Where Are Helmet Wearers?

Most of us have been told at least once in our life that we should wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, yet only 35% of bicyclists wear a helmet for most trips, according to a 2008 survey of bicyclists. An informal survey of bikers at the Claremont Colleges would yield even more disappointing results -- perhaps only 15% of our peers don safety helmets. Presumably, most people know that wearing a helmet protects against injury. In 2009, bicyclists represented about 2% of traffic fatalities, amounting to 630 deaths. Additionally, a 2008 study showed that 91% of bicyclists killed that year weren't wearing a helmet.

Statistically speaking it makes sense to wear a helmet while riding a bike. Why, then, are so many people - and especially so many Claremont students and professors - seen riding without a helmet?

It comes down to arrogance and laziness. Some unrealistically feel immune to tragedies that statistically affect so many people, like getting cancer or being in a car crash.  Teenagers especially have a feeling of superiority over the world, an "I can overcome anything" type of view. In short, most teenagers think that while others may get in bicycle accidents, they won't.

Wearing a helmet also requires small efforts above and beyond those  in more popular safety precautions, like wearing a seat belt in a car. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), almost 80% of drivers claim to wear their seat belts. This is more than double the amount of people who wear bicycle helmets. Seat belts, unlike bicycle helmets, take a fairly small amount of effort to use. You get in a car, and take two seconds to snap a buckle across your chest. Conversely, bicycle helmets require more effort.

First, you have to put on the helmet, which could potentially mess up your hair, which is never good news if you're trying to impress that boy in your French class. Second, wearing a helmet is visible. It's simply not cool to wear a helmet (that boy in your French class is going to think you're so nerdy!) It makes someone seem overly cautious. There's an element of danger to not wearing a helmet, to defying the world. After all, we are all invincible. We can defy bicycle accidents.

Except we can't. While wearing a helmet is a hassle, it saves lives. Most people land on their head from a bicycle crash, and wearing a helmet can protect against death. Think about it economically: does the cost of wearing a helmet - of perhaps not looking cool or messing up your hair - really outweigh the cost of dying? While the risk of death is not high, it is present.

The next time you go to ride a bike, think about why you're not wearing a helmet. Is it because you won't look cool? Is it because you don't want your hair to get messed up? Is it a hassle to carry the helmet around? Hopefully, the next time you go for a spin you'll take a deep breath, hope that boy in your class will like you anyway, and strap a helmet on.