Wear a Helmet and Insist That Others Do, Then Argue About Laws (8)

Shouldn't safety come before convenience? (Pärnu Postimees/Scanpix)
Kristopher Rikken
6/6/2014 10:53 AM
Category: Opinion

When I read Juho Kalberg's piece about bicycle helmet laws and how they can't be an excuse for not providing better traffic culture and infrastructure, I found myself nodding along with the libertarian and urban planning aspects of his argument. But I also felt that his militancy - in the end, he derides helmets as "gadgets that increase discomfort" - might allow some junk science about safety to creep in, similar to arguing that seat belts are just a big nuisance.

Let's dispense with that right now, albeit with a very unscientific personal anecdote.

On September 14, 2012, a day before my birthday, I was riding a bicycle, without a helmet, back home from ETV studios in the Tallinn city center when a driver ploughed into me.

I was on the sidewalk on the left side of Liivalaia, which for most of its length has chaotic shared-use bike lanes, quite different from, say, Stockholm or Amsterdam city center. Like many Tallinn bicyclists I didn't dismount at the crossing (this is legal, incidentally, but the cyclist forfeits right of way).

The driver going the opposite direction on Liivalaia made a right turn on to Lastekodu street much too fast and hit me. My right shin, pinned between the frame and the car's bumper, absorbed some of the impact and transferred it to the bike, which ended up 25 meters away. I went flying, too, but took more of a vertical trajectory. My head hit the asphalt. Luckily some of the force was absorbed by my shoulder, but there was a gash. I didn't lose consciousness but the center of my field of vision was gone - like someone with macular degeneration - which scared me the most. I read the car's license plate with my peripheral vision and tried to commit it to memory.

Tallinn was quiet that late summer morning and there didn't seem to be anyone around. Feeling close to panic, I accepted the driver's offer - a friendly guy with Siberian features who spoke no languages I knew - to take me to the hospital a few blocks away. I kept on saying the license plate under my breath like a mantra, for the potential police report, but it slipped away. As we drove, he continued to chat with his wife in the front seat, not looking at the road, and take corners much too fast.

When I tell the story of that incident, I see it as a microcosm of life in Estonia. The at-times terrible driving. Emergency care was prompt and excellent, except for some reason radiology seemed understaffed. After I went into the CAT scanner once, I was left unattended, and I kept on going in and out of the machine for a while as the conveyor belt made a clicking noise. I assume the hospital wouldn't waste valuable radiation and the stream was off, but am not sure.

I was lucky. My vision came back. The scan found some "pieces" - never really explained in a way a patient could understand (what were they, superficial clots, skull fragments?), let alone the implications. I was released, walked home, and lived in fear for the next 6-36 hours that I would start getting sleepy, but no hematoma developed. It was an extremely boring birthday, I was in bed for a week, then returned to work but had some multitasking problems for about two weeks.

Could this happen to you? Of course it could. It would take a much softer tap from a car to send you flying. And it does happen. In fact two years earlier, also on Liivalaia, riding leisurely, I had ended up on my back, crushing a perfectly good laptop. What happened was that I saw a car on the sidewalk coming toward me (standard procedure in Tallinn before the new Traffic Act made parking on sidewalks illegal) and I overreacted and lost balance. 

Falling 2 meters onto asphalt can easily kill a person, and you don't need to be going at a Schumacher-like horizontal speed. It's exactly these sorts of everyday fender benders where wearing a helmet makes all the difference. These are the most common types of injuries, not those cases where a car on a motorway hits someone at high speed from behind.

I have not been back on a bike in two years, helmet or no. Maybe helmet laws cause bicyclist numbers to drop - the part of Juho Kalberg's piece that I am most skeptical of - but in my case you could say that not wearing a helmet decreased the cyclist population by one in the long term. Whereas if you make wearing a helmet a habit right away, it probably isn't that onerous a burden.

Wear a helmet, people - and strongly urge anyone you care about not to tool around in Tallinn on a bike without one. Then let's talk about the laws and what Tallinn City can do, or is doing too slowly.


The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}

Message forwarded to the editor

This Ip-address has limited access

See also

There are no comments yet. Be the first!

Reply to comment

+{{childComment.ReplyToName}}:
Reply to comment
Reply

Laadi juurde ({{take2}})
The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}
Add new comment
  • foto
    Opinion digest: Open Enterprise Estonia’s consultation services and assessments to competition
    29.11

    Enterprise Estonia handed out advice to companies, and assessed whether or not they should receive public support, without being economically accountable, lawyer Taivo Ruus wrote in a Postimees opinion piece on Monday. This needed to change, and these activities delegated to professionals.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: The Reform Party’s new role
    28.11

    After 17 years in government, Reform needed to find to a new role, and instead of being the manager of the Estonian state become a debater. How the party would get used to its new position, no longer able to dictate the political agenda, remained to be seen, said political scientist Mari-Liis Jakobson in a comment on Vikerraadio on Friday.

