37.8 % of all statistics are made up on the spot by the 26.9% of statisticians who are in the ball park when they should be back at the office gathering facts to back up their statistics.
I can vouch for the validity of those figures because I just made them up. Whether or not you find that funny will depend on your falling into the 49.3% of people who are skeptical over statistics.
The thing that makes something funny is when a statement contains a modicum of truth, and the point here is that some of us are skeptical of certain statistics. Whether we buy into them depends on our opinions to begin with.
Here is one I see all the time:
“Wearing a bike helmet is estimated to reduce head injury risk by 85 percent.”
I’m not sure where this one started, but it has been around for twenty years or more and I’m assuming that originally it had some other statistics and solid data to back up that figure.
It has been repeated over and over, and over again so many times, that it is now stated as fact without reference to the original study. When you analyze the 85% all it does is reinforce a person’s view that bike helmets are a good idea, only if that person held that view to begin with.
Without the original study and the data to back it up, 85% is as meaningless a number as the ones I made up at the start of this piece. Still it is big enough that it sounds good, but not so big that it is still believable if you don't give it too much thought. I think this is what has given this particular statistic its longevity.
I don’t even know anymore if wearing a helmet is supposed to reduce injury by 85% or does it reduce death by 85%? People have accidents with and without helmets, some are injured and some die, but can anyone prove to me that it is even close to 85% survivor and 15% casualty rate.
A few years ago I had a serious accident; I was doing about 25 mph with a strong tail wind, when a person in an SUV turned left in front of me. I was wearing a helmet, but unfortunately went face first into the side of the vehicle.
Maybe if I had the presence of mind to stick my head down, my injuries would have been less, but I was too busy looking for a way around this large object that had suddenly appeared in front of me.
My helmet split at the front, and failed to prevent my eyeglasses from being pushed into my eye, causing permanent eye nerve damage. I also came away with a skull fracture.
So which side of the 85% statistic do I belong? I didn’t die, but I did still end up with a pretty serious injuries. I could join the ranks of those who have a story on how their helmet saved their life. But I won’t, because I am not convinced.
It can be both very difficult to kill someone, and at the same time very easy; it all depends on how and where you are hit. Had I stuck my head down and let the helmet take the full impact, I could have been less seriously injured. On the other hand I may have broken my neck.
I did have some serious abrasions on my scalp that were caused by the inside of the helmet. Never-the-less I was glad I had worn one; for the following reason. Later when my attorney was negotiating a settlement with the insurance company, he was able to say that this cyclist took every precaution to protect himself. He wore a helmet.
I just read an article by an injury lawyer stating that jurors in civil cases have a bias against cyclists. They view cycling on the public highways as a highly dangerous practice, and when people are perceived to engage in dangerous activities, juries tend to place some of the blame on the participant. This has a direct effect on the amount of compensation they award.
By voluntarily wearing a helmet you at least appear to a jury or an insurance adjuster to be someone who takes responsibility for their safety. They cannot award you less with the argument that you didn’t wear a helmet; therefore you contributed to your own injuries.
Unfortunately the 85% helmet statistic gives legislators fuel to press for mandatory helmet use for cyclists. While many more people die each year from a simple trip or slip and fall than from cycling related accidents.
That’s because almost all of us walk on two feet, but only a select few ride a bicycle. Maybe upon waking each morning we should place a helmet on our head before we even put slippers on our feet; not removing it until we return to bed that evening. Viewed in this light does it not make the whole issue somewhat ludicrous?
Making helmets mandatory only re-enforces the general public’s view that cycling is dangerous. I still maintain that wearing a helmet should be a personal choice; making them mandatory stops some from taking up cycling in the first place.
Most start riding a bike without a helmet, a few will become serious and eventually buy a better bike and all the equipment that goes with it, which will probably include a helmet.
To sum up I wear a helmet because it offers some protection; I don’t believe it is even close to 85%, but wearing one can’t hurt. I may hit a pot hole and fall on my head, in which case my helmet may save me from serious injury. But a crash involving a motor vehicle? The best way to avoid injury there is to circumvent the collision altogether.