January 10, 2006

Times journo – what a clown!

Sunday 8th Jan – 4 cyclists wearing helmets are killed by a skidding car in North Wales. See link

Sunday 9th Jan Lewis Smith writing in the Times:

[...]
Cycling campaigners have been pressing the Government to make the wearing of helmets compulsory while riding.
[...]
see link

All the cycling campaigners I know are dead against compulsion – i.e. making cycling without a helmet illegal. The helmet compulsion brigade are just a bunch of anti-cycling clowns, who not only hate cycling but want to scare other people off it as well.


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  1. Mathew Mannion

    Just like all those people who campaigned for making wearing seatbelts compulsary were a bunch of anti-car clowns who hate cars and wanted to scare people off them

    10 Jan 2006, 17:08

  2. Steve Rumsby

    I suspect an awful lot of cycling non-campaigners think not wearing a helmet is plain stupid, though. For example (not to pick on anyone in particular:-):

    link

    If many cyclists think it is stupid not to, we shouldn't be surprised that journalists over generalise. Until I did the research I was of the "stupid not to" brigade also. And the information about why you might not want to isn't so easy for joe public to find.

    10 Jan 2006, 17:12

  3. Damned campaigners… it's fine how it is; encourage kids to wear helmets but once you're old enough to know the risks and choose then you should be allowed not to wear a helmet

    10 Jan 2006, 17:14

  4. Steve Rumsby

    Just like all those people who campaigned for making wearing seatbelts compulsary were a bunch of anti-car clowns who hate cars and wanted to scare people off them

    There's a lot of evidence that making seat belts compulsory saves lives. While I'm not aware of any specific studies about it, I doubt making seatbelts compulsory has made people stop driving. I'm willing to be corrected on that.

    On the other hand, there are no major studies I'm aware of that show wearing a cycling helmet actually reduces the number of deaths or injuries. If I remember correctly the only country that has made helmets compulory (Australia?) has seen a reduction in cycling as a result ("I'm not cycling if I have to wear a stupid looking helmet – I'll take the car instead. Bruce.").

    While it is 'obvious' that wearing a helmet will be a good thing in an accident:

    • helmets are only rated for impacts at up to 12mph. That doesn't of course mean that above that speed they are useless, but most people are surprised at that figure – assuming they are designed for higher speeds.
    • helmets can make injuries worse, or actually cause injuries that you wouldn't have sustained if you weren't wearing a helmet

    Having said all that, I still wear a helmet for every journey I make. I just don't believe making them compulsory is the right thing to do.

    10 Jan 2006, 17:25

  5. Since Steve links to my post – my position is this – if I am on the road I would prefer my second favourite organ to have a bit more protection than not.

    I'm not talking about wearing whole body armour but I'm all for anything that lessens the chances of serious damage. Whilst it may not save your life every time I'd rather wear one and get up from a 50/50 than spend my life drooling.

    10 Jan 2006, 17:31

  6. A cycle helmet offers no protection against neck injury. It increases the likelihood of neck injury in two ways. Firstly any glancing blow which misses the skull by an inch or so hits the helmet and applies a torque on the neck. Secondly the effect of leverage means that any twisting force (torque) on the neck produced by a glancing blow is in proportion the distance away from the neck the force is applied – it's easier to undo a nut using a long spanner than a short one.

    A "helmet", in reality a flimsy plastic hat, offers protection for minor bumps but is useless in the scenarios such as the tragedy in North Wales. I'd say that the main issues there are central crash barriers, anti skid surfaces, speed reduction prior to bends and the readiness of the police to station officers at sites where black ice is present warning drivers to slow down.

    The major problem with helmet promotion is that it scares people off cycling. Yet any public health specialist will have to concede that cycling is good for you. See link. The analogy with car seat belts is bogus – no way are people going to be scared off car use.

    The helmet agenda diverts attention away from the real safety issues. These are cycle unfriendly roads, motorists' careless attitudes and poor cycling technique. It's what's on your head not what's in your head that matters.

    10 Jan 2006, 19:30

  7. Chris May

    Like Steve and Tom, I always wear a helmet, on or off the road, because (a) the evidence suggests that it's likely to reduce the risk of injury in the majority of crash events one might suffer, and increase the risk in only a very small minority, and (b) it keeps my head warm in winter.

    I note in passing that no-one's suggesting that there would have been any fewer fatalities had they not been wearing helmets; it's worth remembering that 8 of the riders survived being hit by a car at 50 MPH.

