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Take Off that Stupid Helmet

Recently I was walking through a park and heard a women call out “Take off that stupid helmet”. Usually I ignore what other people are saying but that seemed noteworthy. It turned out that a young boy (maybe 4yo) was being taught to ride a bike and his parents seemed to think that wearing a helmet was a bad idea. There is ongoing debate about the benefit to an adult in wearing a helmet while riding a bike. But it seems clear that for a young child riding on a concrete path a helmet is a really good thing. When it became apparent that everyone in the park was watching the parents decided to have him ride on the grass instead.

On a related note I was recently talking to an employee of a roadside assistance company about what happens when a child is locked in a car. Apparently if a child is locked in a car with the keys the emergency services people won’t smash a window as long as the child is kicking and screaming. While the child is obviously in distress they apparently aren’t going to immediately die and that’s OK, but when they go quiet it’s time to damage the car to save them! I can imagine situations when it’s OK for the emergency services people to wait for a car expert to open the car without damage, if the weather is cool and the child seems happy then a delay probably doesn’t matter much. But if the child is in distress then the attitude that anything which doesn’t kill the kid is OK seems wrong.

5 comments to Take Off that Stupid Helmet

  • Jan Hudec

    Ad helmet: That would be illegal here (Czechia). Our law requires children to wear helmet when biking. I don’t think it was that dangerous for the child in this case because it’s unlikely to hit the ground head first. The most severe danger is hitting obstacle and there probably weren’t any. But the main problem is that the child does not get used to always wearing helmet when biking, they probably won’t wear it later when they are on the street and going fast and there are plenty of obstacles they could hit. Which is obviously not fixed by moving to the grass.

  • Daniel

    Are you sure the car thing is about protecting the car, and not about ensuring the kid doesn’t get hit by flying glass?

    Mind you, I’ve never smashed a car window, so I have no idea how badly they shatter — but when our kid knocked a heavy object onto a glass table, we ended up finding bits of glass 10-15 feet away from the epicenter.

  • About the kid in the car…
    I’ve broken lots of car windows, pulled people out of burning and collapsed buildings, burnt and blown up buildings, administered trauma care, etc. quite a bit. I spent a few years in a professional field where these experiences were somewhat common and in that environment you learn a lot about the difference between distress and danger.

    Distress isn’t threatening and people give emotions far too much credit these days anyway — not that they aren’t important at some level, but they are next to worthless next to provable physics and physiology (ex: “I don’t want to move! I’m sad!” whines the boy. “But you can’t sulk in the middle of the highway; the trucks and cars can smash sad people just as thoroughly as happy ones,” replies the adult.).

    The reason they don’t care if the kid is crying is because by being able to cry he is demonstrating that his health is not in danger. If the kid starts out crying and then goes to sleep or otherwise loses awareness, then it is time to bash a window. Crying is a good thing in this case: its the most certain evidence of health here. Its annoying, but that’s a beautiful sound compared to the alternative silence here. Its sort of like gauging the status of a gunshot or blast victim by his shout: you know you don’t have to check the airway or breathing first off, because if those things weren’t in order he wouldn’t be screaming so successfully. There are issues in pain management that are very similar.

    Anyway, broken glass and other debris may be a minor concern, but most car windows don’t break in a way that leaves many dangerous bits around. Sadly, in all likelihood roadside assistance guys like you talked to and people like me would actually prefer to break the window just to end the distress — but their employers aren’t going to invite lawsuits. Its amazing what you can get sued for now. In some states intruders can sue you for injuries sustained while trespassing on your property if an area was not marked hazardous — so breaking a window to save a child (or perhaps merely end his distress and change the situation) is perhaps not an automatically sensible action in court in 2012.

  • etbe

    Jan: I think that very young children are more likely to hit the ground head first. Their head is a much higher portion of their body weight than for an adult and they don’t know how to plan a fall for minimum damage. The only up-side is that being shorter there is less distance to fall. Apparently a free fall from 2M is about the distance needed to get a guaranteed lethal velocity when hitting concrete, adults are almost that tall and are at great risk if falling freely but young children at less than half that height are a lot safer.

    I agree with the idea of training kids to wear a helmet all the time. Kids don’t have the ability to determine when it’s safe and when it’s not.

    Daniel: The side and rear windows of almost all modern cars are made of zone toughened safety glass. When it breaks it tends to stay in place and the pieces are fairly uniform in size and less than 1cm long. The windscreen is generally made of laminated glass so when it breaks it stays in place and no bits come out.

    zxq9: A child locked in a car is a very different situation from a child wanting to have a tantrum in the middle of a road. In the latter case the child needs to be hauled off rapidly if only to teach them not to mess around on roads!

    In this case the roadside assistance guy had the skill to unlock the car, it was the fire brigade who didn’t smash the window.

    I don’t think that we have legal problems you describe in Australia. If the emergency services decide to smash something to save someone then I don’t think there’s much possibility of suing them. I’m sure a court would determine that a large portion of any blame is attributed to the person who locked the child in the car (probably the car owner) and that if the emergency service workers had a good faith belief that they were preventing injury (and you really can’t prove that the child wouldn’t have suffered some harm in such a situation) then they would not be in any way liable.

    A lawyer advised me that any legal case should have a budget of at least $10,000 while a car window is so cheap it’s probably not even worth claiming on car insurance. Even if you win a case there’s no guarantee that costs will be awarded, so winning a legal action for $400 and then paying $10,000 in court costs and legal fees is a real possibility.

  • @etbe:
    Its good to hear that Australia doesn’t suffer from the same ridiculous legal issue! (Not that you don’t have a few of your own quirks working against you, but from this one you seem safe.) Fortunately the situation isn’t the same in every state in the US, but in many of them this problem is very prevalent. Your legal budget is probably correct, but that’s just if the window were the only thing at issue; as in, if the legal world always made sense this would be correct. In the places where frivolous lawsuits are permitted the window would not be the issue, merely the way to edge the case into court. The real target would be suing for “emotional distress” and a list of probably ten or twenty other completele made-up indirect consequences of the incident.

    Of course all this completely ignores that the child was the one in distress to begin with — but that’s not what an aggressive tort lawyer would market to his client or pitch in court. This type of scumbag will bring the case at no cost to the client unless the case is won, so they benefit from a % of awarded damages not a flat fee, which is what motivates this disgusting sub-industry in frivolous tort.