Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bike Helmet = Less Safe?

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.


Apertome said...

I have heard the same argument (and read that "study," but I'm not convinced. First of all, Walker's tests are informal, and the results seem questionable to me.

While I agree that avoiding an accident in the first place is ideal, that's not always possible; even if you never make mistakes, other people will, whether or not you're wearing a helmet. I'd much rather wear one and not need it than get in an accident and splatter my brains on the pavement.

I guess to me, a helmet is like a seatbelt: Its inherent safety value far outweighs whatever small amount of discomfort it may cause.

Bikeboy said...

I agree 100% with what you're saying, apertome. Better to have it on and not need it, than to need it and not have it on.

I'm also a motorcycle rider. And IMO, it's TOTALLY ludicrous (in a disturbing way) that so many of the "macho" bikers don't wear a helmet... but they love to get decked out in leather jacket and britches, etc. (Supposedly for "safety" purposes.) Oh - and they make their bikes as noisy as possible, because "loud pipes save lives." Ha!

Are they saying, "Ah - I can deal with a brain injury, but I sure don't want some nasty road rash!"

motorcycle blog:

Smudgemo said...

Until someone says that I'm more likely to suffer brain damage or a spinal FROM wearing a helmet in a crash, I'll keep wearing mine, thank you. I don't care how much the risk goes up cars come close.

My personal safety test was using my Niterider tail light in the day. It's got 16 LED's and is very bright even in the day. I really did notice drivers being more careful as they passed me. Doesn't this mean we should all keep our helmets and utilize bright lights?

And really. Calling John Stosell an investigative reporter is laughable. This is the guy who said Al Gore is only drumming up fear about global warning (as if Republicans have a monopoly on scare tactics.)

Oh no, I think I just wet my pants!

Sorry for being surly. I just hate these dumb-ass "studies" like the guy claiming men should not bike because of the effects of the saddle. Uh-huh. Possible, I suppose, but not enough to outweigh the benefits by a long shot.

Bikeboy said...

Hey, smudgemo... regarding Stossel (and Gore)... I didn't call Stossel an "investigative reporter." Musta been somebody else. Those network newsmagazine talking heads are mostly "entertainers." However, I appreciate Stossel's willingness to not go along with mainstream media. (I don't always agree with Stossel, or anybody else.)

Regarding Gore... while I don't discount global warming, I'm skeptical about humankind's being able to do anything about it (or having the will). And I know Gore isn't doing anything about it, other than lending his voice. (I don't buy that carbon-credits hokum. Walk the walk, you big phony!) Sadly, I think Gore and the late-arriving Heinz-Kerrys, are making a pathetic joke out of a topic that maybe should be serious.

Smudgemo said...

About Stossel, I'm not suggesting anything in particular was said by anyone in particular, so my apologies for any offense given. I'm just saying I've seen enough of the guy to not bother listening to anything he's got to say.

With global warming, I figure we don't have much to lose if we give it our best shot, and a whole lot to lose if we don't. The thing that irritates me to no end is people that publicly dismiss it for whatever reason (be it political or profit motivated) which makes it easy for the average person to think that, well, maybe I'm not really doing any real damage with my little bit of driving/yard watering/consumerism type behavior. I didn't worry so much in the past, but having little kids, I'd like to think they will get a chance to grow up in a nice environment. One may not agree with the tact Gore is taking, but he is creating awareness, and the general public is thinking about the issue.