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Organisations seek to overturn NI helmet law and draw a line in the sand for the rest of the UK too?

Sustrans and the CTC are have launched an online petition in their continuing efforts to fight a bill that would make cycling with a helmet compulsory in Northern Ireland by launching a petition and presenting evidence to the committee of the NI assembly that is currently scrutinising the bill as part of the legislative process. The online petition can be signed by anyone living in the UK.

Last month the Northern Ireland assembly passed The Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill by two votes which if it becomes law will make it an offence to ride a bicycle in public in the province without wearing protective headgear.

The bill was backed by the Northern Irish council of the BMA and its passing lead to calls for similar legislation to be passed in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland. One reason no doubt that both Sustrans and the CTC are asking people from across the British Isles to sign the petition.

In this latest stage of their campaign against the bill both organisations, which work to promote cycling are careful to explain that they are not “anti-helmet”. Instead, they point to a catalogue of evidence showing that Northern Ireland would see a sharp reduction in the number of people who would cycle if the bill became law. This would have serious consequences for public health, quality of life, congestion and the environment.

Explaining his organisation's stance, Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy director at the CTC, said: “Cycling for day-to-day journeys is a relatively safe activity and it gets safer the more people there are cycling. This bill may be well-intentioned, but it will deter vast numbers of people from cycling, while increasing the risk for those who remain. At a time of mounting concern about obesity and climate change, scaring people into car-dependence is bound to shorten more lives than helmets would possibly save. I’d recommend our petition to everyone who enjoys cycling. With their support we can defeat this fundamentally flawed bill.”

Sustrans’ position was set out by its Northern Ireland Director Steven Patterson who said: “We share the wish of the supporters of this bill to improve the safety of cyclists but there are many better ways of doing this, such as giving every child on-road cycle training or reducing speed limits to 20mph in residential areas.”

The Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill was proposed by Sinn Fein assemblyman and ex-Mayor of Derry Pat Ramsey who during the Assembly debate himself acknowledged the concerns of the CTC and Sustrans.

“I am not for one minute dismissing claims that cycling incidence reduces after the introduction of helmet legislation,” he explained. “In fact, it is out of concern for any negative impact that I have proposed a three-year introductory period, if the legislation were approved, during which there would be a publicity campaign and time for schools, the Department and other parties to enter into a full awareness campaign. That full three years would allow ample opportunity for those groups and other cycling groups to come on board and to become aware of the regulations.”

Mr Ramsey, a former Mayor of Derry, added:

“It surprised me that some cycling organisations are opposed to the Bill. The reason why it surprises me is that in organised cycling events, even informal rides out, cyclists are invariably helmeted. It also surprised me because the main governing body for cycling racing, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), has made helmets compulsory in all racing events.

The UCI does not as far as we are aware have an position on the wearing of helmets outside of close road cycling events and certainly Mr Ramsey's comments could be said to show a distinct failure to grasp the relative risks involved in riding a road race and popping down to the shops on your bike or riding to work a fact not lost on those who opposed his bill both within and outside of the Assembly.

You can read the CTC's briefing paper on the NI helmet bill on the CTC website.

Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.

52 comments

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mowatb [20 posts] 5 years ago
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I don't see what the issue is here, I wore a helmet, got hit ny a car. The helmet saved my life.

Ask yourself this, if you have young children like me, would you happily let them cycle without a helmet?

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Coleman [335 posts] 5 years ago
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mowatb

Look at Australia. Compulsory helmet laws have caused a reduction in cycling. The safest thing for cyclists is more cyclists. Look at Holland and Denmark - people cycling in clothes, not cycling clothes and safetly gear. Why? Because cycling is not dangerous there. Why not? Because so many people are cycling.

I have cycled since a very young age, most of the time without a helmet. Yes, I would let my children if/ when I have some cycle without helmets because I would want them to enjoy it.

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mowatb [20 posts] 5 years ago
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I agree cycling does appear safer in many other countries but in the uk drivers, police & councils have a completely different attitude to cyclists. Until that changes the last line of defence is a helmet, I'm 90% sure I wouldn't be writing this right now if I didn't have one.

