Ride Me is dedicated to the lifestyle and culture of living Car Free in Portland, Or. Traveling only by bike and public transit is a great way to get around the Rose City.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Bike helmets inspire unsafe driving

There always seems to be a debate about wearing helmets. Most folks in the US, and definitely here in Portland, wear a helmet while riding a bike. As a matter of fact if you’re under 16 in the state of Oregon you’re required by law to wear a helmet. In Denmark and the Netherlands where cycling infrastructure is much more evolved than here, no one ever wears one.
Scientific American.com recently posted an article about Ian Walker, a psychologist in Bath, England, where he rode his bike around either helmeted or naked-headed to gauge how motorists behave in both situations. Ian had heard several complaints from fellow riders that wearing a helmet seemed to result in bike riders receiving far less room to maneuver—effectively increasing the chances of an accident. So, Walker attached ultrasonic sensors to his bike and rode around Bath. After being overtaken by more than 2300 cars he found that helmeted cyclists inspire more dangerous driving from the cars around them, while bareheaded cyclists are treated with greater respect.

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

"The implication," Walker says, "is that any protection helmets give is canceled out by other mechanisms, such as riders possibly taking more risks and/or changes in how other road users behave towards cyclists." Walker, whose much-publicized report may inspire a new generation of bareheaded riders, won't make any specific recommendations to other cyclists though he notes that when it comes to riding in traffic, motorists are the real problem. "If people read the research and decide a helmet makes them safer, they should wear one; if they read the research and decide it doesn't, perhaps they don't need to," Walker says, adding the caveat, "But they do need to read the research!" And watch out for cars.

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