James Cracknell says cycle helmet saved his life - see his report on The One Show

Helmet debate takes centre stage on BBC One prime time schedule and in Daily Mail

by Simon_MacMichael   May 16, 2011  

White cycle helmet

As regular users of road.cc will be aware, the helmet debate is a contentious and divisive one even among the cycling community, let alone in the mainstream media. Last night, BBC One's The One Show, (click the link to watch it) included a segment looking at whether you should wear a helmet while on your bike.

The report presented by Olympic rowing champion turned adventurer James Cracknell, who attributes his surviving being hit by a truck while filming in the United States last year to the fact he was wearing a cycle helmet.

Earlier this year, Cracknell, who has been left suffering from issues such as short-term memory loss as a result of the accident, confessed that he had first got into the habit of wearing a cycle helmet while training for the Sydney Olympics as a result of the compulsory helmet laws in Australia.

The programme comes after the Daily Mail featured a piece on the pros and cons of wearing cycle helmets at the weekend which you can read here.

A private member's bill seeking to make the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory in Northern Ireland was voted through by assembly members there earlier this year despite opposition from the likes of Sustrans and CTC, although it has a long way to go to become law.

While cycle helmets are not compulsory in any part of the UK, politicians on the Channel Island of Jersey last year passed a law making it compulsory for under-18s to wear one while cycling. Proposals to make all cyclists wear a helmet, regardless of age, were defeated by just one vote.

25 user comments

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I read that article in the Mail on Saturday. It is a truly terrible article. Badly written, unscientific and obviously written by someone who does not cycle.

posted by londonplayer [671 posts]
16th May 2011 - 17:41

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I wouldn't say it's badly written. It's been assembled quickly by someone who has used information available from well known sources. There are many articles that are much worse seen in print. It bears the signs of having been written at speed but then so does a large percentage of what's seen in print in every newspaper in the world.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2288 posts]
16th May 2011 - 20:10

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I watched The One Show piece on helmets (it's on the BBC iPlayer, taking up most of the first ten minutes, after they introduced their main guest, Evan Davis, the BBC's chief apologist for slimy capitalists.)

The taped report was more balanced than I expected. I think Norman Baker may have legitimatised the anti-helmet-compulsion side of the debate in the eyes of the media, or at least politicised it such that broadcasters feel they have to give equal time to both sides so as not to appear to favour Mr. Baker's political opponents. But, this being the Aunty Beeb's flagship smiley nice-athon programme, they skirted around the real issue of why the onus for safety should be placed on the cyclists, when motorists are the ones that introduce the majority of the real, and pretty much all the perceived, dangers to the roads. The only hint of that was a brief interview with the Dr Ian Walker, the researcher who did those radar-based passing distance experiments with and without helmets. And even then, the reporter took pains to avoid any implication of malice or lack of empathy on the part of any section of the motoring public by quickly suggesting that the effect was down to drivers assuming riders with helmets are more experienced cyclists therefore need less room (yeah, right, how thoughtful of them.)

But then things went downhill a bit when they cut back live to the studio and the presenters nodded and said "Absolutely" to James Cracknell's assertion, based on the scientifically meaningless "evidence" of a bloodied but intact helmet, that riding without a one is "selfish" (which must mean the Netherlands and Copenhagen must be hellholes of rampant, uncaring self-absorption, seeing as virtually nobody wears a helmet in those places.) Still, I reckon six months ago it would have been even more one-sided. You could tell Alex Jones was just gagging to emote about the terrible ordeal Cracknell has been through, and express bewilderment at the notion that anyone could even think of riding anything as dangerous as a bicycle without wearing every safety device even invented. But she clearly had been instructed to button it by the producers for fear of being seen to be biased against the transport minister.

posted by handlebarcam [530 posts]
17th May 2011 - 6:18

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I was really disappointed by that piece. I explicitly said I'd only contribute on the condition that they allowed me to say that helmets distract from the real issue, which is that motorists shouldn't be hitting cyclists in the first place. Nice to see that got completely ignored in the edit.

