What Can We Learn From the Bike Helmet Paradox?

In my neighbourhood I'm affectionately known as crazy because my family and I ride our bikes everywhere - so crazy that I get into the local paper just for riding to work:)

This photo of me appeared in our municipal newspaper. In my neighbourhood I’m affectionately known as crazy because my family and I ride our bikes everywhere – so insane that I get into the local paper just for riding to work:)

A few questions to begin.

You would agree that people, especially children, should wear helmets when riding a bike, yes? Why am I even asking? If your eyes are on this blog, you’re likely an educator, parent, or both; it’s kind of our thing to be in favour of this stuff. Now be honest: do you hate the way bike helmets mess up your hair? What about the way they look and feel? Could be designed better, you say? Well, guess what, researchers have discovered something counter intuitive but logical.

In most Western nations, bike helmets are mandated by law. Statistically, we have seen an overall decrease in bike-related head injuries that can directly be correlated to these trends. This data should support the rationale behind bike helmet legislation. Except for the fact that there are other correlations:

  • Many people admit they dislike biking because wearing a helmet is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and unattractive.
  • The type of injuries bike helmets are designed to prevent rarely occur.
  • The fervour with which bike helmets have been mandated is not matched in any way with similar infrastructure (safer lanes, reduced speeds in urban areas etc.) that makes cycling significantly safer than helmets do.
  • People ride their bikes (an incredibly healthy activity) far less than ever.

What does this mean, and what analogies can we make to other initiatives in education?