NYTimes Mag article argues against wearing helmets

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Anonymous's picture

I paraphrase and edit the following article so as to not incur Peter O's displeasure by violating a ©.

New York Times Magazine, Dec. 10, Page 36

Bicycle Helmets Put You at Risk


Cyclists who ride on city streets have the superstition that if they wear a helmet, they are more likely to get hit by a car. Could this actually be true?

Ian Walker, a university psychologist, rigged his bicycle with an ultrasonic sensor that could detect how close each car was that passed him. He alternated riding with and without a helmet for two months (2,500 passing cars).

When he wore his helmet, motorists passed him 3.35 inches closer than when his head was bare. He had increased his risk of an accident by donning safety gear.

Why? Walker theorizes helmets change the behavior of drivers. Motorists regard a helmet as a signal that the cyclist is experienced and thus can be approached with less caution.

Walker concludes the fact drivers respond to a helmet means they are making judgments about cyclists.

He rarely wears a helmet when he rides. During his study he was struck by a truck and a bus — both times, while wearing a helmet.


Don't rag on me for putting this here. I always wear a helmet, club ride or no.

Anonymous's picture
[email protected] (not verified)
Best of both worlds. The non-helmet helmet.

"referring article

company link

underlying technology


And the SUV shall lie down with the Serotta ..."

Anonymous's picture
Josh (not verified)

It's true. The helmet is no protection against an SUV; more like full-body armour. I suggest that instead of providing air bags inside, we should demand a prophylactic that inflates around these lethal boxes upon impact. Then a helmet would be needed to prevent injuries only when we bounce off them.

Anonymous's picture
kley (not verified)
very cool!

…But looks like they're only avail. in CH.

Anyone travelling to Europe for the Holidays?!


Anonymous's picture
Ron Torok (not verified)
Only one of two variables

The study talks only about the probability of getting hit. Whether accurate or not, the study obviously does not analyze the severity of injury in an accident with or without a helmet.

Personally, I think I would trade off any incremental risk of contact with the vehicle with protection of the melon.

Anonymous's picture
Phil (not verified)
Keeping my helmet on...

In addition there are many other ways to have a car-cyclist crash (or a bike crash in general) that don't involve as a risk factor a car driver's propensity to pass closer to a helmet wearing cyclist (like intersection sideswipes, door openings, blindspots, etc). I'll gladly exchange some (possible) risk reduction in one situation for definite risk reduction in many other situations.

Anonymous's picture
bill vojtech (not verified)

Close only counts in handgrenades and horse shoes.

You don't need a helmet when they get close. You need it when you're hit. Or when you crash on your own. Or get tangled up in a paceline snafu.

Anonymous's picture
Keith Muntaner (not verified)

Very well put, Bill!

Anonymous's picture
Zenzi (not verified)
poor research design

Note that the rider himself may have behaved differently when wearing a helmet vs not. One reason is that people in general may take more risks when wearing protective gear. Another reason is that the researcher was the one with the hypothesis about driver behavior and was testing his own theory. To eliminate this latter reason, naive participants could be used. However, this would not eliminate the other alternative reason why helmeted riders may have more accidents. Also, as critically pointed out by another poster, any cost-benefit analysis of helmet use should take into consideration the injuries experienced in each type of accident as well as their probability.

[yes, I teach research methods to psychologists but not this particular one]

Anonymous's picture
Bill Vojtech (not verified)

"There's also an assumption of greater safety when drivers give us more room when they pass. But that does not take into account that the wider they pass us, the more they go into the oncoming lane– often on blind curves, I've found. I worry about what happens when someone moves over several feet instead of several inches and has a head-on collision next to me. I'm sure I'll be worse off under those circumstances than if I'd been passes with 1/16"" to spare."

Anonymous's picture
Ed Gerber (not verified)
one person's perspective

I felt I should add my two cents, as I think this is an important issue. I'm not the best cyclist in the world, but I'm a fairly regular rider, both in the club and around the city, midtown, etc. On a club ride in Rockland County this October I went around a turn too fast and slid into a pickup truck coming the opposite direction. I was knocked out a bit, but otherwise walked away from the accident with just a few scratches. But I shutter to think what might have happened if I wasn't wearing my helmet; it's all crushed in on the back, and I don't think my head could have taken than impact by itself. I think wearing a helmet when you ride is like wearing your seat belt when you drive.

cycling trips