Has the in­tro­duc­tion of hel­mets ac­tu­ally made rac­ing less safe?

Cyclist - - Pro Racing -

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.

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