TRC #221: Cell Phones and Driving + Cycling Helmets and Risk + Copyright, Privacy and Facebook

The gang is joined by a very special guest; Jim Davies, Professor of Cognitive Science at Carleton University. First Adam Gardner discusses the dangers of cell phones and driving.   Jim then fills us in on some surprising information regarding cycling helmets and risk.   Finally Elan Dubrofsky tells us about copyright, privacy and Facebook.

Download direct: mp3 file

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Show Notes:

Cell Phones and Driving

Human multitasking – Wikipedia

Computer multitasking – Wikipedia

Multitasking – The Cognitive Costs of Multitasking

Talking on Your Cell Phone Make You Drive Safer

Mobile phones and driving safety – Wikipedia

Texting while driving – Wikpedia

Media multitasks pay mental price, Stanford study shows

The Reality Check #55: Time Travel + Multitasking + Well Starseeing Myth

Drivers on Cell Phones Are As Bad As Drunks – University of Utah News Release – June 29th 2006

Distracted Driving – Driving requires your full attention – Ontario Ministry of Transportation

Is a hands-free phone safer than a handheld phone? –

Even hands-free phones are dangerous while driving, new research reveals – Mail Online

Cycling Helmets and Risk

Is Cycling Dangerous

Blog Post by Jim on Bike Helmets

Copyright, Privacy and Facebook

Snopes – Facebook Privacy

Gizmodo – Facebook will always own you

Facebook – Terms of Service


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9 Responses to TRC #221: Cell Phones and Driving + Cycling Helmets and Risk + Copyright, Privacy and Facebook

  1. Quaz says:

    Good episode, interesting topic. You guys do love to make me rant. Risk homoeostasis, its my favorite odd part of the human condition, hell the whole podcast could have been on this.

    There is no doubt cycling is good for the health, so yes it should be promoted. And, as a person who drives alot (sorry), honestly another group to help push government to maintain our roadways better is indeed welcome in my books.

    I’d love to have a call back with your guest and see his opion as an avid rider on things like riding on the road vs. riding on the sidewalk, seperate on-road bike lanes, and the like and the risk assessment of these from a canadian perspective

    Honestly people here don’t ride for a few main reasons, and I dont think a helmet law for adults (currently for youth only) would really alter the stats at all:
    First, most well paying jobs (seeking the highest percieved benefit) are industrial, and not near the core livable spaces, and distance does matter, so often we need to drive (taking a risk to gain said benefit) on a daily basis, and distance does matter.
    The roads are percieved way too dangerous and crowed to ride on safely, this long predates the notion of helmet laws.
    Lastly, winter roads and weather occupy a large portion of the year, and not really all that inviting to a biker when windrows/snow banks turn a 4 lane road to two lanes and snow is up to your pedals.
    If people ride, they do so for recreation in areas suited for bikes and with only pedestrain and pet traffic to worry about. Actually, I wonder if helmet vs. bear head is better than head vs head, say if a biker and pedestrain (or other biker) where to knock noggings.

    I will concede cyclist helmets are designed for lower speed, single rider slips and falls, not high speed vehicle collisions. Honestly there really isnt anything in their CSA ratings about at-speed vehicle collisions with full rider body contact on the vehicle that I could find. By simple observation, a 1/4 ton or more of metal and plastic desgined for high speed vs. flesh designed for low speed always spells trouble.

    However, I’m going to play devil’s adovate for a bit though
    I would argue one the biggest probelm is not helmets or lack there of from the bicyclist side of the spectrum. It is that bikes ( yes like many vehicles) often disobey laws reguardless of the gear they are wearing.
    Despite being unprotected, smaller and slower than their fellow road users riders often take the same, if not greater risks.

    I wonder if forcing bikes to be licenced, regulated and insured like a vehicle would increase their risk awareness/midigation, or at least make them finically and socially responsible for the risks they take; the way we ( are supposed to) do with drivers and vehicles.
    I’m not sure if this has happened anywhere in canada yet (it hasn’t here), or if there is stats saying if this makes a difference one way or another.
    And no this does NOT excuse drivers who disobey rules and regualations with cyclist. Scan ahead, move over early and safely, give a cyclist their lane people, oay.

    As for passing the buck comment made about seatbelts (ie just increases risks for others, and an huge arguement for another podcast once again). It could be easily stated that the slower speed between bikes vs the faster speed of motor vehicles causes more stop and go driving and more lateral movements for the vehicle.
    Therefore, since it is speed variations and lateral movements the lead to many collisions in urban centers, bikes actually constitute a risk to vehicles. Again just a counter agruement, and mental excerise on this one.

