Archive for the ‘risk’ Category

rob_fordToronto has two systems of justice. One for normal folk, and another for crack-smoking drunk-driving Mayors:

Toronto police officers helped Rob Ford on “multiple occasions” after stopping his vehicle while he was still mayor, rather than charge him with driving impaired, his former chief of staff says.

The allegation emerged Saturday in an excerpt from a soon to-be-released book by Mark Towhey titled Mayor Rob Ford: Uncontrollable. “Two senior members of the Toronto Police Service had told me officers had pulled over the mayor’s car late at night on multiple occasions and driven him home rather than charging him for driving under the influence.”

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There are two popular ways for measuring the safety benefit of bicycle helmets. One method is to look at hospital admission records, comparing the relative number of helmeted and non-helmeted patients. The use of hospital records is an indirect measure, because researchers don’t have reliable data on the number of helmeted cyclists in the general population. Due to this limitation, researchers guesstimate risk exposure rates, which is difficult.

The other method is to study the effect of mandatory helmet laws. A time-series analysis of crash-data before and after implementation of a helmet law provides a direct measure of helmet effectiveness. This is the preferred method because it covers a much larger population in real-world conditions (without having to infer risk exposure rates). Time-series studies of helmet laws in Australia, Canada, and Spain have found no discernible impact on bicycle safety.

When direct measurements of helmet laws failed to find any safety benefit, that should have ended helmet debates. But like any zombie idea, the helmet issue shambles along. Why is that? Perhaps one reason is the hospital case-control studies that promised huge safety benefit from helmets (as high as 85%). But what is the reason for the huge discrepancy between direct and indirect measurements?

One reason for the discrepancy may be due to a methodological error in the hospital case-control studies. That is according to a new paper, Overestimation of the effectiveness of the bicycle helmet by the use of odds ratiosby Th. Zeegers. It was presented at the 2015 International Cycling Conference held last month in Hanover, Germany.

Zeegers argues that case-control studies overestimate the risk of cycling for the control (i.e. non-helmeted cyclists) thereby exaggerating the benefit of helmets. He then re-analyzed data from three popular helmet studies. After correcting for the error, he found that the supposed benefit of bike helmets completely vanished:

Due to lack of data on exposure rates, odds ratios of helmeted versus unhelmeted cyclists for head injury and other injuries on hospitalized victims are broadly used in case-control studies. A general necessary and sufficient condition can be formulated rigorously, for which odds ratios indeed equal risk ratios. However, this condition is not met in case-control studies on bicycle helmets. As a consequence, the real risk of cycling with a helmet can be underestimated by these studies and therefore the effectiveness of the bicycle helmet can be overestimated. The central point is that a wrong estimate of the risk for non-head injuries (the controls) paradoxically can lead to an overestimation of the usefulness of the helmet in protecting against head injuries.

Three cases could be found in the literature with sufficient data to assess both risk ratios and odds ratios: the Netherlands, Victoria (Australia) and Seattle (U.S.A). In all three cases, the problem of overestimation of the effectiveness of the helmet by using odds ratios did occur. The effect ranges from small (+ 8 % ) to extremely large ( > + 400 %). Contrary to the original claim of these studies, in two out of three cases the risk of getting a head injury proved not to be lower for helmeted cyclists. Moreover, in all three cases the risk of getting a non-head injury proved to be higher for cyclists with a helmet.

It must be concluded that any case-control study in which the control is formed by hospitalized bicyclists is unreliable and likely to overestimate the effectiveness of the bicycle helmet. As a direct consequence, also meta-analyses based on these case-control studies overestimate the effectiveness of the bicycle helmet. Claims on the effectiveness of the bicycle helmet can no longer be supported by these kind of studies. This might explain the discrepancy between case-control studies and other studies, such as time-analysis. It is recommended to use other methods to estimate the risk ratio for the bicycle helmet, along the lines described in this article.

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PTC Deadline Excuses


On May 8, 2011, a PATH train overran the platform Hoboken, striking the bumping post at the end of the track. Of the 70 passengers on-board, 30 passengers plus two crewmembers were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. An NTSB investigation concluded that PTC would have prevented the accident:

PATH has submitted its PTC implementation plan to the FRA, and the FRA has approved the plan. The proposed PATH PTC system would enforce an absolute stop for trains approaching the platforms at Hoboken station. The NTSB, therefore, concludes that the PTC system proposed for implementation by PATH would have automatically alerted the engineer to the train’s excessive speed; and if the brakes were not applied, while operating in automatic mode or manual mode, the PTC system would have automatically applied the brakes to stop the train and prevent the collision.

PATH suffered a similar kind of accident in 2009 at Journal Square.

It has been more than four years since the Hoboken crash, which is sufficient time to install the PTC system. The Port Authority, however, is dragging its feet:

PATH officials have joined officials from 21 passenger and commuter railroads and seven freight railroads asking the U.S. Senate to extend a Dec. 31 deadline to implement an automatic speed control system.

