Michael Daniel 9-20-2006 New York Times, 9-19-2006 pg.

D6, “Study Finds That Bike Helmets Invite Close Calls” Thesis: According to new scientific research we now know that wearing a bicycle helmet increases the incidence of accidents while riding a bicycle. Contrary to current justified beliefs, a new British study shows that in one sense, wearing a bicycle helmet can be more dangerous than not wearing one. We know this because an expert came to this conclusion by performing experiments. Dr. Ian Walker is a professor of Psychology at the University of Bath, UK. He fitted his bicycle with a camera and an ultrasonic sensor that measured the distance that cars gave him as they passed while he was riding his bicycle down the road. He rode close to and far from the curb, he rode with and without a helmet and rode with and without a womans wig to see the difference in how much space passing cars gave him based on his distance from the curb, gender, and whether he was wearing a helmet or not. It was carried out over a distance of 200 miles and 2500 observations. Dr. Walker’s experiment with the helmet showed that when wearing a bicycle helmet cars passed closer to him than when he was not wearing a helmet. The two times he was struck by motor vehicles during this experiment he was wearing the bicycle helmet. He also tested the theory that riding further from the curb causes passing cars to give you more space when they pass. He found the opposite to be true. The further he rode from the curb the closer cars passed. As far as wearing a wig goes, Dr. Walker found that drivers pass closer to men than they do to women. I have resignations about this part of the experiment. I tried to imagine some of my male professors riding down the street on a mens bike wearing a

womans wig (remember, mens’ bikes are visibly different than womens’ bikes). In my imagination, some of them looked strange enough that I would give them more space if I were passing them in a car because I imagine that they would not look completely sane. I always give more space to people who appear to be unpredictable people on the road. If he were really interested in how drivers treat women he would have had a female colleague or a female student ride a womans bicycle instead of playing dress-up with a wig himself. Dr. Walker suggests that bicycle riders should continue to wear helmets because they do provide more protection if you do have an accident. He says that the lesson to be learned here is that drivers need to be more conscious of bicycle riders wearing helmets. As an economics student I wonder what marginal analysis would tell us about whether the helmet is ultimately more or less safe. This article has to do with epistemology because it challenges the assumption that it is safer to ride a bicycle with a helmet than it is to ride a bicycle without a helmet. That assumption has been accepted for as long as I can remember riding bicycles. Now we have knowledge that challenges that assumption in a new way. The new knowledge does not challenge the old knowledge that helmets increase riders’ chances of survival in an accident. The new knowledge challenges the larger assumption that it is safer to wear a helmet than to not wear a helmet because cars to pass closer to riders wearing helmets, which can cause more accidents. I propose that the new knowledge gained from this experiment should be worded like this: “Bicycle helmets increase the likelihood of an accident happening but they also increase the chances of a cyclist surviving an accident.”