As handlebarcam suggests, the care with which the piece avoided mentioning how cyclists tend to get hurt by motorists was really striking. There was no danger at all of hinting to viewers that they might be part of the problem. At the end I was half-expecting Cracknell to apologise to the trucker for damaging his mirror, such was the level of "I suppose it's my own fault for venturing into the motorists' space" attitude.

posted by Dr Ian Walker [6 posts]
17th May 2011 - 7:41

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it seems that the piece did way more damage to cyclists than good in simplyfing the argument to 'for or against helmets'.

ian - it had me At Wits End

I only had my wife to moan at that the real issue was completely missing - bad drivers with no spatial awareness coupled with a complete lack of understanding of the potential lethal consequences of even a minor misjudgement.

posted by egonh [29 posts]
17th May 2011 - 8:18

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Thanks for taking the time to contribute here Dr Walker. Once again they ignore the the elephant in the room.

I'm happy that James Cracknell that he didn't suffer worse injuries but his seeming blind faith in his helmet's properties isn't much better than believing that Jesus/Buddha/Jehovah saved his life.

What about the many people for whom a helmet made no difference? People like Paula Jurek, Eilidh Cairns and Gareth Crockett (http://road.cc/34537). Who speaks for them and the lifelong trauma inflicted on their families?

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2033 posts]
17th May 2011 - 8:43

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I saw a school coach miss hitting a pedestrian by a matter of millimetres in our town's narrow (and far too busy with traffic) high street yesterday. Perhaps local pedestrians should wear helmets?

ps The pedestrian was forced close to the road due to road works. The high st is wide enough (just) for two cars to pass, too narrow for a car/lorry. Pavement on one side in particular way too narrow. OAP killed before Christmas when he slipped and fell under a lorry.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8405 posts]
17th May 2011 - 9:43

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The whole point is that there is cycling, which isn't the same as cycling, which isn't the same as cycling.

Of course Cracknell would wear a helmet on a ride like that - he'd be mad not to - but to pretend that the risks involved are the same as when pootling to the shops is kidding ourselves. Any compulsory law would have a negative effect on small-scale utility cycling, at a time when cycling for transport needs all the help it can get.

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

t1mmyb's picture

posted by t1mmyb [87 posts]
17th May 2011 - 12:36

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Given the medical attention he received, James Cracknell might well be justified in saying the helmet saved him. But, and its a big but, that only applies in his single instance. How many cyclists have been hit on the back of the head by a lorry wing-mirror? What would the result have been if it'd been going 5mph faster? Would the mirror have hit him at all if he'd not been wearing one?

I agree that the whole argument should be looked at in the widest context. The refusal to discuss the situation in (for example) the Netherlands, just because it doesn't fit the pro-helmet argument, is inexcusable.

posted by don_don [149 posts]
17th May 2011 - 14:31

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A very poor piece. They may as well just said "wear a helmet, you'll not regret it". Using only individuals to emphasise the importance of wearing a helmet and not highlight other nations where there is a higher incidence of cycle use and lower use of helmets was just plain daft. I have been cycling since I was about 7 and think I have lost more skin than brain cells to falling off!! Yes, I will don a lid for a long ride and when I will be travelling at speed but for a trip to the shops a mile away.... Forget it.

I am glad that James Cracknell has recovered well BUT would the helmet have protected him if the vehicle was another couple of inches closer?

As an aside, I am now being persuaded to stop cycling by some of my closer friends!! Thanks Auntie Beeb!

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1063 posts]
17th May 2011 - 17:22

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Surely if James Cracknell hadn't been wearing a helmet the lorry would on average have been 9cm further away and would have missed him altogether.

posted by Actium [41 posts]
18th May 2011 - 8:32

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Actium have you met James Cracknell? He isn't exactly small and the lorry would have hit him without a helmet. The impact was in line with his occipital bone. Facts are important Arizona has a minimum speed limit for cars so they could not follow him, compare that to California where he had a police escort.

