Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bike Helmet Follies

"One common denominator of successful bike programs around the world — from Paris to Barcelona to Guangzhou — is that almost no one wears a helmet, and there is no pressure to do so. In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion...'Pushing helmets really kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn’t justified — in fact, cycling has many health benefits,' says Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney. He studied the issue with mathematical modeling, and concludes that the benefits may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1. He adds: 'Statistically, if we wear helmets for cycling, maybe we should wear helmets when we climb ladders or get into a bath, because there are lots more injuries during those activities.'" [Elisabeth Rosenthal, NYT op-ed]

I like the comments part of the article.  The idiot parade is in full swing.  The claim is not that (1) wearing a helmet is a bad idea, or that (2) wearing a helmet should be illegal.  The claim is that the statistical risks are in line with wearing a helmet when you brush your teeth.  People slip and fall in the bathroom, sometimes, and hit their heads.  Not very often.  And the survivable accidents on bikes where a helmet matters are statistically rare.

Now I fully expect some goofball to comment and say, "A helmet saved the life of my cousin's stepdaughter!"  Yes.  And your dad should have worn a condom.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis, who likely wears a helmet when he brushes his teeth)

4 comments:

Unknown said...

This goofball submits that his friend's brother wore a bike helmet and still got turned into a quad.

-Bayou Jack

Gerardo said...

"Statistically, if we wear helmets for cycling, maybe we should wear helmets when we climb ladders or get into a bath, because there are lots more injuries during those activities"

That statement is sub-moronic. You should have been tipped off by the fact he started it with the word 'Statistically.' Risk isn't measured by counting up bodies -- it's measured by bodies per unit of exposure. Driving at midnight is riskier than driving at noon, even though more people get killed driving at noon. "Statistically, knife fights are not very dangerous..."

On that score, the article says that the "per mile" risks of walking and biking are about the same. In other words, the per minute risks for biking are much higher than for walking.

Your last point about survivable accidents on bikes where a helmet matters are statistically rare is fair. But, then that statement goes in spades for wearing a seat belt. The "per mile" risks of riding in a car without a seat belt are still orders of magnitude lower than riding on a bike.

John D. said...

Helmets or no helmets, I don't much care. But "your dad should have worn a condom" is priceless.

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