Each month of the year has its own reputation, even its own essence. January is about new beginnings, February is for love; July is for vacation, December for holidays. When one thinks of November, the widespread tradition of a Thanksgiving meal likely comes to mind. But in recent years, November has taken on a new significance. Advocates for increased attention to men’s health have claimed the month of November as their own, and they have dubbed it “Movember.” (More on that below.) But can “Movember” be blamed for increased accident injuries?
First things first – it should be pretty obvious that “Movember” is meant to rhyme with “November.” But what’s the deal with the “Mo” part? It stands for moustache (or mustache, as we usually write it in the United States). In fact, in Australian English (that is, the colorful variant of English spoken in Australia and its environs) the word “mo” is a slang term for moustache. “Mo” plus “November” gives us Movember – a month marked by moustaches. 
But Movember is less a time dedicated to celebrating moustaches than to lightly mocking them for a social purpose. Movember has its origins in Australia, where two groups came up with similar ideas in the early 2000s. One group of men decided to grow out their moustaches to raise money for charity. Another group used a similar stunt: 30 men committed to growing their moustaches for 30 days in order to raise awareness of prostate cancer and depression in men. 
The latter group eventually became the Movember Foundation, which has since organized a global movement to use this November-time stunt to raise awareness of men’s health issues.  In addition to the original concerns of prostate cancer and depression, the Movember Foundation also focuses on testicular cancer, suicide, the broad-based mental health issues.  Observant readers will know that issues of men’s health are already overrepresented in medical research – for decades research has focused on issues affecting men, and studies have often over-sampled men relative to women.  As a result, we know relatively less about women’s health. One might then ask why there is a need to “raise awareness” about men’s health issues. One response is that men have been socialized to be stoic, carefree, and generally neglect preventative healthcare measures. The Movember movement is important in part because it provides a regular – yet approachably jokey and jocular – reminder to men that they should be alert to certain serious medical issues that can be addressed with early detection.
From Prevention to Peril
So if events like Movember push men to acknowledge the risks of serious illnesses, what could be the downside? It is not a direct effect, but at the margins events that attempt to raise awareness about health issues can carry their own baggage when it comes to public health.
One common method to raise funds for medical research while also alerting the public to an overlooked or inadequately supported health issue is to organize a race. Organized races attract active people with disposable income, and a very popular race type is the 5k. A 5k, or 5,000 km race, is about 3.1 miles long. This is a great race length because it is accessible to all kinds of participants: serious runners can sprint a 5k and end with impressive times well below 20 minutes from start to finish; other participants can walk and complete the course within an hour.
The cities of Reno and Sparks are fortunate to have an extensive running and bicycling path along the Truckee River with just a few short segments that cross roads. But in most communities it is difficult to organize a 5k race that does not utilize public streets. Race organizers will obtain permits to close off portions of these roads, but they can never be sure that all drivers will comply fully with the unexpected detours. Further, the personnel tasked with redirecting vehicle traffic are often volunteers with minimal training. And if a mistake is made, the results can be devastating: the average car exceeds one ton of steel and can cause devastating pedestrian injuries. Over a four-year period, nearly 400 people died in Nevada and nearly 800 more were injured in Nevada pedestrian car crashes.  Even though overall vehicle deaths declined in Nevada in the year of 2018, the same year saw an increase in pedestrian fatalities. 
Bicycle races present many of the same concerns, with the added risks of confusion over traffic laws relating to bicycle traffic and the increased speed at which cyclists travel. Public safety officials have also struggled to prevent Nevada cyclist crash fatalities, but Nevada perennially experiences about two bicycle accident deaths per million people per year. 
Whether on foot or on bikes, many races take place on weekend mornings. The benefits of these start times are numerous: fewer cars are on the road and fewer people are in the “need for speed” mentality of workweek commuters. Additionally, in places like Las Vegas it is important to beat the heat and complete vigorous exercise before the sun rises too high in the sky. But weekend mornings are also a time when some of the most dangerous drivers are on the roads: those who have spent the night consuming alcohol (or other substances) and are just now heading home to sleep it all off. The predictably tragic result can be a drunk driving crash that results in a pedestrian or cyclist fatality.
Movember, charity races, and other efforts to raise awareness and funds for emergent medical issues are important. But we must also acknowledge the potential risk these same, laudable activities carry for accident injuries.
Image Credit: Bill Morrow vi Flickr