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But images of Florence's citizens riding through the streets bare-headed fail to sway powers that be...

A film-maker in Australia is looking to secure TV airtime for an advertisement he has shot which calls for an end to the country’s compulsory helmet laws, at least where adults are concerned.

Geoff McLeod, from Brisbane, believes that forcing Australia’s cyclists to wear helmets has contributed to rising obesity rates in the population, as well as deterring people from taking to bicycles for their daily journeys, reports the website News.com.au.

Filmed in the Italian city of Florence at a reported cost of A$40,000, the 60-second slot on behalf of the campaign group Helmetfreedom.org shows a succession of cyclists going about their business without a single helmet in sight – although, it should be noted, a slow-moving police car apart, there’s very little motorised traffic in evidence either.

“Australia is only one of two per cent of nations that have this absolutely ridiculous law,” Mr McLeod pointed out.

“It’s the equivalent of telling people who drive cars that they have to gear up like [five-time Bathurst 1000 motor race winner] Craig Lowndes, or telling beachgoers they have to wear life jackets or surfers to wear headgear.”

He insisted that bike riders aged 18 or over should have the personal choice over whether or not to wear a helmet.

According to News.com.au, last year some 6,522 tickets were issued in Queensland relating to bicycle helmet infringements, compared to 7,500 in 2009. During the first half of 2011, 3,153 cyclists were ticketed.

Adults not wearing a helmet face a A$100 fine, while children aged between 10 and 16 are in theory fined on their third offence, having first been issued with a caution and a warning.

That's not how the law is always applied in practice. Last year, we reported how police officers in the state had let down the tyres on the bike of a teenage boy they had discovered riding without a helmet, meaning that he had to walk home.

However, Mr McLeod maintained that “Police time could be much better spent than patrolling parks giving cyclists tickets for not wearing helmets.”

A spokeswoman for Queensland's Department of Transport and Main Roads dismissed Mr McLeod’s claims, insisting that deaths of cyclists on the state’s roads had fallen by nearly half since the introduction of compulsory helmet laws in 1991.

“A recent Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety Queensland report found that bicycle helmet wearing reduces the likelihood of brain injury by 69 per cent and the likelihood of severe brain injury by 74 per cent,” she explained.

“A black and white shot of cyclists in Europe is a lot prettier than the reality of a bicycle accident without a helmet,” she continued.

She added that the number of people commuting by bike in south-east Queensland, after an initial decline, was now higher than it was before helmets were made compulsory, “Therefore there is little evidence to support that many people would take up riding if the legislation was changed.”

The report referred to by the TMR spokeswoman was published in November last year and concluded that “Current bicycle helmet wearing rates are halving the number of head injuries experienced by Queensland cyclists.”

Quoted in the Brisbane Times, Professor Mary Sheehan of Queesnland Technology University said of Mr McLeod’s proposal to scrap helmet compulsion: “I don't understand why people would consider that. All the statistics point against it.”

The study acknowledged that it was “reasonably clear that it [compulsion] discouraged people from cycling twenty years ago when it was first introduced,” but added that “having
been in place for that length of time in Queensland and throughout most of Australia, there is little evidence that it continues to discourage cycling.”

It also said that “there is little evidence that there is a large body of people who would take up cycling if the legislation was changed.”

However, Mr McLeod insists that the legislation is deterring some from riding bikes, saying: “People don’t like wearing helmets. They’re hot and uncomfortable. A lot more people would jump on a bike and go for a ride if they didn’t have to and this is what this is about.  Increasing the number of people cycling rather than getting into their car.”

He added that the idea of the advert had gained a lot of  support on Facebook and YouTube.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

47 comments

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leonrushworth [16 posts] 4 years ago
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Well I believe in helmet wearing , my girlfriend who works for the ambulance service has seen first hand what happens when you dont wear a helmet and it is not a pretty sight.
Should it be mandatory, well if you can safely say you wont get hit on the head by a passing gazelle or a road surface then no.. there are plenty of helmets out there to choose from and you should be safe.

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Coleman [335 posts] 4 years ago
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I too have seen what happens when I don't wear a helmet. My neat side parting was a little tussled by the breeze. Apart from that I made it to the park with slight perspiration and a grin.

I usually wear a helmet for the commute.

Next anecdote, please.

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BigManLittleHair [38 posts] 4 years ago
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leonrushworth --- please do give us details of the accidents that your girlfriend attended that give her absolute knowledge of plastic hats saving lives when bicyclists get hit by weighty vehicles...

