Is your home town or city suffering from a critical shortage of bike helmets, a situation that is nothing short of life-threatening. We live on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, and we are desperately in need of bike helmets.  According to my own painstaking research, approximately 47.6% of on-island bike riders have not been able to buy, rent, or otherwise obtain bike helmets  and thus are forced to ride with their heads unprotected.  

In hard numbers, Martha’s Vineyard needs as many as 5,000 bike helmets for adults and children because that’s how many bikers are riding around with their heads unprotected. If–as I suspect–there’s a national shortage of these life-saving devices, then the US could possibly have as many helmetless riders as we do unvaccinated citizens.  That would be 93,000,000 people….and perhaps there’s a significant overlap among the two groups.  

How can I be sure that people riding without a helmet here on the Vineyard aren’t just being cavalier?  Well, for one thing, no one willingly rides without a helmet, because that’s risking a serious and possibly life-altering brain injury. Riding without wearing a bike helmet is something only willfully ignorant or desperately poor people do, and because Martha’s Vineyard attracts well-educated, financially secure people, we can reasonably assume that everyone would be wearing helmets if only they were available.

It’s heart-wrenching to see entire families riding around the Vineyard without helmets.  Sure, they are smiling bravely, putting on a good show of enjoying themselves, but it’s clear to me that they know they’re risking serious head injuries.  I am pretty sure that I’ve seen helmetless riders cycling with their fingers crossed, and I can easily imagine the adults lying awake at night worrying about the next day’s bike ride.

It’s particularly poignant to see cycling families where the children are wearing helmets while the parents are not. How Mom and Dad must have anguished about that decision.  Imagine their conversation after the children have gone to sleep:

DAD “Dear, we can afford only two helmets.  If the kids wear them and we have an accident, who will take care of them while we recover from our brain injuries–if in fact we recover at all?”  

MOM: “But if we wear helmets and the kids get badly injured, we’ll never forgive ourselves.”

DAD: “We can’t cancel biking because we promised the kids.”

MOM: “We have to protect our children.  So let’s give them the helmets. We must just smile and pretend nothing is wrong.’

This desperate crisis can can be solved here on the Vineyard (and perhaps in your community) in three ways: 

1) Cooperative helmet-sharing in which the ‘haves’ willingly loan their helmets to the helmet-poor on alternating days of the week.  We can create a Facebook page, and those who have helmets to share can list their names and town of residence.  And shame on any helmet-rich individuals who refuse to share!

2) A Steamship Authority surcharge of at least $5 per bike on all bikes arriving on ferries, even those on bike racks; and 

3) An EZ Pass toll system for those using our bike paths.  Toll booths can be set up at popular bike path junctions and on the roads to charge $10 for a day of biking. The booths can be manned by summer workers, and Dukes County can issue the EZ passes.

Steps 2 and 3 should raise enough money to have helmets shipped from helmet-rich countries like Portugal and Ecuador, while helmet-sharing, if we all pitch in, should see us through the crisis. 

One piece of contradictory evidence is troubling me: All the bike shops on the Vineyard say they have plenty of bike helmets in all shapes, colors, and sizes, and that suggests that perhaps the riders who are going helmetless are not desperate. Perhaps they are either willfully ignorant or desperately poor.

And they all seem to be pretty well-dressed.  Hmmmm…..


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