    As for the head size increase factor of the helmet, I need to see actual broad studies to support this idea from primary sources who do not have to some sort of stake in this agruement. Most of the information I could find is ad hoc, data mining, eroneous, or second/third hand at best.
    I really need to get a helmet, put it on my head, and calculate by how much of a % it actually increases its size/profile. Better yet, something for our host to try 🙂

    As for catching your hemleted head on something while riding on the road is somehow statistically increased…what city are you riding in that has such low and narrow passages on the road to catch a cyclist without catching a large vehicle. Really if this is a problem on the road, this goes way beyond helmets and into poor infrastructure, or your already bad riding habits (such as zipping between cars and catching a mirror, or catching a post trying pass a pedestrian on a narrow sidewalk). And if your on the sidewalk, push for larger shared sidewalk right of ways; until then you are considered a vehicle where I live and have to be on the road or designated bike paths (I admit have no idea if this law bike = vehicle, therefore roadway not sidewalk is universal in canada).

    Obviosuly risk homoeostasis is very complicated , Im glad he didnt try to do it on CBC in 5 mins. His explination was fair, though could still go into more detail with the clear caveat that just becuase its a “thing” it doesn’t negate the need for good conscious risk awareness and midigation, and shared responability.

    My favorite deviation I often see in the local paper is “well they should have known the risk , they should have just acted like me , and if they don’t like they should stay off the road.”
    Sadly I think every human on the planet (myself included) is guitly of this at some point in their life; this isn’t an example or risk homoeostasis, it is pure physcological deflection, egocentrism, and inability/unwillingness to self assess.

    We must also get over our hubris that risk taking, and other human actions are not necessarily driven just by rational or reasoned thought, even for the best of us. Helmeted or not.

  2. Jo says:

    Great guest! There was still some unresolved questions for me to assess properly the risks of wearing or not a bike helmet… What are the differences between head injuries caused by the helmet or without, in terms of permanent consequences?
    And it seems we are blaming article talking about decreasing injuries with bike helmets, but the conclusion of this segment rely on the increase of risks of accidents because of a) how we bike more dangerously with a helmet and b) drivers being less cautious. I am mistaken, but it seems your data for both those statements are weak. a) We should study if we get accustomed as it was mentioned in the show. Jim said there was no data, but we can look at a lots of example to show it’s the case : when we carry something fragile, we walk differently, but a waitress will walk fast with piles of plates, or your first step on ice, compare at 10 mins walking on it… b) The drivers less cautious would be the argument that would flip for me in favor of not wearing a helmet… But the study wasn’t reproduce. We shouldn’t tell people not to wear any helmet on a study that wasn’t peer reviewed. So I think that what I get from you segment, is that we should definitely do research on the subject!
    I’m sorry Jim if I misunderstood, I was multitasking while listening to the podcast, and I might not have been as concentrate as I should have;-)

  3. Boris says:

    Thanks a lot for the job you are doing, i am a dedicated listener,
    i want it inset little correction into what you about malty threaded systems.
    There is a big difference between physical threads you have in your processor and logical threads that OS is using to run multiple applications. Even if you have 100 physical threads in your chip and 5 different programs running it doesn’t mean OS will use different physical threads to execute the jobs. all 5 programs will most likely to run in single thread and others will be sleeping. It all managed by OS which decides how many physical threads to wake and how to allocate them for active jobs. most likely one physical thread will be dedicated for OS always others will be allocated depending on other parameters including power (running on battery or even how low is the battery) and resources required by the process. process requesting lots of CPU will probably eventually be switch to different thread, but not always.
    An other point is how processes are switched (context switch) this the not only about the CPU time, but mostly access to different resources, all resources other the CPU are much, much slower then CPU itself so when process whats to access some resource, say read from keyboard or send something to screen, it will be immediately switched since accessing the resource is slower and until this process has response other one can use the CPU. This is the reason why you can open lots of windows in the browser without seeing any slowdown, but if you convert video in the same time, you will feel bad respond time

    Sorry if this was redundant, but i just wanted to clear, that multiple physical threads does not mean that they are used in multiple processes running simultaneously.

    Other note i have is about person in the car does not effect the respond time, you have no t mentioned the quality of the conversation. When talking on the phone the sound that you hear is usually low quality so you need to concentrate more to understand what is said, but when person is sitting next to you sound is much clear and you do not need to concentrate that much.

    Thanks for all
    keep up the good work,

  4. Adam says:


    Indeed there could have been tons to talk about with regards to computer multiprocessing. I spent quite a deal of time learning about this stuff in school but what I gave was my best stab at a very simple very high level explanation. I tried not to say anything outright incorrect but couldn’t really delve into a lot of the specifics given I wanted to get on to talking about cell phones.

    As for the sound quality that’s a great point I had thought of in the past but didn’t think of in the context of this segment..

  5. Jim Davies says:


    In terms of riding on the sidewalk, I try never to do it, but sometimes roads just feel so dangerous I do it for short periods. Most of the time I walk my bike if I’m on the sidewalk.
    I don’t have a strong opinion on the safety of doing this, but I know that it pisses off drivers and pedestrians alike, so I try not to.

