the automobile industry is one of the main promoters of bicycle helmets. And why? It’s simple really. The bicycle is a real and immediate threat to the dominance of car culture in our cities. And the reason you’ve never been given the opportunity to purchase these fine products is that the car industry won’t touch them. They excel at marketing their products.

And, you know, if — they know that it would be a catastrophe for car sales if we started telling people, “You know what, driving a car is proven to be statistically incredibly dangerous, and we remove that false sense of security that people have about their cars.”

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