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Op-Ed: The Schumacher crash helmet fallacy

By Alexander Baron     Dec 30, 2013 in Lifestyle
Grenoble - As Michael Schumacher fights for his life in a Grenoble hospital bed, "experts" are claiming his wearing a helmet saved his life.
Before pointing out how wrong these "experts" are, we should all send our best wishes to Michael Schumacher and hope he makes a full and speedy recovery. Four and a half years ago the actress Natasha Richardson died in similar circumstances after suffering a less serious injury. There are numerous reports on the Schumacher case, including here, but let us focus on one aspect of this terrible accident to which few if any are paying any attention. Is it really true that he would have been safer skiing without a helmet? Before dismissing this claim as absurd or sensationalist, ask yourself this question:
If you are a driver, would you drive less or more carefully with a baby or a crate of eggs on the back seat? Similarly, would you ride a motorbike or ski less or more carefully without wearing a helmet?
Back in the 1980s, John Adams of Imperial College London was asking awkward questions like this. In 1985, he published a groundbreaking book called Risk And Freedom, which as you can see won't cost you a drachma. The front cover may be humorous but it has a serious message.
Choice In Personal Safety takes a similar position to Dr Adams. The bottom line is that while a crash helmet or any other device may make your ride (or whatever you're doing) safer, that is contingent on you acting in the same manner as if you were unprotected, which people simply do not do.
This is not an argument against guards on machines, protective clothing, or anything of that nature, rather it is a simple recognition of the reality of risk compensation behaviour.
This fallacy applies to condoms as well; people adjust their behaviour due to the illusion of safety. If your next you know what was in danger of being your last, you would be a great deal more selective in your choice of you know who.
Does this mean nothing can be done to improve safety? All Michael Schumacher's family and friends can do now is pray, but he hit his head on a rock, so how about removing the rocks from this ski run, or something of that nature? Wearing a helmet may help the ultra-safety conscious, but not a man whose middle name is Risk.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Michael schumacher, crash helmets, Condoms, john adams, risk and freedom
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