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Helmet or not, better bike infrastructure is needed

Five days ago, I thought everyone in Alberta should be forced to wear bike helmets.

Having grown up in New Brunswick, where a bike helmet law has been in place since 1995, I didn’t really understand why anyone wouldn’t want wear a helmet, especially when they’re so much more stylish and cooler than they used to be. However, after spending the last few days reading countless studies, talking with dozens of people and watching more Tedx talks than ever before, I have to admit, I actually don’t know how I feel about bike helmets anymore

Instead of simply saying, “Bike helmets should be the law.” I wanted to know more about the often-divisive issue. So I went to talk to Sean Carter, the owner Bike Bike, thinking he would surely support helmets. So imagine my surprise when he told me that he rarely wore a helmet himself, saying “I don’t feel like my cycling habits are more dangerous than my walking or driving habits.” It’s an interesting perspective, but not one that he necessarily pushes on his customers. “We recommend our customers wear one if it will make them feel safer and thus ride more often.”

We chatted for almost an hour about all the studies and statistics that show that helmets aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be. For example: By forcing people to wear helmets, you run the risk of making cycling seem more dangerous than it actually is, which causes people to be unnecessarily scared of biking. There’s also the theory of risk compensation. That’s when things like helmets give both cyclists and drivers an increased sense of safety, which in the end could result in even more accidents.

Of course, many say helmets can and do save lives. Last year in British Columbia, where helmets are now law, the BC Coroners Service released a study showing that 68 per cent of cyclists who have a fatal spill (without car involvement) are not wearing a helmet. On Twitter, numerous people told me stories of their accidents and how they felt a helmet had spared them from serious harm.

It’s a complicated issued. Still, there was one thing that every article agreed on – the need for better bike infrastructure. If helmet advocates are that concerned about safety, then they should be pushing all levels of government to create a safer environment for those who choose to bike. I think I’ll always wear a helmet, but I can’t say I won’t ride sometimes ride on the sidewalks, even though it’s illegal.  That’s because there’s actually very few places I feel safe enough to bike in Calgary, helmet or not.

Mike Morrison writes Mike’s Bloggity Blog and tweets without a helmet from @mikesbloggity.

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