A lot of people wear a helmet in order to “set a good example” to their children, other children they come in contact with, or maybe because someone (parent or spouse, perhaps) presses them to.
So here’s a question for you: is it really such a good example? Here’s what I mean:
One of the biggest problems faced by people promoting cycling is that it is widely perceived as dangerous. This idea of cycling as a dangerous activity, rather than something which is perfectly normal and commonplace, seems to date from about the mid 1970s, when the “road safety” establishment really shifted into gear. This was the time when it became truly acceptable to blame children for being run over, because children should behave like adults or else not be allowed out. Mayer Hillman’s excellent book One False Move catalogues the decline of children’s independent mobility in Britain compared with other countries, and shows how this is due in no small part to the shifting of both blame and responsibility.
See the trainer’s Q&A for an example of how helmet-focused thinking can be bad.
So, does it really set a good example to behave as if cycling is an activity which should only be undertaken when wearing special protective equipment? Or might it perhaps be a better example to simply hop on the bike and ride in normal clothes, at least some of the time?
One of my favourite cycling images is that of the City gent riding around town on a Brompton, dressed in a suit, bareheaded, with no special equipment beyond a pair of cycle clips. What better example could there be?
Look at Holland or Denmark, two of the safest cycling countries in the world. Helmet use there is close to zero, especially outside racing circles. The idea that cycling is a dangerous activity is rightly viewed as absurd. There is, in Holland, official recognition that driving is a dangerous activity – drivers who injure non-motorised road users are held liable unless they can show they are not – the burden of proof lies with the person posing the most danger. This is a controversial view, but it is one which appears to work: walking and cycling are accepted as of right, and driving is viewed as a privilege bringing responsibility.
Solution seeks problem, apply box BH1T
Helmet promotion and compulsion have a big part to play in painting cycling as dangerous. Without a “problem”, there can be no value to a “solution”. So, having decided that the “solution” must be promoted, helmeteers must needs build up the perception of the “problem”.
What is the problem does not really exist? What if cycling is not dangerous? Suddenly the “solution” turns out to be unnecessary, and promoting the solution as a “good example” becomes a matter of promoting the idea that a problem exists which requires fixing.