A researcher at the University of Bath found that drivers crowd bicyclists with helmets, leave extra space for those without helmets, but leave the most space for women (or men with a blonde wig). He found that drivers get 3.3 inches closer to helmeted pedalers and gave an extra 5.5 inches for the wigged bicyclist. As the researcher explains it, drivers assume if the bicyclist is wearing a helmet then he is part of the "lycra-clad street warriors" group and thus fair game. During his study, he was hit twice by vehicles - both times while wearing a helmet.
"We know helmets are useful in low-speed falls, and so definitely good for children, but whether they offer any real protection to somebody struck by a car is very controversial," said Walker. "Either way, this study suggests wearing a helmet might make a collision more likely in the first place."
The safest bet is to wear a blonde wig when commuting, although, even women bicyclists encounter insane drivers now and then (as this bicycle courier can attest to after an enraged driver jumped out and attacked her).