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Helmet wearers may compensate by cycling less safely

A study from Norway investigated risk compensation by cyclists in response to bicycle helmet wearing by observing changes in cycling behavior, reported experience of risk, and a possible objective measure of experienced risk.

Variations in heart rate were used as a measure of perceived risk and tested in a pilot exercise by getting participants to watch a thriller movie. Then heart rate variability was used along with cycling pace and self-reported risk in a field experiment involving 35 cyclist volunteers, some of whom normally wore helmets and others who did not. Each cyclist rode 0.4 km downhill, both bareheaded and wearing a cycle helmet.

Routine helmet users reported higher experienced risk and cycled slower when they did not wear their helmet in the experiment than when they did wear their helmet, although there was no corresponding change in their heart rate. For cyclists not accustomed to helmets, there were no changes in speed, perceived risk, or any other measures when cycling with versus without a helmet.

The findings are consistent with the notion that those who use helmets routinely perceive reduced risk when wearing a helmet, and compensate by cycling faster. According to the authors, they thus give some support to those urging caution in the use of helmet laws.

Fri 18 Mar 2011

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