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bikecellar [268 posts] 5 years ago
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Yes, I wear a helmet, yes it has saved my head from damage. No to compulsion, for all the obvious reasons stated by those that oppose. Next up would be compulsion to wear fluorescent/reflective clothing.

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slow-cyclo [72 posts] 5 years ago
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I'm sure I read somewhere that incidence of injury increases with compulsory helmet usage, not least because cars drive closer if we're helmeted (is that a word) and give us a wider berth if we aren't. However, I could be imagining that. Does that ring a bell with anyone?  39

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AndyyK [39 posts] 5 years ago
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Cycling in Australia seems to be heaving to me. Slightly too many in the lycra brigade on a weekend, but can't complain.

What I find odd is that it's compulsory even though, here in Perth, there are so many cycle paths away from motor vehicles. Which in my opinion also means motorists don't know how to cope with cyclists on the road, which causes more accidents.

Maybe someone should make it compulsory for cars to be made of big soft sponges

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dave atkinson [6223 posts] 5 years ago
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slow-cyclo wrote:

I'm sure I read somewhere that incidence of injury increases with compulsory helmet usage, not least because cars drive closer if we're helmeted (is that a word) and give us a wider berth if we aren't. However, I could be imagining that. Does that ring a bell with anyone?  39

not exactly - the incidence of head injury is lowest in countries with the lowest helmet usage. some people put that down to the 'safety in numbers' argument which i'm sure is a factor, but i'd mainly put it down to the fact that those countries with high cycle usage invariably have their infrastructure sorted.

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dave atkinson [6223 posts] 5 years ago
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Quote:

Next up would be compulsion to wear fluorescent/reflective clothing

and next after that would be the compulsion to not cycle at all, since it's so 'dangerous'  22

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madguern [25 posts] 5 years ago
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I wear a helmet as that is my choice,I am against making it law as this is personal choice.If not where will this stop, pedestrians wearing hi-vis and body armour ! Or maybe car drivers need helmets too as there is a high instance of head injuries when crashing.

We seem to do this to protect car drivers, in court you will hear about how the cyclist killed was not wearing a helmet, hence the driver that hit him at 80mph is not to blame.

If they feel the need to pass a law how about some protection for cyclists from bad and irresponsible drivers,or stiffer penalties that stick for a change.

Right , how do i get off this horse its rather taller than i expected  1

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Chuck [546 posts] 5 years ago
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mowatb wrote:

drivers, police & councils have a completely different attitude to cyclists. Until that changes the last line of defence is a helmet

It won't be changing in a hurry if we approach the problem by putting the onus on potential victims to wear saftey gear rather than on the people in charge of the hazards to take more care.

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joemmo [1164 posts] 5 years ago
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2. -(1) The Department shall by regulations -

(a) prescribe for the purposes of section 1 (by reference to shape, construction, appropriateness for wearer and such other qualities as the Department thinks fit the descriptions of protective headgear to be worn; and

(b) prescribe for those purposes the manner in which such headgear is to be worn.

(2) Before making any regulations under this section the Department shall consult such representative organisations as it thinks fit.

Even putting aside the for and against arguments, the police don't have the ability to determine whether a helmet actually offers any worthwhile protection, just that it is being worn and appears reaonably helmet-like, which is a totally pointless exercise.

If it came to organising a protest, I would suggest cyclists turn up attired in all sorts of inappropriate helmets & headgear and ask the MPs to determine what meets the standards of 'appropriateness'.

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zoxed [64 posts] 5 years ago
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So Pat Ramsey is surprised at the cycling organisations responses to compulsion ? Does that mean that he proposed a new law on cycle helmets without bothering to consult ? I am not sure about Sustrans but the CTC has been vocal pro-choice, anti-compulsion for at least 2 decades, and a quick look at their website will show this.
And the reason the UCI enforced helmets was to keep the manufactures happy: it had nothing to do with safety.

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cat1commuter [1421 posts] 5 years ago
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Quote:

Mr Ramsey, a former Mayor of Derry, added: “It surprised me that some cycling organisations are opposed to the Bill. The reason why it surprises me is that in organised cycling events, even informal rides out, cyclists are invariably helmeted. It also surprised me because the main governing body for cycling racing, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), has made helmets compulsory in all racing events.

