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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Helmet? How About a Wig?

Posted by on September 14 at 12:05 PM

A friend of mine heard this radio show the other night and it made him think of Dan’s post last month asking: Where Did All the Helmets Go?

Dan got quite a Slog scolding for even suggesting that life might be more comfortable without a bike helmet on, but it turns out, at least according to this researcher at Bath University in England, that it might be safer not to wear a helmet.


In a study to be published soon in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention, Dr. Ian Walker finds that:

Drivers pass closer when overtaking cyclists wearing helmets than when overtaking bare-headed cyclists, increasing the risk of a collision.

Dr. Walker was hit by a bus and a truck while conducting his study, which involved him riding around England on a bike equipped with an ultrasonic distance sensor, sometimes wearing a helmet and sometimes not (and sometimes wearing a wig).

He found that drivers were as much as twice as likely to get particularly close to the bicycle when he was wearing the helmet.

Across the board, drivers passed an average of 8.5 cm (3 1/3 inches) closer with the helmet than without.

He also found that large vehicles, such as buses and trucks (and, oddly, white vans in particular), pass closer to bikers than cars.

The average car passed 1.33 metres (4.4 feet) away from the bicycle, whereas the average truck got 19 centimetres (7.5 inches) closer and the average bus 23 centimetres (9 inches) closer.

However, there was no evidence of 4x4s (SUVs) getting any closer than ordinary cars.

Previously reported research from the project showed that drivers of white vans overtake cyclists an average 10 centimetres (4 inches) closer than car drivers.

But here’s the most interesting finding:

To test another theory, Dr Walker donned a long wig to see whether there was any difference in passing distance when drivers thought they were overtaking what appeared to be a female cyclist.

Whilst wearing the wig, drivers gave him an average of 14 centimetres (5.5 inches) more space when passing.

The moral of the story: If you fucking hate your helmet that much, Dan, you might consider riding in drag.

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Now, if only getting hit by an overtaking car was the only threat bicyclists faced. And if only the consequences of getting hit by a car from behind were the same with a bare head, a helmet, and a lady's wig. Then he might have something.

Real Lesson: Wear Antlers.

Fuzzy pink ones. With a good eight-foot spread. Make sure they're break-away.

we could test the 8 foot antlers against my 8 inch piggie tails & see which is safer.

The obvious solution is a helmet with a wig (preferably a blonde bouffant) secured to the outside. That way, statistically you come out about 5 centimeters ahead.

Wig helmets!

Of course, the problem isn't so much whether or not you get hit by a car, but what happens after you get hit. Without a helmet: bad things.

If you are going to wear a wig, you better make sure it's on your head good, and that you have a strong set on it. Maybe the late, great Anne Richard's hairdresser could give us some hints and tips.

btw, RIP Ms. Richards. The last of the REAL Texans in the Governor's mansion. Not like those drips they've had in there recently. (yeah, yeah, Perry's from Texas, but he's still a drip)

T-T-T too much time on my hands ...

Helmets with red flourescent antlers might also be a good variation. Or candy-cane striped ones.

BTW, "white van" is a moniker in the UK for a blue collar small business owners vehicle (think, self employed plumber or painter), often driven recklessly.

Whoa -- slow down with the leaps of logic, Eli. During his self-administered experiment, the researcher found that drivers pass him, on average, 4" closer when he wore a helmet (He did not measure passing distance given to any bicycle riders other than himself). I don't see anything in the press release that indicates the researcher analyzed crash data or drew a fact-based conclusion about injuries and fatalities.

Vehicle passing distances and injury/fatality rates are two very different things.

Now, if we expanded this study to include thousands of cyclists over a period of months or years and analyzed their injury/fatality rate we might be able to say something meaningful.

Are you saying a t sample size of 1 is too small? You won't get a job in the White House with that kind of attitude.

exactly how many lives were saved in 2005 in the United States by helmet use alone from cycling accidents that were caused by motor vehicles?

Apparently that's a difficult figure to calculate with any precision. But this widely-referenced NEJM study found that "[bicycle] riders with helmets had an 85 percent reduction in their risk of head injury...and an 88 percent reduction in their risk of brain injury".

I don't dispute that wearing a helmet while biking increases your chances for a less severe injury, but I experienced quite a let down when I learned that Seattle (ok, King County) forces adults to wear them. This is by far the 3rd biggest obstacle that keeps me from moving there. The 1st being, cost of living, and the 2nd being the lack of good ice cream parlors. Yes, I was raised in the midwest, and yes I am woefully naive.

What's funny is that the helmet only protects you if you land on the crown of your head. If your head strikes in any other way, you're still fucked.

In fact, the helmet can actually increase your chances of injury: if the front of your helmet catches anything while you fall, it can snap your head back and injure or even break your neck.


Gomez -- can you cite a peer-reviewed study for us?

I'm not sure anyone's thrown several bicyclists from their bicycles to study the impact, Pat, but I'll dig and see what I can find.

I was going to suggest that Eli look into the idiomatic meaning of the words "white van" when used in the UK, but I see someone has beaten me to it.

I look forward to your correction, Eli. SLOG does print corrections just like other blogs, doesn't it? Or do you not have to print corrections if your blog is "just a blog" attached to a weekly newsprint periodical?

For me the white van was really immortalized by this White Van Challenge (including contests in tailgating, illegal rubbish dumping, and mismatched door replacements) a few months back on "Top Gear" ... a British tv show that is a guilty, obnoxious pleasure ...

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