AA to hand out 5,000 free cycle helmets in London today

CTC to hand out copies of the highway code to balance "one-sided" campaign

by Dave Atkinson   April 15, 2011  

AA helmets handout London.jpg

The AA are taking to the streets of London today and handing out free helmets and hi-viz vests to cyclists, a move which has raised the ire of the cycling community and led to the CTC to hand out copies of the Highway Code at the same spot. Whilst current AA prsident Edmund King is a keen cyclist and the AA is guardedly pro-cycling as a rule, many cyclists have questioned why a motoring organisation feels the need to place the responsibility on cyclists to protect themselves: especially when helmets aren't designed to protect against collisions with cars.

The AA have 5,000 Raleigh Missile helmets, RRP £27.99, to give away. They're fairly standard fare, with the addition of an integrated LED in the rear adjustment dial. King himself will be in attendance to help with the distibution, which is taking place today at Waterloo Place, London SW1Y 4BN this morning and the west side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3NA from 1pm. Other locations may also be used, you can follow Edmund King on twitter for updates.

According to a recent poll commissioned by the AA, 97% of their members believe that cyclists should wear helmets, although only 18% of those members actually cycle themselves. The helmet giveaway is aimed primarily at the users of Boris Bikes, although any cyclist can claim one. “We welcome the increase in cycling brought about by the cycle hire scheme but we want to ensure that more cyclists don’t lead to more casualties. The use of cycle helmets and vests by all cyclists could significantly reduce the number and severity of injuries that occur each year", said King.

What he didn't say, which has angered many cycling advocates, is that the burden of responsibility lies not just with cyclists. Indeed the accident statistics show that cyclists are not to blame for the vast majority of collisions, with the police attributing blame to the driver in up to three quarters of collisions between a bicycle and other vehicle in accidents involving adult bike riders.

Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize.com is quoted on Bikehub as saying, “While it’s great that the AA president is also a cyclist, this is merely another case of placing the responsibility on the vulnerable traffic users instead of tackling the rampant bull in our society – the automobile. It also sends dangerous signals that bicycle helmets are effective in collisions with cars, which they’re not. They’re not even designed for that kind of impact. "

The AA's stance has particularly angered the CTC, which will also be at the handout spots distributing copies of the Highway Code to motorists to balance what it describes as a "disturbingly one sided" safety campaign. The CTC issued a press release last night which stated, "any organisation that focuses exclusively on vulnerable road users in this way, even for publicity purposes, risks misrepresenting the sources of road danger. CTC believes that far bigger road safety gains can be made by tackling instances of bad driving".

There was much to-ing and fro-ing on twitter last night but King was bullish, although to his detriment he did rely on likening helmets to much more proven safety devices ("I have a helmet, I have an air bag but it doesnt mean I think everyone wants to crash into me") and anecdotes ("Gaby Roslin says helmet saved her partner David's life. James Cracknell agrees") rather than explaining how the helmets were going to make a meaningful impact on cyclist safety in London, where the majority of cycling deaths are down to collisions with heavy goods vehicles.

Still, if you want a free helmet or a hi-viz vest, or both, today's your day. Assuming you're in London. The AA have said they'll be repeating the giveaway in other UK cities later in the year.

41 user comments

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@andylul

Surely by that logic it makes sense to wear personal protective equipment for all activities, just in case.

posted by mr_colostomy [29 posts]
15th April 2011 - 10:16

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@joemmo

Cynical: believing the worst of human nature and motives; having a sneering disbelief in e.g. selflessness of others

Had on that describes what you wrote perfectly ;x

posted by SammyG [295 posts]
15th April 2011 - 10:19

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@mr_colostomy

Who says I don't already?

andylul's picture

posted by andylul [412 posts]
15th April 2011 - 10:30

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@andylul

As long as you're consistent Wink

It must be a bit awkward showering with a helmet, knee pads and safety goggles though....

posted by mr_colostomy [29 posts]
15th April 2011 - 10:33

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Riiiight. I know what a cycle helmet is. I have two of them. Neither a piece o' shit hot, uncomfortable and gonky £27.99 effort.

And I know what a cycle helmet is for.

So if I'm not wearing one (it happens) it's for a reason, to do with not going fast today, not jumping, not racing, not going offroad, not riding in a tight bunch, don't want to mess my hair up, this hat looks pretty good. That kind of thing. Deal with it. Preferably by looking where you're going with that 1-tonne metal thing.

