Bike helmets are not the answer

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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I write in response to the interview with Ravi Grivois-Shah, M.D., Oak Park Board of Health member, in Wednesday Journal, July 3 [Youth bike helmet ordinance still on track, News].

In my experience as biker, mother, grandmother, and public health nurse, I think wearing bike helmets locally for youngsters does not survive the serious study of health research, in the context of children riding in their local neighborhoods. I quote a New York Times article (9/30/12) by Elizabeth Rosenthal: "Pushing helmets really kills cycling because it promotes a sense of danger that isn't justified. Statistically (European Bicyclists Federation), cyclists have as much risk of serious injury as pedestrians per mile traveled." The critical piece of thinking is always to place the issue in context.

The WJ article states that the bike helmet ordinance is still on track. I surely trust the wisdom of our village elders to not vote in favor of this ordinance. The unintended consequence of this trend creates children and adults who depend on what they wear for safety rather than their behavior choices.

Teaching children about riding safely, or driving safely, depends on lifelong habits of street awareness, courtesy, and practiced skills of proper vehicle use. Please do not succumb to the quick fix of bike helmets, instead of the necessary time for sensitive teaching of children.

Mary Rose Lambke, M.S., R.N.
Oak Park

Reader Comments

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Posted: July 19th, 2013 7:05 AM

Drew, I don't think the argument is over the downside to the helmet itself. It's over creating a better riding environment so that cyclists don't have to cover themselves with protective equipment to be safe. Optional helmet use being secondary to pushing infrastructure improvements, and a bicycle culture where we don't feel threatened. I see the point. I still wear my helmet. If my kids are bike racing I feel a lot differently about helmet use than them riding to school, too.

Freedom of Choice  

Posted: July 18th, 2013 10:06 PM

I fail to see why everyone wants to dictate their personal choices on everyone else. A lot more deaths from heart disease but I don't think they should outlaw fast food just because I think it's bad for your health.

DrewM from Oak Park  

Posted: July 18th, 2013 9:33 PM

I have been riding in urban and suburban environs for years and fail to understand how anyone can see a downside to wearing a helmet (apart from inconvenience). As pointed out below, you can fall and hit the pavement from a stop. Last Nov., I was hit by a driver that turned left in front of me (he wasn't looking). My head hit the door glass at 15mph, a good clip. My helmet broke but I suffered no head injury. That's what helmets are for. It can happen in a sec no matter how careful you are


Posted: July 18th, 2013 8:28 AM

Brent, that's my concern here is that this is a hotly debated issue within the cycling community (purists might be a fair term) and I'm not sure the board of health really understands the ongoing debate. Not to mention it's a conversation for families that they're stepping in on somewhat ignorantly. BTW, that's more what the helmet was intended for is that 0mph crash. They're not tested for high speeds.

Another Runner from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 17th, 2013 9:41 PM

After again nearly being hit by a driver ignorant of pedestrian traffic (this time coming out of the McDonalds @ 626 N Harlem around 8AM without so much as a glance to the south), I'd recommend that everyone take every realistic precaution to protect themselves when cycling, walking or running. The people driving their cars don't care about your safety in this community, whether distracted by cell phones, intoxicated or just generally oblivious (as was the case this morning). Drivers, WAKE UP.

Brent from Oak Park  

Posted: July 17th, 2013 7:42 PM

We could apply same logic to seat belts and air bags in cars and personal protective equipment in the work place

Brent from Oak Park  

Posted: July 17th, 2013 7:39 PM

I am an avid cyclist who now wears a helmet whenever I ride. I am aware of the riders (purists?) who think that helmets promote not-very-careful riding, but I take exception to that, especially in the case of kids. Last week I was leaving Pan's starting out over the curb when my chain slipped off the gear. Wheel locked and tossed me into the street. Zero mph but the helmet saved me a nasty head injury. Even a fall from standstill can do damage. Hey maybe we can apply same logic to car seat belts

George Thompson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 17th, 2013 3:37 PM

I simply think common sense dictates the use of helmets. Anyone who thinks helmets will protect them if they don't cycle carefully doesn't have much common sense either. It would seem obvious to anyone who cycles that you need both helmets and careful attentive awareness to cycle safely.


Posted: July 17th, 2013 7:46 AM

Just this week the govt revised it's often-quoted 85% stat to admit that the numbers they got from a 1989 study were faulty and they've been overstating the case for helmets all these years.. Bike helmet injury prevention is more like 15-45%. And can actually INCREASE neck injuries. Which isn't to say helmets are bad. But let's put the (unbiased) info out there and let families make their own choices. I ride with one. But HOW you ride is more important than what is on your head.


Posted: July 16th, 2013 10:30 PM

Why can't we do both: wear helmets and teach kids good riding behavior? Because all the good riding behavior and courtesy in the world isn't going to make some idiot on a cellphone notice a smaller sized rider.

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