More to Bicycle Safety than Helmets

By Kenneth Moyle
Published June 24, 2011

So an eight-year old runs a stop sign and T-bones a van - he's ok, thank the heavens. And what's the take-away message to parents from the police? Teach your kids how to ride a bike safely? Obey traffic laws?

...the incident serves as a reminder to parents they must "always make sure your kids are wearing helmets."

Although adults are not required to wear a helmet on a bicycle, it is best for children if parents "lead by example" and use one.

The boy didn't hurt his head. That fact that he wasn't wearing a helmet is not relevant in this accident. He ran a stop sign - that's why he hit the van. Yet that's not the message which either the police or the reporter chose to convey.

Instead of a relevant message about the importance of obeying traffic laws and acting predictably, they repeat the automatic, thoughtless "cyclists must wear helmets to be safe" mantra.

Anti-helmet-law activists often claim that one of the problems with helmet laws is that they make people believe that cycling safety is all about protective equipment. I sometimes wonder if that's really the case, but this incident is a good example: having repeated the mantra about helmets, both police and press feel there's nothing more they need to say. Job done.

I'm not arguing against wearing helmets here, only against how much we rely on the practice for safety.

Predictable, lawful behaviour by cyclists, combined with a greater number of cyclists on our streets, will do more for cyclist safety than helmets on the heads of each and every darting, sidewalk-riding, stop-sign running bicycle rider.

Kenneth Moyle is an analyst at McMaster University, sometime photographer and occasional writer. He has come to love Hamilton. His website is


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By whatev (anonymous) | Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:03:00

Ironically, predictability actually INCREASES the chances that someone will get hurt. Portland has managed to lower accidents by removing stop signs and sidewalks, thereby making everyone who uses the road responsible for paying attention to what other users of the road are doing.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 24, 2011 at 14:13:13 in reply to Comment 65145


At first glance, this looks utterly horrifying. A million traffic engineers crap their pants at the sight of it.

But the longer you watch it, the longer you realized that it appears to work - just a big, chaotic, uncontrolled intersection means that all the drivers are being obsessively cautious and defensive because they know that anything can happen.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted June 24, 2011 at 15:29:54 in reply to Comment 65145

The beauty of this is that providing this type of environment makes motorists happy. Which combats the continual desire to get the heck out of wherever they happen to be at the moment, which is generally an ugly or uninspiring place like those that surround most roads.

Comment edited by arienc on 2011-06-24 15:31:05

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By FatalFourWay (anonymous) | Posted June 26, 2011 at 21:55:19

Seriously? I haven't seen one shred of evidence here saying that not wearing a helmet is better. The post about no road signs, sidewalks or laws is libertarian to the extreme. If that was true highways would be the safest places in the world.

Someone else who doesn't agree with you: Bret "The Hitman" Hart:

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By Tnt (registered) | Posted June 27, 2011 at 22:20:55

Ok Fatal, that has to be meant as a joke. Hmmmm? Statistics vs a punch drunk rassler!

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