    But, like Steve, I don't support making them compulsory, becuase I think that the Australian experience would be repeated over here. I'd rather see more helmetless riders than more drivers.

    Actually, I secretly wish that seatbelts in cars weren't compulsary too, but that's because I'm an anti-car clown. I'd like to see cars fitted with steering-wheel spikes too (pace that documentary on risk perception from a couple of years back, if anyone remembers it :-))

    10 Jan 2006, 19:32

  8. Chris May

    AFAIK, the torque issue is bogus if you've got a reasonably modern (low-profile) helmet. It might make a difference if you're wearing one of those 1980s things that makes your head look like a mushroom, but then again if you have, it'll have perished by now and be no use anyway. If you've got pointers to any information to the contrary I'd be interested in it.

    I'm also a bit skeptical of the low-speed thing; on a number of counts;
    a) My average speed in the winter is only about 17MPH, including some long fast downhills, so I must be travelling at or around 12MPH for a fair fraction of the way
    b) On the few occasions I have fallen off on the road, I've always landed on my side and skidded, loosing a lot of speed (and skin) before coming into contact with the kerb.
    c) Even if it only absorbed some of the impact that's better than none.

    I note also this

    Bicycle helmets can substantially reduce serious injury and death. A meta-analysis of thirteen peer-reviewed studies found that helmets reduced the likelihood of head injury by 60%.

    All that said, I wholy agree that the helmet-compulsion agenda is a diversionary tactic. Give people the information they need and let them make their own assesment about the appropriateness of helments, but fix the real causes of injury to cyclists.

    10 Jan 2006, 19:53

  9. On the other hand, there are no major studies I'm aware of that show wearing a cycling helmet actually reduces the number of deaths or injuries.

    try link

    Despite a decrease in the number and proportion of head injuries (particularly intracranial injuries) since 1981, they remain the most important type of injury sustained in bicycle crashes. This decrease cannot be linked clearly with the introduction of helmet legislation. Nonetheless, the strong evidence from case-control and experimental studies that the use of bicycle helmets reduces head injury, and that helmet-wearing rose significantly following the introduction of helmet legislation, strongly supports continued mandatory use of bicycle helmets.

    link

    Bicycle helmets substantially reduce the risk of head injury in a crash. This is shown by the biomechanical and epidemiological evidence reviewed in this paper. Scientific research has uncovered hard evidence on the benefits of bicycle helmet wearing, quite independent of issues related to the acceptability and effects of legislation.

    Thompson DC, Rivara FP, Thompson RS. Effectiveness of bicycle safety helmets in preventing head injuries. A case-control study. JAMA 1996;276:1968–73

    from the abstract:

    CONCLUSIONS: Bicycle helmets, regardless of type, provide substantial protection against head injuries for cyclists of all ages involved in crashes, including crashes involving motor vehicles.

    The list goes on. Wearing helmets saves lives, the research is indisputable.

    10 Jan 2006, 20:09

  10. Max. There's a lot of controversy about the effectiveness of cycle helmets and the desirability of helmet promotion. No way is the research indisputable it's highly contested.

    The link you provide is to a site which only gives one side of the picture. Try link which actually acknowledges the existence of controversy. Now I wonder why the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute doesn't acknowledge that their ideas are hotly contested?

    Chris. The link you refer to is a political piece "to emphasize the impact of injury prevention policies" – the authors give no indication that they have looked at the arguments of each example closely.

    A detailed critique of the most recent paper referred to, namely Attewell is given here: link

    An unofficial summary of Franklin's executive summary:

    1. Half the studies examined by Attewell are non-randomised case control studies. If you take two populations with different helmet wearing rates you can't assume that the difference in head injury rate is mostly due to the helmet factor – all other things are not equal in real-world situations.

    2. Traffic casualty trends are conveniently ignored. Try explaining reduction in pedestrian head injury rates caused by cyclists wearing helmets!

    3. No reference at all to evidence that helmet use has sometimes been associated with increased risk of injury or injury severity.

    4. Risk compensation is deliberately excluded.

    5. No account is taken of the public health hazard caused by reduced cycle use following helmet promotion

    Helmets are a diversion from the real issues.

    10 Jan 2006, 21:07

  11. Chris May

    I don't think that 1,2, or 5 actually argue against my wearing a helmet. As to 3, I looked over the cyclehelmets.org site you linked to, but whilst I could find lots of "it is suggested that...' I found no actual evidence that helmet-wearing leads to an increased risk of injury – certainly not of the same quality as the evidence to the contrary.

