11 May 2010

Driving Without Dying - Helmets for Motorists

Helmets for Motorists - Driving Helmets - Bilist hjelme
It's no secret that we're big fans of helmet campaigns for motorists. It would do wonders for reducing car traffic and encouraging people to ride bicycles.

We've previously blogged about the first Motoring Helmet, developed in Australia in the late 1980's. Later we covered the Protective Headbands for Motorists developed at the University of Adelaide on the background of an Australian government study that showed that many lives could be saved and serious injuries reduced if car occupants wore helmets or similar devices. We added a blogpost about the headbands here.

A few days ago, our colleague, Chris from Britain's CTC, sent us the link to Driving Without Dying. It's a Canadian website called Driving Without Dying by a man named Jack who says,

"There are giant gaps in highway safety that need to be filled. My legacy to humanity is to change the driving habits of the entire world and I don't care how long it takes."

The man sounds committed. Check out his website. You can even translate his 10 Reasons to Consider Wearing a Helmet While in Your Car into other languages and send them in.

In addition, this chap also has www.SafetyTuque.com - 'tuque' being a Canadianism for ski hat. He argues that you should acquire one because, among other things, "Crossing busy streets and falling on icy sidewalks are commonplace dangers for everyone when the snow is flying." Not to mention "Falling ice and snow off large buildings have been known to strike many unsuspecting pedestrians."

"If helmets should be mandatory anywhere it's inside cars. Driving is the only thing most of us do that's really dangerous, with almost 50,000 deaths a year in North America. Going for a drive is like going to war - and we should probably wear combat helmets - especially teenagers". Josh Freed, The Gazette, Montreal, 17 February 2007.

What do you think? Is Jack on the right track? The only reason that the two Australian motoring helmets never made any real impact is that the automobile industry wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole. It would be a catastrophe for sales if we started telling people that driving is dangerous. 1.2 million deaths a year and many more injuries. Goodness, no. That's bad marketing.

Should the bicycle crowd back Jack's quest?

We've had a poll running for a while here on Copenhagenize.com. It got buried in older posts, but's lets keep it running.


Neil said...

It seems to me that if we're going to support this, then we would need to be consistent. Yes, danger of head injuries is higher in cars than on bikes, but not by a lot.

Either you support helmets whenever there's a raised risk of head injury (car, bike, winter walking, etc.), or you don't give a damn. Personally, I don't give a damn.

Anonymous said...

So Neil, do you where a helmet in a car the way you do on a bike? You "need to be consistent"...

Peter said...

Head injury risk in a car may not be much higher than on a bicycle, but because people spend so much time in cars, the vast majority of serious head injuries are caused by car crashes. And, supposedly, a lot of those head injuries could be reduced by helmets.

From a cost to society point of view, we'd be a LOT better off getting people in cars to wear helmets than spending time getting bicyclists to wear them. Even ignoring the health benefits of bicycling.

On a humorous note, a few years ago a prefecture discussed having school children walking to school wear helmets. I think that one was quickly laughed out of existence.

On a tragic note, a dear Danish friend of ours, Aage, slipped on the ice while walking on a sidewalk, fell backwards and hit his head. He suffered serious brain damage and eventually died of it. So maybe helmets are a good idea.

didrik said...

I like how his site says, "wearing a helmet in a car should not make you more aggressive, on the contrary more cautious." Too bad it doesn't work that way.

The last thing I want is the already aggressive drivers "feeling safer" and turning into amateur NASCAR drivers.

The thing is that you can always protect yourself more with a helmet no matter what you are doing: skiing, driving, walking down stairs, eating a cupcake. But where do we draw the line and say, "it's safe enough"?

Also, the common problem is still the driving of cars, or rather, humans traveling at really high speeds in big machines. This guy still has the attitude of "keep on driving, just armor up".

Anonymous said...

Safety campaigns should be targeted at behaviour which is dangerous to others. Motorists should be targeted with a campaign to get them to take greater responsibility for the danger they pose to people outside their car.

Getting them to wear helmets just feeds in to the selfish frame that motorists inhabit - that it is only their own safety that matters.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the recent poster who suggests that rather than introducing new technologies to reduce injury, we target the behaviors that increase the risks -- aggressive driving, speeding, intoxicated driving, etc.

Having spent 15 years in HIV prevention science, where we're endlessly attempting to develop new biomedical strategies to curb new infections -- condoms, microbicides, vaccines, etc. -- but have nearly thrown the towel in terms of changing risky behavior, even though we know we can change it. Part of the reason is because most of the money is in biomedical science, potentially involves profits, and there's a hole battalion of scientists to keep employed.

But the similarities here are striking. And for me, there is also the question of whether driver behavior will shift in the face of new safety technology to give people more of the benefits they seek at lower cost -- e.g., a sense of power/speed, the perception of saving time by speeding, etc. We've already seen the transfer of risk to other road users (bikes, peds, etc) by existing technology. Do we want to encourage still more?

The idea of driving helmets is fun, but it is clearly a FAIL.

mikey2gorgeous said...

The problem with this approach is that drivers will just 'risk-compensate' and end up driving faster as they feel more secure. This will over time end up with no real benefit for motorists and hugely increased danger to vulnerable road users.

Anonymous said...

No helmets should be required for cyclists and drivers as long as speeds are held below 25 mph. Over that limit, helmets need to be worn in order to allow the vehicle to be operational in urban environments.

Dave said...

I think agitating for compulsory car helmets is a fantastic strategy to end compulsory bike helmet laws.

The arguments and facts for both types of helmets are the same - both can 'save lives' and risk levels are similar.

Except that helmetless driving is so culturally entrenched. People (more importantly politicians) can't argue against one without arguing against the other.

Anonymous said...

How about working on getting people, drivers or riders, to jusy "pay attention"? Much more effective than any legistation of technology could ever hope to be.