The Problem with Bicycle HelmetsHelmet_mosaic

Shock-horror bicycle helmet promotions have escalated to the point where those not familiar with bicycling believe that if you so much as swing your leg over a bicycle you will smash your head open. Helmet rhetoric that sets bicycling out as far more dangerous than it is, has done immeasurable harm to efforts for increasing bicycling.

To adjust your perspective on the dangers of bicycling, be sure to take this fun Bicycle Safety Quiz.

Mandatory helmet laws often follow the spread of these myths, adding the weight of the law to the idea that bicycling is more dangerous than any other form of transportation. In fact, as you will have found in the above Quiz, if these laws took a realistic approach to their attempt to prevent head injuries, all pedestrians and car drivers would be required to wear helmets as well. And, it seems, wearing a helmet inside the house should also become mandatory.

Please understand that we support people who want to wear helmets and even encouraging the use of helmets if it helps certain bicyclists bicycle more often. We simply expect the reasoning behind wearing helmets to be factual so that people who choose to wear a helmet understand the limit of safety that helmet will provide them. Combining this understanding with the facts about how safe bicycling truly is will do wonders for efforts to increase bicycling. 

These graphs help show why the hysteria over bicycle helmets is so absurd:


Head injury causes

BikeHelmetBloglogo - croppedThe Bike Helmet Blog discusses the latest findings on bike helmets, news on campaigns against mandatory helmet laws, and ways to counter common bicycle helmet myths.

See this web page for a good overview of reasons to question overzealous helmet propaganda: You will also find important papers linked from that site. Here are some more we recommend :

ECF Campaign to Stop the Dangerisation of Cycling Through Helmet Promotions

One Street has been helping our partners at the European Cyclists' Federation (ECF) with their Helmet Working Group and campaign to stop the dangerisation of cycling through helmet promotions because of the severe reduction of cycling in areas where these promotions are prominent. Some of the initial successes for the campaign include:

ECF brochure on the dangerisation of cycling through helmet promotions

This popular button (badge) for the hundreds of helpers for the campaign:


This sticker for our bikes:


ECF is now developing their Helmets web page to serve leaders of ECF member organizations who are responding to threats from shock-horror helmet promotions and helmet laws. Take a look and keep checking back as they continue to build the page: ECF Position on Helmets

Safety in Numbers

Safety in numbers is a critical concept regarding the helmet problem. Just as we point to studies that show decreases in cycling caused by helmet laws, we also must point to the positive increases in safety caused by increases in bicycling. These studies show this profound discovery:

This graph, created by CTC and ECF for their campaign, does a great job of demonstrating disparities between helmet wearing percentages and cyclists' safety:


Campaign Planning and More Talking Points

Fortunately, more and more high-level analysts are questioning the helmet propaganda and finding the earlier figures to be false. Below are some more tips on how to fight helmet laws if the threat ever comes to your community. Also, make sure to visit our Campaign Planning page to plan out a comprehensive campaign that will stop the law and, ideally, guide the effort to improve bicycle safety towards preventing crashes.

1) Helmets do not prevent crashes! Improved road and pathway conditions, driver education, better protections for cyclists and increased numbers of bicyclists through safety in numbers, prevent crashes. Too often government officials, health practitioners and even insurance companies grasp at helmet laws as a lazy solution, following the misinformation that has proliferated about helmets decreasing head injuries.

2) Helmets do not prevent major head injuries (see the efficacy paper above) – While helmets help to prevent minor head injuries such as minor skull fractures and lacerations, they cannot prevent major head injuries caused by brain trauma inside the skull. They have also proven to be of little use in car-bike crashes.

3) Helmet laws are another barrier - Potential cyclists see many barriers to starting cycling. Mandatory helmet laws add to this list and thus prevent many new riders from starting. These laws have also been proven to decrease numbers of current cyclists thus increasing the potential for crashes by hindering safety in numbers . This is the main point on this site: which also has lots of other good resources.

4) Helmet laws also set in place a ready-made blame the victim reaction - Each time a helmetless cyclist is in a crash, their bare head becomes the focus even if the driver deliberately ran them over and they died not from head injuries, but internal injuries.

Remember that whenever one of these laws is presented, it is from a lazy knee jerk reaction, either to a recent crash or fear mongering rhetoric. They always divert discussions away from the real remedy - making the bicycling environment safer in order to prevent crashes. Any time we hear of efforts to make crashing safer, we must respond immediately and demand that they instead work to prevent crashes!Spain_helmet_poster

More Resources

Helmet law threat in Spain 2013

Spain’s Helmet Results Paper and the Poster 2007 ->

Helmet Law Outcomes Summary

Bicycle helmets - no net protection (Elvik 2011)

Health impact of helmet laws (de Jong 2012)

Repealing Bicycle Helmet Laws

We are always seeking successful examples of campaigns that resulted in the repeal of bicycle helmet laws. We know they're out there! If you have any good info on such a repeal, please email it to Sue Knaup: sue{at} Even if the repeal occured through simple actions from law makers, it will be an inspiration to those oppressed by these laws.

Here are the two big repeals we know of:

We can also offer these impressive efforts to repeal bicycle helmet laws:

Push to repeal New Zealand's bicycle helmet law

The battle in Austin, Texas to repeal the bicycle helmet law and prevent an all-ages amendment

Efforts to repeal Australia's helmet law