Bike helmets and Boris bikes - BBC Radio 4 debates the issues

More or Less show hears both sides of the argument, but where do you stand?

by Simon_MacMichael   August 27, 2010  

White cycle helmet

One of cycling’s eternal debates – whether it really is safer to wear a helmet – has been the focus of a BBC Radio 4 programme this lunchtime, taking as its start point the fact that anyone wanting to use the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme launched in London this month needs to provide their own lid if they wish to wear one.

The discussion featured in the programme More or Less, presented by Tim Harford, which seeks to unravel “the numbers behind the news,” and if you’re in the UK you can listen to it on the BBC iPlayer, by following this link.

In the programme, Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s Transport Advisor, Kulveer Ranger, explains the rationale behind the decision not to provide helmets to people using the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme.

The presenter takes to one of the scheme’s signature blue bikes to speak to traffic psychologist Dr Ian Walker of the University of Bath, who talks about the findings of his research into the difference it makes when cycling in traffic of wearing a helmet or going lidless, as well as his by now famous blonde wig.

Afterwards, on his Twitter stream, Dr Walker said that he had stressed that the question that should be getting asked wasn’t whether or nor the scheme’s users should wear a helmet or not, but “Why aren't London's roads made safer?" although that didn’t make the final programme.

The case in favour of helmets, meanwhile, is put forward by paediatric nurse Angela Lee, founder of the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust, which promotes wearing of bike helmets among children aged under 16.

In Australia, where bicycle helmets are compulsory, people signing up to a bike hire scheme that launched in June were given a free helmet, and a similar approach is being taken in Brisbane, whose own bike hire scheme launches in October, according to the Brisbane Times.
 

8 user comments

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Helmets are often uncomfortable at first but you get used to them. I didn't wear one for years but after busting my shoulder and suffering concussion for 3 days (my shoulder took the brunt and is still all wrong 18 years later..) I took to wearing a helmet whatever.

All the stats saying they make little difference are just pointless massage. If faced with being flung at a curb head first even the most cynical anti helmet pontificators would suddenly opt for an inch of polystyrene. There are two sorts of people who don't wear helmets: those who haven't fallen on their heads yet - and those who have once too often.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1059 posts]
29th August 2010 - 0:49

1 Like

MercuryOne wrote:
If faced with being flung at a curb head first even the most cynical anti helmet pontificators would suddenly opt for an inch of polystyrene.

The same argument could be used if you were to trip on the pavement and your head is sent toward the kerb, do you propose wearing a helmet for the statistically more hazardous pursuit of pedestrian-ism?

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
29th August 2010 - 9:18

2 Likes

"The same argument could be used if you were to trip on the pavement and your head is sent toward the kerb"
That argument doesn't really follow as you are seldom travelling in excess of 4 mph while walking and you aren't generally sharing the pavement with other traffic.
Having worked in neuro intensive cares both in this country and in Australia I now always wear a helmet and having come off and broken one while descending from the Cat and Fiddle it almost certainly saved me from a significant brain injury. Where a helmet will make no difference is where you are taken out on the inside of a turning truck or similar but in many ways a death on a bicycle is not the worst possible outcome. I'd say that a severely disabled adult, unable to work or function without constant care is a worse outcome and that is where a hemlemt may make a difference. It will certainly make more of a difference than no helmet.
I am very much pro helmet but I'm not pro compulsion for helmets as I do feel that that may put many off cycling.

posted by samridler@googl... [2 posts]
29th August 2010 - 14:22

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Here is an extract from the Government report in 2008/9 "Improving road safety for pedestrians and cyclists in Great Britain"

In 2007,over 30,000 pedestrians and 16,000 cyclists were injured, with 646 pedestrians and 136 cyclists killed.

This would suggest that being a pedestrian is a dangerous occupation, and arguably more dangerous than cycling, so why no need for head protection? Speed a pedestrian travels doesn't appear to be the deciding factor on whether they get killed or not...

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [649 posts]
29th August 2010 - 15:16

1 Like

Perhaps we could recommend helmets for pedestrians but only while they are crossing roads, as I'm sure that is where many of the fatalities occur.

Being a pedestrian isn't without risk, certainly, but in terms of deaths per pedestrian journey compared with deaths per cycling journey, it's probably safer; unless of course you are saying that there are only about two to five times as many pedestrians as cyclists.

Life is a risk and I certainly feel that it should be up to the individual to decide whether or not a helmet might mitigate some of that risk for them. Ask James Cracknell what he feels about wearing a helmet and I think that I'd probably agree.

posted by samridler@googl... [2 posts]
29th August 2010 - 21:00

1 Like

Rding a motorcycle speeds are much higher and the need for helmet wearing somewhat greater. As a result helmets were made compulsory in the UK for motorcycle riders in 1976. Data published before and after this date showed the benefits to safety.

But bicycle helmets are a different matter. Most are rather more flimsy than motorcycle helmets, indeed the one pictured in this thread is one to my mind of questionable benefit. Making helmets compulsory amongst cyclists would make only a minimal difference to accident statistics amongst cyclists. As the expert witness commented, the real question is why the roads aren't being made safe for cyclists. Riding to the supermarket the other day I had to contend with a van and a car stopped in the box supposedly reserved for cyclists at a junction as we waited for a red light, a common occurence. Why aren't these properly enforced?

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2197 posts]
30th August 2010 - 13:11

1 Like

In my opinion the reason that people get hit while cycling is because they are not seen. I therefore subscribe to the view that I should make myself fully visible to the other road users. I do not wear a helmet, I do however always go out with a hat on and high viz clothing and I cycle defensivly. In 6 years of cycling in London I have only had one accident (and the driver was over 90 with glasses like milk bottles and probablly shouldn't have been driving!). If more people cycled safely, bought lights and wore sensible clothing there would be fewer accidents.

posted by ant453 [1 posts]
31st August 2010 - 14:52

1 Like

samridler@googlemail.com wrote:
"The same argument could be used if you were to trip on the pavement and your head is sent toward the kerb"
That argument doesn't really follow as you are seldom travelling in excess of 4 mph while walking and you aren't generally sharing the pavement with other traffic.

I'm afraid your comments show that you don't understand the helmet situation at all. Cycle helmets are specified to provide protection at about 12mph or less, which is the speed your head will be doing if you fall over from a standing position i.e. if you're a pedestrian. They are not designed to protect in collisions with motor vehicles, and all the reliable evidence shows that at a population level, at best they make no difference, and some evidence show that they increase risk.

Their only detectable effect is to reduce the number of cyclists, and since cycling confers such huge health benefits (regular cyclists live longer, are healthier, fitter and suffer less from all forms of illness) that the overall effect of helmet laws and propaganda canmpaigns is negative and very large.

So helmets don't make you safer, and have large negative health effects. Why is anyone even promoting them, let alone demanding laws? Oh, I forgot: the manufacturers are making millions, selling something which doesn't work and you can't take back when it fails - just a licence to print money really, and the gullible public fall for it.

burtthebike

posted by burtthebike [69 posts]
23rd July 2011 - 7:40

1 Like