What is the story with the helmet signs now painted on roads? They are basically putting them at any bike lane or bike marker on the inside of a driving lane. I don't understand how more paint on the road will help drivers or cyclists. Why isnt there seat-belt signs too if this is such a concern? It seems like they want to put the responsibility on the cyclist and take it off the drivers. I am a heavy advocate for helmets, but this seems backwards to me.

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They’re part of last year’s ill-conceived “safety campaign” by the Boston Public Health Commission.  I wrote about it here.  As far as I’m concerned, they can’t fade away fast enough.  

You’re absolutely right, adding graphics like those to the road doesn’t help anyone.  Everyone knows about helmets, there’s no need to “raise awareness” of their existence.  And people will either use them or they won’t—a sign intended to shame helmet-less bikers isn’t going to change that.  They’re a waste of paint at best, and a dangerous distraction at worst.

Also, speaking of backwards, it looks like the guy’s helmet is on backwards.  The campaign cost $40k, you’d think they’d at least be able to hire a competent graphic designer.

So yeah, feel free to paint over them in the middle of the night.  Just kidding.  That would be illegal.


The Helmet Dilemma


If you’re a Boston biker, you probably heard about the Boston Public Health Commission’s recent helmet campaign.  In an attempt to encourage bikers to wear helmets, the BPHC commissioned graphic posters (see below) of injured cyclists which were displayed prominently around the city.

I recently met with Nick Martin, the Director of Communications at the Boston Public Health Commission, to discuss the campaign.  I have two main problems with this effort, and I thought I’d share them here.

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Hi Josh - I no longer live in Boston (though I might again in the near future), and stumbled upon your site when a friend forwarded me your "Putting your foot down: Part I" posting. My question is whether there is a legal requirement to wear a helmet while riding on the roads (as opposed to, say, bike paths). Many states have helmet laws for motorcyclists, and while the speeds on a bicycle are lower, the danger remains. If there is no helmet law currently, would you support one? Thanks! -Dave

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Hey Dave,

The helmet law in Massachusetts (MGL ch. 85 §11B) only mandates helmets for cyclists age 16 or younger. This applies everywhere bikes can be ridden.

As for whether I would support a law that requires everyone to wear a helmet when riding their bike, the answer is no. After a minor accident in college left me with a concussion and seven staples in the back of my head, I wear a helmet whenever I’m on a bike, without exception. And I think that everyone on a bike should do the same. However, a law mandating bike helmets is not the way to achieve that goal.

When I was a summer police officer on Nantucket many years ago, I was tasked with enforcing the town’s bike helmet law. I quickly realized that hassling tourists about something that didn’t directly endanger anyone but themselves was a waste of time. Like so many issues related to bike safety, the focus should be on education — not legislation (zing!).

Also, I fully support efforts to make it cheaper and easier for everyone to get themselves a helmet. Check out H.E.L.L. — they’re supported entirely by donations and provide a great service.