HARD HEADED BUSINESS
Has the introduction of helmets actually made racing less safe?
It was the death of Andrey Kivilev after a crash at Paris-nice in 2003 that led to helmets becoming compulsory in professional racing. The UCI had tried to enforce this rule as far back as 1991, only for the riders to protest. There was some resistance in 2003 too, but helmets were mandatory when that year’s Giro d’italia got underway and the rule has been in place ever since.
Some argue that making people wear helmets doesn’t make cycling safer, because it can subtly alter the behaviour of the rider and also the motorist. The second point isn’t relevant to pro racing, but the first one could be. It relates to the theory of ‘risk compensation’, whereby more protection can lead to more risk-taking.
There is some evidence for this. Ian Walker of the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology studied the behaviour of 80 people wearing baseball caps and cycle helmets and his findings suggested people’s attitude to risk-taking and potential danger changed when wearing protective headgear.
‘This is not to suggest the safety equipment will necessarily have its specific utility nullified, but rather to suggest there could be changes in behaviour that are wider than previously envisaged,’ he said.
Could helmet-wearing pros be more inclined to take risks, potentially leading to more crashes? Allan Peiper thinks so. Chris Boardman, who argues for personal choice when it comes to helmet use, is familiar with the studies that support the idea that wearing a helmet can encourage more reckless riding. But he points out that without a fresh study, it’s hard to know to what extent that applies to pros, given that they are a self-selected group of risk-takers whose job is inherently dangerous – whether they wear a helmet or not.