Helmets Negatively Affect Cycling Perceptions I

The helmet monster has arisen! I have been stirred up to do some more hard core helmet research.

Today the question is whether the whole helmet/yellow vest cult is scaring people away from cycling. I’d say YES.

As I have said a million times, cycling isn’t really that dangerous, all things considered.

I have read a recent paper that confirms this.

“…44,000 bicyclists were injured in 2006; 773 of these injuries resulted in death, accounting for 2% of all traffic fatalities that year. Head trauma is a particular problem with bicycling injuries; in 2004, for example, 10,769 bicyclists were hospitalized for head injuries.”

This seems like a lot, but our country as over 300 million people so this is a minor risk compared to other injuries.

It seems larger when we compare the injury rate to motoring which has a lower rate of fatalities because there are so few people cycling. On the other hand, the sheer numbers of motoring deaths far out weights that of cycling.

However, if you think of cycling as a sport as well as transportation, the picture looks rosier.

“High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries and 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.” [http://www.stopsportsinjuries.org/media/statistics.aspx]

What super-popular sport would you not expect to have a few injuries a year?

“Injuries associated with participation in sports and recreational activities account for 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries among children in the United States.”

Thus, there are a variety of ways to get head injuries. Yet our authors state: “This lack of helmet use [in cycling] is of great concern for health educators and practitioners.”

Knowing the relative risks, this has me scratching my head because I know that this is NOT true.

For example, the CDC which doesn’t even list bicycle injuries on its severe traumatic brain injury page (TBI): http://www.cdc.gov/TraumaticBrainInjury/severe.html

On a separate page, the CDC did note this: “…7% of brain injuries are bicycle-related.” [http://wonder.cdc.gov/wonder/prevguid/m0036941/m0036941.asp]

And yet, the paper posted above once again takes on the mystery of why more people don’t wear helmets while riding their bicycle as if all of us are complete idiots who have missed something obvious.

Yet despite not caring to list the link between cycling and high incidence of TBI:

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note several barriers to helmet use, including cost, comfort, lack of knowledge regarding helmet efficacy, and negative peer pressure.”

“In contrast, positive correlates of undergraduates’ helmet use include past personal injury or hospitalization due to a bicycling accident, long distance bike travels, helmet ownership, being Caucasian, a history of a cycling-related injury to a close friend, perceived vulnerability to injury, perceived ability of helmets to prevent head injury, and having peers who routinely wear bicycle helmets.”

All of these sound like perfectly good reasons to wear a helmet.

For me the reason to wear a helmet: being pretty sure I’m going to get hit in the head that day and knowing that the helmet will protect me from whatever I hit my head on. In general, none of thes are true.

“Therefore, helmet-wearing practices likely reflect a person’s internal beliefs more so than external forces, such as laws. Rosenstock’s Heath Belief Model (HBM) provides a useful framework for conceptualizing personal attitudes that predict preventative health behaviors.”

“An individual’s readiness to act is a function of his/her perceptions of his/her own vulnerability to the health threat (eg, the chances of being injured while bicycling) and the severity of consequences (eg, the extent to which a bicycle-related injury would impair one’s physical, social, and occupational functioning).”

I found this to interesting. I do feel vulnerable while riding without a helmet. I feel much more protected while riding with a helmet aka safety compensation. Thus, I don’t wear a helmet as I know, intellectually, that a helmet offers little protection from real threats.

“The preferred path of action includes the perceived benefits and barriers factors,
and beliefs about benefits gained must outweigh the cost or barriers to action.”

I feel that this is true for me, but with helmets we rarely hear, my supposedly unbiased researchers, the downsides.


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