Monday, March 28, 2011

The Safety Myth

Or, as FDR once told us, "...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself...". For history buffs, a video of FDR's first inaugural speech is here.

More specific to bicycling, The Lazy Randonneur tells us:
  1. Safety doesn’t exist. It’s an abstract concept that’s incorrectly utilized by cyclists to justify fear based reactions to the world around them.
  2. Fear is a reactionary emotional state that results in impulsive decisions that are not arrived at using rationale thought processes.
  3. The number one threat to cycling in North America is fear – nothing else comes close to doing the same damage.
The author (I haven't found his name on his site) goes on to tell us how to fight fear and limit one's vulnerability through rational efforts at identifying specific hazards and reducing your exposure to them on your bike. Kinda what we tell you in Traffic Skills 101, something Steve Avery explains rather well here.


bikeolounger said...

Thanks for the link! I had not been watching Lazy Rando, and would have missed it.

Steve A said...

It IS a good essay. It is somewhat ironic that my next post, in a couple of days, will be about my bike crashes, though I do not think it will feed anyone's irrational fears.

I do disagree with the notion that fear is necessarily bad. A smidge of it helps encourage some sensible risk management. OTOH, maybe I ought to simply get on the "more safer" bandwagon since I was the "less visible" cyclist and have not gone out shopping for my "safety vest."

Khal said...

I'd draw a distinction between a fear of something and a healthy respect for, and mitigation of, its hazards. Call that a smidgen of fear if you want, or simply of respect. The two, i.e., fear vs. respect, can become interchanged very quickly in a crisis.

Anonymous said...

Hey Khal, I was wondering if that was you commenting on the Lazy Randonneur. I've been pondering safety, fear and promoting bicycling in Santa Fe. (I need to get back into LCI work. Gail always dragged me into teaching classes).

I'm intrigued by the paradox of helmets and safety. I'm one of the few I know who are right on the fence on the issue. I'm curious about your opinion.

The argument goes like this:

1. More cyclists make cycling safer for everyone.
2. Helmet use makes cycling look more dangerous than it is. (You're more likely to have a head injury in an automobile, though you don't find people wearing driving helmets).
3. Fewer people cycle because they perceive cycling as either a) dangerous or b) a specialized activity requiring specialized equipment.
4. Cycling becomes generally more dangerous for everyone.


1. Helmets save your head in those individual, freak accidents.
2. They're cheap insurance against an accident to a body part that's not going to heal.

Consequently, I wear my helmet some of the time. Cycling around the city at sunrise and sunset, I wear my helmet, or if I'm in very busy traffic, I wear my helmet. During the day on a bike trail or within Santa Fe, I don't wear it. I also don't wear it on the interstate. If a car hits me at 75mph, I don't think a helmet will help.

I've been considering advocating in New Mexico that the helmet law for children be repealed, but irresponsible, uneducated kids -- well, that's another matter.

Khal said...

Hi, Paul

I think the helmet arguments are increasingly painful to listen to. Like you, I tend to ride the fence, when I am not riding my bike.

Helmets in the context of a culture of fear reinforce the fear because the culture of fear is looking for anything that will reinforce it. As Steve Magas said on the Lazy Randonneur site, single, rare events get spun up and reinforce that culture.

Helmets outside a culture of fear are just helmets. They are a lightweight, air-conditioned piece of protective equipment that protects the head from some blows and mitigate the risk of a concussion. They result in crushed styrofoam and enable you to get up and walk from a casual "fall down go boom" crash instead of getting a CAT scan. Most people will not use up their helmets. I am a klutz. I've used up two. Neither had anything to do with an interaction with another vehicle.

As you say, in the context of being hit at 70 mph, they are irrelevant. Of course, in the context of me riding off a cliff on my mountain bike, they are irrelevant. I almost did that once...

Many but not all equestrians use helmets and I don't hear anyone talking about how horseback riding is "too dangerous". I don't see where a helmet should promote fear or loathing of bicycling, but that's just my opinion. I think the problem is the culture of fear, and helmets are captives of that sad discussion.