Do helmet laws discourage cycling?

From the Freakanomics blog over at nyt.com comes this interesting post regarding helmet laws and the intended and unintended consequences of those laws,

“There is also robust evidence for an unintended and previously undocumented mechanism: helmet laws produced modest but statistically significant reductions in youth bicycling participation of 4-5 percent.”

And why might helmet laws lead to less people actually getting out there and riding their bike for commuting or pleasure purposes?

1. The cost of helmets, both monetary and social — i.e., Helmets are uncool, so if I’ve got to wear a helmet to ride my bike, I’ll find something else to do.

2. “There is evidence that youths have suboptimally high discount rates (Gruber 2001), such that some youths might place too little weight on the expected gain in future utility from the prevention of injury or death relative to the costs of wearing helmets today.”

3. Bike-helmet laws lower the price of activities similar to biking — skateboarding, rollerblading, etc. — that do not require a helmet.”

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