Perhaps she has witnessed twins on identical bikes both hit in exactly the same fashion, both being flung through the air in the same way. Oh and 1 wears a helmet and is fine, except for a scratch on the hat and the other has brain damage.

That would be good anecdotal evidence... Otherwise, evidence, stastically robust data not BS please.

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leonrushworth [16 posts] 4 years ago
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BMLH - you dont need to be hit by a car to have a head injury , but falling off a bike at 20 - 25 mph onto a pavement or even off roading I am sure a helmet offers more protection than none, its about common sence after all not common nonsence... If you choose not to wear one and you come off your bike and end up with a long term injury that the state has to look after you then I think thats a bit selfish to be honest. We should all have a rsponsibility to be safe and not just lucky..

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Paul J [884 posts] 4 years ago
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Most road deaths are of car occupants (835/1850 in 2010), followed by pedestrians (405/1850). Surely, if helmets are a good idea for cyclists (111/1850 deaths), it would be an even better idea for motor vehicle occupants and pedestrians? It'd save far more lives in absolute terms!

I think we need a campaign for compulsory full-face helmets and HANS devices for motor vehicles! Also, roll-cages in cars makes their passenger compartments much much stronger and would save many lives. Sure, it makes cars less practical, but if it saves one life!

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Paul J [884 posts] 4 years ago
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Leon Rushworth: Common sense sometimes turns out to be wrong when tested scientifically. When it comes to helmets, then, yes they provide some protection to your head, however the latest top-tier meta-study says the effects are a lot less strong than thought before. Further, while protecting the head, they *increase* neck and facial injuries, such that the net overall benefit of helmets may actually be negligible.

Next up, helmets make cycling seem unusually dangerous (peds don't wear them, car occupants don't wear them - even though far more of them die on the roads), which likely discourages people from cycling. Low cycling rates mean there's less political motivation to spend on cycling infrastructure (which would make cycling more attractive to non-cyclists), etc..

Next, wearing a helmet changes people's behaviour. Both of motorists - who take more risks around cyclists if they wear helmets, and/or are male. Also, almost certainly, of the cyclists, who may take more risks because they feel they're safer from the consequences.

Finally, you have to balance the very low risks of cyling & not wearing a helmet, against the very definitely positive health effects of cycling, and the potential increase in cycling rates across the population (which could make cycling safer through safety-in-numbers) if we would stop singling out cycling as being some extreme-sport that requires special safety equipment.

See my blog for references for some of the above claims: http://pjakma.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/the-case-against-bicycle-helmets-...

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leonrushworth [16 posts] 4 years ago
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WOW .. why is it about they dont do it so why should I , it is a selfish justification really.. not about deaths but possible brain damange and the implications not just to yourself and way of life but the people left to pick up after you and pay for your wellbeing. You fall off your bike, bang your head, if you dont show yourself any respect and not be protected and you end up having to be nursed by your family for the rest of your life at the cost to the state . As a person you should have a duty to protect yourself and not fall into the poor selfish attitudes of benefit scroungers and nhs tourists, jay walkers , bad motorists. The arguments for not wearing one .eg i want to look cool does not have any mileage at all. Its not all about fact and figures, deaths but just looking after yourself to remain healthy.

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Coleman [335 posts] 4 years ago
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"The arguments for not wearing one .eg i want to look cool does not have any mileage at all."

Why did you ignore all the reasonable points and introduce your own one? Read that chap's comment again. It's rather good and mentions some other arguments for not wearing a helmet.

Selfish for not wearing a helmet?! Do me a favour.

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Paul J [884 posts] 4 years ago
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Leonrushworth: I don't have any problem with people making their own informed choices about their own safety. If you feel a helmet is the best trade-off of risk/convenience/etc for you, then great! I fully support your choice.

I am against the blind *advocacy* of bicycle-helmet wearing - often based on unscientific, anecdotal evidence & an incomplete assessment of the trade-offs involved (e.g. not considering the overall societal public health impact).

PS: Given you seem very concerned about road safety risks and how injuries to you would affect loved ones, I do hope you also wear your helmet when walking near roads and driving.

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BigManLittleHair [38 posts] 4 years ago
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leon - what are you talking about?

You claim it's disrespectful to yourself if you don't wear a helmet?

Let's add all these activities to the list of being disrespectable... Living in a city (breathing 'poor' air will shoten your life), running (more likely to injure yourself than sitting on a sofa), watching fireworks (potential blindness from falling debris)

Basically you (you love the word you btw, you) are a berk.

