Playing bureaucratic games without a helmet

Bicycle riding can be a very healthful activity for its benefits in providing exercise, access to nature, and stress reduction. (Except on days off, when “weekend warriors” on bikes try to claim the public roadways for themselves on some apparent higher authority). And it’s better for the environment.

So to encourage bike riding, governments are spending small fortunes building bike paths and access ways (if only riders would keep to them). Now they are even buying bikes, helmets, and sanitizing gear, en masse to provide free bike riding and to encourage  public bike sharing.

But as a recent editorial in The New York Times illustrated, government bureaucrats are getting in the way of each other with their make-work, circle-jerk policies that also require bike riders to wear helmets.

As the author of this editorial, Elisabeth Rosenthal pointed out…in the U.S., the idea that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is accepted as gospel. People who ride bikes without wearing helmets are seen as irresponsible, “unsafe at any speed” (like people who smoke even one cigarette).

But in Europe (which itself is no bastion of liberty when it comes to bureaucratic rules, regulations, and requirements), researchers say that falls off bikes are exceedingly rare in large urban areas. And researchers have found that forcing people to wear helmets discourages bicycle riding—and by the same light contributes to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease by discouraging  some of the same healthy activity that other government programs strongly promote.

As Rosenthal reports, according to the European Cyclists Federation, “…if you say this [bike riding] is wonderful but you have to wear armor, they won’t. These are normal human beings, not urban warriors.”

Indeed, Rosenthal presents a perfect example that puts this all into perspective:

“Pushing helmets really kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn’t justified —in fact, cycling has many health benefits,” says Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney. He studied the issue with mathematical modeling, and concludes that the benefits may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.

And in Minneapolis the coordinator of a new bike-riding program called “Nice Ride,” says bike riding should be seen as “something that a normal person can do.” 

So while the behaviors of some of the aforementioned “weekend warriors” may question the normality of the whole thing, I agree it’s important to send a message that it’s perfectly easy and safe to just get on a bike and go.

If the government were really interested in the facts about the actual causes of head injury, they would require people to wear helmets when climbing a ladder, or even taking a bath. Instead it is the taxpayers taking a bath with more misinformed, misguided, and conflicting government bureaucracy.