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Wearing helmets less safe?

Old 12-12-06, 09:57 AM
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Wearing helmets less safe?

In the 12/10 edition of the NY Times magazine (that comes with the Sunday edition), they list dozens of the year's "new ideas." These are 3 to 4 paragraphs on something new that was created or written this year. Many are academic papers that appears in one journal or another. It is always an interesting read.

One item reported on a Cambridge (in the UK) professor who wondered if riding with a helmet was less dangerous than riding without one. He defined "less dangerous" as getting hit by vehicles (versus getting brain damage when you do get hit, I guess). So, he rigged his bike with a device that recorded the distance between it and a passing car and rode around Cambridge (which I've done and is plenty scary) and recorded the distance between him and 2500 cars both when he was wearing and not wearing a helmet. What he found was that cars passed closer to him when he was wearing a helmet than when he wasn't. During the study, he was hit twice, both times wearing a helmet.

His explained this by saying that maybe drivers think that helmeted riders are more skilled so they can pass closer to them. Personally, I doubt that car drivers even think about bike riders they pass, but something would have to explain it. That said, the guy doesn't like wearing a helmet so he may be trying to prove something he already believes. You can read the article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/ma...=1&oref=slogin.

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Old 12-12-06, 10:07 AM
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This was already posted several weeks ago.
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Old 12-12-06, 10:19 AM
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Originally Posted by womble
This was already posted several weeks ago.
and I still don't believe it.
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Old 12-12-06, 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by womble
This was already posted several weeks ago.
Actually posted several times several weeks ago.

The big problem with the idea is that if you stop and think about it what is very likely happening is that the drivers who do care and worry about cyclists are giving riders without helmets even more space. So the average space goes up, but who cares about that? I sure don't. Why care if a driver is 4' or 4'6" away? it is the difference between 6" and contact that matters.
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Old 12-12-06, 10:52 AM
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This war again?
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Old 12-12-06, 11:10 AM
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It's not a war, I actually hadn't heard this one. Anyway the pro helmet lot are always quoting their dotty studies.

"The big problem with the idea is that if you stop and think about it what is very likely happening is that the drivers who do care and worry about cyclists are giving riders without helmets even more space. "

Good guess, so you would rather be amongst those who don't get the space and get hit more often? This has always been one of the anti helmet folks objections that everyone is over-confident with helmets, both riders and drivers.

I think it is a little worrying that he got hit twice. I have never been hit by a car, and I therefore wonder how representative he/study participants are as cyclists.
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Old 12-12-06, 01:31 PM
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I'm sorry for a) posting this again (I didn't see it the first time) and b) breaking the truce in the helmet wars.

In addition to the study, my attention was caught by the fact that the data was taken in Cambridge. I have in-laws in Cambridge and have ridden through it twice. Like many college towns, it does have some bike paths that are separate from the roadway (but shared by pedestrians). However, the streets without bike paths are scary. They are the usual English roadways where the lanes go to the curb and bikes actually share the lane with autos.

I don't like riding through Cambridge and I can see where an extra few inches would be meaningful!!

That said, Cambridge is a fabulous place to visit.

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Old 12-12-06, 03:11 PM
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I'd believe that in Britain, drivers would give you more space. When riding there on narrow roads, I often found that people would not pass. According to several people in pubs it's because drivers fear they will never be able to afford to drive again if they hit a cyclist.

In North America my fear is not being seen at all! Here people don't see bikes, because they are looking for cars. A helmet and bright, reflective clothing is advisable, just for survival.
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Old 12-12-06, 05:24 PM
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Originally Posted by stokell
In North America my fear is not being seen at all! Here people don't see bikes, because they are looking for cars. A helmet and bright, reflective clothing is advisable, just for survival.
I have actually experimented with clothing colors and indeed, dull clothing keeps you invisible, normally bright colors only is partially effective but dayglow colors work really well.
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Old 12-12-06, 07:51 PM
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It's obviously a flawed study by a scientific standpoint.

Anyhow, I've do believe that a helmet does help in preventing some injuries like being descalped if you wreck or abrasions or roadrash to the head. I don't think they help much if you are hit at 55mph by a SUV. To me, if it reduces the risk of injury by even 10 percent, it's worth wearing.

I do wear a helmet but I believe it should be a choice if you do or not. I would never scold another bicyclist for not wearing one nor bring up the subject unless the non-helmeted rider brings it up first.

But again, it should be a personal choice, not a choice made for you.
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Old 12-12-06, 08:05 PM
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this goes in with religion and politics, not polite dinner conversation..
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Old 12-12-06, 08:56 PM
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I believe in helmets also and wear them whenever I jog, drive a car, or walk. Mostly anytime I am out of doors.
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Old 12-12-06, 11:20 PM
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Is this an example of a narrow minded study ? It assumes that driving closer to bikers is directly related to how many get hit. I would be willing to bet in nearly all cases a bike rider gets hit because the motorist doesn't see them. I don't know the stats but I would be willing to bet that at least 50 - 60% are caused by driver error. (The driver does not see when they should due to failure to maintain attention).

