Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Helmets an invitation to vehicular assault

An article in Scientific American presents a study that shows when cyclists are wearing helmets, cars approach and average of 3.35 inches closer.

Now, three inches might not seem like such a big deal but when they are starting at a little over an arm's length of clearance, those inches can disappear very quickly.

The study's author says :

"The implication, 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."
I'll say right out, that's bullshit. Sure, it's true when your talking about the probability of being struck but what happens when one is actually struck. An entirely different set of statistics come into play that involve the probability of head trauma with or without a helmet.

The article quotes "New York City released a report on bicycle deaths and injuries: 225 cyclists died between 1996 and 2005 on New York streets; 97 percent of them were not wearing helmets."

Here are some of the highlights of that report:

• Almost three-quarters of fatal crashes (74%) involved a head injury.
• Nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet.
• Helmet use among those bicyclists with serious injuries (3,462 between 1996 and 2003) was low (13%), but it was even lower among bicyclists killed (3%).

These numbers make it pretty clear. If you don't wear a helmet, you're going to get hurt badly.

• Nearly all bicyclist deaths (92%) occurred as a result of crashes with motor vehicles.
• Large vehicles (trucks, buses) were involved in almost one-third (32%) of fatal crashes, but they make up approximately 15% of vehicles on NYC roadways.
• Most fatal crashes (89%) occurred at or near intersections.
• Nearly all (94%) fatalities involved human error.

In an altercation between a bicyclist and a vehicle, the bicyclist will loose every time.

• Only one fatal crash with a motor vehicle occurred when a bicyclist was in a marked bike lane.

Vehicles, or rather those driving those vehicles, do not "share the road". The best way to protect bicyclists is to get them their own space. Listen to what NYC is doing:

Over the next three years DOT will install 200 miles of bicycle facilities with targets of 5 miles of Class I separated paths, 150 miles of Class II striped lanes, and 45 miles of Class III signed routes. DPR will also add 40 miles of Greenways in City parks over the next four years

150 miles of bike lanes! Pittsburgh is going to get zero in the next three years (or for the foreseeable future). The riverfront park plan will add a bunch of Class I trails along the rivers, which will be great, but out in the streets where people commute I only know of plans in Bloomfield for signs and street marking that encourage "sharing the road".

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