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Hackles raised by focus on helmets & high viz + James Cracknell helmet article

Day 3 of The Times newspaper’s Cities Fit For Cycling Campaign sees the paper publishing a 12-page ‘Guide To Safe Cycling' and encountering something of a backlash from some cyclists in the process. Parts of today's guide have not been universally well received, and while there is undoubtedly huge support for the campaign amongst cyclists, The Times is also finding out that they can also be an independent and prickly bunch, who don’t like being lectured or told what to do.

Among criticisms levelled at the paper on social networking sites such as Twitter are its decision to include an article from James Cracknell, now a strong supporter of helmet compulsion, who amongst other things likens those who cycle without a helmet to football hooligans, plus the newspaper’s own advice that cyclists should wear a helmet as well as high visibility clothing.

Cracknell, the Olympic rower turned TV personality, almost lost his life in 2009 after he was struck in the head by a truck’s wing mirror while filming in the United States. He believes the fact he was wearing a helmet saved his life.

However, with helmet compulsion being a subject guaranteed to incite heated debate, Cracknell has come under criticism from some quarters for the pro-helmet stance he has adopted in pieces written for The Daily Telegraph.

As one blogger points out, Cracknell appear on Alpina’s UK website as a “sponsored athlete" despite insisting, after mentioning his Alpina Pheos helmet in The Telegraph that, “I don’t have a commercial relationship with the manufacturer, by the way".

Cracknell's piece in today's Times is accompanied by a picture of him holding the helmet, still stained with blood, that he was wearing when he was struck by that lorry, although there is no mention of his apparent sponsorship by the manufacturer.

Cracknell also likens those who choose to cycle without a helmet to football hooligans.

“If you are cycling without a helmet, you are being selfish to your family and friends,” he asserts. "It is like with football in the Eighties, when a violent 1 per cent minority of football fans meant the other 99 per cent were tarred as hooligans."

The Times itself suggests, in a two-page spread under the heading ’12 ways to cycle safely’ – there’s an interactive graphic here, under the ‘Graphic: 12 safety tips’ tab – wearing a helmet and high-visibility clothing; it cites a statistic, unsourced, that “60 per cent of cyclist fatalities are head injuries,” but fails to acknowledge arguments against them often outlined by opponents of compulsion or that in the case of cycling fatalities involving motor vehicles - which make up the majority - the outcome is unlikely to have been altered by the wearing of a helmet.

On a day when coverage in the main newspaper focused on the success of the municipal authorities in Copenhagen of getting people cycling, the focus on helmets and hi-viz strikes a dissonant note for many – seeming to miss the point that when a city is fit for cycling there should be no need for helmets or high viz cycling gear. In Copenhagen and in other cities with high levels of cycling such as Amsterdam, such equipment is noticeable more for its absence than anything else. Cycling is an everyday activity, carried out in everyday clothes something that was achieved by getting more people on bikes and changing the attitudes of drivers in particular about interact with other road users.

Among those interviewed for the newspaper’s supplement today are Rebecca Romero and Chris Boardman, as well as several everyday cyclists who have no ambitions of following that pair to Olympic success, but simply want to get around on their bike, safely.

There is also an article penned by Jon Snow, the Channel 4 broadcaster and CTC President, although he is writing in a personal capacity. A couple of his comments do give food for thought.“The Times Cycling Manifesto is good as far as it goes, but there is a serious dimension missing: human rights,” he says.

“The dominant creature on the urban road is the single-occupancy car. One person in a motorised 60 sq ft metal box.
And what are we cyclists — one person on a thin strip of tubing with two wheels.

“One has the power, the presence and the rights; the other is deprived of all three. Is that equality under the law?

“I would willingly pay a licence fee for my bike if it meant that separated cycle ways were provided as my right,” continues Snow.

“My children were deprived of the right to cycle to school, even of the right to cycle safely at university — it was, and is, quite simply too dangerous.”

Even in a private capacity, that’s a startling point of view to be expressed by someone who is the figurehead of one of Britain’s leading organisations for cyclists.

