St. Louis, MO
Posted - 03/03/2011 : 4:19 PM
Risk compensation isn't limited to high-risk sports like skydiving. In fact, some of the most unlikely people take the most unlikely chances simply because they believe risks have been offset-such as parents:
Parents and children and risk compensation After regulation demanded medicine bottle caps and lighters have child-proof devices research found that "...that many parents left the caps off bottles, and the net effect that was observed from this safety device introduction was that there was no evidence of a significant beneficial impact." It also found that up to 10 percent of parents would leave lighters where children could get them as a result raising the risk of setting a fire rather than lowering it.
Other studies[i] have found that parents allowed their children to take more risks if they were wearing protective gear because they assumed that the gear provided complete protection for the children. Children in another study went faster and "behaved more recklessly" when they had gear on.[ii]
Bicyclists, soccer players and in-line skaters British research by Dr. Ian Walker found that people drove closer to bicyclists if the bicyclists wore a helmet and was male.[iii]
And a study on soccer found that when the kicker and goalie wore protective gear the kicker moved closer to the goalie but didn't when protective gear wasn't worn. Other studies have shown that rugby headgear can influence players to tackle harder. [iv]
While another study found that serious injuries were more frequent among adult in-line skaters who wore safety gear about half the time rather than among those who didn't wear safety gear at all.[ v]
As one of the studies on children's and parents' behavior stated the "... use of safety gear may result in misperceptions of injury risk and this can produce unwanted effects. Specifically, individuals may assume that safety gear completely protects against all injury, and therefore the need to be cautious no longer exists, resulting in greater risk taking or increased tolerance for risk taking. This phenomenon is known as risk compensation."[vi]
Boaters Experience-and training-has also been found to have the opposite effect as a study of 10,000 boating accidents over 5 years[vii] found: Older, more experienced boaters were less likely to wear a personal flotation device (PFD)-and so were their passengers. And if they did wear a PFD, they were more likely to increase their alcohol consumption. PFD use did increase in windy conditions-indicating the operators perceived higher risk-it decreased at night indicating they didn't see darkness as increasing risk.
Iow, protective gear-including helmets-is associated with risk compensation but with a twist. In some cases, it's the participants wearing the gear that take increased risk. In other cases it's someone else who takes greater risks (other drivers) because someone else is wearing gear or (we'll get to the role of experience and training in the next entry).
Risk compensation by ordinary people in ordinary activities is normative Iow, in many activities and with a wide range of people who are not associated with risk-taking behaviors (such as parents and recreational boaters) automatically take on more risk (or allow those they are responsible for to do so) because of something that's worn-and often with a false understanding of what that gear can actually do. Iow, risk perception changes-and not necessarily in conscious ways-by the presence of protective gear.
Which makes sense in a way: because children are wearing gear, they are less likely to be hurt playing soccer, running an obstacle course or bicycling-and so are adults.
When it comes to protective gear, risk compensation is a normative behavior for ordinary people, ordinary objects and ordinary risks. When people believe they are safer they act in ways that put them more at risk.
The question, then, would seem to be not if protective gear risk compensation occurs in motorcycling but how much.
ATGATT and risk compensation? It would be no surprise, then, if motorcyclists who wear helmets do so as well since even parents who are dedicated to their children's safety do so. And, as we discovered in the entries on seat belts, motorcyclists are more likely to voluntarily wear helmets than drivers are to wear seat belts. Nationally, even in states without helmet laws, over 50% of riders do wear helmets according to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey. Iow, motorcyclists perceive and believe in the protection helmets offer.
A survey of over 130 riders 40 and older found that 83 percent said they wore a helmet all the time and 80% said they wore gear all the time. Fifty-nine percent of respondents thought helmets were either completely or significantly/very effective at reducing injury and 49 percent thought they were completely or very effective at reducing death.
Yet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that helmets are only 25 percent effective in reducing injury and 37 percent effective in preventing death.
Clearly, motorcyclists, like parents, tend to have an exaggerated and erroneous belief in just how effective helmets are.
Consuming the safety margin But the safety margin that protective gear gives participants is predicated on all else staying exactly the same: they are only safer because of gear if they take no more risks than they had previously or the situation becomes no more dangerous. Iow, helmets are only 25 percent and 37 percent effective if the situation hasn't become more dangerous (more difficult roads or poor road surface, heavier traffic, etc.) and if the rider hasn't taken on more risk (higher speeds, shorter gaps, late braking, etc.).
Unfortunately, it doesn't take much to consume the safety margin gear and helmets offer-particularly since helmets can only protect against injuries caused by exterior forces. Internal injuries (coup-contra-coup, axial rotation, etc.) can be far more debilitating but cannot be prevented by helmets. But no one can predict which kind of crash they'll have and what kind of head injury will result.
Others can consume our safety margin In a related way, just as the study on soccer players and the one on bicyclists wearing helmets others will take on more risk because the participants were wearing protective gear. Iow, even if the one wearing protective gear is minimizing risks, others can consume the safety margin the gear gives by acting in more aggressive ways because they believe the one wearing the gear is better protected than they are in reality. It matters a great deal, then what both participants and outsiders believe about helmet/gear effectiveness.
And that's the subject of the next entry.
[i] Mok, D., Gore, G., Hagel, B., Mok, E., Magdalinos, H., Pless, B., 2004. Risk compensation in children's activities: a pilot study. Paediatr. Child Health 9, 327330.
Morrongiello, B.A., 1997. Children's perspectives on injury and close-call experiences: sex differences in injury-outcome processes. J. Pediatr. Psychol. 22, 499-512.
Morrongiello, B.A., Major, K., 2002. Influence of safety gear on parental perceptions of injury risk and tolerance or children's risk taking. Injury Prevent. 8, 27-31.
Morrongiello, B.A., Rennie, H., 1998. Why do boys engage in more risk taking than girls? The role of attributions, beliefs, and risk appraisals. J. Pediatric Psychology. 23, 33-43.
[ii] Morrongiello, Barbara A. and Beverly Walpole, Jennifer Lasenby Understanding children's injury-risk behavior: Wearing safety gear can lead to increased risk taking. Accident Analysis and Prevention 39 (2007) 618-623.
[iii] Walker, Ian. Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender. Accident Analysis & Prevention Volume 39, Issue 2, March 2007, Pages 417-425.
[iv] Braun, C., Fouts, J., 1998. Behavioral response to the presence of personal protective equipment. Hum. Factors Ergon. Soc. 2, 10581063. McIntosh, A S. Risk compensation, motivation, injuries, and biomechanics in competitive sport. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2005;39:2-3. Hagel B, Meeuwisse W. Risk compensation: a "side effect" of sport injury prevention. Clin J Sport Med 2004;14:1935.
[ v] Williams-Avery R.M.; MacKinnon D.P.Injuries and use of protective equipment among college in-line. Accident Analysis and Prevention, Volume 28, Number 6, November 1996 , pp. 779-784(6).
[vi] Morrongiello, Barbara A. and Beverly Walpole, Jennifer Lasenby Understanding children's injury-risk behavior: Wearing safety gear can lead to increased risk taking. Accident Analysis and Prevention 39 (2007) 618-623.
[vii] McCarthy, Patrick and Wayne K. Talley. Evidence on risk compensation and safety behaviour. Economics Letters 62 (1999) 9196.