Bike helmets are perhaps the most important safety equipment for cyclists all over New York. They reduce the odds of serious head injuries, brain injuries and even death. They do help, and every cyclist should wear one.
That said, there's one key way in which a helmet actually puts you at risk. Multiple studies have found that drivers will give you less space when they pass if you have a helmet on.
If you've cycled much in New York, you know how frightening that is. A lot of drivers barely give you any space already, executing what many refer to as a "punishment pass." With a helmet, it sometimes feels like they're almost on top of the bike.
Why do they do it? It's an interesting psychological effect. Basically, they assume you know what you're doing. You look like an experienced, safe, predictable cyclist. They do not feel like you're going to suddenly weave into traffic or make a serious error. Therefore, they don't give you as much of a cushion.
There's also something to be said for the perception of safety. Drivers know that helmets protect bicyclists. This makes them feel like an accident won't be as serious as if the cyclist wasn't wearing a helmet. They may not consciously think that it's safe to get too close, but they shy away from helmetless riders because they worry that even minor contact could result in serious injuries or death.
Riding a bike is dangerous, with or without a helmet. If you get hit, you need to know how to seek financial compensation for your medical bills and related costs.