Monday, June 9, 2008
 

Helmet use and motorist behavior

Today's Post contains an article on page 2 entitled Taking More Risks Because You Feel Safe that includes a reference to a study about helmet use and motorist behavior. A British researcher rode his bike equipped with a distance sensor on several stretches of road. He rode with a helmet, without a helmet, and with a wig:

“Walker was trying to figure out whether his interventions changed the way drivers passed his bike. He came to two conclusions: Cars gave him more leeway when drivers thought he was a woman with curly black hair. And they gave him less leeway -- getting dangerously close -- when he wore a helmet.

“Walker thinks drivers are influenced by unconscious stereotypes -- they may believe that female bicyclists are less steady, and that helmeted bikers are pros.”

I'm not sure what to think about the study but it certainly shouldn't affect one's use of a helmet, the benefits of which far outweigh most negative aspects. It was interesting that the photo used to illustrate the article was taken at the FABB Tour of Tysons last year when we hosted a ride for local government officials, including Kathy Ichter, head of the Fairfax County Dept. of Transportation, and her husband Larry Ichter, who also works for the county Department of Public Works and Environmental Services. Larry is adjusting Kathy's helmet in the photo. Yours truly is in the background giving the pre-tour talk.

Comments:
After reading this story I have slightly adjusted my riding habits on narrow, two-lane roads with no shoulder. I take at least one-third of the lane and I don't ride in a perfect straight line anymore. I actually inject a slight lazy weave; just enough for drivers to be wary of trying to pass me. For once, predictability in behavior is a bad thing for a cyclist. I know I won't veer into traffic but they have some doubt.
 
When I rode cross country one of the 14 cyclists on the trip was an older gentleman from England. He has a very unsteady riding style. I would ride behind him and notice how much room he was given by most motorists. He was unpredictable and and because of that they gave him lots of room.

All too often on roads with four lanes, two in each direction, motorists try to pass me in my lane, and there is rarely room for them to pass safely. When that is the case, I try to avoid the situation by riding nearly in the middle of the lane, which, as I read it, is allowed by Virginia law:

46.2-905 : Any person operating a bicycle...shall ride as close as safely practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, except under any of the following circumstances:

3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, ...substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right curb or edge;
 
I won't ride down the block without a helmet!
 
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