The fact is, the helmet doesn't do you much good if you take a hit by a car. In a bike crash it lowers the likelihood of head injury which is a good enough reason for most riders to wear one.

How about this. Does wearing a helmet make bike riders more careful since it reminds them of thier vulnerability to traffic injury. Or do they take more chances since they feel safer ? Interesting questions.
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Old 12-12-06, 11:45 PM
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This would be an interesting experiment to conduct in a simulator actually. Notwithstanding all the issues that simulators bring up, they are a good way to achieve control in a study. Tell the subject you're studying how they respond to certain stimuli, give them a navigation task to perform and along the route have them pass various cyclist models (cars and stuff too) to see how much distance they give them as they pass.

When I go riding, I'm personally not worried just about cars, I also worry about my own stupidity and steering. I always wear my helmet.
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Old 12-13-06, 03:36 AM
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This is old news. The study was rubbish. The number of cars he supposedly interacted with on that ride is fewer than I deal with on my commute to work everyday. By his "statistics", I should be getting hit 2-3 times a day (more often when you consider the type of drivers and the general "accident" rate in this city). Frankly, if I was getting hit that often, I'd consider hanging the bike up for good.
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Old 12-13-06, 12:53 PM
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Chris, I agree with the idea of questioning the whole culture. All studies are probably crap, most of all the ones that support the helmet industry, the governments taxers and mommy staters.

I don't doubt helmets save lives where head injuries are the issue. But cycling is not dangerous and those who wish to promote the idea that it is, are probably our number one enemy right now (though I don't actually care about anyone else's cycling than my own). Some forms of cycling are dangerous, you know who you are, the majority of cycling is not.

I don't really know anything about this particular study, but those who want to fight on cycling's behalf (waste of time, will be like the war on terror and the war on drugs we will end up with more jackass rules) will probably proceed with a healthy dose of misleading techno-BS. Telling truth to power is for suckers. There is not much that is more naive than the observation, in a political context, that a study is BS. Of course it's BS. The bigger the BS the better. On a purely tecno wonk level it's worth knowing where the truth ends and the BS starts, so fair to discuss these things just for the idle fun of it.
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Old 12-13-06, 09:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Peterpan1
Chris, I agree with the idea of questioning the whole culture. All studies are probably crap, most of all the ones that support the helmet industry, the governments taxers and mommy staters.

I don't doubt helmets save lives where head injuries are the issue. But cycling is not dangerous and those who wish to promote the idea that it is, are probably our number one enemy right now (though I don't actually care about anyone else's cycling than my own).
Not to mention the fact that helmets themsevles also have limitations. That said, I wear mine because I believe that whatever protection it does provide is better than none. However, I'm not nearly naive enough to think that it's going to save me from every conceivable impact. I also agree that overstating the dangers of cycling is a problem, especially if it distracts someone from the objective of riding without crashing.

I suppose arguing things like this back and forth does provide entertainment for people with not much to do at work, and in that context I have no problem. The problem starts if a newbie looking for information reads some of the fallacious studies on both sides, and gets the wrong impression.
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Old 12-14-06, 11:14 AM
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So much for the cease fire...
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Old 12-14-06, 10:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Peterpan1
I believe in helmets also and wear them whenever I jog, drive a car, or walk. Mostly anytime I am out of doors.
Which of course proves precisely what I've always said - wearing a helmet prevents accidents.
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Old 12-14-06, 10:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Peterpan1
Chris, I agree with the idea of questioning the whole culture. All studies are probably crap, most of all the ones that support the helmet industry, the governments taxers and mommy staters.

I don't doubt helmets save lives where head injuries are the issue. But cycling is not dangerous and those who wish to promote the idea that it is, are probably our number one enemy right now (though I don't actually care about anyone else's cycling than my own). Some forms of cycling are dangerous, you know who you are, the majority of cycling is not.

I don't really know anything about this particular study, but those who want to fight on cycling's behalf (waste of time, will be like the war on terror and the war on drugs we will end up with more jackass rules) will probably proceed with a healthy dose of misleading techno-BS. Telling truth to power is for suckers. There is not much that is more naive than the observation, in a political context, that a study is BS. Of course it's BS. The bigger the BS the better. On a purely tecno wonk level it's worth knowing where the truth ends and the BS starts, so fair to discuss these things just for the idle fun of it.
I wrote a paper on this at one time and it is still out on the web and is cited occassionally in the newer work.

The important piece of it is the graph:

https://www.magma.ca/~ocbc/kunich.html

About halfway down the article is the pertinent graph.

As you can see, over the time helmets did not exist until "now" when they are ubiquitous, there has been no detectable change in the numbers of fatalities. This holds equally well with serious injuries.

I stated this before but I'll repeat it - if bicycle accidents occurred in a smooth transition from minor to fatal I'm quite sure that the effects of bicycle helmets could be seen.

However, bicycle accidents do not occur like that. They are almost ALL very minor with a very low percentage of major accidents. In the higher end of the serious accidents the loadings on the human body are FAR higher than a helmet could mediate.

