Why Don’t The Dutch Wear Helmets? 4 Reasons!
Helmets are a recurring source of debate in the cycling community, but the contentious issue is not which color is more attractive. I won’t go into too much detail about the background, but the debate centers on whether helmets should be required (due to their benefits for protecting the skull and brain) or left at the store (because they inhibit bicycling, which results in less bicycling, which makes bicycling less safe). Depending on the context, “must” could refer to a statutory requirement or just a personal requirement.
I once served as the director of a nonprofit organization whose main goals were to support and promote bicycling in the greater Charlottesville region. I distinctly recall receiving criticism from some of our members after featuring a picture of several riders, including a child, without helmets on the front of one of our newsletters. When I wrote an article on TreeHugger about the special relationships Dutch children have with bicycles, the response wasn’t nearly as strong, but the same debate was essentially sparked. But in this instance, a large number of readers from the Netherlands (as well as others) also added their thoughts. There were a lot of interesting tidbits there that I found, so I decided to summarize and share them with you.
I’ll begin by addressing the query that sparked the discussion, “Why the lack of helmets? Or is it that the Dutch are: 1. Less litigious than Americans; 2. Have a health care system to handle injuries of all citizens; 3. Isolate bike traffic from automobile traffic? The Dutch skulls aren’t any more resistant to impact with the ground than anyone else. It still seems like wearing a helmet is just common sense.
Now for the replies.
1. Cycling in the Netherlands is extremely safe
You’re referring to the Netherlands, which has the lowest rate of cycling fatalities and injuries worldwide despite having a nearly nonexistent helmet use rate and a high bike ownership rate.
The USA would surely be the safest country to cycle in if helmets really did work as advertised.
The Dutch don’t need bike helmets because they have made cycling in their country a safe activity. Cycling is not an activity that is inherently dangerous; rather, it is the road environment that is dangerous.
Car passengers suffer the majority of head injuries. Maybe the people who should wear helmets are the drivers and passengers of motor vehicles?
Likewise, according to dr2chase
Since cycling there is five times safer than cycling here in the US, it is illogical. It would be more reasonable to inquire as to why you do not use a helmet while operating a vehicle (thus increasing the risk). To put it another way, driving a car in the US puts you at a higher risk of suffering a head injury than riding a bike in the Netherlands.
In the US, it doesn’t even make much sense to concentrate solely on bicycle helmets; biking is riskier, but not significantly so. Even though biking in the daylight during clear weather is almost certainly safer than driving in the rain at night, we worry about biking without a helmet during the daytime.
Additionally, dr2chase made the following comment on the first Groningen article I wrote: “Measuring per-trip or per-hour, cycling in the Netherlands is safer than driving in the US (which is not really all that much safer than cycling in the US).”
Several times, it was brought up whether or not we should be required to wear helmets while driving. But I believe a better comparison would be whether or not joggers should wear helmets. The Dutch ride their bikes very slowly and leisurely. Many of them could probably be jogged alongside. Therefore, I believe that wearing a helmet while biking strikes a Dutch person as absurd as wearing a helmet while jogging strikes an American.
2. Helmet regulations deter bicycle use
One of the strongest arguments against the use of helmets is made in the second point. Dr2chase continued his comment on the Dutch-kids post by writing:
A few deaths would be prevented if helmet use could be maintained while also maintaining the current level of bicycle use, according to Dutch policy, which discourages it. But in reality, encouraging helmet use means discouraging cycling because levels of cycling decline in areas where helmet use is required. This has a negative impact on public health because being inactive is much riskier than biking without a helmet. According to estimates, the risk-to-reward ratio for cyclists in England is approximately 1:10; in the US (with our riskier roads), it is approximately 1:5, but in the Netherlands, it is approximately 1:25. Accordingly, 25 years are added to a person’s life due to improved health as a result of exercise for every year lost to bicycle accidents in the Netherlands.
Guido Bik echoed this:
Being Dutch, I think the most compelling argument against wearing a helmet in the Netherlands is that it would deter people from cycling (more then you can imagine in a country where cycling is not the main culture). You must understand that many people (particularly city dwellers and students) commute everywhere by bicycle. You’ll head to a birthday, quickly select a gift at the store, and then head to the address. Many commuters ride bikes to work. Even attending a gala will be done by bicycle. The hair would be completely ruined by helmets. It may sound obvious, but there are many situations where skipping the bike would be a good idea. Additionally, because you travel so frequently, putting on and taking off your helmet and carrying it around all the time is a hassle.
3. Some Dutch cyclists report feeling less secure when wearing helmets.
I don’t know how common this one is. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this response before. However, it might be fairly typical in reality. Erik says:
There is disagreement over whether wearing a helmet makes cycling safer. Several tests appear to indicate that the skull is better protected, but the upper vertebrae are more vulnerable. The use of a “full” helmet, as on motorcycles and in cars, can solve this issue, but for cyclists it reduces the viewing angle, making cycling more hazardous.
“Having a helmet of any kind on my head irritates and distracts me and increases the danger,” sabelmouse wrote. I’m not sure if it actually does make biking riskier, but I’ve often wondered the same thing.
4. Bikers have separate paths.
We now know that cycling is much safer in the Netherlands. But Liz Almond emphasized that it is significantly safer for the following reason:
People do not typically just fall off bikes when you separate them from cars. Therefore, you don’t need a walking helmet any more than you do a bike helmet.
Yes, research has repeatedly demonstrated this.
