So far, bicycle helmet use in Germany has not been compulsory. Nevertheless you will see quite a number of Germans wearing helmets on their bicycles. (I remember a few years ago, a dutch friend asked me: „How do you recognise a german tourist on a bicycle? Easy: He is wearing a bicycle helmet…“). Whether german helmet wear is due to stereotypical german attributes such as being careful and security oriented, may be debated. The majority of german cyclists still prefer to embrace open air culture when it comes to their heads.
Around the globe there are a few countries in which wearing a helmet on your bicycle is partially or fully mandatory. In some places such as Spain, bicycle helmet use is compulsory only outside of cities. Other countries such as Sweden require bicycle helmets for children under a certain age. A few places including Czech Republic and several of the United States have instituted full compulsory helmet use. In Germany, lawmakers have debated such regulations on several occasions, but they have not reached a point of writing compulsory helmet use into law. The main reasoning behind this seems to be that scientific evidence on the benefits and disadvantages is still inconclusive.
While most studies have shown that wearing a bicycle helmet does decrease your risk of severe head injury should you get into an accident, the extent of this risk reduction is difficult to determine. Many cases of successful helmet protection will not end up in hospital and in official statistics. At the same time, traffic studies have shown that other traffic participants will be less careful around cyclists wearing a helmet, thus increasing the risk of an accident. Children wearing a bicycle helmet also seem to be more likely to engage in risky behaviour.
The main argument against compulsory helmet wear, however, has been another kind of health impact. In countries with such laws in place, a lot of people ended up riding their bikes much less than before or opted for other means of transport alltogether. This not only takes away important physical activity from their lives and increases overall rates of heart disease and other ailements. A reduction in the number of cyclists on the streets also increases the risk for those who still go by bike, as motorists will be less likely to expect cyclists in traffic and take the appropriate precautions while driving.
Calculating the benefits and disadvantages against eachother still seems to be very difficult. I do think that it is worthwhile to persue and to invest in. What seems equally important is to make sure that streets are safe for cyclists and that public awareness for safe driving and cycling is increased. I personally wear a bicycle helmet since I witnessed friends ending up with long-term consequences after mild head traumas. I do notice that the discomfort of putting on and wearing a helmet reduces my bicycle use. I have to incorporate time for other sports in my life.
Where do you stand on this issue? Leave me a comment below.