White Paper – Rory O’Connell

Topic Background: Bicycle helmet laws

Bicycles like many other forms of transportation have their dangers, people can fall on their bike or be struck by a car. So as a precaution helmets were designed to protect the head and reduce injury. The thing is that these helmets aren’t build to sustain a hit from a car moving over 20 mph, so if you wear the helmet it isn’t going to help much and if you do wear it, well you better hope the car is moving less then 20 mph. The effectiveness of bike helmets is questionable at best, motorcycle helmets excluded. In countries like Germany and Denmark there are no helmet laws yet they see much larger numbers of cyclists. Part of the reason why less people bike is because of helmet hair and sweat, showing up like that at an office can cause a lot of people discomfort.

Working Thesis

The unintended side effects of bicycle helmet legislation turn a healthy daily activity into a deterrent for the very activity it’s trying to protect.

Counterintuitive note

The use of bicycle helmets has been statistically been proven to be safer then riding a bike without a helmet. The small percentage chance that someone will actually get into an accident that causes head trauma warrants the necessity of helmet laws. By having laws in place that require helmets more lives are saved and people will be safer on their bikes.

Who Supports helmet laws

Interestingly enough some of the largest supporters to bicycle helmets and helmet laws are  automotive companies. It makes them look good, like they want to help save lives, and it counterintuitively gets less people to ride bikes. If there are less people riding bikes then more people are driving cars, and that means more business for the car companies.

Why more people need to ride Bikes

Bike riding is not only healthy, it’s great for the environment and gets people more active, breaking free for their sedimentary lifestyle. People still need cars, no one is going to argue that, but for day to day travel from home to the office people can get more exercise then they think. If more people rode bikes to work then maybe we can help break the “fat, lazy American” stereotype that’s associated with our country.

Current state of the research paper

There’s still more I want to know about this topic, possibly get more sources and gather some facts. It’s interesting to find out that countries without helmet laws see higher numbers in cyclists, and how few people in America actually ride bikes. I’d also like to develop my two “topics for smaller papers” more and fully evaluate what’s behind them.

Annotated Sources

1. Briefing for Legislators

In countries that have mandatory helmet laws such as New Zealand they saw a large increase in helmet ware, no reduction in serious head injury, and a decrease in bikers. There is also a visible increase in bike riders when a county has no helmet laws or non-enforced legislation. An unintended effect of wearing a helmet is the mentality bike riders and drivers have. Bikers believe that they are able to perform more difficult tasks then they are capable of because they believe the helmet will keep them protected. Car drivers also feel that they may be less careful around helmet wearing bikers even though there is no proof that a bike helmet will help in a car accident.

2. Bicycle Helmet Laws

There is no proof that helmets are a benefit to bikers, in some countries they are just seen as “special equipment” that isn’t necessary for a normal activity. In the Netherlands and Denmark they are still able to use helmets if they want to but there is no law or legislation that requires them. Many experts however argue that “helmets discourage cycling by making it less convenient, less comfortable, and less fashionable.” and gives riders a false sense of safety which encourages risky riding behavior.

3. The Bike Helmet Paradox

Bike helmets are the leading (and only) culprit for helmet hair, a small factor that is big enough to stop people from biking. Cities like Washington D.C. have public bike-share systems but if no one want helmet hair on their way to work or to a date then they wont see much use. The article quotes from the NY Times, “if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles. That means more obesity, heart disease and diabetes. And — Catch-22 — a result is fewer ordinary cyclists on the road, which makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network.” Getting more people to bike is about changing their state of mind and relaxing legislation to allow them what they want to do freely.

4. To Encourage Biking, Cities lose the Helmets

While the US views un-helmeted cyclists as “irresponsible” and “reckless” European countries view it as freedom and they prove that by having much larger numbers of cyclists. The author also mentions,”bicycling advocates say that the problem with pushing helmets isn’t practicality but that helmets make a basically safe activity seem really dangerous.” European countries recognize that there is some danger when bike riding but allow for greater safety with their “mature urban cycling systems”.

5. Do Bicycle Helmet Laws do more Harm than Good?

In the event of an accident there is no doubt that helmets are a benefit, more so if you land on your head. But having a city with lanes dedicated to bikers helps separate them from cars and trucks on the road. Drivers also tend to be less careful around helmeted cyclists because they think that the helmet will protect them from a car.

Extra TEDxCopenhagen video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07o-TASvIxY

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4 Responses to White Paper – Rory O’Connell

  1. anthonymatias97 says:

    I think this topic is awesome, it is very interesting that car companies are the ones that fund bicycle helmet makers. I never knew that bike helmets weren’t as safe as I thought. The fact that helmets are safe is just our assumption because we assume that just because something is padded and is on our head will keep us from getting injured. We just take it as it is without questioning it and your topic goes against that which is great because a majority of people hate helmets and would ride bikes more if they didn’t have to wear them.

    You should bring up the statistics between injuries due to bike crashes in those countries that don’t have bike helmet laws and those countries that do have bike helmet laws.
    If have to at some point have to support bike helmets just use the facts that helemts have saved many lives even if it is a rare case.

    One question: Are helemt laws even enforced that much?

  2. davidbdale says:

    Hey, Rory, I do love stories about the unintended consequences of legislation. It’s apparent that a sizable and vocal minority of people would favor a smaller dependence on automobiles and a corresponding increase in the use of personal transportation devices like bicycles. It’s also true that legislators fall all over themselves to appear to be “doing something” to protect us from ourselves. Those two impulses are likely to be at odds. Your opening paragraph hints at these themes and raises interesting questions about the effectiveness of helmets. But of course the fun angle is that making bikes “safer” reduces their use.

    Your thesis shouldn’t take up so much space, Rory. At most, it should be one complex claim. I think yours is: we should repeal helmet laws to encourage more biking. “But that’s unsafe!” is the anticipated rebuttal. “Well, it’s the highways that are unsafe!” is your answer, plus “The helmets didn’t make things safer anyway!” And also: “Bikes are greener than cars!” But none of those rebuttal and additional benefit arguments are your thesis.

    (By the way, I would FAIL this paragraph and the next FOR GRAMMAR repeatedly if it were an essay for an essay grade. Please ask me to point out the many ways it fails basic grammar rules.)

    Your Counterintuitive Note is actually the opposite of counterintuitive, I think. Pretty much everybody would say helmet laws save lives. Your thesis, that they do so primarily by eliminating bicycling is the counterintuitive point of view.

    On the topic of helmet effectiveness, you’re missing some essential ambiguity. Collision with the car is one thing. Collision with the ground is another. No doubt a helmet can’t survive a 40-mile-an-hour hit from an SUV, but that’s not the whole point of helmets. (We don’t make passengers in the SUV wear helmets.) Mostly, I think, they’re expected to deflect the impact of the head with the ground, or with a tree, don’t you think? How do they hold up in those tests?

  3. oconne92 says:

    please give feedback

  4. davidbdale says:

    I’ve provided some in the post on Causation Arguments, Rory. By and large, I like the progress you’re making in gathering and marshalling your sources. You’re starting to focus better on a specific thesis, which is encouraging. You do FAIL FOR GRAMMAR repeatedly for then/than problems, and for punctuation outside the quotes. Please review these rules and correct.
    Grade Recorded.
    Let me know when you’ve made the corrections, and any further revisions, so I can release your grade from Grammar Failure status.

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