Thursday, July 22, 2010

You really should wear a helmet..

Tonight on my way home from work I passed by a car that was parked along the side of the road. As I came nearer, I noticed the car was occupied by two people (one in the driver seat, one in the passenger seat), and not empty as I had presumed. As I got closer, I realized the driver was simply waiting for me to pass so she could open her door without hitting me (which I thank her for, because many other motorists would have ignored me rather than wait a few seconds). As I went by the open window to the car, I heard a voice call out; not too loudly, but loud enough that I could hear; "you really should wear a helmet" in a snide, sarcastic tone.

When I heard this, I looked back and observed the driver open the door to get out.

I presume the driver was a little miffed that she had to wait 3.5 seconds for me to pass before opening the door to exit her car, hence the snide remark.

No, I wasn't wearing a helmet at the time. I usually do, but due to the heatwave I've gone without it the last few days.  It's not required by law that I don one. I agree that it's safer for me to wear one, but it is still my choice.

Now I can't say for sure that her remark was spurred by her inability to exit her car without injuring me. Maybe she was simply concerned for my well-being. In which case, I appreciate her concern, but its none of her business. I want to believe that this remark, along with other "helpful" suggestions that motorists feel compelled to express to cyclists (i.e. get on the sidewalk, get off the street, get out of my way, etc) are simple expressions of empathy & concern.

I doubt it was concern, however,  because whether a cyclist wears a helmet seems to be the deciding factor in whether they "deserved" to be hit/run-over/killed, even though helmets in no way whatsoever prevent accidents. They might mitigate the injuries, but they do not prevent accidents. This also seems to be the fall-back response whenever someone has done something to endanger a cyclist and they know they are wrong. Much like a toddler with an attitude problem, motorists & pedestrians cross their arms, pout their lips and whine "yeah, well you should be wearing a helmet!", as if that proves that their actions were harmless. Sometimes I wonder if it makes me "fair game" to a motorist if I'm not wearing a helmet.

I also wonder if this is some latent anger in motorists due to the fact that they are required by law to wear seat belts (another unnecessary law, in my opinion). Seat belts are the vehicle equivalent of bicycle helmets. From the drivers I observe on a daily basis, they tend to use their seat belts as often as I wear a helmet. Yet I've never felt the urge to shout at a driver to "wear a seatbelt, asshole!"

I'm a big advocate of helmets. In my last accident (in which I was doored, ironically), I only had time for one thought because it happened so fast. And the thought that flitted through my brain when I felt my skull smack the pavement was "Gee, I really wish I had worn my helmet tonight"! Thankfully, I didn't suffer any head injuries (just an arm injury). But I know that I was extremely lucky, and that it wasn't due to anything I did. The accident occurred so fast that I had no time to react or try to protect myself. I could easily have cracked my skull wide open. Just luck, that's all.

No, helmets don't prevent accidents. Careful & skilled riding does that. But accidents happen. You could be the most skilled, safest person on the road. By default, that means everyone around you is NOT. It only takes 1 second to crack your skull. Is it guaranteed that a helmet will save your life? No. Is it guaranteed that it will prevent a head injury? No. But could it mean the difference between living and dying? Yes, it could. And that's enough for me.

I wear a helmet because I want to, not because I have to.