Canadian Cyclist


July 12/08 1:06 am - Do Helmets Prevent Idiot Drivers?

Posted by Editor on 07/12/08

Do Helmets Prevent Idiot Drivers? - An Editorial

by Matt Hansen

About a month ago I was riding home from my parent's house north of the city [Toronto] and an SUV hit me. I was pretty lucky; I only ended up with a dislocated shoulder, some broken ribs and a tiny bit of internal bleeding. I'm feeling a bit better now but the first two weeks were pretty depressing, full of Percocet cocktails and painful sleeps.

I was heading south on Keele Street going through the intersection at Major Mackenzie. Donut Ride riders will know this intersection. The driver was heading north and was turning left onto Major Mack. On a green. I remember seeing the little pedestrian sign telling me I had 5 more seconds of green, so it was all her fault.

It was one of those moments where you see the car perched in the intersection, getting ready to turn, but you think, "well of course she won't turn. It's green and she must see me." With a few metres to go I realized she was going to turn. That's when I remember saying under my breath, "Shit." As in "Shit, what a way to die."

She had a giant SUV, maybe it was an Escalade, I dunno. Maybe it's getting bigger in my memory each day. Anyway, I braked a bit, tried to avoid, but it was impossible. The side of her SUV hit me on the shoulder and ribs, and I went down. Thankfully, no other cars hit me - traffic stopped. There were plenty of witnesses and she admitted later it was her fault. I was whisked away to the hospital and I was treated more or less quickly, given my injury. (Actually, I felt not terrible for a while in triage, it was only when the adrenaline wore off a bit and I started blacking out due to the pain that I got faster treatment)

But my story here isn't about the driver, or the accident, it's about what people have said to me - the "non - cyclists" in the hospital, passersby, etc. I thought of it recently when reading about this recent wave of cycling related deaths or injuries in Canada. So here's the big shocker that is the focal point of my story. Ready?

I wasn't wearing a helmet.

I do wear a helmet more than I ever did when younger. Maybe it's because I have ridden more and more in B.C. where it's illegal not to wear one, and have got used to it. Maybe it's because I have hairy legs and am grown up and don't really care about vanity (you know, the blonde locks flowing in the wind like a poseur) like I did as a kid. Maybe it's because I feel safer when I wear it. Maybe it's because it's sort of stupid not to wear a helmet.

But I wasn't when I rode home from my parents'. It was mostly because I had driven up and forgot to pack it, and was riding home on a whim. So anyway, I wasn't wearing it. I was lucky. So, all of you out there who want to lecture me about not wearing it, please don't. Want to know why? Because everyone else already has ... despite not suffering any head injuries.

Want to know how many people scolded me in the EMERGENCY ROOM AS I LAY IN MASSIVE PAIN for not wearing a helmet? 21 people.

Nurses, doctors, passersby with nothing to do. I couldn't believe it. Even my father, who has worn a helmet his entire life, started to get mad. A conversation was something like this:

"What happened?" A heavy-set nurse with cigarette breath would say. (I'm not making this up)

"I was riding my bike and got hit by an SUV as I went through a green light."

"Were you wearing a helmet?"

"No, I wasn't wearing a helmet as I got hit by an SUV who hit me because she wasn't paying attention as she turned into me on my green light."

"Tsk. Tsk. You should have been wearing a helmet."

"Maybe you're right. But in the meantime, can you please reset my shoulder and treat the broken ribs and internal bleeding that I got as a result of a motorist being on her cellphone as she drove her massive metal box on wheels into me?"

Seriously. People would walk by my bed after visiting a family member and politely say, "What happened?" and I'd explained I'd been hit by a car. They'd ask, as if by rote, "Were you wearing a helmet?"

I had a nurse more or less tell me to my face that I "deserved it" because I wasn't wearing a helmet. I was dumbfounded. My dad told one off at one point, telling her A) I had no head injuries and more importantly that B) I was HIT BY AN SUV WHO WASN'T PAYING ATTENTION.

So there it is. I saw a forum post that alluded to there being less empathy and legal action for cyclists who are hit by cars if they are helmetless. I think that's pretty awful. I am not going to enter the argument about whether there should be a helmet law - maybe there should be. In my case, I'd hope there was a shoulder pad and rib pad law as well because I sure am in a lot of pain in those areas.

But maybe there should be a law about looking both ways when you turn in an intersection so you don't hit cyclists while you talk on the phone? Oh wait, there already is one. Ok, maybe we should have a law that forces society to enforce those existing laws. Just an idea.

Editor's Note: Before you flay us alive in the Forums about promoting non-helmet use, take a deep breath, re-read what he wrote and then, if you still feel so inclined, let loose...


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