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Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

The Helmet Update

Volume 41 - #6 -June 9, 2023

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Australian humanization study is misleading

Bicycling magazine has reported on an Australian study that purports to show that riders wearing helmets are perceived as less human than others. The study and article are misleading.

The study begins by stating that it was designed to test the hypothesis that helmets are dehumanizing because they cover eyes and hair. Somehow they authors never varied from that goal although they discovered that instead their results indicated that any cycling apparel had the dehumanizing effect. In fact a chart shows that the presence of blue or grey lycra triggered the dehumanizing effect twice as strongly as wearing a helmet did.

The sample for the study came from people who responded to appeals in University media and a Facebook campaign to participate in a study of “The effect of cycling attire on perceptions of dehumanisation.” In Australia that drew a total of 563 participants. Seventy-two percent of them said they ride a bicycle at least once a week, compared to 12% of Australians as a whole. Sample bias was guaranteed.

The survey paired photos of models standing at the handlebars of a bicycle with and without safety equipment. Although there is discussion of humanization and negative reactions by car drivers, the methodology does not place the respondent in the position that matters most, behind the wheel of a car with a cyclist ahead.

This study is another groaner and the Bicycling article makes it worse. We will now hear for years from people who have never seen the study that helmets are dehumanizing, just the way we still hear about the discredited UK study that "proved" that cars pass more closely when you wear a helmet. It may be that any effect is swamped by wearing a lycra jersey, but there is no fun in debating that.

The Transportation Research study is available here on Science Direct and is not behind a paywall.