I suspect that Mr Ramsey does not have much experience of riding in a bunch. I think cycling helmets are quite good at preventing minor head injuries which you get from bunch crashes where someone touches wheels. You see fewer pictures of pros with bloody heads these days. (Maybe there would be even fewer if they had their chin straps done up properly.)

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Chuffy [201 posts] 5 years ago
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If this idiocy spreads I shall start wearing a fez with the words 'this is a helmet' painted on. After all, unless the legislation clearly defines what a helmet is, how it should be worn and what standard it should conform to, one magic hat is as good as another.

@mowatb - if I had young kids I would spend time and money training improving their road skills before I misled them into placing their faith in a polystyrene hat.

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timlennon [210 posts] 5 years ago
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@mowatb, I have young children (9 months and 2.5 years), and they won't be getting up in piles of day-glo orange and sodding great helmets just to make their way to school, or wander round a park. If they start using major roads competitively, or at speed, I may well think again, but I don't see many compelling statistics telling me that they're so badly at risk from head injury while cycling compared to (for example) walking on a pavement.

(I cycle very day, an easy 4.5 mile commute, which I do in work clothes with no helmet or high-viz - it's made me acutely aware of how easy it is to look very, very stupid on a bicycle once you start adding all these largely ineffective safety devices.)

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Myriadgreen [96 posts] 5 years ago
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From what I understand, Sustrans, like the CTC is pro choice, anti compulsion, and this is a stance I firmly agree with.

I ride a beautiful quick road bike most of the time, to commute and compete. I wear a helmet and have no issues about doing so, as I travel at high speeds and were I to come off, be it my own fault or not, I'd like a bit of extra padding.

However not everyone travels as quickly and not everyone rides on the road - there is an ever increasing network of off road routes out there for our riding pleasure, which should be used at lower speeds, given they are enjoyed by cyclists, pedestrians, and horse riders. The need for a helmet there is not so pressing, although consideration for all is needed.

As for kids, I believe that all kids should be given cycle training and it be left to the parents to decide if they want to helmet them up. If we stop the kids from riding (which helmet compulsion may lead towards) then they will not grow in to the next generation of adult cyclists. And that would be bad!

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mad_scot_rider [581 posts] 5 years ago
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mowatb wrote:

I don't see what the issue is here, I wore a helmet, got hit ny a car. The helmet saved my life.

Ask yourself this, if you have young children like me, would you happily let them cycle without a helmet?

Your story is a lovely anecdote and I'm pleased for you

However for every person avoiding injury through helmet use there are *many* others who are injured or die as result of head injuries too powerful for a poxy bit of poly or from injuries to other parts of the body.

I wear a helmet every day for my commute - because it makes my non-cycling wife a bit happier - NOT because I believe it'll make a jot of difference if some half-awake eejit in 2 tonnes of metal doesn't look at a junction.

NO to compulsion

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Paul M [360 posts] 5 years ago
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I think CTC and Sustrans, and ervyone else for that matter, should also lobby the BMA, because advocates of helmet compulsion get undeserved succour from doctors, individually or as a trade body.

I have always thought the "helmet saved my life" argument particularly spurious because is it entirely anecdotal - how can you know whether it did nor not, with all the other variables? How can you know that an unhelmeted cyclist might not have been more badly hurt if he had been wearing one (rotational injuries etc)?

Much medical support comes from head trauma surgeons in hospitals. It is more scientific in that they have their case papers to draw conclusions from, but as the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation observes, studies like this have their own flaws.

But more to the point I am amazed at the tunnel vision so often displayed by doctors, and indeed the BMA, whose focus seems to be entirely on the head injury aspect - have they asked the heart surgeons, diabetes physicians, dieticians,oncologists, psychiatrists etc etc for their view of the impact of reduced incidence of cycling on cardiovascular fitness, obesity, cancer risk, general 'happiness' etc? It doesn't sound like it.

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Chuffy [201 posts] 5 years ago
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Paul M wrote:

I have always thought the "helmet saved my life" argument particularly spurious because is it entirely anecdotal - how can you know whether it did nor not, with all the other variables? How can you know that an unhelmeted cyclist might not have been more badly hurt if he had been wearing one (rotational injuries etc)?

