‘Bicycle helmets save lives’ a Guardian editorial pointed out today (27.09.2016) referrencing recent Australian research.
The editorial then posed the question: Should wearing cycle helmets be made compulsory? Now read on for the editorial’s succinct explication of a form of reasoning we have come to know as risk-benefit assessment.
‘From the point of view of accident reduction, the answer is entirely clear. Helmets do prevent some head injuries, and these can be very serious even when they are not immediately fatal. On the other hand, they are extremely rare. You would have to cycle tens of thousands of hours in Australia to get an injury requiring medical treatment. More than 10 times as many Americans were shot dead in 2014 as died cycling and, despite the headlines, most Americans are never going to be shot at in their lifetimes. The benefits of cycling can’t be translated into such striking figures but there’s no doubt that regular exercise prolongs and improves life in every way, and cycling is one of the best ways to make gentle exercise a daily routine….’
‘…Risk reduction cannot be the only grounds on which policy is decided. If that were the case, helmets would be compulsory for pedestrians as well, since it would reduce the seriousness of some injuries, and undoubtedly save lives too. The ultimate aim of public policy must be to enable and encourage human flourishing, and because we are complicated and contradictory creatures, that must involve a degree of self-contradiction and the balancing of some goods against others. The sense of freedom and spontaneity that cyclists enjoy is not an illusion and has real value.’
It is a salutory paragraph that members of the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) committee on play equipment and surfacing would do well to read. Continue reading