  • foto
    Andrus Karnau: Minister of Rural Affairs likely to be replaced
    28.11

    Speaking on Sunday’s Raadio 2 broadcast of "State of the Union," radio show host Andrus Karnau found that the scandal to break out last week involving Martin Repinski’s goat farm was likely to culminate on Monday in his replacement as a minister of the newly-installed Estonian government.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Baltic states on front line of new Cold War
    25.11

    While the Baltic states would prefer full defensive capability, NATO is emphasizing its reinforcements’ function as a deterrent. The alliance would have to round off its military presence in the area with diplomacy, and political stability and dedication to liberal democratic values would play an important role maintaining the West’s solidarity, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putting Rail Baltica in its strategic context
    16.11

    In an opinion piece in daily Postimees, former EU commissioner Siim Kallas points out that Rail Baltica goes far beyond considerations of its route on Estonian soil, and the money the government will have to invest. On the contrary, there is a broader European meaning that includes considering the strategic situation of Estonia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Dynasties and democracy don't go well together
    14.11

    Speaking about the recent US presidential elections on Vikerraadio’s Sunday broadcast of "Samost and Rumm," hosts Anvar Samost and Hannes Rumm recognized that Donald Trump’s election win is being considered as the destruction of two political dynasties there, however democracy and dynasties don’t go well together anyway.

  • foto
    Opinion: Estonia’s lasting isolation
    12.11

    The fact that too many foreign journalists do not understand the Estonian language, and that they have no access to the local political culture and its players, has distorted reports abroad of what happened this week, writes ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Alo Lõhmus: Left turns and ‘silent submission’
    10.11

    The embarrassing conflation of the Reform Party’s self-image with the Estonian state is proof that it is high time they are sent into opposition, says journalist Alo Lõhmus.

  • foto
    Opinion: Getting rid of ruling party's privileges doesn't damage Estonia's reputation
    07.11

    On Friday, the ministers of the Social Democrats (SDE) and the Pro Patra and Res Publica Union (IRL) began calling back Reform Party members from the boards of state-owned companies and funds. The Reform Party’s reaction was an announcement published on Sunday — a rather strange one, finds ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Ärma is more than just numbers
    05.11

    Ärma Farm’s funding scandal was overshadowing the achievements of Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ presidency, including the fact that Estonia had benefited from state visits that Ilves hosted in Ärma, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) said to ERR on Thursday.

  • foto
    Benno Schirrmeister: Do Estonians dream of electric sheep?
    03.11

    On a journalist exchange in Estonia, Benno Schirrmeister of Bremen’s TAZ is highly informed, yet a blank slate as far as a foreigner’s experience of Estonia is concerned. In his first op-ed about Tallinn, he spots something beyond IT that Estonia could advertise — but doesn’t.

  • foto
    Erkki Bahovski: Was 1940 approach better than modern journalism's 'war hysteria'?
    01.11

    Linguist Urmas Sutrop has claimed that Estonian journalism is scaring people with the specter of war. Editor-in-Chief of monthly magazine Diplomaatia Erkki Bahovski, however, doesn’t agree.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Kremlin in danger of losing sense of reality
    25.10

    According to Ingo Mannteufel, head of the Department for Russia and Europe at Deutsche Welle, there is a possibility of the Kremlin starting to believe its own propaganda, which could lead to dangerous decisions both domestically and internationally.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Estonia’s stagnating politics
    21.10

    Estonia’s largest political parties had been going through the most serious crisis in their existence, and on top of that they had lost their most important function, namely to formulate a vision of the country’s future, daily Postimees wrote in its Friday editorial.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putin exploiting power vacuum created by U.S. presidential elections
    20.10

    According to director of Tallinn’s International Centre for Defence and Security and former ambassador to Russia, Jüri Luik, the increased tensions over the past few weeks between Russia and the West indicate Putin’s wish to exploit the ambiguous mood before the U.S. presidential elections as much as possible.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Time to return to discussing serious issues
    19.10

    In a stinging opinion piece in published in the daily Eesti Päevaleht, member of the Riigikogu Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform) condemned the Estonian media as well as the country’s elites for their obsession with what he sees as pointless topics, while disregarding the last few weeks’ unsettling developments concerning Russia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Legally speaking, everything is proper
    18.10

