Interesting piece in the New York Times about the US requirement for bicyclists to wear helmets. The article stems from the findings in the article below:
The main ideas of this article are that (i) the fraction of bicycle accidents, specifically ones to the head which would be protected by a helmet, is small, and that (ii) requiring people to wear helmets drastically reduces the number of riders. As a result, the helmet laws are preventing possible drops in obesity and diabetic risk which would occur if more people rode helmets.
My number one takeaway is, specifically for Table II in the article, to question the equivalency of the groups being compared. It’s no surprise that the Netherlands, for example, has a lower rate of injuries, since bike paths are part of the nations infrastructure. The death rate by cycling for the US is much higher, and would it be even higher if people, several of whom likely ride for leisure, rode as often for business? My guess is yes.
Ideally, the US institutes systems similar to that in the Netherlands, but that’s probably a different argument. Until then, this article, while providing the basis for future studies, cannot show cause and effect.
A similar argument – with regards to relatively arbitrary safety requirements- was made in Freakonomics, on the importance of child car seats.