Meanwhile, the urgency of the overriding goal of campaign by The Times – to make Britain’s streets safer for cyclists – was underlined yesterday by news of the deaths of two cyclists in incidents that took place in very different parts of the country just minutes apart yesterday afternoon.

A 77-year-old man died in the rural village of Whaplode Drove, Lincolnshire, in a collision with a car driven by an 80-year-old male; in London’s Bishopsgate, a male cyclist said by police to be aged in his sixties died following a collision with a coach.

Broad support for the campaign continues to be strong, with more than 100,000 people now signed up to it. But reaction to the comments by Cracknell and advice to wear a helmet and hi-viz gear do show that while in some cases it’s appropriate to generalise those who choose to ride bikes as ‘cyclists,’ it does need to be remembered that cyclists are individuals too, with views as diverse as the machines they ride.

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.

104 comments

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fred22 [158 posts] 4 years ago
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I really don't get road cc's insistence on always speaking up for the right to go bare-headed. If you rather romantically consider yourselves as defendants of freedom and liberty I have to break it to you: you're defending nothing. I've yet to hear anyone who's had a crash involving impact to the head say "I wish I hadn't been wearing that helmet, it made things worse" yet many people would state that their helmet saved their life.
I recall something similar with compulsory seatbelt wearing, how our right to choose was being eroded, how many accidents seatbelts would cause etc etc. hopefully now just about everyone with an ounce of common sense would sooner walk than have their children rattling about unrestrained in a car. In a few years maybe we'll be able to look back on this issue and accept that a lot of time was spent speaking up for the indefensible too.
There's so many more things that adversely affect us as cyclists, I wish all our efforts were directed against those.

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mattsccm [324 posts] 4 years ago
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The compulsory use of seat belts is also wrong.
Quit echoing Cracknell and practice what you preach.

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Dr_Lex [246 posts] 4 years ago
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Unfortunately Mr Cracknell's opinion, notwithstanding the question of the nature of his relationship, is similar to that of the proselytizing former smoker espousing on the dangers of tobacco.

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misterbee [10 posts] 4 years ago
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Quite agree fred22 lets focus on what's going to improve conditions for cycling, enforced helmet wearing isn't one of them as is clearly explained in the article.

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andyp [1438 posts] 4 years ago
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'I really don't get road cc's insistence on always speaking up for the right to go bare-headed. If you rather romantically consider yourselves as defendants of freedom and liberty I have to break it to you: you're defending nothing. I've yet to hear anyone who's had a crash involving impact to the head say "I wish I hadn't been wearing that helmet, it made things worse" yet many people would state that their helmet saved their life.'

Personally I'm glad that the chaps remain fairly logical rather than dealing in conjecture and spurious claims.

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dave atkinson [6148 posts] 4 years ago
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Quote:

There's so many more things that adversely affect us as cyclists, I wish all our efforts were directed against those.

Me too. but unfortunately we often find ourselves in the position of opposing people who seem to think that a bit of polystyrene and some yellow clothes will solve all cyclists' problems, and that our safety issues are self-inflicted. the reality is that cars drive into us and lorries run us over. Another cyclist died in london yesterday, taken out by a coach. The excellent mr Paul Lew, he of Reynolds wheels, is currently learning to walk again after being taken out by a car travelling at 60mph. These are the incidents that do the damage, that's what we need to concentrate on. The Times campaign today is a bit of a disappointment because until now they'd managed to concentrate on the things that matter. Helmets are a red herring.

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burtthebike [169 posts] 4 years ago
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Personally, I'm extremely disappointed that what seemed to be a proper safety campaign, aimed at reducing the causes of danger, has been hijacked by the usual helmet promotion suspects. I feel as if I signed up under false pretences, as there was absolutely no mention of helmets for the first two days, and I was angry and surprised when I opened today's paper. The first item listed on their how to be safe guide? a helmet, and the last is the most useful measure: training.

I've emailed the editor asking for similar coverage of the case against helmets, and if it is not forthcoming, I've made it clear that I will demand that my name be removed from their campaign. You might like to consider doing the same.

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james-o [232 posts] 4 years ago
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"I really don't get road cc's insistence on always speaking up for the right to go bare-headed."

I do and I support it.

