In Bicycle helmets are a waste of time, a British neurosurgeon criticised helmets that are "too flimsy". He suggested that wearing a helmet can in fact be dangerous because research has shown that "drivers get around 8cm closer to cyclists who wear helmets because they perceive them as safer". (Helmets are not compulsory in the UK.)
Surprisingly, for an educated man, the doctor also used an unscientific argument which amounted to I've-ridden-a-bike-for-40-years-wearing-a-cowboy-hat-and-there's-nothing-wrong-with-me. That, of course, proves nothing. Then again, perhaps he has indeed had a cycling accident but suffered memory loss due to a head injury that may have been prevented had he been wearing a helmet. That could explain his provocative stance which is at odds with the message from safety campaigners. The New Zealand Transport Agency says that the "most common cyclist injuries that cause death are head injuries, so protecting your head is important".
(Cycle helmets are compulsory here.)
Protective headgear is a no-brainer at our place. We wear helmets even if the practice is not enshrined in law. As I've mentioned before, in addition to a bike helmet, my daughter has a ski helmet and three pony-riding helmets. When performing activities involving speed and/or height, why would you not take such precautions?
All the children on the ski slopes these days wear helmets. They start wearing them from the moment they clip on their first set of skis and it fast becomes habit. Slowly their parents are investing in protective headgear too. Very soon there will be virtually no one on the mountain without a helmet. Even now, it's only a few stalwart skiers from the 1980s and beyond who remain defiantly bareheaded. After twenty years of skiing I recently purchased my first ski helmet. It's so comfortable, so warm and feels so safe I wonder what took me so long. Actually I do know why I procrastinated: fear of looking fearful and fear of helmet hair.
We all resist change. It's natural to want to do things the way we've always done them. Having grown up when wearing seatbelts in cars wasn't compulsory, I can remember struggling with the notion of wearing one as an adult. A fine from a traffic officer helped sort that one out and now, of course, it's second nature to most of us to wear a seatbelt.
Boaties have been up in arms about Auckland Council's proposal designed to make boating safer in the wake of some needless deaths on the water. At present flotation devices must be carried on small boats and must be worn if the skipper says so. The council is reviewing this and the new rule will be that lifejackets must be worn unless the skipper says they can be removed. While the bureaucrats and local politicians probably view this new wording as a breakthrough, I can't see how this supposed rule change would alter behaviour on the water. It simply amounts to the skipper's discretion whichever way you look at it.
Whether it's lifejackets or helmets, surely anything that potentially saves lives and minimises injury in an accident is a good thing. Safety equipment in general is more lightweight, better designed, less obtrusive, more effective and more stylish than ever. To opt out of it seems unnecessarily rebellious.
I'm drawn to the idea that grown adults should be free to decide for themselves what safety equipment they use when undertaking risky activities. After all, they must face the consequences of such a decision. But the reality is that (if there is an accident) society at large will bear the cost of rescuing them, mending them and rehabilitating them. Surely then, authorities have a duty to try to minimise their likely exposure. At the very least lifejackets should be compulsory for children so that all our young ones are protected - even those who have parents with laidback attitudes towards water safety.