2009-01-07

Ski helmet idiocy in Austria

This is the sort of idiocy that makes me despair about the worthwhileness of the human race.

Imagine the sheer number of people who go skiing every year on the numerous slopes of Germany, Italy, and Austria. Skiing is popular in these countries. A very large proportion of the population goes skiing every year.

Now, skiing can be dangerous if you tempt destiny. However, even if you are an experienced and safe skier, every once in a long while, some incredible coincidence will happen, and a skier will die. This will happen so infrequently that your chances of dying as an individual (and safe) skier are negligible. But still, every once in a while, it will happen to someone, and they will die.

As it happens, this sort of thing just happened recently in Austria. Big deal, right? So it happens once in a while. So what?

Well, based on this single accident, loud voices in Austria and Germany are now calling to make helmets compulsory for all skiers.

The problem is that it appears that they have some chance of succeeding.

I just wish that some incredible coincidence would occur, and the people promoting such idiocies would all die in skiing accidents while wearing helmets.

Wearing a helmet should be your own choice. And imposing a helmet law on all skiers is just a hell of a cost to incur in order to save, perhaps, umm... one life, maybe, each year?

How ridiculous. No - worse: how evil.

25 comments:

verbatim said...

I fully agree with you.

Not to mention that no one can be sure if woman would survived if she was wearing the helmet because even man felt in coma.

I really hate when accidents like this happen (or any other rare crime). It's like when one hit bicycle rider with a helmet and he survive and then all start calling that helmets should be compulsory although statistically bikers with helmets also die in same percentage.

spuzvica said...

Spot on!

And what is happening is that all these rare incidences are introducing laws to protect us from daily idiocies people "can" do. In other words, they are pushing people into becoming dummies, relying on laws rather than using their own heads. Welcome to north america.

grrrrrrr.

verbatim said...

Perfect new example in Slovenia. Kid broke his neck while skiing and they highlightened that he didn't wear the helmet. I guess next time they will start talking about importance of wearing helmet when someone will brake his arm or leg.

http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_menu=8&c_id=190715

Anonymous said...

his neck while skiing and they highlightened that he didn't wear the helmet

How can you be 100% sure that wearing the helmet wouldn't absorb some of the energy? Wearing the helmet may or may not save your life... but it's a reasonable safety measure, just like the car passenger belts.

I think they should be mandatory for the kids. Kid's chance of survival should not depend too much on her parents' decisions.

And Denis, we're not talking about ONE life per year... 34 people died in Austria on slopes last year.

denis bider said...

34 per year, and how many would be saved by helmets? 34 per year, and how many man-hours do people in Austria spend skiing?

Taking charge of other people's kids is something of an interference. They do not have your genes, you did not give birth to them, you do not feed them, you do not raise them. You have no stake in them. Other people's kids can interest you to the extent that they might cause you trouble in the future, and to this extent you might have justification to interfere in their parenting, but you have no justification for interference in any other way.

Anonymous said...

Taking charge of other people's kids is something of an interference.

So other people can:
a) just kill their kids
b) put them in a life-threatening situation
c) drive them around in a car without fastening the seat-belts
d) leave them to ski without helmets

Where do you draw the line (in between a|b, b|c or c|d), and why so?

denis bider said...

All of the above is okay with me. They're your kids, you made them, do what you want. The one thing that you shouldn't do is cause those kids to eventually harm other people. Besides that, there is no justification for interference.

As far as I'm concerned, if all of a kids' parents agree to kill their kid when it is 3 years old, that's pretty much a belated abortion.

The human race is an alliance of similarly strong individuals who have established rules of engagement so as not to harm each other unnecessarily. Our civilization does not give a rat's ass about the well being of less powerful creatures. You yourself are proving that every day as you eat shrimp, veal, beef, pork, lamb, or chicken.

There are the following plausible reasons for children's rights:

(1) we're going to need a population that's going to do the work assuming we grow elderly and unable or unwilling;

(2) bad parenting leads to lost potential and increased incidence of criminal behavior by the children, whereas we want to maximize the positive contribution of children to our future economy, because of goal #1.

For these reasons, some interference in how people parent their kids is sensible, because you don't want them to grow up to be criminals and harming everyone.

But enforcing laws such as stupid children's car seats and so on is just too much, it's confused idealism on behalf of people divorced from reality; people who eat slaughtered meat for lunch and don't think twice about it.

verbatim said...

