\Since a motorcyclist was killed on I-15 in June because he collided with a mattress that had fallen into the road from a truck bed, the debate over helmet laws has raged with renewed heat.  Proponents of helmets declare that freak accidents like the one that caused the June tragedy serve as a strong mandate for more stringent statutes that would require more members of the biking community to don helmets before they venture out on two wheels.  On the other side are those cyclists who maintain that the decision to wear a helmet lies with the rider, and that the law’s outstretched arm should be left out of it.  Although the accident cited was a motorcycle accident, the helmet debate has embroiled bicyclists, as well, since bicycle helmet laws have been deliberated for years.

Currently, all minor motorcyclists are compelled by law to wear a helmet, but there are no such laws in place for bicyclists.  Indeed, Utah is one of only 14 states that lack helmet laws of some sort for bicyclists.  Although Utah is now ranked as the 13th most bicycle-friendly state by the League of American Bicyclists, Utah Department of Health statistics reveal that the state ranked 14th nationally for bicycle fatalities per million inhabitants as recently as 2005.  Clearly, bicyclist safety is a matter of some importance.

Aside from the superficial freedom-versus-safety argument, there are still other concerns beneath the surface of the controversy:

Con:  Bicycle helmets may embolden motorists to drive more recklessly around bicyclists.

In 2006, Dr. Ian Walker of the University of Bath conducted an independent study in which he compared his experiences biking without a helmet to those he had bicycling with one.  He found that cars passed about 3½ inches closer when he wore a helmet than when he didn’t—during the study, he was struck twice while wearing a helmet.  He concluded that drivers assume helmeted bicyclists to be more experienced and experienced riders to require less consideration, and that this essentially cancels out the safety benefits of wearing a helmet in the first place.

Pro:  Boldness often does not always enter into the accident equation; helmets protect against injuries caused by other factors.

Many (or most) bicycle/motor vehicle (BMV) accidents are not the result of the assumptions Walker posits—often enough, motorists just don’t see bicyclists.  They’re small and relatively infrequent (and thus unanticipated).  Drivers in the United States have generally not learned how to watch specifically for bicyclists.  Drunkenness also enters substantially into the picture.  According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, alcohol contributed to 34% of BMV accidents in 2010.
Whether or not you believe this knotty question should be left to the cyclist, it should be understood that the situation is not as clear-cut as either side would suggest.

Con:  Helmets decidedly do not prevent injury.

The point must be addressed simply because it is so often brought up in the to-wear-or-not-to-wear debate:  helmets do not prevent you from getting injured.  If you’re hit, you’re hit; and a helmet is not going to change that.  This is objectively true.

Pro:  Helmets were never meant to prevent injury.  Helmets are worn to mitigate the effects of an accident.

While it’s true that a helmet cannot keep you from getting struck on the road (and, as Walker’s research indicates, it may actually increase your chances), it can drastically decrease your chances of being injured or killed.  Only 10-20% of those killed on bicycles annually are wearing helmets at the time of the accident.  Countless injuries are prevented or lessened because a helmet absorbed the brunt of the blow.

Con:  Mandating the use of a bicycle helmet assigns bicyclists undue responsibility for their own welfare.

The call to compel helmet-wearing has been decried as an attempt to blame bicyclists for their own injuries when the fact (as seen above) is that wearing a helmet cannot change a motorist’s behavior.

Pro:  With responsibility comes empowerment.

Another reading of bicycle helmet laws is that if bicyclists have the ability to protect themselves, they should.  Bicyclists are largely at the mercy of motorists, but they don’t have to be victims.  Bicyclists can bemoan their sense of legal obligation, or they can celebrate the safety measures at their disposal.

As the convoluted argument indicates, the road is rife with conundrums that can make it dangerous, with or without a helmet.  When a bicycle expedition figuratively goes south, a bicycle accident lawyer can be yet another safeguard for the wronged cyclist.  Like helmets, bicycle accident lawyers cannot foil attack, but they can diminish the aftermath.  Also like helmets, bicycle accident lawyers are proven to dramatically increase a bicyclist’s chances of coming through.

If you require the assistance of a Utah bicycle accident lawyer, please consider Christensen & Hymas.  Not only did they literally write the book on bicycle injury suits (call 1-800-LAW-BOOK for more information), they have been recognized in Newsweek as top personal injury attorneys.  For a free consultation, call 801-506-0800.