Cool

posted by BigDummy [284 posts]
15th April 2011 - 10:41

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@BigDummy

It's true man, sometimes you just gotta look cool Cool

posted by SammyG [295 posts]
15th April 2011 - 10:46

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@mr_colostomy

that's just plain silly

I'm OK so long as I've made a full H&S risk assessment for everything I do.

andylul's picture

posted by andylul [412 posts]
15th April 2011 - 10:50

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I wouldn't say it was cynical to suggest that a motoring organisation is looking out for the interests of motorists. That's just rational. The AA's own survey shows that just 18% of their members cycle. So what is their motivation for this? mr_colostomy makes some interesting points. They must have a reason for wanting cyclists wear helmets, reason dictates that it's not just about not wanting cyclists to bump their heads.

Risk mitigation? We're not rational beings when it comes to risk, which is why so many people are afraid of flying and so few are afraid of driving. I wear a helmet when I'm out and about but I wouldn't claim it's a rational decision, because if I did I'd be forced to ask myself all sorts of difficult questions about what I should and shouldn't be wearing a helmet to do...

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7311 posts]
15th April 2011 - 10:55

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@Sammy - I guess we'll have to differ on what constitutes cycnicism and what constitutes reasonably questioning the motives behind a publicity stunt organised by a large pro-motoring organistion.

Anyway, enjoy your free stuff.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [790 posts]
15th April 2011 - 11:00

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Not much hair left, and I hate rubbing suntan lotion on my head, a helmet makes sense. Every body has their own reasons for wearing or not wearing one. I just hope this isn't the beggining of a push by the insurance companies to make them mandatory. (AA is about insurance as much as its about repairs).

Frostback

posted by John Groves [5 posts]
15th April 2011 - 11:07

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Fair point Joe, I have'nt had any problems with any AA vehicles as yet though, so I'm not sure if portraying them as the Devil is good crack.

But anyway free stuff is always a winner, or am I just a cheapskate?

posted by SammyG [295 posts]
15th April 2011 - 11:20

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It is always a case of how you spin the news.
I see this as the AA admitting that the bad driving of some of its members put cyclist at risk (otherwise way would they need helmets) of serious injury and therefore I applaud their move to offer 5,000 free helmets to London cyclist; probably the cyclist at greatest risk. It is a shame that the helmets are unlikely to offer any real protection in a collision with a moving vehicle, a fact I'm sure the AA is aware of.
If however it helps removes the shaky defense of "they were not wearing a helmet" (contributory negligence) it may just moderate the unwarranted accusatory behavior of insurance companies as well as encourage some drivers to be more aware of and considerate towards other road users.
But as I said at the beginning there is always spin. Wink

THE ONLY WAY IS BIKE

posted by lushmiester [156 posts]
15th April 2011 - 11:26

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It's like if the NRA handed out bullet-proof vests. Someone should go and collect a hundred of those free helmets, then pick up a car from a scrap yard, glue the helmets to the car, and create an ironic art installation.

posted by handlebarcam [527 posts]
15th April 2011 - 11:43

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SammyG wrote:
Fair point Joe, I have'nt had any problems with any AA vehicles as yet though, so I'm not sure if portraying them as the Devil is good crack.

But anyway free stuff is always a winner, or am I just a cheapskate?

@ Sammy - I haven't had any problems with AA vans either, my issue is with the organisation. and that this action adds to the creeping acceptance - despite having no legal basis - that not wearing a helmet is negligent.

As way to usurp this stunt, the CTC could mobilise it's members to go and collect the free gear, then resell it and donate the proceeds to a genuinely worthy pro-cycling cause.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [790 posts]
15th April 2011 - 12:22

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Call me a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but is the AA's action in any way connected to or coordinated with the Independent's front page today?

posted by Paul M [308 posts]
15th April 2011 - 12:55

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When did Mikael Colville-Andersen become an expert on UK cycling anyway? Bikehub could have asked any one of the 20,000 members of UK cycle campaign groups for their opinion.

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posted by wildnorthlands [24 posts]
15th April 2011 - 14:31

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The cynical comments about the AA are well founded. there's been no overall helmet related casualty rate reduction in the real world. Fully controlled studies are difficult, but it seems this is due to risk compensation, physical limitations of helmets, conversion of minor impacts into brain wrenching rotations; diversion of effort from really effective measures (e.g. lower speeds, National Standard Cycle training / awareness) etc.

In any event health benefits outweigh risks 20 fold and cycling is safer than most other regular activities and pastimes, including walking which has around 50% more casualties per mile. Why not walking or driving helmets? Maybe because it's all part of the demonisation of cycling (an 'in group' / 'out group' syndrome).

All of this is explored by Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation www.cyclehelmets.org including showing the bad science of many 'studies' (especially the one which says 85% of casualties would be avoided).

Boris Bikes have a fantastic safety record, re inforcing these points. Why is the AA interfering? And beware of letting highly emotive 'reasoning' based on personal tragedies dominate the argument, much as the media loves doing so. (Tragedies occur in lots of life's situations: try demanding life jackets for riverside walks).