If you want to wear a helmet, by all means feel free to do so. It certainly will save you from bonking your head occassionally and that should be sufficient reason to use one.

But helmets do not save lives and if they have any effect on serious injuries it doesn't show in the statistics.
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Old 12-14-06, 10:42 PM
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Been a paramedic on a paid fire department for 25 years. Cycling can be as dangerous to people as anything else done in a roadway. Dead varmits aplenty squished for all to see should tell tell ya that and most of them just wanted to "cross" the road!! Cycling can be VERY dangerous and you should always assume NOBODY sees you! Geesh!!
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Old 12-15-06, 09:50 AM
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I thought that the study was interesting and the results have some meaning. That is, the results are not ignorable but there are still unanswered questions.

My first reaction was that he was riding differently with and without a helmet. I just find it hard to believe that drivers really notice whether a cyclist is wearing a helmet or not. Although he also finds that when he wore a wig under the helmet giving the appearance of being a woman, drivers gave him more space than without the wig. (I believe he also rode with a wig without a helmet; but my memory is a little fuzzy on that.)

Assuming that the author rode the same with and without the wig, that would suggest that auto drivers do notice the cyclist's gender. In the end though, more controls are needed for the results to be convincing. And it wouldn't hurt if the study was replicated elsewhere but independent sources.

I read through the earlier threads and will look at the linked paper. The description makes it sound like an interesting read. Although, like many other activities, cycling suffers from dirty and a lack of data. That is, the data are often marred by reporting errors and uneven reporting across space and time. Then there is an issue of the correct metric. Some buddies at the Department of Transportation always argue whether you want to look at accidents by distance, person, or time. However, as far as I know, there is a lack of good data on bicycle usage.

I really don't understand the "war" metaphor--then again, I did not see the referred to earlier thread. These discussions are just trying to get at the "truth" and a better understanding of the activity.

P.S. For perspective, I do wear a helmet.
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Old 12-15-06, 11:48 AM
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not wearing a helmet, is like saying...well if i dont wear a comdom, and i have sex 2500 times, on average i will pick inharently "cleaner" looking women because subconsciously i know... its a hypothesis that answers itself before it need be applied, we know people are going to react different to cyclists sporting black vs green, helmet vs no helmet, boobs vs penis, etc... and only one of those mentioned will save your life, and that is the helmet. and exponentially speaking, 1 hit wearing no helmet, in my eyes, is a dangerous as getting hit 1000 wearing one.

One thing i learned riding for a living is to be as noticed as possible!. use signals ALL the time, sing as loud as you can (crazy people i heard in cambridge get hit 400% less than non crazy appearing peoples, hehehe.)

and lets not ***** at double posting, people like me who cant visit everyday, or even week for that matter, enjoy such circular re-posting dynamics, and imo, if its important enough to be posted by again, then...

great debate, all it does is get you thinking about keeping it safe!
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Old 12-15-06, 08:28 PM
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Originally Posted by invisiblehand
I really don't understand the "war" metaphor--
Type "helmets" into the search box and spend some time looking at the results. Then do a Google search for "bicycle helmets" and read through the links that come up. Then you'll have an understanding. This topic seems to divide cyclists more than any other, although the old "bike path vs vehicular cycling" debate comes close -- as does campy vs shimano.

The more I think about it, the more I think that a lot of the "wars" come about not so much through the strength of anyone's convictions as much as the desire for people to amuse themselves in their spare time. The same can be said for many of the flame wars over in A & S. Nobody is going to change their mind on the issue, and anyone who gets involved in these arguments will realise that pretty quickly. Any legislator who might happen to stumble into one of these flame wars will quickly see it for what it is, and posting an argument won't make a difference there either.

Personally I couldn't care less whether or not someone else chooses to wear a helmet, but if bored enough I might wade into one of these debates. It's not going to change my opinion on the matter, but it might keep me entertained if I'm feeling bored enough.
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Old 12-16-06, 07:12 PM
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OOOHHHH this study has a first name it's O-S-C-A-R... This study has a second name it's M-E-Y-E-R... Oscar Meyer has the best of B-O-L-O-G-N-A!!!

I've never been hit by a car on a bike. the only time I have been in any kind of accident was when I do something stupid after a long day...or you know when you look down and suddenly realize you're an inch away from the edge of the pavement...time slows down and no matter what, you can't seem to steer the bike in the direction of the road.
My point is, I'm not wearing my helmet because I'm afraid of cars, I'm wearing my helmet because of the little things that I just can't predict, like flying down a hill at 50 something MPH and I hit some black ice or Bambi runs in front of me and i don't have any recipes for venison on hand(ugh)
HElmets are good for other things too, like sitting on when I have nothing else, or to protec my bikes "vitals" when on a plane, Or when I wear it in the Gallapogos and pretend I'm a turtle...and the list goes On!!!

Chris L. Said,
"The more I think about it, the more I think that a lot of the "wars" come about not so much through the strength of anyone's convictions as much as the desire for people to amuse themselves in their spare time."

spot on Chris L. Spot on!
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