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British Cycling policy advisor says it's time to stop distracting helmet arguments and concentrate on real safety issues...

British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman says it’s time for the cycling community to put the debate about mandatory cycle helmets to bed and get across the message that helmet use is one of the least important cycling safety measures.

Even talking about making helmets mandatory “massively puts people off” cycling, Boardman said, and likened the culture of helmet use among keen cyclists to people wearing body armour because they have got used to being shot at.

Talking to road.cc at the London Bike Show, Boardman said, “I think the helmet issue is a massive red herring. It’s not even in the top 10 of things you need to do to keep cycling safe or more widely, save the most lives.”

You’re being shot at, put on body armour

Boardman returned to an analogy he has made before, and which even he admits is a bit melodramatic, though it gets the point across

“It’s a bit like saying ‘people are sniping at you going down this street, so put some body armour on,’” he said.

Government encouragement to wear helmets was therefore “a big campaign to get people to wear body armour, by the people who should be stopping the shooting.”

Widespread use of helmets, he said, sends the wrong message.

“Once you see somebody wearing body armour, even if there’s no shooting, you think ‘Christ I’m not going down there if they’re wearing body armour to go down that street.’ It scares people off.”

There’s a better solution to the problem of cycle safety, Boardman said. In the Netherlands, just 0.8 percent of cyclists wear helmets yet the Dutch have the lowest rate of cycling head injury, thanks to segregated cycling infrastructure. Thirty percent of journeys in the Netherlands are made by bike, he said, and 50 percent of children’s journey to school.

”The best way to deal with [the head injury issue] is what the Dutch have done,” he said. “Where you have the Highest rate of helmet use, you also have the highest rate of head injury: us and the US.”

Yet there’s also an almost-fanatical, knee-jerk devotion to helmet use among enthusiast and sporting cyclists.

Boardman said: “People who are wearing body armour get used to being shot at, when it’s the getting shot at that’s the problem.”

A distraction

Talking about helmets had become a time-consuming distraction, he said. “We’ve got to tackle the helmet debate head on because it’s so annoying,” he said. “It gets a disproportionate amount of coverage. When you have three minutes and someone asks ‘Do you wear a helmet’ you know the vast majority of your time when you could be talking about stuff that will make a difference, is gone.”

He said the focus on helmets had made cycling seem more dangerous than it really is.

“We’ve gone away from the facts,” he said. “We’ve gone to anecdotes. It’s like shark attacks - more people are killed building sandcastles than are killed by sharks. It’s just ludicrous that the facts aren’t matching up with the actions because the press focus, naturally, on the news stories, and [the notion that cycling is dangerous] becomes the norm, and it isn’t the norm.

“You can ride a thousand times round the planet for each cycling death. You are safer than gardening.”

Cycling’s image

Like many cycling advocates, Boardman wants to see cycling presented as a normal, everyday activity.

“I saw two people riding down the hill to my village. One person coming down the hill to go for the train in high-viz, helmet on.

“A few moments later another guy came down, in shirt sleeves, with a leather bag on his back, just riding his bike to the station.

“Which one of those makes me want to [ride]?”

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

198 comments

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kobacom [100 posts] 3 years ago
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The easiest way for the authorities to ensure nothing gets done is to give Mr Boardman an official position.

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felixcat [486 posts] 3 years ago
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septic77 wrote:

to wear one.....PERIOD

"Period"? Are you an American? I see you call yourself "septic".

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kevinmorice [146 posts] 3 years ago
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And this is the same nonsense abuse of "science" that Boardman uses to make his case. The road designs, cultures, laws etc are all different. Therefore comparing helmet use to other countries is meaningless. It is like saying that speaking german makes you immune to head injuries because german-speaking cyclists have less accidents.

If you want to compare similar samples try pro-riders over time. Same conditions, same roads, same speeds, same weather. Many less head injuries in the last decade.

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Guy Chapman [9 posts] 3 years ago
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septic77 wrote:

I have fallen & broken 3-4 helmets in recent years, but NOT BROKEN MY SKULL YET

Yes, isn't it amazing how even when helmets clearly fail, people still credit them with saving their life? Skulls are rather tougher than helmets. I have had three bike crashes that left me unconscious. Have a guess how many of these happened while I was wearing a helmet? Clue: greater than zero, less than three.

When you crash while wearing one, the A&E doctor tells you it saved your life. When you crash while not wearing one, the A&E doctor tells you that you're lucky to be alive and should wear a helmet in future.

