Monday, November 19, 2007

Why Don't We Wear Helmets in Cars?

As the Great Thanksgiving Migration approaches, I've got driving on the mind, which kind of nudged something I've been percolating on for some time: Why don't we wear helmets when riding in cars?

Yes, I know it's just a bike helmet.

This is not a new musing; people have tried marketing car helmets for kids. (The thin end of the wedge?)

It also comes up whenever there's a debate about motorcycle helmet laws -- the "let the riders decide" crowd brings it up, and the pro-regulation folks either ignore it or dismiss it as a reducing the argument to absurdity.

Of course, the very idea gets wrapped up in issues of societal costs vs. personal responsibility and freedom, and is invariable accompanied by such terms as "nanny state" and "bubble-wrapping the world."

Do we even need helmets in cars? You could rationalize not needing them lots of ways:

* Inside a car, your head isn't as exposed as while on a motorcycle (But it's to prevent your head from banging around inside -- that's why fighter pilots wear them. But what about airline pilots? Hrm.)
* The safety systems inside cars already protect the head in many ways -- padded interiors, head rests, seat belts, and particularly air bags (though what about before they were available?)
* Helmets cut down on visibility and hearing (but isn't that also considered and dismissed for motorcyclists?)

But then you look at race car drivers. Even autocross drivers, many of whom drive (mostly) regular cars, use helmets on the course.

I don't know if there have been every been any studies about the benefits of helmet use in regular driving -- I would assume it'd be so unpopular that even a study would be a non-starter.

It basically comes down to the fact that most folks (myself included) just wouldn't want to wear a helmet inside a car. Ever.

Helmet laws for motorcyclists? Sure -- comparatively few people ride motorcycles, and if someone else has to do something that benefits society, we're all for it. Right?

Now, I don't think I'm turning libertarian; I don't plan on driving with a helmet anytime soon; and I do still think that mandatory helmet laws for bicyclists and motorcyclists are a good idea. I just wanted to think a little bit about why we think what we think.

Oops, forgot to put on the seat belt.


Celeste said...

I ride a motorcycle and I firmly believe in helmets. I have also worked in the ER and that alone made me believe in them. I mean a real helmet not the fake ones some try to get away with. A DOT approved one.

Daniel Poehlman said...

I used to wear a helmet on off-roading adventures in my old Jeep, but I really can't see wearing one while driving. That's a little weird since head and face injuries are pretty common in car crashes, and you'd think it would make sense to wear a helmet while driving.

You should take a video camera with you and drive around with a helmet on just to see what kind of odd looks you get.

Two Shorten the Road said...

Nice helmet. :)

Anonymous said...

the photos MAKE this post... I dare ya to spend an entire day driving around like that and THEN come back and blog about it... he he he

Anonymous said...

I ride a motorcycle and always wear a helmet, but I am completely against laws that infringe on a person's right to do whatever he or she wants with his or her body. Nobody should be forced to wear a helmet on their motorcycle… but insurance companies should be allowed to charge more for people who don't.

Anonymous said...

What if the insurance provider gave you a discount for sporting their helmet (thats cool looking on a socially except-able level) while driving. The number one cause of death and injury in a car crash is caused by TBI (traumatic brain injury). Insurance companies would be able to cut their expenses.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I have seriously considered wearing a helmet, neck brace, and thin kevlar jacket while going on extended highway trips. Why?

1) 40,000 deaths and 2 million auto injuries per year in the US. These include injuries where you are in a wheelchair for life, get permanently disfigured, the windshield glass cuts up your face, etc.

2) Racecar drivers wear them.

3) Only highway speeds are high enough for a fatality. City driving at 35 mph is generally not fast enough for a fatality.

4) The Kevlar jacket looks like a normal jacket anyway.

Why not?

1) No one does it, and it looks funny. So what?

So, on balance, I think the safety outweighs the embarassment. I think I will seriously consider doing it for long highway road trips (a few times a year).

A helmet with a face guard is valuable, as far too many people get glass fragments in their eyes and face, and are thus blinded and disfigured for life.

Anonymous said...


I think its a great idea. I'd prefer a helmet that's okay to be left in a hot car (unlike bike helmets) So you could leave it there after reaching destination.

Let's start a trend! I'm going to try it and see what its like.

Anonymous said...

I have always wanted to wear a helmet because I drive a convertible.

NOW I know that purchasing a soft-top car was dumb. Seriously. I have zero head protection. Duh.

After viewing the Nikki Catsouras photos, I am now convinced helmets with good visibility, etc., should be mandatory when driving a car.

