Stop forcing people to wear bike helmets | Vox →

May 17, 2014 |

I was a bit surprised to see John Gruber’s link to this article on Daring Fireball:

This doesn't mean that if all American bikers leave their helmets at home, New York is going to suddenly turn into Copenhagen. But it does mean that safety officials' emphasis on helmets is totally misplaced — and that required helmet laws mainly make biking more dangerous by taking bikers off the road.

This struck home for a couple of reasons. First, it’s well-written and objective, which is rare. This is a subject about which most people have first-hand experience: they either know someone who was tragically killed but would have been saved had he been wearing a helmet (probably not), or someone who was saved from certain death only because he was wearing a helmet (again, probably not), or they themselves had a scare and were relieved to have been wearing a helmet at the time. These unsubstantiated claims (arguing about what could have happened is not how Science works) typically turn into pretty strong opinions that are based on anecdotal evidence rather than objective, statistically meaningful data.

The truth, however, is that the most you should realistically expect from your helmet is for it to save you from a couple stitches and bruises, and possibly a minor concussion. This is admittedly not bad at all, and a perfectly good reason to wear one. But at the end of the day, you’re wearing a piece of styrofoam on your head, not exactly an indestructible shield.

Secondly, I’ve been closely involved in this topic for the past year or so due to the recent push for pro-helmet legislation led by our current government here in Spain. Their plan was to change the existing legislation in order to ban cycling without a helmet in Spanish cities. The proposed reform sparked an intense debate with numerous pro-cycling associations, and faced such strong opposition that the government finally gave in and settled on a less ambitious reform: only minors under 16 will be banned from cycling without a helmet in Spain.

The end result is, quite frankly, ridiculous, as there’s no logical reason to allow helmet-less cycling by adults but not by minors. As far as I know, people don’t magically grow a steel-reinforced skull when they turn 16.

Alas, our government is not the most receptive when it comes to political debate, particularly when they have a majority in Congress, as it is the case now. They don’t need to listen to anyone; they can just approve whatever reforms they want because they have the votes to do so. Which is why the fact that they backtracked on this is so telling: they were so clearly and stubbornly wrong that the only way they could rectify and still save some face was this last-minute, minors-only compromise that serves nobody.

Welcome to Politics in Spain. No wonder we’re so screwed.