    The same goes for separated bike lanes. I don’t have a strong opinion on them, but I think the main reason I like them is that I believe it encourages people to cycle. But I have no evidence for this.

    Your comment about helmet laws not affecting cycling stats is interesting but I’m not sure I understand it– I think you’re suggesting that people live far from their jobs and therefore that determines whether they are able to cycle, and that they live far from their jobs because the industrial areas are far from the residential. I think you’re right about your reasons, in the short term, but making cycling less appealing only puts us further in the problem road we’re already going down: the reason the industrial areas and residential areas are separate is because everyone is so willing to drive. I want to encourage alternative transportation, not just throw in the towel. For example, someone might be thinking of moving closer to work, where biking is an option, but a helmet law makes them think biking is not an option, and then remains living far away.

    But for sure, some people have to drive because of where they decided to live and work. But I know lots of people who live close enough to their workplace to bike, but still drive. A helmet law would affect these people the most: the ones who can choose to bike or drive.

    You mention that lots of people are recreational cyclists. This is true, but there are a growing number of people who use it for transportation.

    You say the biggest problem for safety is that cyclists break laws. This is a common viewpoint, and I’d like to address it. Cyclists break about as many laws as other vehicles, but they are remembered better because cyclists are more rare on the road, and because they break different laws. Cars speed, bikes don’t. Cyclists are more likely to do rolling stops at stop signs. The problem is that our culture has accepted speeding as an acceptable law-breaking activity. However, a study in NYC found that the biggest reason for pedestrian and cyclist death is speeding cars. At the same time, cops rarely ticket city drivers for speeding. So the next time you’re driving and think to yourself that a cyclist is breaking the law, ask yourself if you’ve gone over the speed limit in the past five minutes.

    To address your concern about the torsion injuries increased by effective head size, it’s not that you’re going to catch your head while upright on the bike, it’s that after you fall, the increased size of your head makes it more likely to catch on the road or curb or car. But yes, these arguments are only rational, and ideally they would be backed up with data.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

  6. Jim Davies says:


    You asked about permanent head injuries. This study showed that helmeted cyclists are more likely to be killed. That’s permanent enough for me (most deaths involve head injury):

    Rodgers GB, 1988. Reducing bicycle accidents: a re-evaluation of the impacts of the CPSC bicycle standard and helmet use. Journal of Products Liability 1988 ,11:307-317.

    You can read more about it at

    The study that showed that cars drive closer to you was indeed peer reviewed:
    Walker, I. (2007). Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 39, 417-425.

    My critique of the study was that the person making the measurements knew of the hypothesis, so it’s wasn’t blind. It was, however, peer reviewed.

  7. Mark says:

    Finally catching up on podcasts and the segment on driving while using a phone had me looking for a study I haven’t been able to find. I was wondering if any studies had been done using a human analog (real doll, crash test dummy, etc) in the passenger seat while on the phone. If you ever do a follow up it might be an angle to look at as well

  8. Jim Veihdeffer says:

    I was somewhat disappointed in the contributed segment on Cycling Helmets, though I give the TRC crew kudos for at least evincing some skepticism while maintaining politeness to the guest.

    The idea that if bike riders should wear helmets then car drivers should consider wearing helmets because head injuries are a common or most common cause of death (if that’s what guest Davies’ contention is) seems on the face of it both silly and naive. There are a zillion ways to get injured in a car accident–most of them not involving head injuries, ranging from whiplash, bruises and sprains to death. And there are a zilli0n non-injury outcomes from an accident. However, I surmise that bike accidents typically involve banging your head in at least a majority of the outcomes…not to mention my personal prediliction for scraping low-hanging tree limbs.

    In the meantime, for a glimpse at how Egyptians ride their cycles, see my pictures at:

  9. Person says:

    About bike helmets causing an increase in head injuries, this reminds me of World War One.

    At the beginning of World War One, most soldiers went to war wearing cloth caps. After the war had been going on a while, they decided to introduce some protection from bullets and shrapnel by introducing steel helmets.

    The statics after the introduction of steel helmets in WWI showed an INCREASE in head injuries. Some people asked questions along the lines of “What’s wrong with our soldiers?! They think because they’re wearing a helmet they can safely stick their heads our of the trenches!?”

    It had to be pointed out that head injuries increased, because head fatalities DECREASED. Wearing steel helmets was transforming head fatalities into head injuries.

    I just wonder if something similar was happening in this case with bike helmets. Are head injuries and head fatalities recorded separately? So fewer people dying in a bike accident is showing up in the statistics as more people being injured in accidents.

    Because the whole section seems very fishy to me. It’d be nice if you could revisit this subject with more information.

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