Sunday, August 21, 2005

In one of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker” books, Arthur Dent tries to learn to fly by throwing himself at the ground and hoping he’ll miss. It seems I’ve taken a few inadvertent flying lessons like that too!

No, I’m not going to write some horror stories about crashes I’ve had. Nor am I going to write about someone else’s crashes. There’s a strong temptation to write about BikeEd and its goal of teaching cyclists to avoid common crash situations, but I’m going to resist that temptation too. Believe me, I don’t resist temptation very often, so I’m not very experienced at this.

(As an aside regarding temptation, I give you Ed’s Law – it’s easier to beg forgiveness than it is to ask permission. I’ve stuck with this for years, and it almost invariably puts me in hot water, particularly with She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. This may indicate that instead of having a learning curve, I have a learning flat line.)

So I’m gong to resist all of that and write about helmets. Is there any topic more boring than a helmet thread? Well, yes – bikelanes – but I won’t go there either. I don’t object to the nanny-state requirements for helmet usage in those states that have such requirements. I wear a helmet every time I ride. It’s cheap insurance against some types of head injury. And the most expensive helmet on the market is still cheaper than a visit to the emergency room and a set of x-rays.

What is objectionable is the over-emphasis on helmet use. Almost every bicycle safety article begins with a wear-your-helmet admonishment. They go on to say that X percent of head injuries can be prevented by wearing a helmet. What's maddening is that this percentage changes from time to time. That’s all fine, but when you think about it, a helmet is only useful when you’ve already screwed up and you’re falling. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to teach people to avoid common crash situations? (I know. I said I’d avoid bringing up BikeEd, but I blew it!)

Then there’s the helmet requirement on group rides. Show up without one, and the nannies will scold you. (These are the same nannies that yell, “CAR BACK!” then dive for the fog line, expecting you to do the same.) Personally, I think that adults be trusted to make that decision for themselves without any outside assistance. Children are a different story.

My kids were told that a helmet was required every time they rode a bike or went roller-skating. In my son’s case, it was very tempting to require that he wear a helmet whenever he was awake. Both kids ruined helmets in routine falls. So while I support choice for adults, I’m an unyielding dictator as far as my kids are concerned. I told my son that if he went without a helmet, I’d disassemble his bike right down to the spokes.


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