    After Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ decade in office, and after he promoted Estonia like no other president did before him, his legacy is now tainted by the fact that he seems to have gone for a substantial state grant in 2006 that he never put to use — and of which he will now pay back just a tenth.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Closer to Warsaw, farther away from Estonia
    14.10

    In a recent opinion piece in daily Postimees, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote that one way to look at Rail Baltic was as a step towards the level other countries had already reached in terms of speed and comfort of their railway connections. The main weakness of this point of view was the fact that in Estonia, it lacked the necessary social context.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Leadership change in Reform needed for potential coalition with Center Party
    13.10

    For a potential future coalition with the Center Party, the Reform Party needed to change its leader as well, Social Democratic MP and chairman of the Riigikogu’s Foreign Affairs Committee Sven Mikser wrote in a comment on social media on Friday.

  • foto
    Matthew Crandall: President Ilves’ global impact
    11.10

    The greatest accomplishment of President Toomas Hendrik Ilves is that he branded Estonia as a modern and innovative 21st century country, and brought it out of post-Soviet obscurity, writes Tallinn University’s Matthew Crandall.

  • foto
    The shackles of history and modern life in the fast lane: Estonia's experience in the migration crisis
    06.10

    The uncertain public performances of Estonian politicians and poor explanatory work were to blame for a considerable increase in public distrust during the migration crisis, found ERR journalist Greete Palmiste, working in Bremen on an international journalists' exchange, in an opinion piece written for German publication taz.die Tageszeitung.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Kersti Kaljulaid on the concepts of ethical nationalism and confident Estonians
    29.09

    On Friday, Aug. 12, Estonian representative to the European Court of Auditors Kersti Kaljulaid delivered a patriotic speech on the Postimees Stage at the 2016 Opinion Festival in Paide in which she expanded on two words and two respective ideas she found important for her country that were represented by the two letter Es in its native-language name Eesti: eetiline (ethical) and enesekindel (confident).

  • foto
    This mess we're in: Picking up the pieces after Saturday's elections
    28.09

    From Saturday’s election fiasco to Tuesday’s sudden emergence of a likely cross-party candidate: ERR News editor Dario Cavegn makes an attempt at explaining Estonia’s seemingly chaotic quest to find its next president.

  • foto
    Opinion: The decline of Estonian as a language of science starts abroad
    20.09

    The Estonian language as a language of science is only sustainable in those subject areas that offer undergraduate courses in Estonian, and with which students begin their university education, finds ERR science portal editor Marju Himma.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Current approach to reform won't help municipalities
    19.09

    The Center Party’s presidential candidate, Mailis Reps, wrote in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees on Sunday that the Administrative Reform Act was a disappointment to Estonia’s municipalities, and that relations between local and central government were in a crisis.

  • foto
    Opinion: Jüri Nikolajev in response to the Ida-Viru secret memo
    16.09

    Describing himself as "wearily spiteful" instead of angry, ERR's Narva correspondent Jüri Nikolajev responded to the top secret memo on Ida-Viru County that leaked recently, calling Estonians to figuratively not leave their property laying around if they did not want anyone else to take it for themselves.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Sulev Vedler on the secret memo on Ida-Viru County
    15.09

    In 2015, the Government Security Committee received a secret memo containing a dark assessment of the future of Ida-Viru County, Estonia's most northeastern and predominantly Russian-speaking county, which was compiled by Ilmar Raag, who worked as a strategic communicatins advisor at the Stenbock House at the time. Estonian journalist Sulev Vedler responded to the memo by compiling various reactions to issues it addressed.

  • foto
    Opinion: Alo Lõhmus on the definition of Estonian citizen by blood
    14.09

    Journalist Alo Lõhmus explored the right to Estonian citizenship by "jus sanguinis," Latin for right of blood, as it relates to one's eligibility to run for president — an issue which has had particular attention drawn to it recently after members of a competing political party attempted to cast doubt on the status of presidential candidate Marina Kaljurand's Estonian citizenship.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Erkki Bahovski on Finland and the alleged Baltic scheming
    13.09

    Columnist Erkki Bahovski commented on the curious, decidedly defensive turn that seemed to be taken by Finland's Social Democrats following the release of a lengthy report by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (UPI) which suggested that Russia, in its own self-interest, is attempting to hamper Finland's total integration with the West.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Siim Kallas thinks real estate tax effective way to finance local government
    13.09

    The Reform Party’s presidential candidate, Siim Kallas, said in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees that an estate tax, more precisely a tax levied on real estate, could be considered to finance local government.