    As the the risk-compensation issue, I can't really see how this could be the case on the road. It's absolutely the case off-road; but I don't believe for a second that I would ride any differently on the roads with or without a helmet.

    There also seems to be an awful lot of "if you have a helmet which is uncomfortable, or doesn't fit, or is old and knackered, it won't work very well, and might even be a risk". This doesn't seem like much of an argument to someone who has a comfortable, well-fitting, new helmet.

    Could I just add, helmets are a diversion from the real issues?

    10 Jan 2006, 22:31

  12. On the torque issue – the thinner the helmet the less it can absorb impacts. Consumer demand has been for lighter helmets, so manufacturers have comprimised effectiveness. In the past helmets usually conformed to the Snell B-90/95 standard, nowadays virtually none do – the manufactures go for the laxer EN1078 standard.

    For an easy reading overview of the physics of helmets see link

    10 Jan 2006, 22:41

  13. Max. There's a lot of controversy about the effectiveness of cycle helmets and the desirability of helmet promotion. No way is the research indisputable it's highly contested.
    The link you provide is to a site which only gives one side of the picture. Try link which actually acknowledges the existence of controversy. Now I wonder why the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute doesn't acknowledge that their ideas are hotly contested?

    George,

    I provided two links and a reference. One link was the BHSI, one to a peer-reviewed paper, and one to a major study in australia.

    The problem with sites like cyclehelmets.org is that the evidence that helmets save lives comes from the literature, and the great majority of the "doubts" cast on it come from websites and other people who don't understand or believe the science.

    This is most clearly demonstrated by the choice of papers given as being "sceptical of helmet effectiveness or promotion" – many essentially say "wearing a helmet doesn't reduce the chances of being admitted to hospital", which is not the same as saying that a helmet hasn't prevented serious head injury. In fact, some of the papers listed as being sceptical about helmets point this very fact out, eg link:

    Wearing a cycle helmet made little difference to the outcome in terms of their need for admission or follow up treatment.

    So, helmets are no use then. But wait! Read on…

    Those who were wearing a helmet at the time of their accident were less likely to have an injury to their head or neck (7% compared to 14%)

    This was discussed in the paper from '95 – basically the point is that if you take a spill and suffer a head injury, that is usually what's noted as the main injury on a hospital form. If you don't have the head injury, the less serious injuries are noted instead.

    To quote from another of the papers supposedly sceptical about helmets

    Overall, the balance of evidence suggests modest safety benefits for helmet wearers, but not of the order suggested by the leading proponents of helmet use.

    A very recent paper (Ji M, Gilchick RA, Bender SJ, Accident Analysis and Prevention, 38 (1): 128–134 2006) is limited in its own conclusions, but provides a useful summary of the current literature.

    10 Jan 2006, 23:43

  14. Just to point out, someone going out in a cycling helmet doesn't believe he is invincible. If a truck hits me at 70 mph I'm under no illusion that the helmet probably won't be of help… but then again, if I'm cycling, I don't generally do it on motorways because I know there is no real protection. If, however, I'm cycling around the 'burbs, I'll wear a helmet, because all it takes is to hit a kerb the wrong way at 5mph, upend yourself, smack your head into the pavement and you can end up with some brain damage/haemorrhaging…

    11 Jan 2006, 06:03

  15. Chris May

    It's incorrect to say that EN-1078 is laxer than B-90/5.

    EN1078 only tests 2 impacts, rather than 4 for snell, but you should bin a helmet after 1 impact anyway. The anvil shape in EN1078 is more representative of a road impact (it's kerb shaped rather than round) and the energy levels used are similar.

    Demand for lighter helmets hasn't 'compromised effectiveness', it's caused manufacturers to (a) develop new materials and production techniques, and (b) optimise for a shorter lifespan rather than a heavier helmet. Light helmets in good condition are just as safe as heavy ones.

    11 Jan 2006, 08:21

  16. Max Hammond quoted:

    Wearing a cycle helmet made little difference to the outcome in terms of their need for admission or follow up treatment.

    And

    Those who were wearing a helmet at the time of their accident were less likely to have an injury to their head or neck (7% compared to 14%)

    And then claims that these two apparently contradictory statements can be easily reconciled. But perhaps I'm stupid, but I can't see how they can.

