Take President Obama. When he hasn’t been mau-maued by safety fanatics, he makes sensible distinctions. On a Chicago street where he might collide with a car, he wears a helmet. For a leisurely ride on a smooth bike path away from traffic, he doesn’t. There, he simply isn’t going to have the high-speed collisions for which helmets provide valuable protection. The First Daughters’ helmets, like his, are largely symbolic. They are amulets against vulnerability, their gracelessness a sacrifice to the fates.
… it’s quite a balanced piece. I was intrigued by the numbers quoted from research carried out by economists Christopher S. Carpenter of the Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine, and Mark F. Stehr of the LeBow College of Business at Drexel University.
The WSJ piece says the research showed that mandatory helmet laws do have a positive impact on fatalities (19% improvement in the age-group affected by the laws), but that there was also a corresponding drop in the total number of people riding bikes.
The number they came up with was that for every life saved, 81,000 few people were riding bikes in the first place.
This got me thinking - what proportion of lives were being saved by the magical properties of helmets, and what proportion were being saved by virtue of there just being fewer people riding bikes in the first place? Here’s where it gets interesting.
According to the League of American Bicyclists , around 57,000,000 people ride a bike at least once a year in the USA. And there are around 700 cyclist fatalities a year. Divide one by the other to find out how many cyclists there are per death, and you get . . . 81,000!
OK - I’m not a real statistician, and we don’t have the background data to do stuff like hypothesis testing to see if these two numbers are linked, or if it’s just a strange coincidence.
But I’ve got to say, it looks to me as if helmets save lives purely by discouraging people from riding a bike in the first place. Period.