But.. Let's not all be distracted by the pro-anti helmet compulsion debate and focus on safer roads for all.

burtthebike, agreed, good point.

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antonio [1104 posts] 4 years ago
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People are being run down and killed by buses, concrete lorries, huge skip waggons and huge articulated trucks, yet some misguided people have the idea a flimsy helmet would have saved them. A pity the victims can't explain that their helmets did nothing to help them.

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stumps [3189 posts] 4 years ago
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When i was a young lad, about 16yrs old, a good friend of mine went to the Lakes mountain biking. He was probably one of the first i had seen wearing a helmet so he got quite a bit of stick from the rest of us, however, on a downhill section he took a flying lesson and proceeded to headbutt a well made dry stone wall.

His helmet split into various pieces, most of which was never found, but his head remained in one piece and basically the dr's stated that if not for the sadly deceased helmet so would have been my friend.

Since that day i have worn a helmet. It wont stop you from getting run over nor side swiped or door swiped but it just might stop a serious head injury and that in itself is enough for me.

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WolfieSmith [1247 posts] 4 years ago
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I was waiting for The Times to bring up compulsory helmets and hi vis. They're a nice little distraction from the real issue which is motorist speed and dangerous aggressive driving. Wearing a bright yellow top in good weather just so a speeding driver has a little more reaction time to cope with their excessive speed is not the way forward.

From personal experience I know the value of helmets but I'm pro choice. Road.CC seem pretty neutral to me on this.

The bottom line is that in the UK motor transport has ruled the road and government policy making since 1945. If Peter Hitchens and John Snow are agreeing that this needs to change then we could have a 'cycling spring' on our hands.

God I hope so. Cycling is one of the best experiences in life and I'm tired of fearing the petulance of my fellow countrymen and women everytime I go out in this country.

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JonyEpsilon [10 posts] 4 years ago
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Come on, give them a break!

I think it's great that a national, conservative newspaper is getting people talking and thinking about cycle safety. We should be encouraging them rather than writing letters complaining about the details  1

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Bedfordshire Clanger [344 posts] 4 years ago
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If we follow the hi-viz logic to its conclusion then surely all other vehicles, pedestrians crossing the road and horses should be swathed in day-glo orange or yellow and all traffic accidents would be eliminated in one fell swoop.  39

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Chrisc [146 posts] 4 years ago
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Sincerely hope this doesn't end up hijacked by hi-viz and polystyrene. As has been said. With proper infrastructure it should be perfectly possible to cycle anywhere without protective gear. Jon Snow hit the nail on the head. I hope they listen to him.

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Chrisc [146 posts] 4 years ago
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Yep. Hi viz for every activity outside the house will be compulsory. It already seems that way to an extent with more and more people adopting it for walking, jogging etc. on the other hand when everyone else is clad in luminous yellow I'll stand out in my black jacket...

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fred22 [158 posts] 4 years ago
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dave_atkinson wrote:
Quote:

There's so many more things that adversely affect us as cyclists, I wish all our efforts were directed against those.

Me too. but unfortunately we often find ourselves in the position of opposing people who seem to think that a bit of polystyrene and some yellow clothes will solve all cyclists' problems, and that our safety issues are self-inflicted.

to be frank Dave that's a connection that you're assuming the non-cycling public is making and I just don't think its a correct one. But its not wrong to expect people to take the responsibility for their actions, possibly we'd all be better off if in general people balanced rights with responsibility.
A helmet won't save your life in some/many situations but a helmet certainly saved the life of a number of cyclists. It never makes an accident worse and to not wear one can understandably be viewed as reckless or worse.

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andyp [1438 posts] 4 years ago
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fred22 wrote:

A helmet won't save your life in some/many situations but a helmet certainly saved the life of a number of cyclists.

in your opinion, of course. There's no proof of that whatsoever.

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OldRidgeback [2554 posts] 4 years ago
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I wear a helmet at the BMX track and took a big spill recently when I made a bad landing, with the helmet undoubtedly being a help. But it was my knee protection that saved me from injury. Without those I'd have had a cracked or broken kneecap for sure. The thing is, as others in this thread point out, other parts of the anatomy tend to impact most often when a cyclist comes off. Knees and elbows are the most often injured. I've seen various statistics about injuries to cyclists, and head injuries aren't high on the list with regard to risks.