I have tinted windows and plan to never, again, drive with the top down. So, nobody will see my helmet covered dome. ;-)

Great bike helmet!

discount helmets said...

Wow, this has got to be the biggest guide I’ve seen distilled in a post anywhere!

Anonymous said...

I've worn a full face DOT approved helmet, looks cool, flames on it and whatnot. Gotten I say maybe one out of ten crazy looks but people who actually talked to me about it said they think it's a good idea for long drives where everyone thinks about doing 85+ mph on highways, so my point is, in the event of say getting caught up in an acident where your car may roll over or slam head on into another car, at least you'll stand a better chance of surviving, especially if your head slams into the steering wheel at 40mph. Besides even though it looks goofy, just like riding your bicycle with a Tour De France helmet but hey more protection towards the back of the head I imagine...

Dr C. said...

I think mandatory helmets for car drivers makes a lot of sense. On a motorbike or on a bike you are only responsible for your own safety (especially on a bike, motorcyclists do sometimes take a passenger). In a car you can carry many passengers and in the evenet of a crash you will want to protect your head so that you can retain as much control of the car as possible. That confined space makes the helmet a good idea. On a motorbike you have fallen off the bike pretty much straight away, and although helmets work quite well on a motorbike, no-one else is harmed if you choose not to use one, so they shouldn't be compulsory.

Helmets for bikes are another matter altogether, for the same argument as for the motorcyclist is still true, the helmets themselves provide no safety benefits whatsoever unless you fall of your bike whilst stationary. Compulsory helmet laws for bikes just put people off cycling, which is why motoring lobbies always push for them. fewer cyclists is bad for everyone.

ajlounyinjurylaw said... the part about forgetting your seatbelt. Second you make some really valid points, but isn't it why they make cars with airbags. It could be a good thing for small children to wear them, but it would feel like key visual points would be obstructed with a helmet...for the driver of course.

Anonymous said...

a motorcycle helmet would be best

Anonymous said...

I think it's a good idea. I wonder if cops would have an issue with it for some strange reason, though...

Anonymous said...

Great blog. Great idea.

Keep in mind though that there are rules in some countries which state that motorrcyle helmets are prohibited from being used in car racing. This is because car-racing helmets need to be more fireproof than motorbike helemets.
Consider the scenario where you are trapped in your car with a bike helmet on, you are unable to escape and your car is on fire. Potentially a bike helmet could melt into your face and hair if it wasnt properly fire-resistant.

Overall though I like the concept of car crash helemets.

Anonymous said...

I would not wear a helmet inside a car unless I had a roll cage, 5 point seatbelt and hans device as well.

The added mass to your head may make it more dangerous for your neck as you are accelerated but your body is restrained.

Fortnight said...

Added mass?

So the weight of something like a bicycle helmet would break your neck in a crash? That's like saying one straw in the wrong position would break a camel's back.

If you were in a crash where your neck would break, you're already screwed as is, and probably have more to worry about than the helmet on your head.

That and I am loving how someone brings up one specific instance as if it will happen every time. Most car accidents are under 30 mph, no roll over or over-dramatic Michael Bay style explosion. A helmet would prevent concussions at those speeds fairly easily (or even mroe severe ones).

Also if you're trapped in a car that's on fire, your biggest problem isn't worrying about your helmet melting to your face (which if that happened you got a boatload of problems already against you), the thing you gotta worry about is GETTING OUT. PERIOD. You would be conscious because of the helmet keeping you from being knocked out. That's enough of a fighting chance.

But how far is too far? Should we be dressing like fighter pilots? Install ejection seats?

Unknown said...

After I watched on the news last night a woman inside her car was hit in the head by a stone thrown by some stupid teenagers I don't think it is a bad idea to wear a helmet inside the car.

Anonymous said...

Fortnight, this is not a high speed collision at all. I think you underestimate the forces involved. A bicycle helmet is incredibly light compared to a motorcycle helmet, which I'm positive was the context in which the 'added mass' comment was made. Bicycle helmets leave many areas exposed. True benefits would be experienced using a high mobility head and neck restraint such as the safety solutions and an open face competition rally helmet.

Sergio said...

this is a good question because we have seat belt in cars and we have four tyres in car.

BiffaBob said...

Please explain in detail why you think a mandatory law for cyclists whom are at statistically less risk of head injury than motorists and indeed pedetrians is ok and that you support but not have a mandated law for the aforementioned activities?
Maybe you need to check out some proper facts before making statements that make no logical sense. for one

For the greater good/protection crash helmets for motorists and pedestrians/people getting out the shower/walking down stairs would be hugely more beneficial to society and individuals than cycling which is a relatively safe activity by comparison.