Research Position – Rory O’Connell

Having Safety without Helmets

It’s not surprising that countries with without helmet laws see much higher numbers in bikers. When it becomes a cultural norm to ride bikes many people chose to join in on a healthier lifestyle. In countries with helmet laws people tend to feel more open to criticism about their helmet hair and as a result many people choose to drive to avoid further embarrassment. Wearing a helmet, for whatever reason, makes people feel alienated, like they are the ones doing something wrong. The answer to biker safety isn’t solved by foam-wrapping the biker, it’s solved by well built bike paths. Paths that can give them a safe place to bike without worrying about cars.

Bike paths allow the biker to be a safe distance from cars and allow bikers to easily cross cities. This doesn’t mean having a slightly larger shoulder on the road with the picture of a stick figure riding a bike. In many bike friendly cities they have a practical barrier separating the street from bike lanes. The two lanes are often separated by street side parking for cars or bikes. Allowing for this much room between the cyclists and cars allows for larger amount of safety that a helmet alone couldn’t offer.

People with helmets also tend to ride more recklessly on roads. This is especially dangerous because the only protective gear they are wearing is a foam helmet. They think that it can help save them in case of an accident, but the way they are riding is more likely to cause an accident than if they rode without one. It creates a false sense of protection that the biker thinks is enough to save them from an accident. The helmet can only protect the top half of the head. The riskier the cyclists ride, the higher their chances of getting into an accident are.

Safety is a large concern for many bikers but there’s a point at which it can actually make biking more dangerous. Helmets only address a small area of concern with biker safety, creating bike only lanes provides a safer and less congested path for road traffic. This solution is already seen in many European countries and is meet with large success. Countries such an Denmark, the Netherlands, and even New Zealand have high numbers of cyclists and a much lower number of head injury’s. The rider isn’t solely responsible for road safety, the city has to take charge and implement safer bike paths.

When bikers wear helmets, in cities especially, drivers feel less need to exercise caution towards them. On average, drivers avoid bikers more if they see them without a helmet. This mentality towards bikers is unhealthy as drivers should always express this kind of safety whether the biker has a helmet or not. Cities like Copenhagen have extensive bike paths that cross the entire city and allow for a safe environment where getting hit by a car is less of an issue. Helmets are not required by law in Denmark but they are still available to the public if they choose to wear one. Countries don’t need more laws to protect bikers, they need safer roads for them to ride on.

For bikers to truly be safe on the streets cities need to add more bike only paths to separate bikes from car traffic. Only a handful of cities in the US have bike lanes, and even then they mostly act as a shoulder. The US is poorly equipped to handle large amounts of bikers and tries to make up for safety issues by having helmet laws. This is only a temporary solution to the larger, and more costly issue. Unfortunately the only way to get more people biking in the US would be spending more money to repave the roads, and add an effective bike lane. Budgeting this isn’t the only problem, car companies compose a large portion of Americas economy and if less people are driving then they lose a good amount of business.

A surprising fact that most people don’t know is that some of the largest supporters for bike helmets and helmet laws are car companies. They endorse helmets because social stigmas make us feel that wearing a helmet somehow make them an outcast, thus increasing the number of drivers on the road. So if America embraces helmet laws then we also need know that wearing a helmet doesn’t really affect how people view you. Another thing about helmets is the amount of safety they actually provide. Unless you’re wearing a motorcycle helmet, a bike helmet wont protect you from a car going faster then 20 mph. Most people don’t realize this and believe that they can get away with riskier riding, when in reality, the only thing protecting you is a couple inches of hard foam. The mentality people put on helmet protection is often greater then the actual protection they offer.

Safety is the largest concern with cycling laws, but too much effort is put into helmets and helmet laws, when improving roads and paths is all that is needed. The problem isn’t solved by making bikers fit into society, it’s solved by adapting society around biking. Countries like Denmark have shown that having easily accessible bike paths and not pressuring people to wear helmets greatly increases the number of cyclists. For America to integrate successful bike safety we would have to model a country that successfully sustains a large cycling population. Biker safety is more dependent on the lanes and paths set up for them, rather then the actual protective gear.

Helmets are designed to effectively protect the head of bikers in case of an accident. When bikers fall helmets have been show to reduce chances of head injury by 85%. In hospitals, 7% of head injuries in children are bike related. By increasing the number of helmet laws more lives can be saved from head related bike accidents. Even the way helmets are made saves peoples lives. They’re made of a hard shock absorbing foam with a thin shell to help the helmet slide on pavement. There are also different types of riders that need to be accounted for. The first, “speed-happy” cyclists, are more extreme or dare-devils when on bikes. When compared to relaxed cyclists they have a much higher chance of injury. Even though there are two different types of bikers the laws can only affect cyclists in general

Although statistics show that wearing a helmet makes accidents safer, riding in bike only lanes has proven to be far more safer than wearing a helmet. Being on the street with cars speeding by is extremely dangerous for both drivers and cyclist. When helmet laws are made they don’t include that there are two types of cyclists. They make laws requiring helmets for everyone, when in reality only the riskier bikers need to wear them. Relaxed cyclists are forced to wear helmets even if they don’t need them for safety. Helmets also cause bikers to have slower reaction time and discourage cycling in general. The majority of people ride bikes more relaxed so these laws are only hurting them. The laws only help those few extreme bikers and encourage safety that they are probably already aware of.


Work Cited

“Briefing for Legislators.” Briefing for Legislators. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. <>

“Bicycle Helmet Laws.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. <>

“The Bike Helmet Paradox.” The Atlantic. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.<>

Rosenthal, Elisabeth. “NEWS ANALYSIS; To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets.”The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 Sept. 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.<>

“Do Bicycle Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good?” TreeHugger. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.<>

“Bicycle Helmets – A Case of Risk Compensation?” N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.<>

Pritchard, Charlotte. “Cycle Helmets – a Hard Case to Crack.” BBC News. BBC, 27 Aug. 2010. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.<>

“Use Your Brain—Wear a Helmet.” Use Your Brain, Wear a Helmet While Biking. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.<>

Pucher, John and Buehler, Ralph (2008) ‘Making Cycling
Irresistible: Lessons from The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany’, Transport
Reviews, 28:4, 495—528<>

“TEDxCopenhagen – Mikael Colville-Andersen – Why We Shouldn’t Bike with a Helmet.”YouTube. YouTube, 16 Dec. 2010. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.<>

This entry was posted in A14: Research Position Paper, Rory O'Connell. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Research Position – Rory O’Connell

  1. davidbdale says:

    Strong work overall, Rory, but repetitive. It circles back on itself because its parts are not well integrated. (As if you had spliced several similar arguments together without reorganizing the parts.) Oddly contains its own rebuttal and makes it sound like part of your argument. Most importantly, though it includes a Works Cited, this essay doesn’t contain any informal citations of your sources.

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