Self-compensating Risk

This research by Dr. Ian Walker claims that the likelihood of an accident increases when you put on a helmet when you ride a bicycle.

“Either way, this study suggests wearing a helmet might make a collision more likely in the first place,” he added.

Dr Walker thinks the reason drivers give less room to cyclists wearing helmets is because they see them as “Lycra-clad street warriors” and believe they are more predictable than those without.

This is an interesting, but not entirely surprising finding. Other studies have found that humans have an inherent subconscious threshold of perceived risk. As risk is reduced by interventions such as safety mechanisms, we subconsciously become more daring/dangerous to bring the inherent risk back to the threshold level.

So if you’ve switched from normal brakes to ABS (anti-brake lock system) for your car, you are probably going to brake later and drive faster. In the research, wearing a helmet may have induced the biker to be faster or more daring unknowingly, while other motorists had also driven closer to the bicycle.

In some ways, the difference in the average distance where the cars overtake the bicycle can perhaps be conceived as an indicator of the perceived reduction in risk brought on by the bicycle helmet.

While we’re on the subject of biking, above is a video of very daring New York messenger-bikers weaving in and out of traffic through impossibly small margins. Based on the human behavior researches, it would perhaps even seem that they have to ride dangerously just because they’re skilled in bicycle-riding.

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