I wear a helmet at the BMX track and a skate type lid when I'm riding my BMX at the skatepark but that's because it's concrete and I'm jumping my bike, while I rarely bother when I'm on the road. Even in the years when I was commuting 20 miles/day across central London, I rarely wore a helmet.

As for saying that wearing seatbelts shouldn't be compulsory, to use a quote from a certain famous tennis player of yore, "You cannot be serious."

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Simon_MacMichael [2443 posts] 4 years ago
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Chrisc wrote:

Yep. Hi viz for every activity outside the house will be compulsory. It already seems that way to an extent with more and more people adopting it for walking, jogging etc. on the other hand when everyone else is clad in luminous yellow I'll stand out in my black jacket...

I'll be sure to look out for you as I drive my polypropylene car on wheels of sponge...  3

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dave atkinson [6148 posts] 4 years ago
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fred22 wrote:

to be frank Dave that's a connection that you're assuming the non-cycling public is making and I just don't think its a correct one. But its not wrong to expect people to take the responsibility for their actions.

i disagree here. i'm all for everyone being responsible, but the focus on high viz and helmets attempts to shift the responsibility for avoiding accidents onto cyclists, as if the lack of them is what's causing the deaths. it isn't. But the response of non cycling folk is often along these lines:

http://road.cc/content/news/34847-cyclist-who-died-after-being-hit-three...

collisions involving cyclists and motorists are predominantly caused by the actions of motorists. All the stats show that. people die on bikes in collisions with vehicles predominantly because other people drive those vehicles badly.

http://road.cc/content/news/12065-cyclists-not-blame-road-casualties-say...

There's any number of ways to mitigate that risk. The best one by far is to build well-designed and segregated facilities for cyclists in cities. Slower cars is another (http://road.cc/content/news/48413-slowing-motorists-down-best-way-increa...) Mutual respect in shared spaces is needed. education and proper enforcement can help. Helmets are a red herring. High viz too.

I wear a helmet. all the time. I wear a high viz jacket too, when it's murky out. But these are not the things that will bring about big improvements in safer cycling.

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stumps [3189 posts] 4 years ago
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andyp wrote:
fred22 wrote:

A helmet won't save your life in some/many situations but a helmet certainly saved the life of a number of cyclists.

in your opinion, of course. There's no proof of that whatsoever.

Did you read my earlier comment about my friend headbutting a dry stone wall ?

Scroll back through, read my comment and then say a helmet never saved a life.

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sam_smith [64 posts] 4 years ago
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Whilst I support the wearing of helmets in cycle sports such as Mountain biking where spills are common place I would still take umbrage at being compelled to wear one every time I mount up.

Helmets and Hi-vis are poor cures for the real problem which is poor driving and inadequate cycling provision. I have been in three accidents on the way into work, none of which were my fault and in all of which I was wearing Hi-vis and a helmet. The Hi-vis seems to be pointless because all too often motorists just don't look and the helmet is there to save you when one of these idiots hits you. A cyclist would NOT need to wear either of these things if proper provisions are in place for cycling, as cyclists in the Netherlands show.

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Ush [594 posts] 4 years ago
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If your (stumps') friend's helmet split into several pieces as you say then it's unlikely that it worked as it is supposed to. Helmets are supposed to crush (below a certain force threshold) and absorb energy. Above that threshold they split and absorb much less energy.

The doctors that stated that his life was saved were speaking far outside of their professional expertise.

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Simon E [2546 posts] 4 years ago
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“If you are cycling without a helmet, you are being selfish to your family and friends,”

That's the voice of one individual. If he was your average Joe Public that would be fair enough, but when it's a famous sportsman given a platform in a national newspaper, spouting opinion dressed up as fact, it really is annoying.

Regardless of the views of Alpina-sponsored James Cracknell, you or me the matter, helmet compulsion will NOT save lives on the roads. It's a red herring, as is hi-viz clothing.

Anyone who blithely compares helmets with seat belts in cars has demonstrated a complete lack of comprehension. They should stay back after school and write out 'I shall not make dumb comments on the internet' 100 times (or, better still, try taking those blinkers off and learning something).