PATH officials warned that they could be forced to reduce or suspend service if the deadline isn’t changed and the Federal Railroad Administration fines railroads that haven’t complied.

“The delay in meeting the deadline in no way, shape or form jeopardizes the safety and or quality of service that PATH provides to 265,000 daily riders,” said Michael P. Marino, PATH director and general manager in a Sept. 17 letter to a U.S.senate committee.

Since the passage of a 2008 law that mandates PTC, PATH has “zero accidents” that would have been preventable if PTC were installed, Marino said.

Not only are PATH officials endangering riders, they are also lying to Congress.

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Tricycles: threat or menace?

The helmet fear-mongers go full-retard:

For the past decade, we’ve drilled into children that when they ride a bike, they need to wear a helmet. Now scientists say it may be too late: Tricycle riders should be wearing them, too.

Using data collected from 100 emergency rooms for the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, researchers found that boys are more likely than girls to turn up in the emergency room. Two-year-olds seem to have the most accidents, although there were tricycle injuries for children up to age 7. The most common broken bone was the elbow and the most common injury overall was a cut to the face.

In addition to helmets, the authors suggest kids wear elbow pads, and that parents supervise their children while they ride.

Even better, just make them wear bubble-wrap.


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Helmet hysteria strikes again. This time, female lacrosse players in Florida are the victims:

Boys’ lacrosse teams nationwide have worn hard-shell helmets for many years. Girls, who play by vastly different rules that generally forbid contact, have historically spurned most protective gear. In Florida, where lacrosse is a new sport, state officials instead reasoned that all lacrosse players are at risk for head trauma and defied the sport’s traditionalists by mandating a soft form of headgear for everyone in a girls’ lacrosse game or practice.

Ann Carpenetti, vice president of lacrosse operations at US Lacrosse, the sport’s national governing body, called Florida’s decision “irresponsible” and said the headgear decision could make the game more hazardous because it might embolden players to be more aggressive.

Coaches across the state have panned the new rule. “It serves no purpose, other than being a costly distraction to parents and the players,” said Nikki Krakower, the coach of the girls’ team at Gainesville High School. “It’s ridiculous.”

Opponents of the mandate said the new rule was especially flawed because the Florida-approved headgear — the type used most commonly is a 10-millimeter-thick headband — is flimsy. “A headband is only going to prevent minor contusions and abrasions if they happen in the two inches the headband covers,” said Lynn Millinoff, the coach of the girls’ team at Buchholz High School in Gainesville. “But Florida officials seem to think they’re smarter than the entire rest of the lacrosse-playing world.”

As you can see from the picture, the thing isn’t even a helmet. Other than perhaps serving as a hair band, it doesn’t serve any purpose.


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The motorcycle fatality rate has more than doubled over the past 20 years. The GHSA is once again ignoring street design and driver behavior, and instead promoting helmets:

Motorcycle fatalities for 2014 remained stubbornly high, a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association said. Though motorcycles account for only 3 percent of vehicles on the road, their riders and passengers account for 14 percent of all U.S. motor vehicle-related deaths.

Estimated total fatalities for 2014 will total 4,584, GHSA said, when the data set is complete. That’s a 1.8 percent drop from 2013, when 4,668 people died in motorcycle incidents.

But that fatality rate is double the number of deaths tabulated during the late 1990s, GHSA said — and are more stark because automobile traffic deaths have dropped, due to improved auto safety features. Motorcycle deaths accounted for only 5 percent of all U.S. motor vehicle deaths in 1997, but represented 14 percent of all motor vehicle deaths in 2013.

Only 19 of the 50 states have universal helmet laws, most of the remainders requiring helmets only for riders under 18 or in some cases 21. In those states, the GHSA report stated, helmet use is typically below 50 percent.

The GHSA report came down squarely against limited or lax helmet laws. “Motorcycle deaths … were substantially lower in states with universal laws than in those with no laws or laws applying only to young motorcyclists.”

In fact, mandatory motorcycle helmet laws actually have the opposite effect — causing an increase in the fatality rate.

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This legislative session has already seen bills that would mandate helmets and orange safety vests. A ban on headphones can also be added to the list: SB 491 would prohibit the use of ear buds while riding a bicycle.

The Legislative Analyst summary describes this change as “non-controversial” because existing law already prohibits the use of full ear-covering headsets. Well, one wonders whether the analyst gets out much. Whereas there are hardly any cyclists out there riding around with studio headphones, iPhone-style ear buds are extremely popular. This bill would criminalize a very common behavior among cyclists.

Like the helmet legislation, an ear bud ban sounds sounds great in theory (no pun intended), but lacks any studies or data to back it up. It is unlikely to improve safety, or even change cyclist behavior. But it will almost certainly serve as a pretext for police to harass minorities.

And given the way “distracted walking” has become a thing, then it is not inconceivable that pedestrians will one day get the same treatment.

Cyclist wearing headphones in Copenhagen (www.copenhagenize.com)

Cyclist wearing headphones in Copenhagen (Copenhagenize)

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