I would not ride anywhere without a helmet as I have been struck by cars several times, even on "short" rides. I would like to see compulsory helmets here too for all cyclists. Incidentally I find that lorry drivers give me more space when I am riding than any other vehicles.

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [291 posts]
18th May 2011 - 11:22

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I wouldn't like to see helmet compulsion, for two very simple reasons:

1) it enshrines in law the fallacy that cycling is dangerous, which it isn't;
2) it places the responsibility of mitigating the (low) risk of cycling on the cyclist, which it shouldn't.

I wear a helmet, most of the time. I reckon that on balance it's likely to do me good and not harm should a circumstance arise where it's called into play. but on a pootle to town? on a traffic-free cycle path with the kids? when i'm towing a trailer of shopping at 6mph? to say those activities are dangerous enough to require legislation is a complete nonsense.

Whether or not the lorry would have hit James Cracknell had he not been wearing a helmet is irrelevant. He was participating in a fast event on busy roads, and he made the right choice in those circumstances to wear a helmet; it may have saved his life. But to take those circumstances and apply them to everyone is ridiculous. Formula One racers wear helmets in their cars, but that doesn't seem to be used as an argument as to why I should wear one in my Picasso.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7472 posts]
18th May 2011 - 11:47

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I have to disagree cycling is dangerous because of other road users not because cycling itself is dangerous. I read once that 2 out of every 3 cyclist collisions with a car have been the car drivers fault. Well I've been hit 4 times now and every time it was the car drivers fault and they all settled out of court.

I imagine the same arguments to oppose compulsory seat belts in cars would have been used and certainly could be. I don't have the figures, but I suspect given the number of car journeys the percentage of fatalities is a much smaller than the percentage of fatalities relating to the number of cycling journeys.

I am well aware the dutch frown on wearing helmets however they treat cyclists with respect as there are so many more cyclists and facilities for cyclists are far superior.

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [291 posts]
18th May 2011 - 12:27

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As has been said many times before on here and elsewhere, if you're legislating on helmets purely on the basis of the statistical risk of a head injury, cycling is a long way down the list. Compulsory helmets for pedestrians and DIY enthusiasts first. Most of the cyclists who get killed in the UK are killed by lorries; a helmet is no use in those circumstances.

Quote:
I suspect given the number of car journeys the percentage of fatalities is a much smaller than the percentage of fatalities relating to the number of cycling journeys

that all depends. if you measure it by distance travelled, driving is safer, thanks to all those quick and relatively safe motorway miles. If you measure it by time spent doing the activity, they're about the same.

Quote:
I am well aware the dutch frown on wearing helmets however they treat cyclists with respect as there are so many more cyclists and facilities for cyclists are far superior.

therein lies the rub: you won't make cycling safer by making everyone wear the right hat. Safe urban cycling requires a big investment in infrastructure and a change of mindset, the one propagating the other as more people take up two wheels.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7472 posts]
18th May 2011 - 13:05

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I for one think the wearing a cycle helmet should be law. I just consider the mess that my head would be if I didn't wear one. I'm perfectly aware that in some instances a helmet wouldn't do anything, however prevention is better than cure. It's got nothing to do with other road users hitting you. You can just as easily do yourself a serious head injury just riding along a cycle-way and coming off at a slippery corner, or swerving to avoid an animal.

Consider other activities were the wearing of safety head gear is not legally required but is there to protect the users head in the event of an accident. Horse-riding is a similar activity were the majority of riders wear helmets when out riding for pleasure. In most cases horse riders are travelling slower, but they're higher up, of course. Compared with cycling you're travelling faster and closer to the ground. Simple physics says that your head will come off a lot worse if it hit a hard surface when not protected.

dave_atkinson the reason why you cannot compare, or use the F1 argument and you road car is pretty obvious. Open cockpit, speeds at least twice-as-fast, drivers COMPETEING for the same bit of track.

Compare the argument with seat belts in cars. Were there not arguments for and against before the wearing of seat belts became law? Have they now not been proven to save lives. It's a similar case with cycle helmets. They must surely save lives, James Cracknell case-in-point, as well as prevent unnessary trips to already over stretced medical services by selfish riders who think wearing a helmet isn't cool! You can still do a lot of head damage no matter what speed you're doing.

