Football helmets and head injuries

Michael Giberson

Paul Walker at Anti-Dismal sees the economic content in the recent Wall Street Journal article on football, helmets, and head injuries.  Here’s a piece of the story:

Why do football players wear helmets in the first place? And more important, could the helmets be part of the problem?

“Some people have advocated for years to take the helmet off, take the face mask off. That’ll change the game dramatically,” says Fred Mueller, a University of North Carolina professor who studies head injuries. “Maybe that’s better than brain damage.”

The first hard-shell helmets, which became popular in the 1940s, weren’t designed to prevent concussions but to prevent players in that rough-and-tumble era from suffering catastrophic injuries like fractured skulls.

But while these helmets reduced the chances of death on the field, they also created a sense of invulnerability that encouraged players to collide more forcefully and more often. “Almost every single play, you’re going to get hit in the head,” says Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jake Long.

So there is talk about giving up on helmets.

One of the strongest arguments for banning helmets comes from the Australian Football League. While it’s a similarly rough game, the AFL never added any of the body armor Americans wear. When comparing AFL research studies and official NFL injury reports, AFL players appear to get hurt more often on the whole with things like shoulder injuries and tweaked knees. But when it comes to head injuries, the helmeted NFL players are about 25% more likely to sustain one.

Andrew McIntosh, a researcher at Australia’s University of New South Wales who analyzed videotape, says there may be a greater prevalence of head injuries in the American game because the players hit each other with forces up to 100% greater. “If they didn’t have helmets on, they wouldn’t do that,” he says. “They know they’d injure themselves.”

The economics at issue is variously referred to as the Peltzman effect and the Tullock effect, namely, strategic adaptation to safety regulations or devices in ways in which offset some of the intended outcomes.  The safer the vehicle, the bigger the risks that drivers are willing to take.  Note that there may be negative externalities, as for pedestrians walking in the neighborhood of safer drivers taking bigger risks.

Or, to return to the football example provided above, the better the helmet, the harder the hits delivered.

Gordon Tullock’s proposal, illustrated in the title banner at the economics blog Offsetting Behavior, is placement of a large spike on each car’s steering wheel with the point aimed directly at the driver.  Sure, riskier for the driver, but much safer for everyone else.

Smart meter business is booming

Michael Giberson

Infused by the $3.4 billion in federal grants handed out last week, utilities will ramp up production and installation of digital smart meters by more than 19 percent, with 250 million predicted to be rolled out by 2015, according to a new report out today from Pike Research. (GreenBeat)

So the smart meter business is booming. (Let’s just hope that for your business, the smart meter boom is not like that experienced by this Bakersfield, California company.)

My own private Idaho Stop Law

Michael Giberson

Danny Morris at Common Tragedies explains and advocates for wider adoption of the Idaho Stop Law:

The law, named after the clever state that instituted it in 1982, says that cyclists may treat stop signs as yield signs (they must stop for those w/ the right of way, but can proceed w/o stopping if the coast is clear) and may treat stop lights as stop signs (they must stop, but can proceed when the coast is clear, even if the light is still red).

Morris links to a report at The Athletes Lawyer that said:

Meanwhile, in the past 27 years, Idaho motorists and police have grown to accept the legislation as sensible public policy, said Jason Meggs, a UC-Berkeley researcher who spent last summer crunching years of traffic data, conducting interviews and observing cyclist behavior in the state. Boise, home to Idaho’s biggest bike population, “has actually become safer for bicyclists than other cities which don’t have the law,” Meggs said.”

I guess I’ve been operating under my own private Idaho Stop Law, the description fits my usual riding habits pretty well.

Casual observation suggests the Idaho Stop is widely practiced by cyclists.  (See, for example, this article from The Oregonian where the author came up with the same Gus Van Sant movie reference that I’m using.) Perhaps one reason that the law improves safety is that it helps coordinate expectations of cyclists and motor vehicle operators.