    One idea might be that, all other things being equal, a cycle helmet will make a significant difference to head and neck injuries but this it will increase the likelihood of other injuries so that the overall effect is that the wearing of helmets makes little difference. Another idea is that all other things are not equal – people who wear helmets are more likely to have crashes than those who don't

    But those are only conjectures, much more investigation would be needed to get closer to the truth.

    Chris May writes that it's incorrect to say that EN-1078 is laxer than B-90/5, resting his case on the claim that that the only difference between the two standards is the number of impacts and that multiple impacts do not occur in the same incident. But if you look at the table in the link I supplied you will see that B-90/95 not only tests with more impacts but with more energy in each impact.

    Finally Max Hammond quotes

    Overall, the balance of evidence suggests modest safety benefits for helmet wearers, but not of the order suggested by the leading proponents of helmet use.

    That sounds skepticism about the desirability of compulsion to me. After all compulsion means making it illegal to ride a bicycle without wearing a helmet. Haven't the police got more important thinks to do than arrest people for not wearing helmets? Ok it's illegal to ride a bicycle without lights at night, which is a much more important safety issue than helmets, but that law doesn't make much difference in real life.

    By ranting on about the desirability of helmet wearing the promotion lobby is sending out the message that cycling is an inherently dangerous activity and so scares people off cycling. Thus whenever I see them at work I feel duty bound to oppose them.

    Getting back to my original post. According to Lewis Smith in the Times:

    Cycling campaigners have been pressing the Government to make the wearing of helmets compulsory while riding.

    is just wrong. People promoting cycling, even those who think helmets make a significant difference, are dead against compulsion, this message needs to be repeated until it gets though the thick heads of journos

    11 Jan 2006, 09:36

  17. Hi George,

    And then claims that these two apparently contradictory statements can be easily reconciled. But perhaps I'm stupid, but I can't see how they can.

    as I said directly following that,

    …if you take a spill and suffer a head injury, that is usually what's noted as the main injury on a hospital form. If you don't have the head injury, the less serious injuries are noted instead.

    In the end, if you have an accident severe enough to land you in hospital, you're probably going to end up there whether or not you wear a helmet, it's just that instead of a cracked skull, concussion, etc you'll be recorded as being admitted for the broken arm that you got. You don't get the fracture because you were wearing the helmet, you'd have gotten it anyway – the difference is what you're admitted to hospital for.

    By ranting on about the desirability of helmet wearing the promotion lobby is sending out the message that cycling is an inherently dangerous activity and so scares people off cycling. Thus whenever I see them at work I feel duty bound to oppose them.

    Here's the thing: cycling is an inherently dangerous activity! You are putting your body under hazards that it simply was not designed to cope with. We are not evolved for handling a fall onto a hard surface at 20 km h-1, so we take measures to protect ourselves.

    Should helmets be compulsory? I don't know. I do know that the published evidence is supportive that helmets reduce head injuries; by what factor is open to debate, but that they do doesn't seem to be.

    11 Jan 2006, 10:29

  18. Chris May

    if you look at the table in the link I supplied you will see that B-90/95 not only tests with more impacts but with more energy in each impact.

    Snell: Max total energy (4 tests) = 364J . Energy / test 91 J
    BS: Max total energy (2 tests) = 154J. Energy / Test 77J

    So there is a difference, but it's fairly small (I said they were 'similar') . Note that the BS test uses a sharper edged anvil, so the BS forces are equivalent or greater.

    11 Jan 2006, 10:30


  19. "cycling is an inherently dangerous activity!"

    I've been cycling since 1975, I've covered at least 50,000 miles if not 100,000 miles. In recently years I've covered almost 4000 miles a year.

    I've never hit the ground at a speed over 8 m.p.h..

    Perhaps the problem is what people think of when the word "Cycling" is used. Do they mean sport cycling – either on road or off trying to push oneself to the limit or do they mean utility cycling – cycling to the shops or work?

    I note that motorists driving in formula 1 wear fire resistant suits and hefty helmets. Should motorists driving to work be compelled to do likewise?

    11 Jan 2006, 11:48

  20. Also note that wearing a helmet means you're less likely to scratch up your pretty face if you fall off. :)

    Me, I think my helmet makes me look silly. But I'd far rather a 'flimsy piece of plastic' protecting me should I fall than nothing at all.

    On a kind of analogous note, it's compulsory for horseriders to wear riding hats, at least in riding schools anyway. In some it's also mandatory that you wear a back protector.

    Ok, in horseriding you fall further and are probably going faster, but you're also more likely to land somewhere softer than tarmac.