Just as drivers have a duty-of-care to protect themselves and other road users, so other road users (cyclists included) have a duty-of-care to protect them selves too, as well as other road users.

David Palmer
Milton Keynes

Specialized Secteur Elite 2013
Team Raleigh Road Bike
Carrera Vulcan V-Spec

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posted by djpalmer32 [56 posts]
18th May 2011 - 17:35

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Quote:
ou can just as easily do yourself a serious head injury just riding along a cycle-way and coming off at a slippery corner, or swerving to avoid an animal

That's not a reason for legislation though, is it? I can think of a dozen ways to easily injure myself without even leaving this room, but I don't require the government to enshrine my protection in law.

Quote:
dave_atkinson the reason why you cannot compare, or use the F1 argument and you road car is pretty obvious. Open cockpit, speeds at least twice-as-fast, drivers COMPETEING for the same bit of track

James Cracknell on a race across america is much more than twice as fast as me. Pro cyclists are competing. F1 cars are much, much more structurally safe than roadgoing cars. The point is, all cycling is not the same, just like all driving is not the same.

Quote:
Compare the argument with seat belts in cars

Okay, I'll compare it. And I'm comparing a huge body of rigorously tested, peer-reviewed evidence with a big pile of anecdotes like James Cracknell's. There's no wide agreement on whether the wearing of a helmet even makes you statistically safer, let alone whether compulsion would be an overall health benefit.

Quote:
They must surely save lives

Show me a large-scale study that shows an increase in helmet wearing with a corresponding drop in head injuries, or a proper scientific crash study like we get with cars, and i'll be happy to believe you

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7472 posts]
18th May 2011 - 19:01

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Let's say I was going to hit you over the head with a baseball bat.

You want me to hit you with or without a bicycle helmet on? Plain Face

posted by SammyG [295 posts]
18th May 2011 - 19:50

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SammyG wrote:
Let's say I was going to hit you over the head with a baseball bat.

You want me to hit you with or without a bicycle helmet on? Plain Face

like i said before, to reduce the argument to the level of 'will i be safer suffering a blow to the head with or without a helmet' begs the question why bike helmets are not compulsory for DIY and rugby. And baseball.

I don't want you to hit me over the head with a baseball bat, and neither do I want to get hit by a car. But to say that I'm safer with a hat on in either circumstance isn't a watertight argument for legislation. I've considered the risks involved with urban cycling and I've decided that it isn't particularly dangerous. Certainly it's not as dangerous as DIY and football, which I'm also known to partake of. I can fall and hit my head doing those as well, should the government intervene?

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7472 posts]
18th May 2011 - 22:48

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Have just had a thought... Out of all the nations that have legislated the wearing of helmets, how many of them are car-centric? Australia, New Zealand, various US States are ones that spring to mind. Yet, the nations that have higher instances of cycle use - Netherlands and Denmark are the obvious ones there is a raised eyebrow when you commute with a helmet.

Meanwhile, there are rumblings in all 4 countries of the UK to legislate wearing of helmets. It seems to me that it is more viable to legislate the wearing of a bit of polystyrene than to address the shocking standards and behaviour of motorists. My concern is that a perfectly safe pastime and mode of transport is being portrayed as a dangerous activity I am also concerned that if legislation takes place the insurance companies will then exploit this and question the integrity and fitting of said helmet.

I cycle assertively, wear bright clothing and helmet on my commute and when on longer journeys and daily I have to deal with rubbish driving from other road users who have the attitude that I shouldn't be out on the road.

It would be interesting to know what the ratio of head injuries in the Netherlands is compared to the likes of Australia (any statitions out there?)

As an aside, this last winter - I did come off my bike on several occasions and the only injuries sustained were bruised limbs, torn tights and on the occasion of not unclipping in time (cleats were frozen to pedals!) bruised pride!!

