Prevention is the best medicine

I was in the process of writing a post about the number of people who have commented on my non-wearing of a cycle helmet, and why this was, and how it was hard to fully express the reasons why in a manner short enough to satisfy the questioner, but I’ve come across a post that sets out pretty much what I was going to say anyway, so you might as well read that:

The problem with helmets is they only protect you once you’re actually in the process of having an accident. I’ve been quite deliberate in a number of ways in avoiding the accident in the first place by:

  • Fitting good lights to my bicycle, and having two rear light in case one fails
  • Making sure the lights and reflectors are positioned properly so a car can see them from a long way away
  • Fitting a bell so pedestrians aren’t caught by surprise
  • Regularly checking that my bike is in a roadworthy condition
  • Riding routes that carry a lower risk, even if it means I have to ride further
  • Riding defensively, only very rarely committing myself to a situation I have no escape from
  • Not that I chose it deliberately, but an upright riding position gives an excellent vantage point to easily look a full 360 degrees around you.

True, I don’t wear high-visibility clothing, but hopefully I have a reasonably high-visibility bicycle as a result of lights, reflectors and my larger sit-up-and-beg silhouette. When drivers see me I don’t want them to see a cyclist, I want them to see a person who happens to be travelling by bicycle. As such I’m consciously wearing normal everyday clothes to make me look as human as possible, and I can tell that many drivers do respond well to this.

I’ve driven for nearly fifteen years and the situations I’ve had where I’ve had a near-miss with a cyclist have almost always involved my not seeing the cyclist because they’ve made literally no attempt to be seen. The worst is when you’re on a lane at night and all of a sudden you see a cyclist appear as if out of nowhere, with no lights nor even reflectors!!! Likewise there’s many bicycles that come past me when I’m walking with no bell fitted, and I just think “why must these people make it so hard for themselves for the sake of £20?!” Bell, lights, reflectors. Simple.

I know damn well that if I was in the habit of wearing a helmet, I would also be in the habit of not riding my bicycle. It has been estimated by one study I looked at that the chance that a lack of a helmet will shorten my life is roughly 40 times less than the chance that riding my bike regularly will extend it. Even accounting for loss aversion, leaving my helmet behind still makes sense to me. After all, cycling is safer than walking.

Edit: Just to be clear, I’m not advocating that people shouldn’t wear a helmet, just that firstly they should be encouraged to ride without one if they wouldn’t ride with one, and that there’s a number of things a cyclist can do with their bicycle to drastically reduce the chances of having an accident that provide more immediate benefit than wearing a helmet.


2 thoughts on “Prevention is the best medicine

  1. While I disagree completely, I respect your right to ride how you see fit. Talk to a Sheriff or Paramedic. See if that changes your mind.

    One of my best cycling friends tried to see what happens if you use your melon to stop your bike instead of the brakes. Had he not been wearing a helmet, we’d either have attended his funeral or his wife would be changing his diaper on a regular basis. I’ll stick with the melon protector… If it’s all the same.


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