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

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.

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.

41 comments

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graemeg52 [115 posts] 5 years ago
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Maybe the AA president is a keen cyclist and the AA is guardedly pro cycling but it hasn't trickled down to their van drivers.

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dave atkinson [6201 posts] 5 years ago
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graemeg52 wrote:

Maybe the AA president is a keen cyclist and the AA is guardedly pro cycling but it hasn't trickled down to their van drivers.

still, with some free polystyrene on your bonce you'll be safe as houses

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John_the_Monkey [436 posts] 5 years ago
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I don't see the sinister motives others have attributed.

I do see a missed opportunity to point out where the danger comes from and address that. As I know myself, from bitter experience, being done up like a radioactive banana that's been dragged through a pound shop at Christmas time is no guarantee that motorists will see you. And anyone who thinks the modern h*lm*t is much protection against motor vehicle impacts is a bit daft. (I do wear one myself, but am sceptical about the benefits - it's more a handy place to put lights).

A real improvement in road safety would come from drivers taking more care around cyclists. A motoring organisation armouring cyclists with h*lm*ts & hi-vis does nothing to address that.

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John_the_Monkey [436 posts] 5 years ago
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dave_atkinson wrote:
graemeg52 wrote:

Maybe the AA president is a keen cyclist and the AA is guardedly pro cycling but it hasn't trickled down to their van drivers.

still, with some free polystyrene on your bonce you'll be safe as houses

also, given the AA branding, you may be asked to fix some cars, which could be interesting.

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joemmo [1156 posts] 5 years ago
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What a patronising and cynical gesture on the AA's part. I will not be renewing my membership with them.

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dave atkinson [6201 posts] 5 years ago
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By the by, if anyone heads down to the giveaways to get free stuff, do send us a pic to info [at] road.cc

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mr_colostomy [29 posts] 5 years ago
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I see this as very sinister. As a motoring and insurance organisation, helmets have three advantages to the AA;

1) Helmets overstate the risks involved in cycling (which are very low) and play to people's fear of road traffic, whilst providing a net zero benefit to their wearers. Anything which is bad for cycling is surely good for the motoring lobby, no?

2) Insurance companies are big on pushing the idea that not wearing a helmet is "contributory negligence" when a cyclist becomes a victim of motorist negligence. This is always dropped before the case goes to court, and is mainly used in negotiations. Promoting helmets strengthens this position.

3) Helmets help to place the burden of responsibility for safety on those who are most often the victims (cyclists) rather than those who are the source of danger (motorists, whom the AA represents).

As a motoring organisation, surely the AA should be handing out helmets for motorists, and high-vis paint for cars to make sure they can be seen by other road users instead.

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John_the_Monkey [436 posts] 5 years ago
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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.

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SammyG [274 posts] 5 years ago
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joemmo wrote:

What a patronising and cynical gesture on the AA's part. I will not be renewing my membership with them.

This guy sounds like the cynical one. Free helmet and a free hi-vis jacket, sounds like a winner to me! I might see if I can snag one.

x

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andylul [410 posts] 5 years ago
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Best way to promote the use of cycling helmets?

Make them illegal, put a tax on them or plaster them with pictures of how wearing them makes you an organ donor in waiting.

Maybe road.cc should begin a survey:

I do/do not wear a cycling helmet because...

Even before the 'wind thought my hair (sic)' comment by that suit full of bugger-all made helmet wearing more of a political band-wagon, the debate has raged (or caused rage) and I'm done with it. Let people make up their own minds - if you're convinced that "it'll never happen to me" then some karmic PMA might save you from injury for the rest of your life - good for you.

I don't live in a Final Destination film but I'm aware (for my sake, and that of those around me) that accidents can happen and IF they do, I'd like to be as protected as possible.

A hard hat on a building site won't save you if you have a skip load of bricks dropped on your head, but it will stop you gashing your head open on that stray scaffold pole

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joemmo [1156 posts] 5 years ago
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SammyG wrote:
joemmo wrote:

What a patronising and cynical gesture on the AA's part. I will not be renewing my membership with them.

This guy sounds like the cynical one. Free helmet and a free hi-vis jacket, sounds like a winner to me! I might see if I can snag one.

x

look up the difference between critical and cynical Sammy.

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mr_colostomy [29 posts] 5 years ago
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@andylul

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

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SammyG [274 posts] 5 years ago
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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

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andylul [410 posts] 5 years ago
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@mr_colostomy

Who says I don't already?

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mr_colostomy [29 posts] 5 years ago
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@andylul

As long as you're consistent  3

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

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BigDummy [314 posts] 5 years ago
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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.

 16

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SammyG [274 posts] 5 years ago
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@BigDummy

It's true man, sometimes you just gotta look cool  16

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andylul [410 posts] 5 years ago
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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.

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dave atkinson [6201 posts] 5 years ago
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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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joemmo [1156 posts] 5 years ago
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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.

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John Groves [5 posts] 5 years ago
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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).

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SammyG [274 posts] 5 years ago
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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  19 is good crack.

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

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lushmiester [177 posts] 5 years ago
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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.  3

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handlebarcam [548 posts] 5 years ago
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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.

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joemmo [1156 posts] 5 years ago
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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  19 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.

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Paul M [355 posts] 5 years ago
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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?

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wildnorthlands [32 posts] 5 years ago
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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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orpen [6 posts] 5 years ago
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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

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dave atkinson [6201 posts] 5 years ago
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did anyone actually get a helmet?

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rokapotamus [20 posts] 5 years ago
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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  4

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

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