Just because you're bored you don't have to bore us all.
If I had noticed you weren't wearing a helmet last weekend I would have shunned you!
Another widespread criticism of ski helmets is the one involving "risk compensation." This is the theory that people will take more chances when using protective headgear, that the exaggerated feeling of security a ski helmet supposedly affords is likely to lead people into increasing their level of risk-taking on the slopes. The theory posits that skiers and snowboarders will tend to bring their level of thrill back up to their own individual, acceptable level of risk.
This has been a favorite theory of one Dr. Jasper Shealy, a researcher who has been the darling of the National Ski Areas Association (NSSA) for many years. Dr. Shealy, who has been quoted as saying that he doesn't wear a helmet unless it is to keep his head warm, currently shares his thoughts on the NSSA's Lids on Kids website. Incredibly, in this article on an industry site supposedly developed "to help educate parents about putting helmets on their children while they're on the slopes," Shealy allows that he is "not exactly" happy with the trend of increased helmet use. One of the main reasons he gives involves the theory of risk compensation.
Yet in a landmark ski helmet study published in 2004, Brent Hagel, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Calgary, found that helmet use did not lead to riskier behavior or increase the risk of severe injury while skiing and snowboarding. In fact, Hagel discovered that wearing a helmet out on the slopes may reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 29 to 56%. Hagel's study didn't include those who fell and hit their heads but did not sustain an injury because they were wearing a helmet. Including those individuals would have increased the documented protective effect of helmets even more.
Further, in 2005, Dr. Michael Scott of the California State University at Chico, along with several others, published a report entitled "Testing the Risk Compensation Hypothesis for Safety Helmets in Alpine Skiing and Snowboarding. Dr. Scott and his group recorded face-to-face interviews with 1,779 adult skiers and snowboarders at 31 ski areas in Western North America during January-March 2003. Respondents were asked two questions assessing risk compensation: do they (a) ski/snowboard faster, slower or about the same speed, and (b) challenge themselves more, less or about the same. Helmet wearers compared current behavior to when they did not wear a helmet; non-wearers, to previous seasons. The result: helmet use was significantly associated with less risky skiing/snowboarding, and the study's authors concluded that increasing helmet use does not appear to motivate more risk taking. Helmet wearers were said to engage in "less risk behavior than non-wearers, suggesting that decisions to adopt helmets are motivated by safety concerns."
Here are the links to the references cited in this passage:
Hagel's peer-reviewed paper: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/330/7486/281
Scott's conference report (see p. 148): http://www.cdc.gov/NCIPC/lifeguard/2005conference/AbstractBook.pdf