Note to my future kids: Bike Helmets, and why I/we made you wear them

First, the hiatus from blogging — I began posting while on sabbatical leave, time is a precious resource, and there are growing drains on it — yes, just like everyone else.

I have heard the expression, “You cannot be a parent and a friend.” I do not agree with it, but do believe that the friendship I am cultivating with my children is different than my other friendships (see here).  The difference that seems to surface all the time is maturity, decision-making, “seeing the long term.”

They will all soon have bicycles as all are teenagers.  I want them to develop independence and confidence, I want them to be able to make some choices about where to go next, especially now that it is summer.  I also want my wife/their mom to decrease her time in the “shuttle van” (more on that another time).

I need the kids to wear bike helmets. Always.  The rewards are not worth the risk. Some evidence/links here:

And I did try to find opposing views:

  • Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet, by Howie Chong
    • a thoughtful piece where the author seems to think the side effects (e.g., cars go closer to riders with helmets, riders feel safer, may ride risker; helmets dissuade riders) do shift the trade-offs in the other direction — I just still believe the severity of the risk overwhelms these effects
  • TEDxCopenhagen – Mikael Colville-Andersen – Why We Shouldn’t Bike with a Helmet
    • I was surprised, the talk seemed to be more about the perception of bicycling as unsafe, and that helmets fed into this perception.  There may be some merit to the idea that the thought of wearing a helmet is interpreted as bikes are not completely safe, but I think most people get that already, the helmet just puts this observation “in your face.”  Cars are not completely safe either, but they are safer with seat belts and airbags, and other technologies are under development to improve safety, helping those cars to differentiate from others that are less safe — I am OK with my kids differentiating themselves from other riders as “safer.”
  • Brain surgeon: There’s no point wearing bicycle helmets,  Chris Matyszczyk, CNET, June 2014 — A few basic points made here:
    • helmets induce car drivers to drive closer to the cyclist
    • helmets by law reduces bikes purchased, a goal of the auto industry
    • helmets give riders a false sense of safety, encouraging riskier behavior — this one is interesting, and reminiscent of a similar observation about improved football helmets correlating to more head injuries
      My thoughts:
      I cannot control the drivers, and do not care about the auto industry goals, and I think I can mitigate the possible false sense of safety for my kids (plus, road rash and other injuries are plenty of incentive to ride as safely as possible) — and it’s still worth the trade-off
  • Sarah Wilson: quotes some medical people, esp. anaesthetist Dr Paul Martin, who wears a helmet for sport cycling but otherwise does not.  I am motivated by the actions of those with insider/special knowledge (i.e., actions speak louder than words), so this one was more compelling than I expected.
    • I still hold that adding a helmet has little downside (some are silly IMHO), and while the chances of a severe accident are low, the intensity of such an accident is extreme.

What makes this more difficult is that all of the kids friends do not wear helmets, it appears, in our current neighborhood.  In my previous neighborhood (i.e., a college campus), virtually everyone with kids did (but the college students did not while riding on the campus).

So I think I need to make a clear rule for now, and allow more nuance as the children mature and make their own decisions.  I may need to edit this post over time, but for now I am trying to accept that I need to provide some guidance.

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