Would a helmet have saved the latest victim?

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JohnS [198 posts] 4 years ago
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Stumps: When i was a young lad, about 16yrs old, a good friend of mine went to the Lakes mountain biking. He was probably one of the first i had seen wearing a helmet so he got quite a bit of stick from the rest of us, however, on a downhill section he took a flying lesson and proceeded to headbutt a well made dry stone wall.

Can you really not tell the difference between riding off-road, on rough or non-existent tracks, as fast as possible, for fun, in the hunt for exhilarating experiences and riding to work along a smooth road?

Do you wear a hard hat when crossing the road or sitting in a bus or car?

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JohnS [198 posts] 4 years ago
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mattsccm wrote:

The compulsory use of seat belts is also wrong.

Indeed, making seatbelts compulsory resulted in an increase in cyclist and pedestrian injuries because seatbelts meant people were enabled to drive like tw@ts without getting killed.

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Kim [218 posts] 4 years ago
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It would help if journalist at The Time had actually bother to spend some time researching How do you get more people to ride bicycles and less time re-hashing the same old rubbish about hi-viz and helmets which help to make our roads so dangerous for cycling in the first place.

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stumps [3189 posts] 4 years ago
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2 points i would like to raise in relation to comments made about my earlier entry.

Firstly, Ush - the accident was 30 yrs ago and the standard of helmet was not as good as it is now, and more importantly you have no idea about where the accident happened, the speed or the point of impact to say the helmet wouldn't split up and who the Dr was, their qualifications or whether they were a consultant, specialist in head injuries or anything so dont make random stupid comments till you know the full facts

Secondly, JohnS - I know exactly what the difference is but when was the last time you cycled a smooth road without any of the following, curbs, pot holes, lamposts, telephone boxes, post boxes, telegraph poles, metal railings, central refuge, traffic lights the list goes on and is a hell of a lot more extensive than off road obstacles.

Helmets do help prevent injuries and anyone who says they dont is talking complete crap BUT i would not make it compulsory as to regulate it would be ridiculous and it should be left to the conscience of the rider.

Rant over

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andyp [1438 posts] 4 years ago
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stumps wrote:

2 points i would like to raise in relation to comments made about my earlier entry.

Firstly, Ush - the accident was 30 yrs ago and the standard of helmet was not as good as it is now, and more importantly you have no idea about where the accident happened, the speed or the point of impact to say the helmet wouldn't split up and who the Dr was, their qualifications or whether they were a consultant, specialist in head injuries or anything so dont make random stupid comments till you know the full facts

Secondly, JohnS - I know exactly what the difference is but when was the last time you cycled a smooth road without any of the following, curbs, pot holes, lamposts, telephone boxes, post boxes, telegraph poles, metal railings, central refuge, traffic lights the list goes on and is a hell of a lot more extensive than off road obstacles.

Helmets do help prevent injuries and anyone who says they dont is talking complete crap BUT i would not make it compulsory as to regulate it would be ridiculous and it should be left to the conscience of the rider.

Rant over

There's the thing Stumpy, it's all just speculation. Any doctor or specialist who said that a helmet saved a life is talking crap. It's fine if they say that *in their opinion* it did - nobody could argue with that. But any man of science claiming something as fact without any proof to support it isn't worth listening to. So it doesn't matter how long ago it was, where it was, what qualification the doctor had - its all speculation. And *that* is fact. If you want to wear one - fine. If you want to *think* that it saved your friends life, fine. But don't go making stupid claims and expecting people to accept them.

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stumps [3189 posts] 4 years ago
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andyp - I completely agree it's all speculation without facts to back it up but when a qualified Dr gives their opinion you cant just ignore it saying he's making a stupid claim.

Based on my mates injuries, the point of impact and what remained of the helmet the Dr gave his qualified interpretation of the injuries and basically stated that the helmet stopped a large piece of stone crushing the front of his skull and in doing so pushed the skull fragments into his brain which in his qualified opinion and based on the facts he had at his disposal said would have killed him.

Sorry if you think it's a stupid claim, i was just making a point based on personal experiences.

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