How can you be 100% sure that wearing the helmet wouldn't absorb some of the energy? Wearing the helmet may or may not save your life... but it's a reasonable safety measure, just like the car passenger belts.

We are talking about broken neck, not about an impact on the head which helmets can help absorb. Broken neck is the result of rapid head movement in either! way. How can helmet prevent a rapid movement forward for example? Helmets can even increase velocity because of additional weight.

Just take the helmets idiocy in Australia. They introduced mandatory helmets on bicycles some years ago. After the introduction of law, number of cyclists fell for about 50% while number of fatal head injuries remain on the same level in absolute(!) terms. People tend to have false perception about safety level.

And Denis, we're not talking about ONE life per year... 34 people died in Austria on slopes last year.

Majority of whom wore helmets or fatal injuries were result of some other impact other than head. For those accidents we never hear in news because media always need scapegoat. If they follow all safety procedures they are simply not in the news.

Anonymous said...

They're your kids, you made them, do what you want.


So you are telling us, for example, that Fritzl just exercised his rights ("did what he wanted" in your words) and that he shouldn't be prosecuted...

I think we can agree to disagree.

I think that parents do not "own" their children; they are not their property.

I agree with you on most of the libertarian positions, but here I have some reservations.

I believe that one of the most important functions of the society is to provide - as much as reasonably possible, of course - level playing field for all newcomers.

Everyone should have a fair chance to at least try... society has to protect childrent from their violent or irresponsible parents, to a certain degree, of course.

dasblinkenlight said...

The recent accident is only an excuse to make helmets required - I think the actual reason is deeper: I suspect that the idea is to deal with preventable head injuries.

The helmet path has proven itself well in many other areas (cycling, rock climbing, building construction, etc.) The initial reluctance is natural too. Remember how people were against wearing seat belts when the law came out, but now seat belts are viewed as just a fact of life. I predict that the same thing will happen to wearing helmets, despite occasional accidents that could have been prevented by not wearing one.

denis bider said...

dasblinkenlight: verbatim raises an interesting point that helmets might not even be that helpful in cycling. If they are not, then the whole thing might just be a scam promoted by helmet manufacturers, much like child seats mandated in the U.S. are ineffective but lobbied for by the people who manufacture them. It's easy to portray anyone who disagrees with child seats as "not caring about the well-being of children".

Anonymous: While I do think that what Fritzl did was ugly, there are plenty of things that are plenty ugly, which we permit. One sort of activity I find preposterously ugly, for example, is to be employed in the meat industry. Specifically, say, there's a guy who goes on administering lethal force to cows and pigs and other animals all day long, killing hundreds, maybe thousands in a day, every day.

More than many other things, I think, consistency matters. We do lots of our reasoning by analogy, and inconsistency allows you to pretty much come to any conclusion you prefer, depending on the analogy you pick. Inconsistency equals confusion, and as a civilization, we are confused in how we want creatures to be treated.

If our meat industry is okay, which it seems to be in our current society, then by logical extension, Fritzl's treatment of his children is okay. On the other hand, if Fritzl's treatment of his children is not okay, then our meat industry is a sin of comparable proportion too.

Pick one side. You can't straddle both and claim to be a sane, internally consistent person.

denis bider said...

Anonymous: Here's another example of ugliness that we perfectly well tolerate. I recently talked to a guy who's having a deer carcass shipped from Minnesota. Apparently he killed the dear himself, and he described to me the act of killing him with great enthusiasm. As he was observing the deer through a scope, the deer was jumping around a female. His tongue was hanging out, as it apparently does when they are horny and want to get it on. The deer was about to enjoy a fine lovemaking session. Then this guy shoots a bullet, which hits the deer right through the back of his neck, severing his spinal cord, and he goes down flat. Dead.

To me, this is no different than white supremacists shooting black people in the privacy of their bedrooms as they are about to make love, under the pretense that "we need to reduce their population for their own benefit".

We permit things like these against creatures. If we accept that this is okay, then we generally need to admit that it's acceptable for more powerful creatures to administer this kind of treatment to innocent but less powerful ones. Which is what Fritzl did; no more, no less.

dasblinkenlight said...

> ...much like child seats mandated in the U.S. are ineffective but lobbied for by the people who manufacture them.