And that, as far as I can tell, is the sum total of the difference in outcomes between helmeted and unhelmeted crashes!

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felixcat [486 posts] 3 years ago
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kevinmorice wrote:

If you want to compare similar samples try pro-riders over time. Same conditions, same roads, same speeds, same weather. Many less head injuries in the last decade.

Do you have a reference for this? I have heard the reverse.

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Stinkers [33 posts] 3 years ago
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How brilliant; he says stop debating the issue ... and you all use this as an excuse to ...

Make your own choice about whether you want to wear one and do that. Then keep your mouth shut and stop trying to convince others that you have made the correct decision and them the wrong one.

And yes, I am aware of the irony of deriding the debates on forums by using a forum.

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felixcat [486 posts] 3 years ago
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kevinmorice wrote:

If you want to compare similar samples try pro-riders over time. Same conditions, same roads, same speeds, same weather. Many less head injuries in the last decade.

I thought so.

"The Union Cycliste Internationale, the governing body for international cycle sport, made cycle helmets mandatory on May 5 2003 although helmet use had been increasing voluntarily since the 1990s. However, there have been more fatalities to cyclists in races since implementation of the helmet rule than in any recent decade (Wiki, 1).
Decade 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010-11
Deaths 6 9 2 8 4 4 5 3 10 2"

http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1213.html

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oldstrath [932 posts] 3 years ago
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kevinmorice wrote:

And this is the same nonsense abuse of "science" that Boardman uses to make his case. The road designs, cultures, laws etc are all different. Therefore comparing helmet use to other countries is meaningless. It is like saying that speaking german makes you immune to head injuries because german-speaking cyclists have less accidents.

If you want to compare similar samples try pro-riders over time. Same conditions, same roads, same speeds, same weather. Many less head injuries in the last decade.

Here's a report http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/health-headlines/no-evidence-cycle-helmet-l... of a study done in Canada by an academic who clearly expected to find evidence of an effect of compulsion, but failed and now admits it is complexer than that. Sorry it's not a direct link to the paper, but I'm off out on the cross bike (with hat, because I'm going offroad, where they probably are useful).

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Guy Chapman [9 posts] 3 years ago
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kevinmorice wrote:

I am on the list of "helmet saved my life" people

{{citation needed}}.

There are vastly more people, proportionally, who claim that helmets saved their lives, than people who are seriously injured while riding unhelmeted.

So either the helmets make you very very much more likely to crash, or people are engaging in perfectly normal human behaviour, congratulating themselves on how smart they are and reinforcing their own belief.

After all, it's not that long since people genuinely credited St. Christopher for a safe journey.

One thing is certain: the actual figure from real cyclist populations steadfastly refuses to show any correlation between helmet wearing rates and head injury rates. It's almost as if they are only specified for the equivalent of a simple fall from a stationary or slow moving bike, i.e. roughly equivalent to falling over (i.e. the very case for which our skulls evolved).

Oh, wait, they are.

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netclectic [136 posts] 3 years ago
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kevinmorice wrote:

If you want to compare similar samples try pro-riders over time. Same conditions, same roads, same speeds, same weather. Many less head injuries in the last decade.

Really?
Where is your evidence of this "fact"?

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DaveHemm [1 post] 3 years ago
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“We’ve gone away from the facts,” he said. “We’ve gone to anecdotes.

But all of the counter arguments are themselves anecdotes.

“Where you have the Highest rate of helmet use, you also have the highest rate of head injury: us and the US.”

That is a logical fallacy (deductive or logical)
e.g.
1. All birds have beaks
2. all beaked animals are birds (which is wrongly deduced (think octopus)).

The implication is because we have a higher rate of helmet use in the UK & US is that we have more accidents, that is a massive logical faux pas.

Going back, if you were to take up the body armour gambit, do you see UN peacekeepers strolling around without body armour as the politicians try to thrash out a lasting peace in a war torn area - nope they increase their protection towards themselves with body armour until it is safe not to....
I would love to feel i did not need to go out without a crash helmet on, but i do not with the complete disrespect motorists show to cyclists in the UK. Cycling in France was a pleasure by comparison to metropolitan London and but for the fact i was in an organised sponsored ride whose insurance required the wearing of helmets, i would have felt safe enough not to need one.

