Monday, August 1, 2011

Brain, Meet Helmet

I've been riding bicycles for most of my life. I can still vaguely remember cycling around my neighborhood in Milton after I had no more need for training wheels. When I worked at a gas station in Barrie, my bike got me there and back every day I was on the clock. Today, if I feel the need to visit the United States, it's by bike that I get there. I can remember riding bicycles for a long, long time - but what I can't remember is a time when I didn't wear a helmet while doing so. When I was in Montreal a couple of years ago and wanted to give Bixi a try, I found I just couldn't make myself get on that bike without a helmet - the fact that I'd have no idea where I was going in a strange city didn't help matters much, either.

Recently, I've been coming to realize that my experience in that regard is not exactly universal. Part of this is because that under Ontario law, all cyclists under the age of eighteen are required to wear a helmet - but for the last fifteen years, helmets have been mandatory by law for all cyclists in British Columbia. Doesn't stop 'em, though. It's not unusual to see someone zipping down the Dunsmuir bikeway with just some hair between their skull and the sky.

The letter columns in recent issues of the Georgia Straight have seen something of a back-and-forth regarding helmet use, and the Globe and Mail makes reference to Vancouver drivers "whinging on talk radio about bicyclists... who ride without helmets" in the context of the city's gradual transportation culture shift. Helmetless riding is something I noticed frequently in Toronto, though at least there people aren't breaking the law when they do it.

No, they're only running the risk of breaking their own heads. I ride with a helmet not because it's the law - to be honest, I had no idea helmets were mandatory in BC until this writing - but because I am not a moron. Incidentally, yes, I am totally intentionally implying that if you ride a bike without a helmet, you are a moron.

Bicycle and bicycle helmet: two great tastes that taste great together. Note: this weblog does not recommend licking bicycles without first washing them thoroughly.

For me, it's simple arithmetic. Bicycles are potentially unstable frames that frequently share road space with speeding hunks of metal, the drivers of whom have been demonstrated time and again to just not register the presence of bicycles on the road, and if you hit something or get hit there's a good chance of your braincase absorbing the punishment. Personally, I think of my brain as important - realistically, since my brain is what I am; everything else are just mechanisms to allow the brain to interact with the world. I kind of want my brain to keep working for as long as it can. So when I'm on my bike I wear a helmet, so that if I take a spill or get rammed or whatever, there is something before that crunchy bone to absorb the punishment of impact.

I don't understand why more people don't see this sort of attitude in the same light as anti-seatbelt attitudes. It's the same damn thing, just expressed differently - people are making a choice to proceed with limited or no regard to their personal safety. I've seen letters in the Georgia Straight arguing that mandatory helmet laws discourage people from bicycling, but honestly, if a person could be discouraged from biking by having to wear a helmet, that smacks of utter laziness to me - and lazy people, I think, would not be able to stick with the program.

My opinion this is simple - if you get in an accident while you're on a bicycle, and you weren't wearing a helmet, MSP should not cover your medical bills; because, at least in my opinion, the fact that you made a conscious decision to ride a bike while not wearing a helmet demonstrates that you do not care about your personal safety. If you don't care enough to take even the most basic precaution to protect yourself, you have no right to expect society to take up the slack.

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