All the stats that I've seen indicate that child seats are enormously effective at decreasing the chance of a properly restrained child to be fatally injured in a car crash. My quick search did not turn up anything to the contrary. The fact that seat manufacturers profit handsomely from child seat laws, and aggressively lobby for more such laws to go into effect, does not automatically invalidate their cause.

On top of that, U.S. lawmakers are not as dumb as we may like to think: no amount of lobbying managed to convince them to expand the child seat laws to airplanes, because relevant stats indicate that it would make no difference.

denis bider said...

dasblinkenlight: The issue is with child seats for older children (not babies, who obviously need to be better restrained).

One of the authors of Freakonomics makes a compelling case that child seats for older children make no difference, and has done analysis and paid for real crash tests out of his own pocket to prove so. It was hard for him to even find a company to perform the crash tests, and they only did it under the condition that they remain anonymous... because child seat manufacturers are their important customers.

Anonymous said...

If our meat industry is okay, which it seems to be in our current society, then by logical extension, Fritzl's treatment of his children is okay. Pick one side. You can't straddle both and claim to be a sane, internally consistent person.

Next time you go to the woods, watch out - you may step onto an ant. In your world of relativism, this may be equal to Fritzl's deeds.

There's more to life than black and white.

I respect your opinion, but as I've said previously, we can agree to disagree.

denis bider said...

Denouncing difficult arguments as "isms" is an easy way to avoid facing them.

Yes, in many circumstances we cannot avoid harming other creatures, even if we wanted. Another thing that's not in our power to do is prevent other creatures from harming each other. Humans, after all, are just a small subset of "other creatures".

Which leads us back to the one remaining reasonable conclusion:

The human race is an alliance of similarly strong individuals who have established rules of engagement so as not to harm each other unnecessarily. Our civilization does not give a rat's ass about the well being of less powerful creatures.

This is not moral relativism. It is moral absolutism. This is what there is. Everything beyond this is fanciful, fake, inconsistent, and - untrue.

verbatim said...

I think it's not possible to simulate the effects of those laws (belts, helmets, etc.). They have to be tried in practice. This is graph for one Australian state which introduced mandatory bicycle helmets in 1992.

http://www.shrani.si/f/28/JU/21S9ls2m/bikegraph.gif

According to experts sharp rise of fractures and bruise abrasions could be a consequence of people feeling much safer with their helmets on and so less cautious while driving. Also they tend to develop more offensive driving style. Mandatory bicycle helmets are also cited as one of the main reason Australia is the most obese country on the planet.

aja said...

"And imposing a helmet law on all skiers is just a hell of a cost to incur in order to save, perhaps, umm... one life, maybe, each year?"

What if this one life you're talking about would be the life of your child?

If just one child can be saved, than imposing a helmet law would make sense.
If you don't agree, then you're not heartless, no it's much simpler, you're plain stupid.

verbatim said...

If just one child can be saved, than imposing a helmet law would make sense.
If you don't agree, then you're not heartless, no it's much simpler, you're plain stupid.


One funny thing for you: in virtually every country on this planet, more people die every year because of head injuries caused by traffic accidents. So should we make law about mandatory helmets in cars and mandatory for pedestrians also? If just one live can be saved...

denis bider said...

Aja: I'll just quote you this from Innumeracy, an excellent little booklet by John Allen Paulos, which I recommend.

From Page 9:

----- Quote -----

And if you don't have some feeling for probabilities, automobile accidents might seem a relatively minor problem of local travel, whereas being killed by terrorists might seem to be a major risk when going overseas. As often observed, however, the 45,000 people killed annually on American roads are approximately equal in number to all American dead in the Vietnam War. On the other hand, the seventeen Americans killed by terrorists in 1985 were among the 28 million of us who traveled abroad that year - that's one chance in 1.6 million of becoming a victim. Compare that with these annual rates in the United States: one chance in 68,000 of choking to death; one chance in 75,000 of dying in a bicycle crash; one chance in 20,000 of drowning; and one chance in only 5,300 of dying in a car crash.

Confronted with these large numbers and with the correspondingly small probabilities associated with them, the innumerate will inevitably respond with the non sequitur, "Yes, but what if you're that one," and then nod knowingly, as if they've demolished your argument with their penetrating insight. This tendency to personalize is, as we'll see, a characteristic of many people who suffer from innumeracy. Equally typical is a tendency to equate the risk from some obscure and exotic malady with the chances of suffering from heart and circulatory disease, from which about 12,000 Americans die each week.