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Guy Chapman [9 posts] 3 years ago
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Describe a typical cyclist. A racer, head down and piling on the pressure? An audaxer? A city gent on a Brompton? Mrs. Miggins on the way to the pie shop? A young and trendy Kensington mum on a Dutch bike? Someone taking a five minute trip on a Boris bike? A mountain biker on singletrack?

Why on earth would anyone assume that all these cases have similar risk profiles and should use similar protective equipment? Does anyone other than The Stig use a full face helmet, fireproof suit and five-point harness when driving to the shops?

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Some Fella [890 posts] 3 years ago
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I freakin love Chris Boardman
 8

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Markus [51 posts] 3 years ago
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Helmets do help in some situations, as I've come to experience. If they would not look so dorky, people would use them more often.
Won't help much when you get run over by a lorry, though, no matter how the helmet looks... and poor planning will make even small cities unsafe. I live in a place with about 60 000 people. Right now a roundabout is being built for a cool 40 to 50 million euros or so... but the roundabout only goes around a nearby suburban area and does not extend around the main town, all heavy traffic still will go right through it. The whole thing seems like a useless exercise in politics.

This from Finland, so a bit off-topic. Still, the problems are pretty much universal.

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felixcat [486 posts] 3 years ago
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DaveHemm wrote:

“Where you have the Highest rate of helmet use, you also have the highest rate of head injury: us and the US.”

That is a logical fallacy (deductive or logical)
e.g.
1. All birds have beaks
2. all beaked animals are birds (which is wrongly deduced (think octopus)).

The implication is because we have a higher rate of helmet use in the UK & US is that we have more accidents, that is a massive logical faux pas.

If you read the posts you will find noone made that deduction. The claim has never been that the high rate of helmet wearing or compulsion causes dangerous road conditions for cyclists.
The obvious deduction is that helmets have not made cycling in NZ, Oz or USA as safe as N or Dk. By a long long way.
A more tenuous conclusion is that helmet laws and wearing are a reaction to dangerous road conditions, and a reaction which does not work as well as whatever it is that makes some countries much safer.
I suspect (not a deduction) that helmets are a diversion or decoy which helps distract from measures which would work, As Boardman said.

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Bikebikebike [365 posts] 3 years ago
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I was pissed and cycling down Oxford Street pretty fast. Hit a pothole, flew very hard over the handlebars, off the road onto the pavement, missing a railing by centimetres. If I had been wearing a helmet, it would have caught the railing and viciously whipped my head back and round, causing untold injury. Does this form a reasonable argument for making it illegal to wear a helmet?

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Some Fella [890 posts] 3 years ago
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septic77 wrote:

UNTIL WE HAVE SEGREGATED ROADS LIKE HOLLAND (ie never!) THEN HELMETS MUST BE WORN

Is Dutch tarmac softer than ours?
Are their segregated roads made of some magical substance?
By your logic :-
Fall off in on a segregated road in Holland without a helmet you'll be alright.
Fall off on a British road without a helmet you will definitely die.

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Col Nago [12 posts] 3 years ago
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All these arguments on helmets just show what CB is getting on about! Hours spent obsessing on this subject when we need to debate the real reasons why cycling is still a minority transport mode in this country. Let's discuss negative media coverage, crap cycle ways, lack of government funding, cultural attachment to tin boxes etc etc.

As CB says, a huge smelly red herring.

PS I always wear a helmet but can't say it make me feel safe

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mrmo [2096 posts] 3 years ago
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for the pro helmet brigade, question would you rather get hit by a car or not hit by a car.

Now once we sort the car problem we can start discussing whether there is any point to helmets, BUT NOT BEFORE!!!!

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allez neg [496 posts] 3 years ago
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mrmo wrote:

for the pro helmet brigade, question would you rather get hit by a car or not hit by a car.

Now once we sort the car problem we can start discussing whether there is any point to helmets, BUT NOT BEFORE!!!!

Equally, would I prefer to fall of my motorcycle in full leathers, body armour, spine protector and high-end Arai lid, or fall off my motorbike in t shirt and shorts? The answer, obviously is that I'd prefer to NOT fall off, but while I acknowledge that regardless of what I wear I may still end up as a long red streak with a meaty blob at the end of it, at least the PPE may improve my chances a bit if I fuck up, hit a patch of diesel, have some form of mechancal failure, or any other random occurrence that may happen.

I can and do apply the same rationale to my bicycle helmets.

Shall we scrap speed limits until we sort out bad drivers?

