To Wear or Not To Wear

A grad student recently did a study of the percentage of Toronto bike riders who wear helmets (it is voluntary if you’re over 18). Turns out that less than half do – 44% (54% of women but only 40% of men, to confirm a stereotype).

The study is described in a story in the Star. The story takes a definite point of view on the issue, so it may prompt some discussion.


  1. Well, for one thing, Kenneth Kidd doesn’t understand evolution; instead, he’s taken a Social Darwinist, “survival of the fittest” perspective on the whole thing.

    And what is this sentence? “Did we mention that Gardner is not just a young medical student but also a smart, attractive, blond, athletic medical student?” I cringed when I read that.

    Otherwise, interesting article, but I can tell you why men don’t wear helmets: we think that it makes us look stupid.

  2. The other day I had a couple of bike-riding teenagers hurl insults at me for wearing a helmet while riding my bike.

    That is where the problem lies. It’s “uncool”, and you’ll get mocked.

    (But, I get bike-related insults yelled at me from cars on a regular basis, living in Oakville.)

  3. If you ride in toronto on a regular basis you know you should have hockey equipment on let alone a helmet. If the city recognized bicycle issues at all maybey this would improve(one can dream).

  4. “we think that it makes us look stupid.”

    Wait til someone you know gets a serious head injury. I flat-out guarantee that your perspective will change dramatically and instantly. A helmet looks a lot less stupid when compared to total cessation of brain function.

  5. I dislike articles like this – the sides are so polarized, and articles like that in the Star only appear to fan the flames.

    I personally do not wear a helmet all the time. Cycling is not a dangerous activity, and it’s a part of my regular life. Sometimes I have more fatalistic reasoning – helmets are not designed to sustain the kind of impact and injurty I am likely to suffer if I am in an accident in Toronto.

    The argument that cyclists should have more common sense in the face of the different conditions than in Europe (where both fatalities and helmet-use are low) doesn’t offer much comfort – why aren’t we investing more in *creating* a safer environment?

    On the other hand, I also understand that helmets do offer some protection, and as an individual, I have no good reason for going without that would satisfy any in the pro-helmet camp. I do get wary when helmets are treated with such reverence that people see them as the only way to be safe on a bike – they will protect your head if you fall from your bike, but they won’t make drivers slow down and give you the space you really need to feel safe on the road.

  6. I’m not saying that I think it looks stupid. I’m saying that’s why many people don’t wear them.

    I agree with you, b; the problems need to be remedied before a rider has to risk serious head injury. In one day of biking during the TTC strike, I was almost side-swiped three times, door-prized twice, and full-out hit once.

  7. Dylan, I’m not sure what stereotype you’re confirming. Is it that boys are more prone to wild and reckless behaviour? Sterotypically, I would think that it would be the other way around…girls not wanting to wear helmets because it mashes up their hairdos.

    The funny thing is that in Vancouver the law says that everyone has to wear helmets, except that I think _more_ people wear them in Toronto.

  8. We should also note that the sample size in the study is pretty low; only about 1,500 people from a total of all 6 sites. Not miniscule, but not exactly the largest number possible. I also don’t understand how two sites a few blocks away from each other (Harbord and St. George & Bedford and Bloor) could actually have such a significant difference in the amount of people wearing helmets, especially since people biking aren’t static. They’re biking around.

  9. Mandatory helmet laws are not working in Australia.
    So, I won’t mock anyone for wearing a helmet.
    That should go both ways.
    We’re adults. We can make our own choices about cycling safety.
    As for me, I just wanna ride my bike.

  10. Re. the stereotype – I was reflecting a comment in the story itself. I think a common stereotype is that women tend to be more safety-conscious than men. I don’t know if it’s true in general – just that this study fits into it. I probably shouldn’t have used the word “confirm” – I meant more that it fits the stereotype.

    Regarding that Australian study – although I realize it’s not the main point of the graph, I was very interested in how effective the various road safety measures Australia enacted all at once were in reducing pedestrian fatalities over several years(Figure 3).

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