Though media coverage of the pandemic has been almost entirely grim, there have been a few reports of good news amid the heartbreak: air and water pollution levels are down, as is the number of motor vehicle crashes. More good news: sales of bicycles are up during the lockdown.

Helmets not made for bicycle accidents

Of course, head protection is among the most useful accessories for new bicyclists. But a spokesperson for a leading helmet-maker says bicyclists shouldn’t count on bicycle helmets for protection in collisions with cars, SUVs or trucks.

“There are many misconceptions about helmets,” said Eric Richter, senior brand development manager at Giro. “We do not design helmets specifically to reduce chances or severity of injury when impacts involve a car.”

In 2016, half of bicyclists killed in crashes with motor vehicles in the U.S. weren’t wearing helmets. An unknown portion of the other half were killed in those collisions though they were wearing helmets.

A recent Forbes article pointed out that it’s “obvious” that lightweight helmets (often made of expanded polystyrene) do little to protect the head in violent collisions with fast-moving metal vehicles weighing upwards of a ton.

Heavyweight vehicles

Note: The lightest vehicle sold in the U.S. is the Mitsubishi Mirage, weighing 2,000 pounds (exactly one ton). Popular passenger vehicles such as the Ram 3500 Crew Cab (6,728 pounds), GMC Sierra 3500 HD Crew Cab (6,717 pounds), Lincoln Navigator L (6,089 pounds), Toyota Sequoia (5,985 pounds) and many others, weigh much more.

Of course, many Los Angeles bicyclists who don’t wear helmets say that some drivers shout epithets at them for not wearing head gear.

Too close for safety

The Forbes writer argues that helmet-clad bicyclists can be at risk of a “close pass” by motorists who wrongly assume that helmets protect cyclists’ heads in collisions with vehicles, so it’s OK to get nice and close when overtaking those on two wheels.

In fact, a 2007 study found that bicyclists without helmets are afforded greater distance by passing vehicles. Psychologist Ian Walker measured the passing distances of vehicles as rode his bike daily, half of the time with his helmet and half of the time without. Using a bicycle equipped with a camera and a distance-measuring device, he recorded 2,500 passes, finding that vehicles were “significantly closer” to him on average when he wore his helmet.

He repeated the study with a statistician in 2018, with similar results.

While bicycle helmets aren’t designed for collisions with vehicles, they do offer useful protection when cyclists crash to the street after hitting a curb and in collisions with other bikes, tree branches and so on.

Bicyclists have the right to share the streets of Los Angeles. Those who have been injured in crashes with cars have every to pursue justice with the help of an attorney devoted to protecting bicyclists.