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Sven Ellis [38 posts] 4 years ago
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leonrushworth wrote:

WOW .. why is it about they dont do it so why should I , it is a selfish justification really.. not about deaths but possible brain damange and the implications not just to yourself and way of life but the people left to pick up after you and pay for your wellbeing. You fall off your bike, bang your head, if you dont show yourself any respect and not be protected and you end up having to be nursed by your family for the rest of your life at the cost to the state . As a person you should have a duty to protect yourself and not fall into the poor selfish attitudes of benefit scroungers and nhs tourists, jay walkers , bad motorists. The arguments for not wearing one .eg i want to look cool does not have any mileage at all. Its not all about fact and figures, deaths but just looking after yourself to remain healthy.

I've never worn a helmet, but seeing what a blow to the head can apparently do to your grasp of grammar, I'm certainly going to consider it.
Mandatory helmets on stairs now! Stop the carnage!

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leonrushworth [16 posts] 4 years ago
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anyway spout as many stats as you like ... at least my head is kept safe.
As long as the missus does not have to pick you up or spend £500k using the air ambulance to collect you when you go head of wheels on a dirt path onto a brick, tree root or a pavement then thats all good. You looked cool and before you fell off.

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BigManLittleHair [38 posts] 4 years ago
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you x6, you predict a lot of accidents involving you, you do, you.

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leonrushworth [16 posts] 4 years ago
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Well BMLH I am sure that as you are so precise in your posts I will google the word "shoten" and see what it means . As for a Berk, well glad you can spell it. If you want to start to be personal then fine but that is always the sign of uneducated morons.

Sven never ridden a Marin Mountain Bile either... so dont throw stones in glass houses.

Anyway , i will probably see you both at number 1 on Silly Cyclist some time soon.

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giff77 [1251 posts] 4 years ago
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Helmet wearing should be a choice. I wear a lid soley because I am going much faster than the average leisure cyclist. The forces involved if I came off would actually mean a lid will provide some vague form of protection BUT there is the risk of rotational injury. It should be noted that the average cyclist's speed is below 10mph. If they come off, they are more likely to break an arm in the fall. Meanwhile NOTHING will protect you from being hit at 40mph by a distracted, inattentitive driver in a one ton box of metal!! When I have come off my bike it has been slow speeds and the only injuries have been sprained wrists, grazed knees and bruised ego.

I am fed up that vunerable road users are continually being told to take percautions for their safety - bright clothing, helmets etc. Yet, if you tell drivers to slow down, stop using mobiles, wear a seat belt regards road safety, you are waging a war on them. It is the motorist that kills not the cyclist or pedestrian. Interesting quote below...

Coroner at the inquest into the first UK death of a pedestrian in a car accident (1896): 'I hope such a thing will never happen again...' 

Until the authorities robustly address the behaviour of many of the motorists our roads will continue to be dangerous.

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cactuscat [284 posts] 4 years ago
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life's full of danger, leon. in the grand scheme of things, cycling isn't one of the things you should be worrying about. DIY and walking places are much more dangerous. Why should cyclists be forced to wear helmets if DIY enthusiasts and pedestrians aren't?

this isn't about whether wearing a cycle helmet can mitigate against injury. It can, in some instances. There's evidence to suggest that in other instances it can make things worse. And the large scale data suggests that the effect on head injuries of a mass helmet uptake is statistically insignificant. The large scale data also suggests that helmet compulsion leads to a fall in cycling. So the sum of those two would appear to me to be that helmet compulsion has little effect on overall injury rates and leads to a fall in cycling, from which it's not hard to infer higher obesity rates and preventable deaths.

And why are you insisting that anti helmet compulsion is to do with 'looking cool'? So far as I can see, the only person that's mentioned that is you. Argue if you want, but don't ignore the counter arguments.

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giff77 [1251 posts] 4 years ago
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Oh and Leon - thanks for reminding me to be responsible. I'll now be wearing my lid when walking the streets in case a tile falls of a roof or I trip on a paving stone. Afterall the forces generated their are the same as falling off a bike at 10mph  19

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Sven Ellis [38 posts] 4 years ago
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leonrushworth wrote:

anyway spout as many stats as you like ... at least my head is kept safe.
As long as the missus does not have to pick you up or spend £500k using the air ambulance to collect you when you go head of wheels on a dirt path onto a brick, tree root or a pavement then thats all good. You looked cool and before you fell off.

