Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Want more cyclists on the road? Forego helmets

While wearing helmets when bicycling is accepted as a given, some experience suggests that if a city wants bike-sharing to be more popular, going without helmets may be necessary. A two-year-old bike-sharing program in Melbourne, Australia — where helmet use in mandatory — has only about 150 rides a day, despite the fact that Melbourne is flat, with broad roads and a temperate climate.
On the other hand, helmet-lax Dublin — cold, cobbled and hilly — has more than 5,000 daily rides in its young bike-sharing scheme. Mexico City recently repealed a mandatory helmet law to get a bike-sharing scheme off the ground. But here in the United States, the politics are tricky. —New York Times article
It would seem bike share programs in Montreal, Washingon and Minneapolis show that, while helmet use among people using these programs is lower than cyclists in those cities using their own bikes, the accident rates are also low. A new fact sheet by the European Cyclists' Federation (in PDF) Safety In Numbers claims that higher rates of bicycle use result in lower numbers of casualties. The reason is that cycling is safer for each cyclist when more people do it. So perhaps the trade-off in health benefits from helmet-less riding to in aggregate increases in ridership are worth it?

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