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Archive for the ‘risk’ Category

Senator Liu amended her misguided SB-192 bill. Instead of the requirement for helmets and “safety” vests, the bill now proposes a study of bike helmet use. While that is an improvement, there are still lots of problems with the bill. Now is not the time to be complacent.

The first problem is the study methodology:

The Office of Traffic Study [sic] shall conduct a comprehensive study of bicycle helmet use, including, but not limited to, determining the percentage of California bicyclists who do not wear helmets, and the fatalities or serious injuries that could have been avoided if helmets had been worn.

So the study would extrapolate the number of bicyclist lives that could be “saved” through increased helmet use? That methodology erroneously assumes increased helmet use leads to lower injuries and fatalities. Since there is no evidence to support such an assumption, the number of lives “saved” would be a bogus calculation. Such a number could, however, serve as useful propaganda for any future bike helmet legislation.

The second problem is that the study would be conducted by the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). That is like asking the Koch brothers to do a climate change report. The OTS has a windshield perspective when it comes to bike safety, especially bike helmets.

For example, the new OTS 2015 Highway Safety Plan (p. 93) repeats that zombie statistic about bike helmets. You know the one…about how bike helmets can prevent more than 80% of fatalities:

Bicycle or safety helmets have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of head and brain injury. In fact, it is estimated that as many as seven out of every eight bicycle-related fatalities among children could have been prevented with a bicycle helmet.

As most readers know, this statistic was widely discredited long ago. And yet the OTS still devotes resources to helmet programs, and has set a goal of increasing bike helmet usage this year by 25%.

Instead of having the OTS do a helmet study, let’s turn this around and do a performance audit on the OTS bike/ped program. For the past decade, California has suffered an increasing rate of bike and ped injuries and fatalities. And yet OTS methods have not changed, still focusing on bike helmets and jaywalking stings. Clearly that isn’t working, and it is discouraging that the OTS doesn’t realize it. A fresh approach at the OTS — one incorporating Vision-Zero policies — is what really needs to be studied.

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Cities throughout California have been upgrading their pedestrian signals to modern “countdown” style displays. You have probably seen them: They show the amount of time remaining for a pedestrian to cross the street. Studies confirm that countdown signals are effective for reducing collisions, because pedestrians know when it is safe to begin crossing.

Unfortunately, California law has not kept up with this new technology. CVC 21456, the “jaywalking” law, was enacted back in 1981. In those days, there was no countdown, just a flashing hand. As a result, there is a lot of confusion about when a pedestrian is permitted to cross:

The countdown begins when the “hand” on the signal switches from white to a blinking red and the timer starts ticking down toward zero. It seems that California law says you’re not allowed to set foot in the street once the “Don’t Walk” signal or the red hand begins flashing, even if there is still plenty of time on the countdown.

Well, who knew that? Many pedestrians assume — wrongly, it turns out — that the countdown is designed to tell you how much time you have to clear the intersection so you can make an informed decision on whether to cross the street or wait. “Fifteen seconds? I can make it if I walk fast.” “Five seconds? I’ll wait until the next cycle.”

In most cities, police are taking a common-sense approach to the countdown signals. They will only give a ticket if a pedestrian crosses against the solid-hand phase.

One big exception is the city of Los Angeles.

The LA police department has giving citations for jaywalking, especially in the crowded downtown area, to pedestrians crossing during the countdown phase:

A Downtown News story last week reported that Los Angeles police officers have been ticketing jaywalkers in the city’s historic core and the financial district. Penalties range from a hefty $190 to an even heftier $250. “We’re heavily enforcing pedestrian violations because they’re impeding traffic and causing too many accidents and deaths,” Lt. Lydia Leos told the newspaper.

Fair enough. Pedestrians, like drivers, can be careless — or reckless — and that can be a real safety problem. But what’s causing controversy is that the Los Angeles Police Department is enforcing the letter of the law and ticketing walkers who step into the street during the “countdown.”

This is ridiculous, and it has been going on for years. The Legislature needs to eliminate this ambiguity from CVC 21456. Otherwise, what’s the point of having a countdown signal?

countdown

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In California, parents are not legally required to vaccinate their kids. They are, however, required to make their kids wear bike helmets. How did we get into a situation where biking was seen as a greater risk than polio and the measles?

California passed its youth bike helmet law in 1994. It was one of the first states to do so, and led to dozens of other states passing similar legislation. California State Senator Carol Liu now wants to extend the “benefits” of mandatory helmet legislation to adults.

But what evidence is there that mandatory helmet legislation is effective? In doing a literature search, I find hardly any studies that looked at the effectiveness of California’s 1994 law. But the raw data is available online to do your own analysis.

The EPICenter online injury database tracks hospital admissions for injuries, with fields for age, race, location, and cause of injury. This is one of the databases used by helmet promoters to justify helmet laws. I pulled numbers from the database, and did time-series graphs. I encourage others to also review the data.

Before getting into the results, let me offer the usual caveats. The data only go back as far as 1991. And the data do not directly measure cycling activity levels (i.e. a decline in injury numbers could be a result of less cycling). Also keep in mind that hospital data records are notoriously unreliable.  Despite those limitations, one would expect to see dramatic reductions in head injury numbers given the supposed 80% effectiveness of bike helmets.