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felixcat [486 posts] 3 years ago
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allez neg wrote:

Equally, would I prefer to fall of my motorcycle in full leathers, body armour, spine protector and high-end Arai lid, or fall off my motorbike in t shirt and shorts? The answer, obviously is that I'd prefer to NOT fall off, but while I acknowledge that regardless of what I wear I may still end up as a long red streak with a meaty blob at the end of it, at least the PPE may improve my chances a bit if I fuck up, hit a patch of diesel, have some form of mechancal failure, or any other random occurrence that may happen.

I can and do apply the same rationale to my bicycle helmets.

You are free to wear whatever you wish, on bike or motorbike. Just don't try to force or scare me into doing what you do.

By the way, would you ride your motorbike differently in t shirt and shorts, rather than in full gear?
I suspect you would be more careful.

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mrmo [2096 posts] 3 years ago
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PPE is always the last step of the risk assessment process.

The risk is not falling off the bike. the risk is being hit by a car or a truck. Deal with the problem, helmets aren't much good against a 40T truck anyway!!!

If your racing then helmets might reduce the risk and make some sense( not a great deal as design spec is crap) but riding to the shops, treating bikes as urban transport!

Do we demand pedestrians wear helmets? Do we demand drivers wear overalls and helmets? both would save lives!

How about helmets in the bath, dangerous places, lots of slips, lots of A&E admissions!

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Cunobelin [3 posts] 3 years ago
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What if you are the parent of a child that has fallen over , or the first person on the scene that has to give first aid? Would you rather deal with a mild concussion and some broken bones, a crushed skull or a corpse?

Equal justification for making the Thudguard infant helmet compulsory

Quote:

What if you are the driver that he walks in front of, or the first person on the scene that has to give first aid? Would you rather deal with a mild concussion and some broken bones, a crushed skull or a corpse?

Equal justification for the compulsory use of pedestrian helmets

I assume that all those using emotive bullying will be supporting both the Thudguard and pedestrian helmets

After all the following applies to both children and pedestrians

Quote:

IF YOU WANT TO SMASH your skull instead of a cheap replacement plastic 'head thing' go ahead, be foolish, and don't wear one - with the current ice and bad weather it makes sense to wear one.....PERIOD

Or are we back to the "only cyclists suffer head injuries...... pedestrian and child head injuries are somehow less painful, less traumatic and not worth preventing

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mrmo [2096 posts] 3 years ago
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Oh and look how much time everyone is wasting discussing helmets again, how many letters to papers, tv, MPs, MEPs, ASMs etc etc etc could have been written demanding improved cycle provision, proper cycle routes, a change in the law demanding presumed liability etc etc.

But no lets blame cyclists for being stupid, for not wearing full body armour and helmets. It is not the poor drivers fault that the stupid cyclist happened to be riding in the road, it is not the drivers fault he had to overtake on a blind bend, It is not the drivers fault he had an important phone call to take, it is not the drivers fault he had had a couple of pints.....

No it is the stupid cyclists fault that he had the stupidity to ride on the road and get hit!!!!!!

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allez neg [496 posts] 3 years ago
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Anyhow, I reckon it's obesity and shit weather that puts people off cycling, not the dangers, real or perceived.

Lets look at compulsory salads and banning gay marriage (which incurs God's wrath resulting in the floods as punishment, UKIP told me so) before we get bogged-down in polystyrene pisspots.

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The Hoggs [3496 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm playing devils advocate here so bear with me....

In the past people have quoted surgeons dr's saying they are good to wear because of xyz....its shot down by forum users as they are not engineers, brain / trauma experts etc etc.

Now,

You have CB hear who has virtually no knowledge of brain trauma etc etc (as far as i'm aware) saying the exact opposite and suddenly we have a multitude of forum users saying "well done, exactly right".

Either you dont want to believe that helmets are any good or some people are sheep and want to follow the leader ????

As a complete coincidence today an incident came in whereby a council worker, without looking, grabbed a spade and hoisted it over his shoulder and turned around from the side of the wagon. The blade of the spade caught a cyclist across his forehead as he passed by and would have done quite a nasty injury had he not had a helmet on. Lucky lad

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edster99 [338 posts] 3 years ago
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I can't resist piling in, so I apologise in advance.

I wish there were a central source of the research into the efficacy of bike helmets in .... oh hold on. What do we think they do for us?