    11 Jan 2006, 12:01

  21. Well I've ridden three miles on horseback – and managed to fall off once in that short distance.

    I just don't see horse-riding caching on as a way of commuting to campus.

    11 Jan 2006, 12:19

  22. Nope. I mean you'd have to turn them loose on the Maths grass all day, and they make an awful mess.

    Ah well. I'll stick to cycling.

    11 Jan 2006, 17:54

  23. Having just stumbled upon this, I'd like to make a couple of points.

    Firstly, it's illegal to ride a motorbike on the road in the UK without a crash helmet. Why should it be any different for a rider of a bicycle? Sure, the bicycle speed is generally lower, but the rest of the traffic speed is no different. No-one questions the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets in reducing fatalities and injuries. Note that even moped users must wear helmets, which in restricted form only manage 30mph maximum; as Chris said himself his average speed on a bike is about 17mph so I don't see the speeds as being that different for an argument against helmets. Note too that motorbike helmets only serve to protect the wearer and in no way aid anyone else's well-being – it's not like seat belts where failure to wear one can be a danger to other passengers. These laws are there for the protection of the individual, and as such I don't see why bikes and motorbikes should differ.

    If, as is claimed by some above, bicycle helmets provide inadequate protection or have detrimental effects, then I would suggest that the problem is one of the design and technology of the helmet, not the principle of wearing one. We have seen above by the example of the motorbike that helmets can be made to be a positive thing in terms of safety, so therefore I put it to you that it should be made compulsory to wear helmets that meet some level of international standard – if the current standards are insufficient then they need to be rewritten.

    This all reminds me of the story of Dale Earnhardt. You may not have heard of him, but he was the Nascar equivalent of Michael Schumacher basically, one of the best known sportsmen in America. At the time of his death in racing (2001), there was intense debate going on about the real benefits of a system known as the HANS (Head and neck support) device, with many citing reasons why it would be detrimental to the safety of the sport. His death could well have been prevented by the HANS device, and subsequently it has been made mandatory in Nascar racing. Just because there are large groups questioning safety systems does not make those queries right.

    Most of all though, I detest this argument that helmets shouldn't be made mandatory because they "look silly and would put people off cycling". Quite frankly, I don't give a damn. It's one of the things you should have to accept when using any form of transport on public roads – the correct use of sufficient safety gear. It's no more an argument against helmets than if I were to make an argument against improving pedestrian safety ratings of motor vehicles on the grounds that the required changes can spoil the aesthetics of a car. If you don't feel that helmets are worth wearing then quite frankly the kind of mind that has these sorts of thoughts is a liability best kept away from the road network in the first place. It is undoubtedly the same people who would always instinctively point the finger at the motorist for any form of accident involving motorists and pedestrians or cyclists. The fact is, there are a large number of highly irresponsible pedestrians and cyclists out there. I'm not tarnishing all members of these groups with the same brush, because I am perfectly aware that many cyclists are in fact well disciplined in their approach to their use of the road, and I applaud this. At the end of the day, motorists have a responsibility to others to not hit other road users, and other road users have a responsibility to themselves to protect themselves. Roads are dangerous places, and accidents can and will happen, sometimes without fault or any fair degree of blame. Any cyclist that doesn't recognise this and refuses to take steps to protect their own safety doesn't belong on the roads. Everyone must take up their share of responsibility, both to themselves and to others.

    11 Jan 2006, 23:04

  24. Chris May

    Quite frankly, I don't give a damn

    You may not, but you ought to if you're interested in the population's general well-being. All the research suggests in terms of health you're better off to be a cyclist without a helmet (because of the cardio-vascular benefits) than a driver of a car*. So if compulsary helmet-wearing put large numbers people off cycling (and the evidence of the australian trial referred to above is that it does), it would have an overall negative effect on the health of the population – therefore it shouldn't be undertaken.

    The comparison with the aesthetics vs. safety of a car doesn't hold, because if people stopped buying/driving cars because they thought that safe cars looked ugly, that wouldn't have a negative effect on the health of the population.

    * obviously, riding with a helmet is better still, and if only a very small number of people were put off by mandatory helmets, it would be worth it (and I personally would support it).

    12 Jan 2006, 11:09

  25. But aesthetics, in my opinion, is the worst possible argument against wearing safety gear. There's no point in having a healthy cardio-vascular system if the body it's in has suffered permanent brain damage because the individual didn't wear a helmet. I personally view an unfit, mentally healthy motorist to be in better health than a brain-damaged cyclist.

