Do Helmet Promotion Campaigns Instill a Fear of Cycling?

helmet promotion campaign photo bike helmet
Scary Asian helmet campaign

Sociologist David Horton of Lancaster University is doing a five part series on fear of cycling at Copenhagenize, and in part 3 looks at the effect of helmet promotion campaigns. He notes that most UK cycling organizations are against mandatory helmet use, saying that it should be a matter of free choice.

He then discusses points we have noted before, the Australian study that showed dramatic drop in the number of cyclists when helmets became mandatory, vs the noted increase in safety when there are lots of cyclists, the safety in numbers effect. But he makes another interesting point about equity:

helmet promotion campaign
Asian helmet promotion campaign

Mayer Hillman (1993) claims that cyclists are at lower risk of head injury than motorists, pedestrians and children at play, yet none of those groups is encouraged to wear helmets (see also Kennedy 1996). Risk theorist John Adams suggests that equitable application of the logic applied to cycle helmet promotion would result in 'a world in which everyone is compelled to look like a Michelin man dressed as an American football player'

But his major argument is that helmet campaigns make people afraid of bikes.

My chief point here is to note how helmet promotion campaigns play on people's existing fear of cycling, and contribute to the reproduction and magnification of that fear.

A director in a UK cycling promotion organization was outraged by a particularly graphic campaign, probably similar to the Asian one I have shown above, and wrote:

CTC believes [these images] will do huge damage to the perception of cycling as a safe, enjoyable, healthy activity'; and such campaigns 'raise unfounded anxiety about the "dangers" of cycling, and are known to drive down cycle use'.

Of most relevance here is that every call for cyclists to wear, or be forced to wear, helmets demands the association of cycling with danger, and thus the production of fear of cycling.

It is a compelling argument, and one that I am becoming increasingly persuaded by, although I have a ways to go before I make these guys happy.

Read it all at Copenhagenize.

Earlier, before consideration of the fear issue: Do Bicycle Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good?