The BBC reports that the chairman of the National Football League’s health and safety advisory committee said it might be healthier for the players not to wear their helmets.
Where are we going? To the unintended consequences of regulation.
Football Helmet History
The history of the football helmet starts in the early 1900s with helmets increasingly providing more protection as the 20th century unfolded. First made of leather, then hard plastic, equipped with face masks and extra cushioning, helmets minimized catastrophic spinal and skull injuries.
Concussions though were another story.
NFL Concussions by position, 2013…
Meanwhile, among high school football players, the concussion rate has increased:
You can see that the data indicate concussions remain a huge concern although helmet safety has improved. Helmets with a five-star Virginia Tech rating have the best impact absorption and–theoretically–the best concussion protection.
That takes us to the Peltzman Effect.
Our Bottom Line: Unintended Consequences
Called the Peltzman Effect, safety regulations can create new incentives that offset their purpose. Because seat belts lower the cost of risky behavior, we might drive more dangerously. A recent article in SFGate noted that after a new Golden Gate bridge safety barrier was installed, the number of minor accidents increased. Similarly, when flood insurance is available, people build waterfront homes and when financial institutions have federal guarantees, they have more of an incentive to engage in risky behavior.
Perhaps football helmets also create the Peltzman Effect.
I remember a story a few years ago about the number of helmeted bikers injured in bike lanes being greater than the number of bare-headed riders. They found that drivers drove closer to helmet-wearing riders, feeling the riders were protected, so no need to worry about their safety. However, drivers tended to swerve away from riders without helmets. Sounds like the Peltzman Effect to me!