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Archive for the ‘risk’ Category

A NY Times editorial jumps on the distracted-pedestrian bandwagon. It argues in favor of laws recently passed in Honolulu and Montclair outlawing the use of mobile devices by pedestrians at intersections.

In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that distracted walking is a problem. Enforcing such a law would do nothing for pedestrian safety. Rather, it would be a pretext for police harassment of pedestrians.

The Times argues such laws are needed to enforce a “social contract” that everyone is responsible for their safety and regard for others. But there is no such social contract. Distracted pedestrian laws only apply to….pedestrians. Drivers are still free to use their mobile devices as they blast through intersections. Some car manufacturers, such as Tesla, even incorporate giant touchscreens in the dashboard.

The hysteria over distracted walking originates with the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which speaks for state highway departments. State highway engineers have spent decades building a very dangerous transportation system. But rather than acknowledge professional blunders, the GHSA blames the victim. Pedestrians, you see, are getting killed because they are drunk and using cell phones.  For 2018, the GHSA annual report adds a new bogeyman — marijuana legalization:

Analyzing data for the first half of 2017, the Governors Highway Safety Association found a notable increase in pedestrian deaths in states that had legalized marijuana. Elsewhere, the death toll declined. It is too early for firm conclusions, but you can’t rule out that judgments are flawed when drivers and pedestrians go around stoned.

There were seven states that had legalized marijuana between 2012 and 2016 (Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington). While those states did see large increases last year in pedestrian fatalities, other factors (increasing VMT in particular) appears to be the culprit, not legalization. Except for Nevada, the legalization states still have lower overall pedestrian fatality rates compared to the national average. And interestingly, there is considerable debate within the medical community on what impact (if any) cannabis has on driver impairment.

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According to Australian mainstream media, Bicycle Network is that country’s one and only group for representing the interests of cyclists. This is the organization which, for the past 30 years, promoted mandatory helmet laws. With friends like that who needs enemies?

But now, I guess in an attempt to stay relevant, Bicycle Network has been conducting a highly publicized survey on the issue of mandatory helmet laws. The good news is that the survey result showed agreement on repealing Australia’s mandatory helmet laws. However, a substantial number of respondents (40%) want to retain the law for children.

This survey result is typical, especially when the bicycle gearheads discuss helmet laws on the internets. Children, it is argued, need to be protected because they are more vulnerable to traumatic head injury. Like everything else involving helmets, that argument is based on superstition instead of hard data.

Children are actually not all that vulnerable to head injury. In fact, if there is one age group extremely vulnerable to traumatic head injury it isn’t children but the elderly. Rates of head-injury deaths in the US were highest for those aged 75 and older. Similar results are seen in Europe. From a safety standpoint, it is ludicrous to single out the age group least at risk:

heads2

TBI-associated death (Eurostat)

Now to be clear, this data is for all TBI-related fatalities, not just ones involving a bicycle. The point here is to show that children do not have some biological issue that requires special head protection.

And of course, we already know that mandatory youth helmet laws is ineffective by looking at places that implemented such laws, including California and parts of Canada. Oh, and Australia.

 

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Hillary Clinton was in Flint today for a campaign rally on lead poisoning. It calls to mind this infamous speech, where she drew comparisons between video games and lead poisoning. Who knew Grand Theft Auto was as dangerous as lead pipes?

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When a celebrity crashes a plane, or is rear-ended by a truck, the NTSB will make a thorough investigation. But for the thousands of pedestrians and cyclists killed and injured each year, the NTSB has no interest in researching the cause of the collision.

A review of this year’s archive of accident recommendations shows the NTSB made dozens of recommendations for aviation, railroads, pipelines, and highways. But there is nothing related to non-motorized road users.

In fact, the last time the NTSB looked at a bike or ped issue was way back in the year 1972. Apparently, the NTSB believes the US has the most perfect infrastructure for bikes and peds.

When Congress created the NTSB, the purpose was to provide outside, independent guidance to transport planners. And since traffic engineers have such a huge blind spot for bikes and peds, one would think that a Vision-Zero policy would be the top high priority for the NTSB. Unfortunately, there is nobody at the agency, either at the staff or Board level, that seems to have any awareness of the issue.

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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

hoboken

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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