Guido Bik, an Utrecht-based reader, added a longer but essential comment to try to better describe the Dutch system to readers:
I think there’s something that a lot of people (unlike you) who haven’t lived in the Netherlands for a while might not comprehend. the fact that cycling infrastructure is interconnected and integrated throughout. To give an example, the other day I was strolling through Zwolle when I came upon a tunnel for cars and bicycles. The fact that the sidewalk came to an end and I had to use the bike path as a walkway astounded me. I was taken aback by how seamlessly all the infrastructure was interconnected, allowing access to all locations whether traveling by car, bicycle, or foot. This is similar to how driving works in other nations: you don’t expect the road to simply go on forever; there should always be connections to other roads (unless it is a dead end street in the city and you have to turn around). The same is true for bike lanes and sidewalks in the Netherlands. You can always move forward on foot or by bike, so you never run into a dead end. Every destination, and when I say every destination, I mean every destination, must be accessible by bike, on foot, and by car. (At the moment, in order to make a more direct cycle connection work, we are experimenting with cycle highways between cities.) In fact, biking or walking makes it simpler to reach city centers and green spaces. A lane for cars, a lane for bikes, and a lane for pedestrians make up the standard trinity. Bikes and cars only share lanes in remote residential areas. However, because they are always 30 km/h zones with speed signs and speed bumps, this is not a problem. Contrast this connected infrastructure with nations and cities like London, which have only recently begun to develop a cycling infrastructure. When cycling’s infrastructure is complete, it becomes the most appealing and comfortable mode of transportation.
Observation: oy, the US
We have a large American readership. Unfortunately, driving and road culture differ from those in most other countries in the US. To be honest, it’s not one where pedestrians and cyclists feel as welcome or as safe.
The US is the only country where I’ve observed the majority of people wearing helmets, and they have to because biking is so dangerous there. Because American cyclists are a lower class of citizen, it is dangerous. In the US, being aggressive and acting dangerously toward a cyclist are acceptable social behaviors. Since I reside there, I am aware. As a result, even though a three tons of SUV will roll over my body, I feel safer wearing a helmet.
Added a Dutchman who now resides in Chicago:
I concur that being violent toward bicycles is socially acceptable in the US. I was born and raised in the Netherlands, but I’ve been living in the US for eight years.
In the Netherlands, using a mobile phone while driving has long been considered socially unacceptable. Even police officers can be seen texting while driving in the US. Almost always, when I have a close encounter with a car, the driver was on their phone.
Yes, there are issues here in the US.
Reasons to wear a helmet
Naturally, there were many individuals who argued in favor of wearing helmets. The purpose of this article was to explain why it’s more difficult to find a Dutch person wearing a helmet than it is to find a FOX News anchor who can admit that humans are responsible for catastrophic global warming, not to compare or present both sides. I’ll share their main point, though, out of respect for the other commenters.
Why not just put the helmet on if it’s safer?
Jeanne Misner said: “The child could sustain a serious head injury if the adult operating the bike ran over a stone or in some other way fell, causing the bike to crash to the pavement. It would be logical to safeguard the kids.”
Jim Gordon defended her: “In a turn, anything from a rolling branch to a wet plastic bag, an ounce of sand, a few wet leaves, or a front tire blowout can send you crashing to the ground very quickly. My head hit the pavement hard due to a front tire blowout, which also separated my shoulders on both sides. Without a helmet, I would have been hospitalized with a $50,000 bill and in a head trauma unit.”
Tony followed suit: “On helmets, I agree. I hit my head on the kerb a few years ago after sliding in some mud. Fortunately, I was wearing my helmet at the time, which cracked. Since then, I have never gone without one. The middle meningeal artery was directly over the temple area when it struck the curb, and if it bursts, it’s probably curtains.”
Like GPaudler did: “No one should be forced or made to feel bad for wearing a helmet. A helmet has twice prevented me from getting hurt or worse, and neither time involved speed or a collision with another car. I’ve been an active cyclist for decades and am a very attentive rider. I understand how helmets seem to affect or correlate with culture, but it’s your head; make your own choices and show respect for those made by others.”
This is the main one, I suppose. Not helmet laws, but rather biker preferences, are at issue.
I suppose I’ll also add my two cents. In the Netherlands, I didn’t wear a helmet. I had no desire to do so, and I knew it would be very strange of me to do so. My decision to forgo wearing one was really motivated by the former, but I also wonder if the latter factor may have a significant impact on some Dutch citizens. Perhaps there are Dutch people who believe that it is better to be extremely safe than sorry but who are aware that wearing a helmet deviates so greatly from social convention that they are unwilling to give it a try. Although I’m fairly certain that doesn’t represent the majority of people, I believe a particular minority may be in that canal boat.
I didn’t wear a helmet when I first arrived in the US. I felt safe cycling even when I lived in Florida, which is, in my opinion, one of the most dangerous states for bicyclists. I mentioned earlier that I always biked at a Dutch pace, so maybe that’s why I felt secure. Or maybe I’m just a guy who is trusting. I eventually began wearing a helmet the majority of the time, though, after spending time with some other bike commuters and hearing repeatedly how safe helmets are. Even if I rode a bike and lived in the US, I would. However, as I mentioned earlier in this essay, there have been a few times when I’ve thought that riding without a helmet poses a greater risk than using one. But perhaps those were just illogical ideas.
Topic: 4 Reasons Why Don’t The Dutch Wear Helmets
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