Risk homeostatis is the theory that everyone has his or her own personal risk threshold which is more or less fixed. So, the theory says, when we reduce risk in one area we tend to increase risk in another in order to maintain the overall level of risk we want/need in our lives.
There is a lot of debate about the hypothesis, partly because the degree of risk associated with an individual activity is itself so difficult to measure, but also because there’s no easy way to baseline an individual’s risk threshold with any certainty or clarity. But I believe the theory has merit.
To use my own behaviour as an example, we’ve been having some significant temperature swings here recently that have resulted in me wearing different riding gear. On a couple of really hot (90+ degrees) days I was riding in a tee shirt and vest as my riding jacket was just too hot. Then I got a mesh jacket. With the exact same riding conditions and all else being equal I found myself riding harder when wearing the armoured mesh jacket than when all I was wearing was a tee shirt. So I traded a reduction in risk in one area (bad road rash if I fell) for an increase in risk in another (riding harder and faster increased the chance of a spill). Then it got cooler for a few days and I went to a fully armoured jacket and a full-face helmet. Guess what happened? I found myself accelerating harder, pushing into those curves a few kph faster, and braking a few metres shorter than I was doing wearing the mesh jacked and 3/4 helmet.
Now I’m not doing this consciously. In fact it was while in the middle of one of those fast sweepers that it occurred to me that I was riding it as quickly as I probably ever had, and the only explanation was that I was ATGATT and therefore subconsciously felt better protected and less concerned about my physical wellbeing if I did go down. That’s when I recalled hearing this theory and started giving it some thought.
Gerald Wilde, the theory’s developer, also claims it applies to larger populations as a whole. For example, not that long ago living was itself a risky proposition with industrial and farm accidents, disease, limited or poor medical care, and so on. People were used to a high level of risk in their daily lives and so didn’t need any external stimuli. Today we mostly sit in offices, so it’s no surprise that bungee jumping, sky diving, hang gliding and other adventure sports, even sports motorcycling (as opposed to simply commuting) have become so popular. Wilde’s theory says that we need those pastimes to offset our relatively risk-free modern day-to-day lives (at least in advanced Western countries) which, if true, means that every nanny-state safety regulation is so much wasted effort because we’ll just find some other way to put ourselves in danger. It simply becomes a moving target.
So what do you say? Does your riding behaviour change based on what you’re wearing? Did you give up hang-gliding and then take up motorcycling just to keep the adrenalin flowing? I’m interested in your thoughts on this.