Lessig (1995, pp. 964–965) writes:

Before the 1960s, motorcyclists in Soviet Russia did not wear helmets. In part this was because of a lack of any perceived need to wear helmets; in part it was because the Soviet economy failed to produce any helmets. Helmets were worn in Western Europe, however, and like most Western goods, by the late 1950s, helmets were slowly finding their way into Soviet Russia. Soon, some Russians began to wear motorcycle helmets produced in Western Europe. The primary design of these was French, and they were what we would now think of as half-helmets, primarily white.

When these helmets first began to appear, the Soviet government quickly reacted against them. For despite bearing the medical costs associated with cycling accidents, the Soviets perceived a much greater cost to the Soviet state associated with individuals wearing helmets, that is, the invasion of Western style. Because helmets were produced only in the West, wearing them was a political statement antithetical to the message the Soviet government wanted broadcast.

Thus began an extraordinary and self-conscious campaign by the Soviet government to vilify the wearers of motorcycle helmets. Cartoons appeared in the popular (read: government-controlled) press, mocking the "white heads" on cycles. By the early 1960s, people began wearing helmets only at night, to avoid easy detection.

The night-riding behavior suggests the campaign attacking helmet wearing as "imperialism" had some effect. For no laws were passed banning the wearing of helmets. The campaign, to the extent it had some effect on behavior, had its effect through stigma only. And to the extent behavior changed, this indicated that to some degree the Soviet government succeeded in stigmatizing those who wore white helmets.

Lessig cites no sources whatsoever for the above story. So I am looking for more credible sources/information as to whether there was ever any such anti-helmet campaign in the Soviet Union.

  • 9
    Considering that since 1967, wearing helmet has been mandatory in USSR (only 6 years after such a law was first introduced in Australia), looks false to me. Will do a bit more research and maybe post an answer if I find anything definitive.
    – sashkello
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 0:44
  • 7
    "Because helmets were produced only in the West"... this is where I call "nonsense" on the text. The Soviet Union did not shy away from copying any and all kinds of technology, from nuclear bombs to supersonic aircraft. Saying that the Soviet Union would rather ban the use of helmets rather than make their own brand of helmets in order to avoid importing helmets reeks of utter nonsense.
    – user32299
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 13:29
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    Here is a video from 1943: youtube.com/watch?v=d-sMBehwNq8 and at least some of the cyclists are wearing helmets. This limits the scope of the question to the surge of cartoons against western-style (white?) helmets. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 18:29
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    @sashkello a 1969 or 1970 Soviet article says "But the lack of helmets has made it impossible to make them compulsory in many cities and republics" books.google.com/…
    – DavePhD
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 12:31
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    @DavePhD Yes, there are lots of sources directly contradicting each other. Russian wikipedia says 1967, but links to a dead webpage. Probably was moved here: gibdd.ru/about/history This is official Russian Traffic Police webpage, and places the ban in 60's. I have a feeling that there was an older version of this webpage which has been edited, as some regional GIBDD pages do have slightly altered similar quote, which says 1967. This is where this information originates. I wasn't able to find the full text of the actual document it mentions.
    – sashkello
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 3:44


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