----- End Quote -----

And no, if my child was killed because he or she didn't wear a helmet, I would still not be in favor of imposing helmet laws on everyone.

Would you vote in favor of requiring all 6 billion people on Earth to wear clown suits every day of the year, if it would save just one life?

Imagine, that one life... could be your kid!

Aja said...

Verbatim, my concern is saving lives, not joining a debate club, where you can quite easily learn how to defend any possible argument – learn how to argue against it or for it.

DB,
»This tendency to personalize is, as we'll see, a characteristic of many people who suffer from innumeracy«

I personalized it, coz it is easy to talk about people in general, but they're all real, like you are, their lives as unique and as precious as yours.

That's what I wanted to emphasise.

We were talking about accidents that happen on ski fields, and ways to minimise them, to avoid death casualties. That's a good thing. Trying to find solutions for saving lives.

You're raising an issue, that this might violate personal freedom. OK, you've got every right to do so.

I'm on the side of the strategies that can save lives. That's all.

verbatim said...

Verbatim, my concern is saving lives

My concern was also saving lives of pedestrians. If they would wear helmets we will for sure save a few thousands lives in Western world annualy.

In Slovenia there are 40 pedestrian casualties on average per year, majority of whom had died because of head injuries. On average there is less than one death skier per year which death was caused by head injury. So why is life of the skier more important than life of the average pedestrian?

denis bider said...

Aja: You need to learn the word "tradeoff". All decisions in life are tradeoffs. You cannot just minimize something at zero expense. There's always a cost; there are usually unintended consequences; and there is also the serious question of liberty.

With regard to the cost, merely producing N helmets a year costs N*X amount of money. Hiring M helmet law enforcers for L days a year costs M*L*Y amount of money. Then there's the annoyance caused to a very large number of people who do not wish to wear helmets, which is difficult to measure, but it is no less a cost.

These costs add up. Even if we ignore the question of violating people's liberties, it's questionable whether the resulting total costs are really best spent protecting against this lethal danger, or might save more lives protecting against another lethal danger, where the same effort could save more lives.

Then there's the unintended consequences. Just because a helmet might save a life in one case, doesn't mean that it saves lives overall. Verbatim wrote that it doesn't appear to work for bicyclists in Australia. I can easily see how the helmet might actually make it more likely that your neck is going to snap, because the weight of the head with the helmet is that much larger, and the momentum is that much greater for the neck to sustain.

Finally, there's the question of liberty. If you agree that people should be able to commit suicide if they decide to, then they should also be able to engage in risks that don't harm anyone besides themselves. Not wearing a helmet or not wearing a seatbelt are such risks.

Persuading people not to take risks is selfish on the behalf of people who do not want to lose that person. The person who takes the risk is compensated by the higher quality experience that they seek. But the people around such a person are not being compensated directly, they are merely enduring the risk that this person is going to disappear. So they naturally try to persuade this person to minimize his or her risk, thereby destroying his or her quality of life, because no one else cares about that; they only care to preserve the important person in their life.

That's selfish.

dasblinkenlight said...

> [...] they should also be able to engage in risks that don't harm anyone besides themselves. Not wearing a helmet or not wearing a seatbelt are such risks.

I would not put helmets and seatbelts into the same basket, because not wearing a seatbelt is a risk with a significant potential to harm others.

For the driver this is more or less self-evident: on impact, the seatbelt would keep drivers from sliding away off the steering wheel, helping them control the car longer. This extra time may let them steer clear of additional obstacles, thus reducing the negative effect of an impact for their passengers, and potentially saving occupants of other vehicles that their otherwise uncontrolled cars might hit.

Front seat passengers without seat belts have a potential of sliding into the drivers on side impacts, presenting direct and indirect risks to others. Passengers riding alone in the back without seatbelts present almost no risk to others; once additional backseat passengers enter the picture, the possibility of hitting them bring back the risk to others.

denis bider said...

dasblinkenlight: You're right, and actually I found a good reason mentioned for why seatbelts should be worn by backseat passengers as well - if they do not, they're going to break the neck of the person in front of them in the event of a front impact.