Danielo made a rather provocative declaration a few days back: "Part of the argument of bicycle helmets vs. no helmets is that when cyclists wear helmets, they, and the drivers around them, are less concerned about safety." (To see his comment in the original context, click HERE.)
Could this be true? Could wearing a helmet actually lead to increased danger when riding?
His comment got me to remembering a story John Stossel did on the teevee a few months back. He was asking the same question - could a law requiring people to wear bike helmets have unintended consequences?
A fella over in the UK named Ian Walker did some tests. He rode his bike with and without a helmet... and discovered that when he had his helmet on, 23% more cars came within three feet of him.
Walker's conclusion: "[The drivers are] saying, 'He knows what he's doing.' When they see a cyclist who has all the gear, they think it's a sign of someone who's experienced and skillful." And so those drivers don't exercise quite so much care.
To further test the theory, Walker tried another experiment. He replaced his bike helmet with a blonde woman's wig. And discovered if people thought they were closing in on a "blonde," they were extra cautious! (nudge-nudge, wink-wink)
Economists have a word for it - "The Peltzman Effect." People adjusting their behavior in ways that counteract the desired safety effect.
Hmmm. Do blonde wigs come in size XL?
(Actually I'll never abandon the brain-bucket. In 20+ years of wearing helmets faithfully, I've been very glad on two occasions. And helmet or no helmet... I've evolved to the point where it just takes too dang long to recover, after bouncing off the asphalt!)
You can read more of John Stossel's "Hazardous Safety Regulations" commentary HERE.