Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Risk Fetishisation

Bicycle helmets save lives, don't they?

In any given accident, they have a 16% chance of reducing injury. They have little or no effect, however when you are hit by a car. They do cause drivers to subconsciously assume a cyclist is protected, and less vulnerable and cause motorists to drive closer when passing. They may therefore INCREASE the risk of the type of accident where wearing a helmet won't help. The cyclist himself may too take more risks if wearing a helmet. There is no data on this, but risk-compensation in other areas is well documented.

But by far the biggest effect of the cycle helmet is that it sends a message to non-cyclists: cycling is dangerous. By far the biggest effect on cycling safety is numbers: the more cyclists there are, the more drivers get used to driving with them, the fewer accidents. The fewer accidents, the more cyclists. By far the safest cities to cycle in are on the continent where everyone cycles and no-one wears a helmet. The health benefits of cycling both physical and mental far outweigh the risk of being killed or injured. This is why I cancelled my order for a cycle helmet this morning.

Of course cycle-helmet manufacturers want to encourage their use. Governments, aided by the popular press (who put whether or not a cyclist was wearing a helmet at front and centre of ANY story about cycling injury) assume they help, and are actively considering compulsion. Naturally those disgusting fascists at the BMA are foursquare behind a mandatory helmet law. Who benefits? Cycle helmet manufacturers. The police who have ANOTHER reason to stop someone at will. Other cyclists will not benefit from the safety in numbers as cycling remains a niche mode of transport, and cars will still be mystified by cyclists' behaviour.

Where ever mandatory helmet laws are put in place, the kind of casual cycling for transport you seen in the most "livable" cities in the world - Copenhagen, Amsterdam disappears. Cyclists therefore become the Lycra Nazis. An other tribe of weirdos, bunny huggers. If only the cycling enthusiast cycles, its less safe for everyone. When Copenhagen started "encouraging" helmet use, the growth in cycling stopped. The car, with its particulate emissions and rapacious need for parking has another victory. Melbourne's bicycle hire scheme failed mainly because of a mandatory helmet law, which reduced head-injuries amongst cyclists by amost exactly the same amount as cycling rates dropped. The law didn't make people safer, it made one mode of transport appear more dangerous than another equivalently dangerous means of transport.

We've become scared; it is the fear that keeps people in line. We meekly accept ridiculous security theatre in Airports, ever tougher laws and police powers to "keep us safe" when we live in the safest, healthiest, longest-lived most protected lives in human history. It's not just mandatory helmet laws. It's banning boxing, limiting your right to have a pint in the pub at 23:01. It's about limiting your right to have a cigarette with a pint at ANY time. You cannot even have a sly fag at the end of a train Platform, and you're constantly harangued by disembodied voices and watched over by CCTV. Government sets people against each other in the search for legislative solutions to keep us safe and well. It is not US who benefit, but those who seek to control us.

It all started with the mandatory seat belt law and helmets for motorcyclists, that may have in themselves been good ideas. However we're so far down the slippery slope, now look at us. People are buying helmets for children learning to walk. How long before they're mandatory? And what are the side-effects of such a product inculcating a child with the idea that the world is DANGEROUS, not exciting?

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
I give you our future.

In Case He Falls Over.



6 comments:

Anonymous said...

What you need is an Equisafety "Polite" waistcoat. They work like magic.

Anonymous said...

But surely the Thudguard needs some lower face protection

woodbine willy said...

Too right (Only just spotted this, but too right anyway.
Incidentally, based on petsonal experience, the parts most likely to get hurt in a tumble are: elbows (six stitches last time), knees, ribs, shoulders.

Anonymous said...

Surely the slippery slope is lubricated by the operation of the free market which encourages - to take your helmet example - the helmet manufacturers to promote their products with utmost vigour. Their marketing departments are no doubt working on undermining risk homeostasis at this very moment.

Michael Reed said...

Well put.

The irony is that mandatory rally-style helmets for car drivers would save many lives each year.

Steve said...

Excellent post. Sorry I missed it. You are right that the evidence is thin on the ground. I studied this a few years ago and came to the conclusion that helmets almost certainly increase the number of accidents and, as they are ineffective in serious collisions, also increase deaths and serious injuries. However, nobody believes it because of the propoganda and failure to understand the psychology.

I found Hillman, M (1993) Cycle Helmets: The case for and against; and some research done in Australia. Seat belts, breaking systems and motorcycle helmets have all been studied and all show similar risk compensation effects. Seat belts, in particular, kill.

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