Exactly. It's an immutable law that any discussion of this type will invariably feature at least one participant (frequently more) claiming that their helmet has saved their life. I don't doubt that they have had a nasty experience, but just because their helmet (larger surface area don't forget) made contact with a hard surface that does NOT equate to a near death experience. In fact, if you were to add up all the individuals who make this claim I suspect that it would compare very oddly with the death/serious injury rate from the time before helmets became common.

If you feel better wearing one, that's fine, but there is no substitute for good road sense and training and no-one should be under the illusion that wearing one is the key to being safe.

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Simon E [2722 posts] 5 years ago
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mowatb wrote:

Ask yourself this, if you have young children like me, would you happily let them cycle without a helmet?

Has the impact you suffered damaged your reading ability?

CTC & Sustrans are against compulsion.

I am quite capable of deciding whether my kids should wear helmets on their bikes or anywhere else, I don't need a bloody law (based on contradictory research) to tell me they have to. Experience tells me I also shouldn't take the opinion of doctors at face value. The medical profession aren't always right.

Emotion clouds the issue and stifles rational discussion. Those working in A&E, for instance, see lots of distressing cases come through the door but those that possibly could be averted by helmet wearing are a very small number. They only see the bad news (it must be a bit like reading the Daily Wail), not the many good things that happen every day.

If I was a doctor I'd call for cigarettes to be banned before anything else, that would save many more lives.

Read http://www.cyclehelmets.org/ first, if you can be bothered.

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joemmo [1164 posts] 5 years ago
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timlennon wrote:

(I cycle very day, an easy 4.5 mile commute, which I do in work clothes with no helmet or high-viz - it's made me acutely aware of how easy it is to look very, very stupid on a bicycle once you start adding all these largely ineffective safety devices.)

Indirectly you've reinforced the point that vanity is the reason that prevents or discourages some people from cycling, forcing helmet wearing isn't going to help.

It also shows the problem with selling bikes and cycling as a fashionable lifestyle choice, which is the main thrust of marketing in this country, as opposed to just a practical method of transport as you have in countries like Holland. If you try and appeal to people's vanity by telling them something is on-trend or the in-thing then it makes it vulnerable to fickle changes in taste or the fact that'll just react against that marketing push and reject it

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Simon E [2722 posts] 5 years ago
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timlennon wrote:

(I cycle very day, an easy 4.5 mile commute, which I do in work clothes with no helmet or high-viz - it's made me acutely aware of how easy it is to look very, very stupid on a bicycle once you start adding all these largely ineffective safety devices.)

Don't worry, you can look perfectly stupid without hi-viz clothing, though your comments do suggest you are somewhat insecure. What does your shrink say?  3

Seriously, I'm not pro hi-viz because if drivers were paying attention you wouldn't need it. They need to see people, not merely watch out for bright yellow clothing. However, I wouldn't advocate wearing black or dull colours either if riding on the road, especially in the darker months, as I still want to be visible. On country lanes I use I find dark green and dark brown shades are dreadful colours for camouflage. I don't care what is the 'in' colour this season, I avoid wearing them as I want to be alive next year.

It has been demonstrated that being lit up like a Christmas Tree and wearing hi-viz does not prevent SMIDSY or other dangerous driver behaviour. I'd be quite happy to wear a jersey with a big logo that said "Warning: Police Cyclist Carrying Firearm", which I'm sure would focus their minds!

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timlennon [210 posts] 5 years ago
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Simon E wrote:

Don't worry, you can look perfectly stupid without hi-viz clothing, though your comments do suggest you are somewhat insecure. What does your shrink say?  3

Well, I get to see mad dress even without hi-viz, admittedly! No, I'm just going from the general principle that getting to work / getting around by bicycle should be little different to taking a walk. It's great to see more and more people cycling, but every now and again I fight back the urge to be mean about the strange clothing combinations people choose. (And every now and then I see somone happily getting along looking really smart, so I guess I shouldn't complain!)