Now I've said my piece, its a great day and I'm off to get some miles done Big Grin

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1063 posts]
19th May 2011 - 8:18

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The way I see it, no legislation is needed on whether to compel cyclists to wear a helmet. What is needed is legislation that says if a cyclist suffers head injury and he/she wasn't wearing a helmet, he/she is responsible for bearing all the costs of treatment needed, including the ambulance to hospital etc etc. If he/she was wearing a helmet, then he/she was taking reasonable steps to protect from that injury, so the NHS bears the cost.

ChrisS

posted by Chris S [44 posts]
19th May 2011 - 10:31

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SammyG wrote:
Let's say I was going to hit you over the head with a baseball bat.

You want me to hit you with or without a bicycle helmet on? Plain Face

I'd say "Be more aware of what you are doing with the baseball bat and dont hit me with it".

Surely thats the best answer?

posted by farrell [1565 posts]
19th May 2011 - 13:11

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hairyairey wrote:
Actium have you met James Cracknell? He isn't exactly small and the lorry would have hit him without a helmet. The impact was in line with his occipital bone. Facts are important Arizona has a minimum speed limit for cars so they could not follow him, compare that to California where he had a police escort.

No I have not met James Cracknell, but I'm not sure why that is significant, does he have an especially wide head? I looked up your fancy medical terms and translate it to mean "he was hit on the back of the head", so I say again if the truck was 4 inches to the left he might not have been hit at all.
I have been hit 3 times by cars and I always wear a helmet, I have to say the helmet has made no difference at all in any of my accidents. I am completely opposed to compulsion. I would rather see more careful drivers. I think it is appaling that it is considered necessary to have an motorised escort when cycling on a road.

posted by Actium [41 posts]
19th May 2011 - 15:23

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Chris S wrote:
The way I see it, no legislation is needed on whether to compel cyclists to wear a helmet. What is needed is legislation that says if a cyclist suffers head injury and he/she wasn't wearing a helmet, he/she is responsible for bearing all the costs of treatment needed, including the ambulance to hospital etc etc. If he/she was wearing a helmet, then he/she was taking reasonable steps to protect from that injury, so the NHS bears the cost.

Are you going to make pedestrians who don't wear helmets pay for their treatment as well? There is far more compelling evidence that a helmet would help a pedestrian in collision with a motor vehicle. Car drivers also would definately benefit from helmet use. Strangely the evidence is not so compelling for cyclists.
But I like your plan, maybe we can save the NHS this way. We could extend it to letting smokers die and not treating fatties until they've done a few miles on bike (with a helmet of course).

posted by Actium [41 posts]
19th May 2011 - 15:26

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Chris S wrote:
The way I see it, no legislation is needed on whether to compel cyclists to wear a helmet. What is needed is legislation that says if a cyclist suffers head injury and he/she wasn't wearing a helmet, he/she is responsible for bearing all the costs of treatment needed, including the ambulance to hospital etc etc. If he/she was wearing a helmet, then he/she was taking reasonable steps to protect from that injury, so the NHS bears the cost.

It's obvious you haven't thought this through.

If either a helmet-wearing or helmetless cyclist has leg, arm or torso injuries are they 'covered' by the NHS? After all, we can't expect the helmet to prevent a leg fracture. Can we? If someone wearing a helmet rides irresponsibly is that worse than a helmetless cyclist obeying the law and doing what they can to prevent a collision?

Should a child climbing a tree wear a helmet? If he's knocked over crossing the road does he pay if there's no helmet? If I fall from a ladder do I pay? If someone has to be rescued while walking up Snowdon in a t-shirt and flip-flops is that OK or chargeable?

Anyone doing any kind of vaguely 'risky' activity would have to have their degree of responsibility graded and blame apportioned so an adjudication made whether they are chargeable or not. I'm very much in favour of saving lives, preventing injuries and so on but your idea is plain stupid. Please don't have any more.

Cycle helmets may help in some circumstances but are definitely NOT the answer to improving road safety for cyclist.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2033 posts]
20th May 2011 - 9:42

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