Don’t Be Stupid

Thursday morning I passed Boston police giving out traffic tickets to a half-dozen bicyclists at the inbound intersection of Comm Ave and the BU Bridge.  The $20 tickets were for going through the red light on Comm Ave.  Most of the bicyclists I saw, who appeared to be students, were not wearing helmets.

That’s stupidity.

I’ve biked in for a long time, inside the city and out.  I bike regularly with a group of friends, all of whom have logged tens of thousands of miles on bicycles.  Everyone one of us has had an accident.  As a group we’ve had a broken pelvis and other broken bones, bumps, cuts, abrasions from a face smashing into a guardrail, “road rash”–the euphemism for the byproduct of human skin skidding along asphalt, and concussions.   A month ago one of our group was riding on Comm Ave near Route 128 when, keeping on eye on a car that was moving into his lane without seeing him, his front wheel entered a crack in the pavement.  The wheel stopped short, the bike flipped, and he went with it still clipped into his pedals, landing on the back of his head and his left hip.  A car apparently ran over his back wheel; it was bent in half.   As always, he was wearing a helmet.  The impact cracked the helmet in five places.  He got a concussion, but without the helmet his skull would have absorbed the blow. We all agreed he was lucky, because he walked–limped–away.

Bicycling is dangerous.  A split-second’s inattention to conditions, misjudging a piece of road debris, a distracted or hostile driver, and we can go down.  There is little between rider and road. Bike shorts and jerseys shred upon impact.  We get one skull, one brain.  That’s it.  Don’t play roulette with them.  Don’t be an idiot.

Wear a helmet,

9 thoughts on “Don’t Be Stupid”

  1. Professor Randall,

    I find what you wrote interesting for 2 reasons.

    1) I didn't know that officers actually ticketed people for bike riding.
    2) It got me thinking:

    I ride bikes myself, and can shamefully admit that I NEVER wear a helmet. I am however convinced that I should be riding with a helmet on at all times. Which brings me to my next point. Why is it legal to ride without a helmet? In massachusetts the law states:

    (iii) Any person 16 years of age or younger operating a bicycle or being carried as a passenger on a bicycle on a public way, bicycle path or on any other public right-of-way shall wear a helmet. Said helmet shall fit the person’s head, shall be secured to the person’s head by straps while the bicycle is being operated, and shall meet the standards for helmets established by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. These requirements shall not apply to a passenger if the passenger is in an enclosed trailer or other device which adequately holds the passenger in place and protects the passenger’s head from impact in an accident.

    But like you said in this post, if your friend had not been wearing a helmet, he could have died or at least been SERIOUSLY injured. So why not enforce everyone to wear a helmet? Its public safety. This is one instance in which the law just makes no sense to me. The day you turn 17, suddenly no helmet is necessary? The law is very black and white in this sense. Too bad the law makes just makes no sense whatsoever.

    Julien Paul

    1. Not everything that's dangerous or stupid is illegal. In some states it's legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. The Massachusetts bicycle helmet law protects children, who are presumed to be too young to make an informed decision about wearing helmets. It leaves the helmet-wearing decision up to the individual wisdom of those over the age of 16. Some argue that laws requiring adults to wear seat belts should be struck down, as "nanny state" intrusions on a person's individual liberty. I can be sympathetic to arguments based on individual liberty–if someone's decision not to wear a helmet had no effect on me. Society as a whole often bears at least of some of the cost of injuries to helmet-less, seatbelt-less, healthy diet-less, etc. individuals.

  2. My question is why bikers would willingly ride into the intersection when they could clearly see police officers ahead handing out tickets!

    In Wisconsin, we have numerous bike safety days throughout elementary school. They'd set up a course on the playground and everyone would bring their bike to school. In the neighborhoods, police officers would hand out baseball cards to children riding with helmets. In middle school, I distinctly remember presentations where cops would smash watermelons – with and without protection. Those in the first few rows received a tasty wake-up call. It all worked; by high school, most bikers wore helmets.

    Maybe next time, police officers should also give Red Sox cards to safe riders on the Bridge.

  3. Justin is right. If a cop is sitting at the corner, what would compel a biker to go through the light?! I doubt the cop was pulling bikers over to give speeding tickets, or better yet, just to say hi.

  4. There seems to be an ingrained idea in the current generations that wearing a helmet is out of style.
    It's funny how messed up our priorities are.

    dela

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