Monday, May 21, 2007

The helmet, a tough decision

I read an interesting study last week on helmet use and bicycling. Now, I ride between 2500 and 3000 miles a year on country roads, so the results of this study aren’t just an academic interest to me; they affect the way I live, since any decision I make can be life-threatening.

Walker attached ultrasonic sensors to his bike and rode around Bath, allowing 2,300 vehicles to overtake him while he was either helmeted or naked-headed. In the process, he was actually contacted by a truck and a bus, both while helmeted—though, miraculously, he did not fall off his bike either time.

His findings, published in the March 2007 issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention, state that when Walker wore a helmet drivers typically drove an average of 3.35 inches closer to his bike than when his noggin wasn't covered. But, if he wore a wig of long, brown locks—appearing to be a woman from behind—he was granted 2.2 inches more room to ride.

My experiences while living in Minneapolis confirm his findings. I didn’t tally it, and I certainly didn’t have ultra-sonic sensors! But, when I wore a helmet (which was usually), the traffic would give me less space; when I forgot my helmet, they would give me more space, or slow down until they could. It wasn’t something I consciously kept track of, but rather a general impression.

Another scary site I ran across the same day is I hadn’t seen these data before, but they certainly were enough to make me reconsider my stand on helmets. The fact that a helmet can actually lead to more brain damage because of torsion was especially scary.

Based on these sets of data, I have decided to begin, once again, to ride without a helmet. As I said, this is not something I do lightly and frivolously, since it can affect my life in a very real way on a daily basis, but I think the data lead to that conclusion. I am not going to become an “anti-helmet evangelist,” but if people ask why I no longer wear a helmet, I will tell them.


Andy said...

Your noggin. Just be aware that you work with a helmet evangelist. :-)

Duane Smith said...

This is of course anecdotal, but I hope you will find it interesting. I have a friend who rode his bike to work. He always wore a helmet. One morning he was stopped at a traffic light near the curb. A car attempted to make a right turn without stopping and hit his rear wheel. He when over his handlebars and landed on his head and shoulder. His helmet was shattered. His bike was broken beyond repair. The good news is that the car did not run over him. He had a broken collarbone and a large number of abrasions on his upper body and head. However, he did not suffer even a mild concussion. On that occasion, his helmet did its job.