zolltan continues to blather on about bike helmets

Bixi. Photo by Jean-François Belisle

So Vancouver’s getting a new bikeshare program, which is fantastic news. It is especially fantastic news considering that one of the first things that set me against bike helmet laws is that they seemed to make it impossible to run a bikeshare program. So how does Vancouver get around this? Apparently, the new bikeshare program will have helmet vending machines. This is much better than not having a bikeshare program, even a “terrible” one, as special Ratedzed Montréal correspondent Zont described Bixi. Nevertheless it’s still ridiculous: it is simultaneously too much and not enough.

(The rest is below the fold to avoid annoying too much)

Why not enough? Because as a bixi consumer, I’d probably still be leery of using these helmets. Sure they are cleaned between every use, but I’m not keen on risking lice. And “one size fits all” helmets are prolly not ideal as helmets anyway. And why too much? Because having to wear a helmet is still an inconvenience that discourages bike use*. And because a steamwash helmet machine is the kind of bizarre eyesore you’d expect to read about in a William Gibson novel rather than something that you actually want standing around in your city.

The telltale sign that helmet laws are trouble for the bikeshare service here is that bike advocates attempted to obtain an exemption to the helmet law for the Bixi service. This means that they thought requiring helmets would limit the use and reduce the viability of the service. These concerns are well-grounded. However, granting such an exemption is an obvious non-starter: how do you justify having two different sets of safety regulations for the same activity? So why not just grant the exemption to everyone? Because the next time a rider without a helmet gets run over and killed by a car, who is to be blamed? Instead of the car that killed them, it might be legislators who let them ride without a helmet. It is a risk a legislator doesn’t really want to take. And so goes the ever-ratcheting screw of safety: it is incredibly difficult to roll back safety regulations. So I guess the upshot of this part is: if you’re considering enacting helmet laws, beware, ’cause you may never de-enact them, and soon your town will be filled with helmet steamers.


Unrelated add-on as bonus for reading (or scrolling through) that blather: ever read an entire story that’s so weird, you’re anticipating an author’s confession that he made it all up to prove some point? Well, now you have.

*Maybe all this concern about convenience is moot, as studies show bikeshare riders usually don’t wear helmets anyway. But if so, we’re bringing in another law where most people are de facto transgressing and relying on sporadic enforcement. And having laws that are very sporadically enforced is actually a terrible idea from a civil liberties standpoint.

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