A thin, softshell helmet is not keeping your head safe. It might spare you a flesh wound or make the difference between a headache and concussion, but what will save you from death or serious injury is not having an accident. Anything else is a distraction.
PS Ta for the typo headsup.

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abudhabiChris [692 posts] 4 years ago
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leonrushworth wrote:

WOW .. why is it about they dont do it so why should I , it is a selfish justification really.. not about deaths but possible brain damange and the implications not just to yourself and way of life but the people left to pick up after you and pay for your wellbeing.

Equally we might ask what is it about 'I do it, and so should you'.

It essentially comes down to whether one has an authoritarian view of society, where the state compels people to do things for their own good OR a libertarian view where people are compelled/prevented from doing only to the extent that such actions cause harm to others.

Cyclists as a whole will impose a much lighter burden on the state than others, because they are in general fitter, healthier and more affluent.

The motorists' road infrastructure is subsidised by everyone. The smokers and the obese are not denied hospital care because of their lifestyle choices.

Even if one could show that not wearing helmets caused increased need for support (which it doesn't, but let's pretend) it's just not a sustainable argument to suggest that cyclists should change their behaviour any more than other more numerous groups.

Sorry about the punctuation BTW, hope you can still understand it.

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seabass89 [212 posts] 4 years ago
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There is s a reason why the UCI imposes rules that the BEST road cyclists in the world has to wear a helmets when racing.

And they wear it on "closed" stages with no other dangers than other riders, the occational crowdee, and the pavement.

And its not because they think it looks cool..

Here:
http://www.bhsi.org/stats.htm

"Head injuries accounted for 62.6 percent of bicycle fatalities."

So yes - a plastic piece on you head can save your life, and/or your dignity.

But I am unsure whether it should be ILLEGAL to cycle without one - perhaps it only should be if you are cycling on the road.

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seabass89 [212 posts] 4 years ago
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"Even if one could show that not wearing helmets caused increased need for support (which it doesn't, but let's pretend) it's just not a sustainable argument to suggest that cyclists should change their behaviour any more than other more numerous groups."

You can turn that argument the other way too..

If a cyclist cocks up not wearing a helmet - gets a brain injury, and ends up in rehabilitation programmes for the rest of his life - paid by the tax payer then it is a matter of public interest that cyclist wears helmets.

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Paul M [360 posts] 4 years ago
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The UCI probably has a fair case for insisting on helmets in racing - the risk there is from inter-cycle collisions where the primary risk is from the fall to ground. In a similar vein it makes sense to wear a helmet for off-roading - a slip on gravel or a tip on a tree root could likewise lead to head making contact with ground, at a speed within the deisgn norms for cycle helmets (ie about 12mph and a fall-height of 1m).

If anyone thinks that a helmet is going to do much good in a collision with a cement truck they are deluding themselves. The sheer momentum will crush their head like an eggshell, and in any case body crush injuries are far more likely. As someone else above says, there is no statistically meaningful evidence to support helmets in these circs. Simply saying "a helmet saved my life" or "my wife is a nurse, and she sees better outcomes for helmet wearing casualties" lacks any scientific validity.

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andybwhite [250 posts] 4 years ago
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I have suffered head injuries 4 times in my life. None of these were on a bike.
The incidents occurred once whilst running in a fell race, once slipping in the gym, once as a passenger in a car and once as a pedestrian being hit by a car. Should I have been wearing a helmet during these activities?

It's crazy to say that all cyclists should always wear a helmet. Most head injuries actually happen in the home (some even falling out of bed!) - should we wear helmets whilst going around our houses? Of course not.

There are risks in everything we do and as adults we should be free to make our own assessments of those risks and act accordingly.

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seabass89 [212 posts] 4 years ago
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andybwhite wrote:

I have suffered head injuries 4 times in my life. None of these were on a bike.
The incidents occurred once whilst running in a fell race, once slipping in the gym, once as a passenger in a car and once as a pedestrian being hit by a car. Should I have been wearing a helmet during these activities?

For the sake of argument; well yes of course! If you're that unlucky!  4

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dave atkinson [6223 posts] 4 years ago
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seabass89 wrote:

If a cyclist cocks up not wearing a helmet - gets a brain injury, and ends up in rehabilitation programmes for the rest of his life - paid by the tax payer then it is a matter of public interest that cyclist wears helmets.

if you're going to make it about saving the taxpayer money then there's no argument, so far as i can see: every study conducted finds increased cycling gives a net financial benefit due to increased health and productivity, even accounting for higher incidence of cycling injury. since one of the effects of helmet compulsion is reduced cycling uptake, helmet compulsion costs the taxpayer money.

