Oh good grief!

[From Economist’s View] There is a Peanuts comic that appears in most economics textbooks (including mine) with Charlie Brown watching the news with it saying things like: “Skies were sunny today but economists warn that this could cause an increase in the price of sunglasses.” Now we can add this: “Helmets help cyclists keep their head safe but economics warn that wearing them could cause motorists to drive more recklessly.”

Actually, the support for this comes from a student by a traffic psychologist, Ian Walker at the University of Bath. Here is the report.

Cyclists who wear helmets are more likely to be knocked off their bicycles than those who do not, according to research. Motorists give helmeted cyclists less leeway than bare-headed riders because they assume that they are more proficient. They give a wider berth to those they think do not look like “proper” cyclists, including women, than to kitted-out “lycra-clad warriors”.

Ian Walker, a traffic psychologist, was hit by a bus and a truck while recording 2,500 overtaking manoeuvres. On both occasions he was wearing a helmet.

During his research he measured the exact distance of passing traffic using a computer and sensor fitted to his bicycle. Half the time Dr Walker, of the University of Bath, was bare-headed. For the other half he wore a helmet and has the bruises to prove it.

He even wore a wig on some of his trips to see if drivers gave him more room if they thought he was a woman. They did.

He was unsure whether the protection of a helmet justified the higher risk of having a collision. “We know helmets are useful in low-speed falls, and so are definitely good for children.”

On average, drivers steered an extra 3.3 in away from those without helmets to those wearing the safety hats. Motorists were twice as likely to pass “very close” to the cyclist if he was wearing a helmet.

So what this means is that if you want to ride a bike on the road, look as incompetent as possible.

One thought on “Oh good grief!”

  1. These motorists are crazy. Helmets aren’t a sign of proficiency, but rather of fear of getting hit by a car (or possibly booked by a cop.) Helmet-wearing might be a sign that the cyclist will be more cautious, but it is also a sign that the cyclist feels inexperienced or has had lots of near misses. If you saw a car driver wearing a helmet, would you drive closer or keep your distance?


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