Lack of helmet use has a clear link to serious injuries to the head, neck and spine resulting from bicycle accidents and the City of Chicago could follow other cities’ leads by rolling out a helmet distribution program to accompany the Divvy bike sharing service that allows people looking for healthy alternatives to travel to pick up a bike from one of many locations spread throughout Chicago and to return it later that day. The helmets would be distributed via machines that would allow bicyclists to obtain a helmet for a rental fee and to return it later into another receptacle so that it can be properly cleaned and sanitized. If successful, the hope is that more bicyclists riding in the city will use helmets, reducing the number of serious injuries that occur in accidents.
Varying Degrees of Success Elsewhere
Chicago will not be the first city to attempt the feat of encouraging bicyclists to wear helmets. Boston and Seattle have both rolled out their own programs and seen varied levels of success. In Boston machines similar to the ones Chicago is planning to use were placed throughout its Hubway system— the equivalent of Chicago’s Divvy service. The machines failed to encourage enough cyclists to obtain helmets and the machines were later removed. Boston still offers helmets to Hubway users but they must now purchase them at the time they buy a membership.
In Seattle, helmets are available to anyone who wishes to use one for no charge. The free rental service provides adjustable helmets and those who opt to use the program may borrow the helmets for twenty four hours before returning them to be cleaned. Thus far, the program is still in effect today.
Main Concerns Related to Publicly Shared Helmets
While bike helmet programs offer a solution to the dilemma of encouraging bicycle safety, there are some significant concerns that must be addressed. These concerns are primarily expressed by the people who would use the helmets and have reservations wearing a helmet that has been shared with others.
- Sanitation— while the helmet program promises to provide clean and sanitary helmets, riders are concerned about the spread of infections, lice and disease if the helmets are not properly disinfected.
- Helmet quality— while all helmets issued through the program would be presumed to meet safety standards, there are concerns as to whether the previous wears would have mistreated or damaged the helmets before returning them and at what point the helmets would be removed from circulation.
- Cost— helmets won’t be free and the cost of renting one may dissuade cyclists from renting one, which is why the program in Seattle offers the helmets at no charge. The cost of providing free helmets may not fit into the City of Chicago’s budget due to current financial struggles, so the helmets will need to be paid for through rental fees.
When Chicago rolls out this helmet program, those concerned with the alarming statistics concerning the link between severe injury and refusal of cyclists to wear helmets may breathe a sigh of relief, but only time will tell whether the rental service will have the intended benefit. The difference in injuries suffered in bicycle accidents of similar nature when the victim has worn a helmet compared to when a helmet was not used is staggering enough to encourage those educated on the issue to use a helmet. However, even if the City of Chicago provides easy accessibility to helmets it is still up to the individual to decide whether or not to wear one.
At least this time there will be one fewer excuse for people who adamantly try to find one to proceed without wearing the piece of equipment that may very well save their lives.