If we dont want to get damaged when out cycling, just like any other risk analysis there are two components :
1) likelihood of the event happening, and
2) seriousness when it does.

So looking at 1) does a helmet mean it is more or less likely we'll have an accident? There's a bit of partial research i'm aware of (feel free to cite more) that suggests you're very slightly more likely. But I would be happy to claim without citing anything that the majority of influences on our likelihood of having an accident are more highly influenced by factors out of our control - such as : drivers, infrastructure, oil on the road, etc etc.

and 2) well, if you bash your head on a kerb/rock in particular ways, then yes there can be benefits to be had wearing a helmet. However, do the majority of incidents involve this? That is something for which I have no data, and if you don't have a serious accident, it certainly isn't recorded anywhere. Of that proportion of accidents where you hit your helmet (in my experience of crashing in various ways, 0%, but that is anecdotal) what proportion would be affected by wearing a helmet in such a way as to significantly change the outcome? I'm not aware that there is any strong data to draw on to answer that question either.

Added to that, as has been mentioned lots of times, helmets are not meant to protect you against everything head related. If you hit a wall, you could break your neck wearing a helmet or not. Likewise, above a certain speed, it wont help (i.e. an 80kph dismount into a wall).

So it seems to me that we are basically speculating on the efficacy of helmets at a population level, because we don't have any strong data to go on.

What we can be clear about is that if you don't have an accident in the first place you don't need to tie yourself in mental knots about the effectiveness of helmets. And, for most commuters, that is out of their control and comes back to all the other things Mr Boardman is referring to.

I've never thought in terms of wearing helmets scaring people off, but I can sort of imagine it. In which case, better infrastructure rather than helmet legislation surely moves up the list as a solution to the question of how we get more people on bikes and out of cars, and how less of them (especially the new, uncertain and unskilled ones) end up experiencing some form of painful and unpleasant incident. Wearing a helmet and being knocked off by a car will still put people off cycling. Cycling and not being knocked off will not.

(For the avoidance of doubt, I do wear a helmet most of the time. I know it wont make any positive or negative difference 99.99% of the time. )

I'm 100% against compulsion : the idea that 'if it saves one life its worth it' doesn't, to me, work at a population level. I see it as a question of the best use of resources - to improve infrastructure / driving standards / etc etc to stop accidents happening, or to spend that money on enforcing prosecutions against cyclists for not wearing a helmet, thereby making it more likely that they are involved in an accident in the first place. In fact, both of those approaches can save lives - which is the most efficient? The first one requires a bigger spend, so it needs to produce much bigger results. And how do we even measure these things? I bet its relatively simple to calculate the average miles per fatality per car journey because you can tell from fuel sales roughly how many miles are driven. How do you tell how many miles are cycled?

But to tie it in to the bigger picture - which one will encourage more people to cycle, and make us all a healthier, happier nation?

Thank you for your attention. Please flame away.

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The Hoggs [3496 posts] 3 years ago
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I forgot to add, i'm totally against mandatory helmet use for no other reason than it wouldn't work.

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felixcat [486 posts] 3 years ago
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stumps wrote:

I forgot to add, i'm totally against mandatory helmet use for no other reason than it wouldn't work.

You are dead right. In countries where helmets have been mandated the wearing rate has typically increased from thirty odd percent to well over ninety per cent. In none of them has there been any reduction in cyclist head injury rate.

Here is a graph of the effects of the law in NZ.

http://rdrf.org.uk/2013/12/17/the-effects-of-new-zealands-cycle-helmet-law/

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allez neg [496 posts] 3 years ago
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mrmo wrote:

Oh and look how much time everyone is wasting discussing helmets again, how many letters to papers, tv, MPs, MEPs, ASMs etc etc etc could have been written demanding improved cycle provision, proper cycle routes, a change in the law demanding presumed liability etc etc.

But no lets blame cyclists for being stupid, for not wearing full body armour and helmets. It is not the poor drivers fault that the stupid cyclist happened to be riding in the road, it is not the drivers fault he had to overtake on a blind bend, It is not the drivers fault he had an important phone call to take, it is not the drivers fault he had had a couple of pints.....

No it is the stupid cyclists fault that he had the stupidity to ride on the road and get hit!!!!!!

I'm not disagreeing but would a non-cyclist politician type look at this list of costly demands and think "well, these cyclists want all this from us, but can't even be arsed to spend £30 on a helmet? Naah, fuck 'em"

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