Helmets Increase Risky Behavior, So Why Not Ban Them?


A new study from the University of Bath in the UK published in Psychological Science found people were more likely to take risks while wearing a helmet. Doesn’t that call into question the theory they provide more safety? The answer is a lesson in unintended consequences.

By:  Nick Hankoff

This article first appeared at Liberty.Me

The study took 80 people aged 17-56 and tricked them into thinking their eye movements were being tested. Half of the participants were made to wear bicycle helmets while the rest wore a baseball cap. They were told the headgear was holding eye-tracker devices.

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Then the test subjects were told to play a game of chance. Each person had a screen with a balloon on it, where they would be able to earn points by inflating it. The risk is that the balloon could pop at any moment, costing the participant all of their collected points. So there was an option to “bank” the accumulated points without taking on more risk.

“The helmet could make zero difference to the outcome, but people wearing one seemed to take more risks in what was essentially a gambling task,” Ian Walker from University of Bath told The India Times.

“Replicated in real-life settings, this could mean that people using protective equipment might take risks against which that protective equipment cannot reasonably be expected to help,” he said.

Here’s more on the unintended consequences of laws requiring helmets:

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This article first appeared at VoicesOfLiberty