For anyone now disillusioned with being a 'member' of the AA, try the ETA. (I have no financial interest in them BTW)

John Mallows, Policy Director, cyclenation the federation of cycling campaign groups

orpen

posted by orpen [6 posts]
15th April 2011 - 14:47

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did anyone actually get a helmet?

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7311 posts]
15th April 2011 - 15:13

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I lived in the Netherlands for two years. It was only club riders that I ever saw wearing helmets.

Most Dutch people find wearing a helmet amusing, and I once had a bike full of kids from a playgroup laughing at the man wearing a helmet Big Grin

I'm sure in a nation of cyclists, if there were major health benefits to wearing a helmet, more people would be wearing them.

posted by rokapotamus [19 posts]
15th April 2011 - 16:03

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if only the CTC would hand out explosive steering wheels

posted by mrchrispy [285 posts]
15th April 2011 - 16:19

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Laughing

Paul M wrote:
Call me a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but is the AA's action in any way connected to or coordinated with the Independent's front page today?

Sorry mate your paranoid Big Grin The article plainly highlighted what mainly London cyclists faced! And there was no mention of helmets or hi-viz at all. The Independent needs to be applauded in highlighting these issues! The Daily Hate though would have probably financed this exercise Devil

On another note, with regard to 'contributary negligence' the next thing the insurance companies will do is question the fitting and integrity of said helmet! I have been cycling for nearly 40 years and have probably lost more skin than brain cells due to coming off my bike Laughing

I wear a lid as it is handy to stuff lights, mits etc into!

All the AA has done is give the image that cycling is not safe! As a motoring organisation they should put their resourses into educating their members about 'cycle awareness'

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posted by giff77 [1045 posts]
15th April 2011 - 16:42

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The AA should send free helmets to all their members and asked then to wear them while driving.

They'd save a lot more lives that way.

posted by sharpsharp [6 posts]
15th April 2011 - 17:54

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I really don't understand all this sniping and hysteria going on at the moment, cyclists v drivers, them v us, why??

The AA's promotion in my opinion is good, it shows that the AA as an organisation is thinking about cyclists. I feel that the free hi viz kit which is given out by cycling organisations tends to antagonise drivers by writing things like 'The zero emission option' on the back, or some other stupid and inconsequential clap trap. I would generally say that most cyclists are drivers too and I am sure there are many situations, of which I have experienced some, where the actions of a cyclist has angered you and put themselves in danger. We all need to work together and I am getting fed up of all the nastiness from both sides. There will always be bad drivers and bad cyclists, accept it.

The CTC has a lot of explaining to do as in recent years they have taken a very militant attitude towards drivers particularly locally, to such an extent that I am tempted to cancel my membership. The AA's activity, although obviously a publicity stunt, is not a bad thing just should have been organised differently perhaps.

posted by russcutts [17 posts]
15th April 2011 - 18:30

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John_the_Monkey wrote:
Hi Vis might come in handy if you plan to tour France, mind, now a requirement in law for cyclists at night, or in poor visibility.

Is this a true fact or an internet fact? Confused

posted by BikerBob [115 posts]
15th April 2011 - 18:39

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If this had been emailed to me before 1745 I might have been able to get one!!! Not very helpful!!

posted by keith_newnham [59 posts]
15th April 2011 - 20:53

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@ Russcutts: Well said mate!! I don't actually drive yet, but I get really pee'd off about moronic cyclists giving the rest of us a bad name too, especially when they think that red lights don't apply to them!!

posted by keith_newnham [59 posts]
15th April 2011 - 20:58

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If the AA were handing out free aero helmets I would go along to claim mine. Look's like I'm just going to have to buy one then.....

whizz kid

posted by whizzkid [62 posts]
15th April 2011 - 21:07

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Good on the AA... we need more people like this.. Applause

xcstu's picture

posted by xcstu [98 posts]
16th April 2011 - 10:41

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BikerBob wrote:
John_the_Monkey wrote:
Hi Vis might come in handy if you plan to tour France, mind, now a requirement in law for cyclists at night, or in poor visibility.

Is this a true fact or an internet fact? Confused

True fact. Don't know how good your French is but.... http://www2.securiteroutiere.gouv.fr/vos-infos/presse/communiques/3-2008... gives you the low down...

Really, though?

posted by workhard [378 posts]
18th April 2011 - 10:50

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"The use of cycle helmets and vests by all cyclists could significantly reduce the number and severity of injuries....". UTTER NONSENSE!
Please Mr King explain how the wearing of PPE can possibly reduce the number of accidents? Yes it might reduce the severity of a particular accident when it happens but passive bits of plastic cannot prevent an accident. Accidents are down to people.

Alg

posted by alg [129 posts]
18th April 2011 - 12:59

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