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step-hent [722 posts] 5 years ago
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Does anyone have any stats on what the current proportion of helmet wearers amongst cyclists is? And what proportion of those who took up cycling, say, this year wear helmets? One key argument seems to be that making people wear a helmet will stop people from cycling (or from taking it up), so I'd be interested to know if there is data on this. Pretty much all the new cyclists in my workplace get themselves a helmet with their cycle to work bike, and dont mind wearing it. Very few members of my club seem to ride without helmets either. In fact, the main group I see riding helmet-less are very experienced riders who have been cycling avidly for many years (long before helmets were commonplace) and would not be stopped from cycling by having to wear one.

I can't make my mind up whether I care about compulsion, but I'd love to see some more data for both sides of the debate.

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joemmo [1164 posts] 5 years ago
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I dont think the argument is that compulsory helmets would put committed cyclists off as much as people who would use a bike nipping down the shops, riding a mile to school, going for a pootle to the local cafe etc. where they otherwise might have driven.

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Tony Farrelly [2868 posts] 5 years ago
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Interesting point step-hent, not at all a scientific observation, but riding around central London last week I was struck (if that's the right word) by how many of my fellow cyclists weren't wearing helmets. The majority I'd have said were wearing normal non-cycling clothes too.

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italiafirenze [70 posts] 5 years ago
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@mowatb

I do have children, though whether they are like you I cannot be sure. I do not make them wear a helmet when cycling, just as I don't make them wear a helmet when walking, running, climbing trees, playing football, watching TV, playing with the dog, swimming or a variety of other activities.

@andykk

That's precisely the problem with these laws, they reduce cyclists to only the "Lycra-brigade" (of which I'm a fully paid up member incidentally) when what we need are more ordinary cyclists using the bike to get around. Cycling can only be accepted as normal in this country if ordinary people do it, instead of just the weekend warriors.

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Simon E [2722 posts] 5 years ago
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tony_farrelly wrote:

riding around central London last week I was struck (if that's the right word) by how many of my fellow cyclists weren't wearing helmets. The majority I'd have said were wearing normal non-cycling clothes too.

Perhaps fear of injury - and the desire to wear a helmet - declines with the popularity or modal share of bicycle use for personal transport. If there are a large number of people cycling around you, mostly dressed in casual clothing, then where's the need for hi-viz?

I didn't bother with any cycling kit for the easy 5 miles through the town centre but when the office moved so I was riding further and on busy A-roads my family badgered me to wear a helmet. I still don't bother wearing it for casual, quieter rides.

The place where I find good colour contrast really has an impact is on 60mph country two-lane roads with a significant amount of traffic. More vehicles means more chances of an incident, but also that they don't see you so far in advance. Many drivers on country roads aren't expecting cyclists on the road. I was knocked off once at a junction because I didn't stand out sufficiently. I'd rather that didn't happen again so I wear a white or yellow jersey or my purple jacket.

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step-hent [722 posts] 5 years ago
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I see stacks of people in London in normal clothes for cycling but, interestingly, my perception is that most wear a helmet (most meaning more than half - I would have said around 70:30). That said, that is at peak times - in the middle of the day, I'd say the 'helmeted' number goes down, especially as none of the couriers seem to wear helmets.

Out of interest, are those who are against helmet compulsion (sounds like a psychological disorder) also against motorcyclists and moped/scooter riders having to wear helmets (even on mopeds/scooters) and car drivers having to wear seatbelts? I can see that people have 'anti-nanny-state' arguments against those things too, but I'd be interested to know if the views tend to coincide.

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Chuffy [201 posts] 5 years ago
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step-hent wrote:

Out of interest, are those who are against helmet compulsion (sounds like a psychological disorder) also against motorcyclists and moped/scooter riders having to wear helmets (even on mopeds/scooters) and car drivers having to wear seatbelts? I can see that people have 'anti-nanny-state' arguments against those things too, but I'd be interested to know if the views tend to coincide.

It's not necessarily a valid comparison - motorcycle helmets are significantly stronger than bike helmets and a seatbelt will certainly stop you from smacking into the steering wheel or going through the windscreen. The benefit from helmets is much more tenuous and the risk associated with cycling doesn't merit compulsion.

It isn't so much an argument about the 'nanny state', it's more about the way that compulsion paints cycling as being dangerous and shifts the emphasis away from other safety measures, such as better driver training, more thorough enforcement of the Highway Code and a more considerate driving culture.

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