Helmet Nazis

Recently by Karen De Coster: Benefits of the Paleo-Primal Lifestyle and GreatHealth

I despise the Safety Nazis and the culture of fear they have created. Wear a helmet. Don’t go out when it’s too hot. Don’t leave your home when it’s too cold, and if you do, heed the 1,001 warnings. Be afraid at all times. Run for cover. Lock your children in enormous safety devices called car seats. Buy a stroller built like an armored Volvo, complete with side air bags and ironclad sun protection. Stay inside if the wind blows or a snowflake falls. Is there a dark cloud or two in the sky? Close the schools. Call your doctor if you sneeze, and call your lawyer if you trip. Don’t ever do anything that has the potential to cause injury. Red alerts, orange alerts, and now text alerts – they are all imbecile alerts that are geared toward emotionally crippling the masses.

The save-you-from-yourself nannies are an intrusive and irritating bunch. “Safety” has become a sick obsession in the modern American culture, and this fear mongering has long been promoted by an overreaching, paternal state that has churned out a nation of helpless idiots through the revolving doors of government schools and a politicized nanny state that holds people captive to their own bogus fears. I have at least one archive dedicated to this topic on my website.

One of the most fashionable forms of lifestyle fascism in the American Folly Safety Parade is the sustained push for mandatory helmet laws and the crush of propaganda asserting that certified, bulletproof, and government-approved helmets are necessary for every activity from the baby crawling to biking along your neighborhood sidewalk.

As an avid cyclist, the folks I ride with are a mixed bunch. Very few are helmetless, many are helmet Nazis (they love preaching safety and the wearing of helmets to others while they wear shorts in 20-degree weather on their 50-lbs overweight, heart-attack-ready bodies), and some are helmet neutral – they don’t think too much about your choices and why you make them. Most recently, I received the standard summary lecture from a very overweight, helmeted cyclist whose belly hung halfway between his seat and the ground, yet he gave me the snide lecture on no-helmet riding by summing it up as, “it’s your noggin.” Apparently, being without helmet for two hours is undertaking a risk while carrying around an obese, disease-ridden body for twenty years is no risk at all. It is astounding how folks will perceive peril and create their own twisted reality to suit their inclinations.

When I do the group rides, I usually wear a helmet unless it is so cold that I need to wear my warm, hippie beanie. Then I may go no-helmet, and immediately, the Nazis begin to buzz and give rise to the predictable comments. On Saturday, March 24th, 2012, I rode with a group of cyclists, most of who are very recreational riders. I wore my helmet as our group of 70+ folks left Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit for our first 2012 group ride. No big deal – I just felt like wearing a helmet, as I usually do in these rides. These folks were mostly recreational cyclists, with only a few of them being experienced cyclists or skilled riders. A few of the riders, like me, used to be dedicated lycra jockeys but gave that up for adventure riding and fun exploration. The problem with these rides is that most folks don’t hold a steady line and are predictably unsteady on their bicycles. That kind if riding can wreak havoc on a pack.

A little over an hour after we started, I ended up in what was the most violent bike crash I have had in 27 years of serious cycling, mountain bike racing, track riding, and high-speed training pacelines. As we approached a median with two routes around it (on the right and the left) most of us were on the left side of the landscaped median. A few cyclists on the far right side of pack went around the right side of the median, and a guy from the far left side of the pack saw those few folks going right, and so he decided to veer on a strict right line across the front of the pack, from left to right, to catch the turnoff and follow them. No experienced pack rider would ever do such a thing knowing that seventy bikers were right on his tail. It is hard to believe that anyone with any common sense could be so careless. But this stuff happens.

He blind-sided me from my left side, and I t-boned the rear of his bike. All I knew was that it felt like I was shot from a cannon as I flew up and then landed on my left side, on the cement, with my hip and shoulder taking the entire hit as my bike slammed my body to the ground, and then my neck whiplashed, causing my head to slam the pavement with ferocious force. Since this was a purely recreational ride, our speed was a very slow 12-13 mph. And still, it was a violent meeting between the pavement and me. This collision came just six days prior to a scheduled hip surgery, so immediately post-crash, I was concerned about the damage.

The fallout was a brutal headache and perhaps a slight concussion, neck whiplash that my chiropractor has mostly fixed, a bruising where the helmet dug into my head, a black-and-blue hip, and a shoulder that was mostly frozen. I still have a very swollen anterior rotator cuff in that shoulder four weeks later. That means another trip to my shoulder orthopaedic surgeon for a check on a joint that has already endured two surgeries. But mostly, it was the fierce head slam that left me in goose bumps. I remember thinking "I'm done" just as my head was smashing the cement, and then I felt the most meaty part of my helmet take the hit, causing my head to bounce, and then the helmet seemed to absorb the cement like a sponge. Immediately, I felt perfectly alive, and I was stunned that I was still conscious.

I could not have survived the force of that blow, intact, without that helmet. I would have been another closed head injury casualty on a ventilator, with my family and friends stopping by the hospital to help me with basic life functions. I keep thinking what if that had been one of those days where I didn't wear my helmet. I had nightmares for several days, repeating that incident in my head without the helmet. Bizarre but true. These types of events can often be life changing.

This story, however, is more about the risk and how we each subjectively perceive it, and not the accident itself. Some folks believe that not wearing a helmet while cycling or motorcycling is “stupid,” though this comment is actually pretty dumb on its own. The lack of a helmet is not a result, at all, of lacking intelligence, or even common sense. The wearing or non-wearing of a helmet reflects how you comprehend and rate risk.

There is a website called Helmet Freedom: Risk in Perspective, and its motto is “Cycling without helmet laws is safe. Fear is unhealthy.” I like that motto because as much as the fear mongering and obsession with safety is worldwide, in America, the totalitarians-at-large have turned safety fixation into a national pastime.

On TedX Copenhagen, bicycle advocate Mikael Colville-Andersen gave a talk, "Why We Shouldn't Bike With a Helmet." In his talk, he discusses the culture of fear that controls the public. He calls it a "pornographic obsession with safety equipment" in a "bubble society." While the culture of fear ignores facts and science, the fear mongering is big business, and it is lucrative.