You can't pick on one particular outcome and say it would be expensive, without considering all the other possible outcomes, the most obvious of which is that the cyclist doesn't die or suffer a TBI, and lives a longer and healthier life. Yes it's possible they'll get a bang on the head. I've yet to see any population-scale data to suggest more helmets means less incidence of head injuries though. The most useful data, Australia and NZ pre- and post-compulsion, suggests that helmets are pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

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road slapper [87 posts] 4 years ago
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I wear a helmet because i want to, not because i'm told to.

I wear a helmet because i had a broken cheekbone and concusion after coming off my bike and was in hospital for 5 days getting an operation. I wasn't wearing a helmet then.

Would wearing a helmet stop that happening again? I don't know but i wear a helmet because i don't want to go through that again and if wearing a helmet gives me a chance, well that is good enough for me.

Most of you are old enough and ugly enough to make your own decisions. Make your own mind up and live by your actions.

Let's just hope that the Government don't try to enforce this in the UK. As you all know that once you are told to do something, you go on the defensive. I don't want to see you on the tv sleeping in a tent somewhere...  3

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PeteH [151 posts] 4 years ago
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just wondered what people thought about seat belts?

When they brought that in in the seventies there was big opposition to this, notably from people like Michael Foot, on libertarian grounds. Essentially the same range of viewpoints that people are expressing here. But am I right in thinking that now, 30 years on, we just accept it as a fact of life / common sense? Or do people see it as state oppression?

Personally I've come off my bike twice. First time I buggered my hip, second time - at 30mph - I did my collar bone. But both times the helmet did its job and protected my head, so I'm sold. But do I really give a monkey's if you wear one or not? 'fraid not.

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tarquin_foxglove [132 posts] 4 years ago
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PeteH wrote:

just wondered what people thought about seat belts?

When they brought that in in the seventies there was big opposition to this, notably from people like Michael Foot, on libertarian grounds. Essentially the same range of viewpoints that people are expressing here. But am I right in thinking that now, 30 years on, we just accept it as a fact of life / common sense? Or do people see it as state oppression?

The introduction of seatbelts brought a reduction in the number of KSI of car drivers & front seat passengers but not as much as anticipated and the KSI of rear seat, pedestrians & cyclists went up.

Essentially drivers felt safer & were safer, so drove more recklessly & caused more accidents. Really we need to remove the driver's seatbelt & air bag to improve road safety for all.

If riding without a helmet was made compulsory, would all the people that 'always wear a helmet' stop riding a bike?

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dave atkinson [6223 posts] 4 years ago
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I wear a helmet because a lot of the time it seems sensible to do so. I wear one most days on my five-mile commute, and i wear one on longer rides and off-road rides.

but riding to sainsbury's 300 yards away from my house? riding into town when i know i'll have to carry my helmet around because it won't fit in the lock shackle? i can't see how the state needs to intervene in those decisions for the good of society. If, like today, i was prevented from riding into town at lunchtime because i didn't have a helmet with me (i drove in), who does that benefit?

Seat belts are a different proposition because there's unequivocal scientific data to back up their efficacy. That simply doesn't exist for bike helmets. No large scale study that I've seen shows a correlation between increased helmet use and decreased incidence of cycling head injuries. If anyone knows of such a study, I'd really like to be made aware of it. I'm happy to be persuaded, I really am. But as far as I'm concerned for now, helmets are a red herring that diverts attention from the real causes of road deaths.

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giff77 [1251 posts] 4 years ago
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Seatbelts were made compulsory because cars were getting faster and drivers were becoming less responsible in their driving. Do you really think a seatbelt would have been necessary in a vehicle doing 10/15 mph?? The only thing these 'safety' features do is create an illusion of being indestructible!!

Go to a theme park, are you issued with a neck brace and helmet? NO. Yet, you are on rides that throw you around and subject you to similar forces of a car accident and present you with the risk of whiplash and brain damage!!

It does not matter how much you wrap your noggin up. All it will do is prevent the skull being pushed into the brain. NOTHING will stop the actual brain being thrown against the skull in the case of sudden deceleration.

The majority of people who take up cycling are those who take a leisurely pedal round the park or a wee tootle to the shops/work. They are not interesrted in building up their mph or what max speed on a descent Many are put off cycling because they have to deal with dangerous drivers. To be told you have to wear a helmet for your safety will further enforce the perception that cycling is a dangerous activity!

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