    12 Jan 2006, 11:31

  26. Cycle helmets are too flimsy to cope with crashes involving other vehicles – so the speed of other vehicles is irrelevant. It's technologically impossible to produce helmets offering the same level of protection as motorcycle / racing car helmets without making the user's head impossibly hot. Unlike riding a motor vehicle, a cyclist expends considerable amount of body heat.

    HANS. Are we talking about sport or leisure. Do you support HANS to be compulsory in all salon cars? Should every dubious safety device be made compulsory in all circumstances? Personally I'm very dubious of laws to protect the individual when that individual doesn't want that alleged protection and no real case of benefit to anyone else can be made.

    Putting people off cycling is bad as there are public benefit reasons for getting more people to cycle.

    1. Obesity is a growing problem. The population actually eats more than it did in fifty years ago but because they take less exercise during the normal course of the day they get fat. In December I went to a xmas dinner with my cycling club. Included our group were two 80 year olds who thought nothing of cycling 15 miles to the country pub and back. Contrast that to the party which took the earlier sitting – a 50 year old's birthday party. And what a state of physical decline! They would complain about a 200 yard walk!

    2. The roads are full up at many times of the day. If those whose journies were less than five miles cycled instead of drove there would be a lot less pollution and congestion. In my opinion congestion is a major cause of road rage.

    The original sin of motorists. I don't agree with this "them and us" attitude, in the case of motorists verses cyclists or anything else. If someone cycles recklessly they certainly won't drive any better. Some of the worse cyclists on the road are only there because they have lost thier driving licenses following a traffic offence.

    The law should only penalise behaviour which harms other people. Wearing a helmet does not benefit other road users. There is an argument, called risk compensation, which says it might make things worse for other users – the cyclist behaves more irresponsibly because he/she feels less at risk. This argument argument leads to the idea that the protection given to car drivers should be reduced in the hope that it will induce them to take more care in driving.

    If you are taking about cyclist behaviour which puts other road users at risk the real issues are reckless riding on footways, changing lanes without due care and jumping lights. Even if you are talking about giving advice to cyclists about their own safety, issues like riding too close to parked cars, too close to the kerb, indecisively or on the inside of HGVs are much more important than plastic hats.

    12 Jan 2006, 12:47

  27. Chris May

    . There's no point in having a healthy cardio-vascular system if the body it's in has suffered permanent brain damage because the individual didn't wear a helmet.

    that's correct, but taking the population as a whole if you make helmets compulsary you'll get slightly fewer people with permanant brain damage vs many, many more people with CV/Obesity issues. Taking the population as a whole rather than focussing on any one indivudual, we're better off with more unhelmetted riders than fewer helmetted ones.

    12 Jan 2006, 13:20

  28. [Apologies if repeating anything - didn't read every single comment]

    I've been living here for more than two years now, and I have never seriously thought of getting a bike to get from Earlsdon to campus. Whereas in Holland, I wouldn't think of going anywhere without my bike. There is the slight issue of me getting worried I'll confuse left and right, being brought up with continental traffic rules, but well. Main point is, I'd be scared as hell to ride my bike here without any cycling lanes, confusing traffic lanes and lights and millions of roundabouts. And the idea of wearing a helmet would not take away any of these worries.

    [Jump of thoughts]
    In cycling sports, where higher speeds are reached, and a fall is more likely to be serious than on your average trip to the store, I'd say helmets all the way! In casual cycling, i.e. as a means of transport, it really depends on the user. If I'm ready to take on the Earlson-campus ride, I'd probably go no faster than 12mph, and with George's arguments I'm convinced I'm better off without a helmet. The cyclist/motorist argument is just plain silly. People running [either as exercise or trying to catch a rare bus] might reach say 8mph, which is about half of 17mph, which is about half of 30mph, so do you think pedestrians should wear helmets as well?

    On the average ride, people would only reach 17mph if they're in a hurry, and even then, there must be some research showing that you're still within your reaction limits making sure you land nicely if you fall, as opposed to motorists [or cyclists in the Tour de France] going 30mph and scraping their face off when landing on the asphalt without a helmet on.

    Anyway – main reason for comment was that in Holland, where cycling is a very common alternative way of transport, you will have a hard time spotting cyclists wearing a helmet. And if you'd do research, I'm sure you'd have a hard time concluding that those cyclists in Holland who have had an accident, would have been better off wearing a helmet.

