Thursday, 28 May 2015

Won't anyone think of the children?

Supplementary material

Statistics Canada, table 102-0540, chapter XX (year 2011)

Number of people killed by falling on or from steps or stairs: 396

Number of people killed by some other fall from the same level: 856

Number of people killed while riding a bicycle: 87

Now please, help me understand why our government and many well-meaning activists are going apeshit about bicycle helmets and not about stairs and sidewalks. Riding a bicycle is barely twice as dangerous as taking a bath (41 people drowned in their bath in Canada in 2011). In the name of safety, are we going to force people to wear a floating jacket when taking their bath?

It's like a moral crusade... some worthy cause (protecting people) that becomes way more important in the eyes of its proponents than it is in reality. And the numbers be damned, because we know we're right. Case in point, here is an anecdote about a child who fell down the stairs and broke her skull, only to drown in her bathtub the next day. Do you want that to happen to YOUR child?


  1. You are making a false conclusion, committing a fallacy by assuming both risks are the same in nature. They are not.

    There is little you can do to make stairs safer. At best, you can ensure that the steps are well-made and that there are handrails.

    With riding bicycles, there are a host of things you can add to make things safer. Wearing a helmet doesn't actually make things safer, they just mitigate damage when accidents happen. Wearing high-visibility vests, having a mirror to better see behind you, toggling your bicycle lights on (oddly, even in daylight) is what makes it safer. The mandatory wearing of bicycle helmets is a normal law in many countries. It is another question altogether how much it is enforced.

    1. I'm not saying the risks are the same, friend, just that they are all very, very small. To wit, I have no idea if it is as likely to be struck by lighting as it is to be bitten by a rabid dog. I just don't worry about either peril, because they are both safely in the "very unlikely" category.

      Few people are worried about hurting themselves while using the stairs, swimming in a pool or taking a walk outside; at least, not to the point of favouring the mandatory use of protective clothes or devices. Bicycle helmets, for some reason, are nevertheless presented as a panacea against the (rare) injuries incurred while riding a bicycle, with the backing of many people, most of whom do not regularly use a bike. It is quite true that falling on one's head can cause a grievous injury, and that when someone does hit their head, a helmet is far better than no helmet. Cyclists who are at greater risk of falling (those practicing mountain biking or racing) almost always wear one. But commuters who, like millions of Dutch or Danish citizens, just use their bike for routine trips from home to the office? What's the point? As several bicycle advocacy groups point out, riding a bicycle is not an inherently dangerous activity and should not be presented as such.

      A very galling point in this neck of the woods is that the laws forcing minors to wear bicycle helmets is very strictly enforced, but not the far more sensible rules that also exist, such as using a headlight at night, riding on the correct side of the road or respecting stop signs and red lights. A helmet is not of much help when a kid gets hit by a truck at night because he was going the wrong way on a dark street without a headlight. And yet it's the helmets that warrant governmental publicity campaigns, and riding without one is presented as a suicidal activity. That is patently absurd, as is the notion of mandatory stairs helmet.