So here is the total number of bicycle-related traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the California database, for ages 0-17:

youth_tbi_cases_1

The vertical line indicates when the state law went into effect. At first glance, the post-legislation TBI level does seem slightly lower. But was the post-legislation decline a result of the helmet mandate, or merely a continuation of an ongoing trend?

To help answer that question, let’s compare against reported pedestrian accidents, shown in the following time-series graph. It is interesting that the youth pedestrian TBI rate saw a similar rate of decline — even though there is no pedestrian helmet mandate. This suggests the decline in cycling head injuries was mainly due to fewer kids walking and biking, and not a result of the helmet mandate.

 

youth_bike_ped_tbi_3

 

Finally, let’s next look at the bicycle TBI data for the adolescents, ages 14-17. The reason for doing this is that adolescents are more similar to 18+ riders in the type of cycling and amount of adult supervision. As can be seen, the helmet mandate was ineffective for adolescents as TBI injuries were unchanged relative to pre-legislation levels. If the helmet mandate is ineffective for adolescents, it is unlikely that it would suddenly start to work when they turn 18.

youth_tbi_cases_teenagers

 

Conclusion

When the California Legislature passed the youth helmet law in 1994, it did so on the basis of speculative and dubious studies by helmet promoters. But now that the state has had more than 10 years of real-world data, it is clear the helmet experiment has been an epic fail. There no clear evidence the law reduced injuries, and it diverted millions of dollars in resources that could have been spent on more effective measures. The Legislature must not repeat this mistake with Senator Liu’s adult helmet bill.

If anything, the Legislature should rescind the youth helmet requirement. The parent-child relationship is sacrosanct. In free countries, government does not interfere in that relationship except in extraordinary cases. The decision about wearing bicycle headgear isn’t one of them.

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The idiotic Australian helmet law strikes again:

Melbourne police officers succeeded where scores of action movie villains have failed when they stopped Hollywood tough guy Arnold Schwarzenegger in his tracks on Monday.

The intervention began after photographs began circulating on social media of the American actor, bodybuilder and politician riding one of Melbourne’s blue share bikes. The Terminator and Predator star was wearing bike-matching blue shorts, but not a bicycle helmet.

“I saw a group of cyclists riding ahead of me and we just went up to do a routine intercept,” Senior Constable Gillson told Fairfax Media on Tuesday.

“Then we noticed that Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the crowd. “We spoke to him briefly and had a little chat with him about the reason why I pulled him over.”

The constable said he often chose to educate tourists from countries without helmet laws rather than fine them.

Someone needs educating, and it isn’t the tourists.

arnold

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If you thought Smart-Phones were bad for driver distraction, the Apple Smart-Watch could be even worse:

The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) in Wokingham, Berks showed that a driver reading a message on an Apple Watch would take 2.52 seconds to react to an emergency manoeuvre, whereas a driver talking to another passenger would react in 0.9 seconds. Reading on an Apple Watch was even found to be more distracting than using a handheld mobile

The problem with watches is the smaller screen. And it is right there on the wrist always in full view, providing a constant distraction. Automakers, however, see this as yet another marketing opportunity. BMW has reportedly developed apps to link the Apple Watch to the driver console.

texting4

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Valhalla

The 5 victims in the horrific Metro-North collision in Valhalla will be listed in the official statistics as train fatalities — even though it was an automobile that killed them. Each year, there are tens of thousands of automobile fatalities, but for some reason, the NTSB only investigates crashes involving trains or other mass transit.

Based on previous work by the NTSB, one can expect their report to focus on accident survivability, not accident avoidance. The key question isn’t what role the 3rd rail played, or the design of the road — but why the grade crossing was even there in the first place?

The Commerce St. grade crossing has little traffic, and is located just 1 mile away from grade-separated crossings in both north and south directions. Closing the crossing to motor vehicles is the obvious solution. It would greatly increase safety, with only minor time penalty for motorists.

Metro-North has such a large number of crossings similar to this one that it begs the question as to why they are left open to motor vehicles. A systematic approach to closing minor at-grade crossings that are in close proximity to grade-separated roadways would greatly increase safety, with only minor impact on motor vehicles. Note that crossings could still be left open to bikes/peds, avoiding the “Berlin-Wall” effect. The reason this has not been done is because small inconveniences for motorists takes precedence over the safety of train passengers. Hopefully this latest tragedy will lead to a change in priorities.

And it is not a problem unique to Metro-North. In the SF Bay Area, the Caltrain line has a number of minor at-grade crossings that should be closed to motor vehicles. It is just dumb luck that Caltrain has not experienced a mass casualty event. And when the agency starts using EMU’s, you can be sure the knives will come out if one of those “dangerous” non-compliant trains were involved in a fatal accident.

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Drunk Cyclists

The view according to the GHSA is that bicyclists are getting killed not from the lack of infrastructure — but because they are drunk and don’t wear helmets.

And while they are correct in stating 1 in 4 adult bicycle fatalities were alcohol-related, that is lower the overall rate of traffic fatalities. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 traffic fatalities are alcohol-related.

And I’m willing to bet that none of those drivers were wearing helmets.

alc

helm

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