I read an article recently that said one of the arguments against wearing a helmet was that drivers are less cautious around cyclists who wear them. This reminded me of a Freakanomics podcast I once listened to where Steven D. Levit and Stephen J. Dubner argue that modern football helmets can be more dangerous, in some ways than the old leather helmets because (and I am going by memory here) the players will lead with their head in tackles thinking they are safe. They also argue that people wearing seat belts will drive more aggressively for the same reason.
This makes sense and I don’t dispute it but I also don’t think it applies to bicycle helmets. When I am riding my bike, I don’t take risks because I am wearing a helmet. Lets be honest, a helmet won’t make a bit of difference if a truck runs over you. But the real argument is weather drivers will take more risks around. I find that hard to believe. Drivers are basically good people and they don’t want to hit you weather you are wearing a helmet or not.
My real concern with drivers is that they don’t pay attention. That is why you, as a cyclist, must pay double the attention. This alone is worth more than a hundred helmets. I mentioned in my last post that I had four close calls on my way to work. The worst was when the Orkin Man ran me off the road while turning left onto the street I was riding on. None of those four people ever saw me. Monday morning, on the same street and in almost the same spot, a box truck turned left and ran me off the road. This time, even though the sun was up, I had my flashing headlamp on and he still didn’t see me.
The point is, none of these people were driving like idiots because I was wearing a helmet. They were driving like idiots because…well…that is how they drive, and while a helmet won’t save me from a major collision, it may be just enough when I are forced off the road and hit the ground hard.
With that in mind, I would say wear your helmet but remember that is secondary to caution and good riding skills.