Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Mon 30th Jul, 2007

No brain damage here

As I rode to work today, I had to slow down to go around a police car that been backed to almost block the cycle track at one point. The policeman behind it had just been chatting with a previous cyclist and only looked up as I arrived. Putting a couple of facts together quickly, I admit to getting a certain amount of pleasure at the fact that the cyclist ahead of me had just been pulled up and issued with a ticket for riding without a helmet. Since I subscribe to the point of view that wearing a helmet improves your chances of surviving a head injury while cycling, I'm all in favour of this law. To me, a cyclist without a helmet is carrying an invisible sign saying "sooner or later, I'm going to take your taxes and health insurance payments and spend them on my personal medical cover for an injury which I could have avoided."

What amuses and depresses me is that, in trying to find the actual legislation on the Mandatory Helmet Laws for Bicyclists, I found a number of what I would classify as 'liberalist rants' on the issue. The basic gist of these is "there's no proof that helmets reduce injuries, and we'd rather give up riding than wear a helmet so there nyah nyah nyah". It's the same kind of rant that characterises seatbelt laws in the USA - the kind of blinkered 'you can't take our rights away from us' attitude that treats getting injured or killed as a right on a par with free speech. Even I, with an almost non-existent knowledge of the studies they quote, can see the flaws in their reasoning; for instance, one page says cyclist numbers declined after the legislation and concludes that the latter caused the former, a classic post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. There's also plenty of straw man arguments thrown in - for instance, that a study showed that soft-shell helmets grab the ground and thus cause more twisting injuries, ignoring the fact that almost all of the helmets sold these days are light-weight hard-shell helmets.

Like the debate over global warming, it's sad to see people deluding themselves and sadder to see them trying to convince others of their own delusions.

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