    12 Jan 2006, 15:49

  29. It's nice to read someone bringing in the experience from a country with lots of cycling.

    There's no doubt that when there are more cyclists about the conditions for each individual cyclist improve, as motorists are more aware of likely cyclist behaviour.

    I cycle though Earlsdon everytime I visit campus. I don't follow the bus route.

    Have you tried the following route from the centre (i.e. the roundabout with a church on one corner, a library on another and a pub on a third – and a clock tower in the middle)?

    • Earlsdon Street
    • Rochester Road
    • Bates Road
    • The Riddings
    • Canley Road
    • Walk over the Flechamstead highway
    • Through the pub car park
    • Charter Ave.
    • Lynchgate Road
    • In back entrance to university campus (Claycroft)

    On the way back you can turn right from the Claycroft entrance, find your way through a car park to Shultern Lane, Cannon Hill Road and then use the Toucan crossing to get back to the north side of the Flechamstead highway.

    It sounds bad, but once you get used to it it's better than you think. Walk it first?

    See link or link

    12 Jan 2006, 21:09

  30. From where I live [basically Hearsall Lane] I'd probably go via Canley station, and actually, come to think of it, there are only two horrible parts: crossing the A45 [indeed walking sounds like an option, but shouldn't be necessary] and the crossing right onto campus from TESCO - whoever designed that bend in the road and all should apply for another job! I'll be around for a while and enjoy cycling [coincidentally it's a good excuse not to exercise] so thanks for the tips as hopefully they'll come to use some point [with or without helmet].

    12 Jan 2006, 23:29

  31. George: HANS is a device designed for sports, where impacts are both quite frequent and very extreme. Witness how F1 drivers can walk unscathed from crashes in excess of 180mph and exposed to peak G-forces way in excess of 50g. Such speed are not reached in everyday life, and crashes are less frequent, hence something as severe as the HANS device is not necessary for road cars, instead we just have seat belts. I used HANS by way of illustration of an example. I re-iterate: if there is a problem with cycle helmet design being inadequate then the helmet needs redesigning.

    You mention the issue of heat dissipation, yet people in bike sports wear helmets much more substantial than those used by road users. I'm willing to bet that riders in sport have much greater levels of physical exertion than leisure cyclists, so I don't see that argument stacking up.

    "The law should only penalise behaviour which harms other people."

    Does this mean you would be in favour of making helmets not a legal requirement for motorbike users?

    "This argument argument leads to the idea that the protection given to car drivers should be reduced in the hope that it will induce them to take more care in driving."

    How would you go about this? Remove safety cells? Or crash structures/impact bars/crumple zones? Or how about airbags? Restraint systems? Do you advocate removal of safety technology such as traction control, ABS, stability control systems? Do you think the removal of these systems would make roads safer with more motorists losing control of their vehicles and the effects of the impact to passengers being more severe? Somehow I can't see it.

    Chris: This may be so. I don't know if you have evidence to back up that claim or not. I could go on endlessly about laws where it seems that we cater for an extreme minority to the detriment of the many, but I doubt you'd be in favour of any of them. Such is the society in which we live in that safety from accidents is the number one concern over everything else, and in keeping with this line of thinking helmets should be made compulsory. Wearing a helmet doesn't make you less fit when riding a bike.

    Thorwald: No, pedestrians shouldn't be required to wear helmets, because pedestrians use pavements, where you are unlikely to find cars. Crossings are generally sufficiently well designed that accidents are extremely unlikely if the pedestrian is paying attention; if dangerous crossings do exist then these should be redesigned.

    12 Jan 2006, 23:58

  32. Thorwald:

    There are toucun crossings of the A45 both by the fire stantion roundabout and at the end of Charter Ave. At such crossings is is legal for people to cycle across the carriageway.

    By Tesco I look behind and after finding a space move out into the middle of the lane for turning into the Science Park. But I continue past that entrance, possibly waiting in the middle of the carriageway until there's a gap in the oncoming traffic. I find no problems, there's plenty of room to wait in the middle of the road.

    By the way you can cross the railway by Canley station.

    I'd never taken enough exercise if I didn't cycle, it takes too much time.

    13 Jan 2006, 14:27

  33. The people who actually practice cycle sports have, I understand, agreed to wear helmets. They have collectively weighed up the likelihood of injury against the certainty of discomfort. They do so as non governmental organisations without any legal backing. But the main organisation for less strenuous cycling in the UK the CTC is dead against any legal bans on cycling without a helmet. I know of no cycling organisation which backs legal compulsion – for any kind of cycling. Hence the contents of my original entry.

    Personally I'd be inclined to wear a helmet if I was riding off-road, bunny hopping over logs or over foot wide rocks, it might save me getting the odd minor bump. But I don't consider it worthwhile when cycling on the road. And the state shouldn't compel me or anyone else.

    On an issue of political theory, there seems to be a strand of opinion which believes that some elite people are allowed liberty, but others, those without strong lobbying powers, have to do what they are told, usually by that same elite. Mass media tycoons, factory bosses, vice-chancellors or whatever. Personally I am strongly against inequalities in liberty. Thus I would tend to the opinion that the requirement for helmet use by motorcyclists should be removed. But, although I hold a motorcycle licence, I don't use it and am not prepared to spend a lot of time arguing the case. I see no public benefit in encouraging motorcycle use, unlike the case with pedal cycles, so I'm not too concerned that compulsory helmet use might put people off motorcycling.

    "This argument leads to the idea that the protection given to car drivers should be reduced in the hope that it will induce them to take more care in driving." I'm not going to push this point, but the idea is removal of systems which protect only the driver not other people. Perhaps less flippantly, ideas which make it easier for drivers to drive at slow speeds but more uncomfortable to drive at higher speeds or take risks with other people's lives should be investigated. In many cars it's comfortable to drive at 80 m.p.h., but awkward to drive at 15 m.p.h..

    "pedestrians use pavements, where you are unlikely to find cars." There are plenty of cars on the pavements where I live. In 2003 41 pedestrians were killed on the footway or verge, 558 seriously injured, 2939 slightly injured, 4036 total (Road Casualties Great Britain 2003 table 31, p. 91). All the deaths were due to motor vehicles. Helmets would not have saved them. Cycle helmets are only good for falling from cycles – not crashes liable to kill and in many cases I expect motor cyclist type helmets would have made little difference. E.g. Sunday's tragic events in North Wales. If a pedestrian had been on the verge at the time they too would have been killed – a car moving at 50 m.p.h. does that if it hits a pedestrian or cyclist no matter what they are wearing.

    13 Jan 2006, 15:23

  34. Andy

    "all it takes is to hit a kerb the wrong way at 5mph, upend yourself, smack your head into the pavement and you can end up with some brain damage/haemorrhaging"

    Which means runners should also be required to wear helmets?

    Perhaps cyclists need better training in falling? Someone falling off at the almost non–existent speed of 5mph should have no trouble keeping their head away from hard objects.

    "In many cars it's comfortable to drive at 80 m.p.h., but awkward to drive at 15 m.p.h."

    This would depend on a person's mental processing speed, but an accident is more likely at lower speeds due to paying less attention. Each person has a speed range – a lower limit, below which they pay no attention because it is too slow to keep their attention engaged, and an upper limit, above which their reflexes are too slow.

    Removal of safety features from cars would mean removal of those that only protect vehicle occupants. That would exclude advanced braking systems, traction control, crumple zones etc.

    When I ride a motorcycle I wear a helmet, because I travel at high speed. Cycling speeds are nothing in comparison. In an accident at typical road cycling speeds it is trivial to tuck your head away. If you can't, then go learn.

    It is irrelevant whether motorcycle helmets reduce fatalities or serious injuries, they should not be compulsory unless they serve to protect others. I wear a motorcycle helmet and I encourage others to do so, but I completely oppose the current laws that exist in many places. Also most places only dictate that you protect the top of your head which won't do you any good if you rip your face off on the road.

    And while we're going down the nanny–police–state road why not require all motorcyclists to wear full body armour like racers? It'll reduce serious injuries. In fact lets just stop pussy–footing around and ban all dangerous activities. Safety first! But the state has no business protecting people from themselves. It is none of their business.

    Pedestrian accidents are so common that they should be required not only to wear helmets, but full body armour. It is for their own good.

    "On a kind of analogous note, it's compulsory for horseriders to wear riding hats, at least in riding schools anyway. In some it's also mandatory that you wear a back protector."

    No doubt a modern thing to cover their asses. When I learned ride many years ago they were not required, and most people didn't wear them.

    "It is undoubtedly the same people who would always instinctively point the finger at the motorist for any form of accident involving motorists and pedestrians or cyclists."

    As a motorist I recognise that most accidents involving a motorvehicle and bicycle are the motorists' fault.

    People talk about taking responsibility for your own safety, then advocate taking away that responsibility by supporting helmet laws.

    20 Jul 2006, 14:42


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