Shane Sutton: A helmet saved my life - but it's still a personal choice

Team Sky coach says he can't remember the crash that left him with bleeding on the brain

by Sarah Barth   November 17, 2012  

Shane Sutton (picture credit Team Sky).png

The Team Sky and British Cycling head coach who was left with bleeding on the brain following a collision has said that although he remembers nothing of the crash, he believes his helmet saved his life - but he wouldn't force those who didn't want to to wear one.

When asked what he remembered from the incident earlier in November, he told BBC Sport: "Nothing. From 8.40 in the morning until 12.20 in the afternoon, not a thing."

"For me it [wearing a helmet] was very important, but that is a personal thing," he added.

"A lot of people have serious accidents with helmets and without. On this occasion I was glad I had a helmet on.

"But that's a personal thing, it is like a bike. You buy a particular kind of bike and a particular kind of helmet. For me, it saved my life.

"I don't feel 100 per cent at the moment, I am just sitting in the stands, quite relaxed. It is going to take time, the doctors said that."

Sutton, who suffered bruising and bleeding on the brain and a fractured cheekbone in the incident, attended the Track Worlds at the Sir Chris Hoy Stadium yesterday. 

He added that there needed to be a political will to improve cycling road safety.

He said: "I think there needs to be more awareness.

"It has become very corporate, there are so many more people on bikes.

"We need to have better infrastructures, we have the best cyclists in the world in Manchester but we do not have the network to cater for them and it is something that needs to be looked at from a government point of view."

Sutton's comment differ from Bradley Wiggin's during the London 2012 Olympics, who in response to hearing that cyclist Dan Harris had been killed near the stadium, said:  "Ultimately, if you get knocked off and you don’t have a helmet on, then you can’t argue. You can get killed if you don’t have a helmet on.

"You shouldn’t be riding along with iPods and phones and things on. You have lights on. Once there are laws passed for cyclists then you are protected and you can say, ‘well, I have done everything to be safe."

29 user comments

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I like his interview I watched earlier.

As he said, he didn't used to wear a helmet. I don't know what changed his mind. But it was also nice not to hear the "you should wear a helmet" he leaves it open for people to make their own choices the same as they do with their kit as he says.

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [7539 posts]
17th November 2012 - 11:43

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"... although he remembers nothing of the crash, he believes his helmet saved his life."

Sorry, but evidence for helmets does not GET any more anecdotal than this

posted by mad_scot_rider [492 posts]
17th November 2012 - 11:57

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That's true, but as he says, it's a personal thing.

[crosses fingers and hopes this doesn't turn into another helmet debate]

Dodging the saccadic masking

posted by notfastenough [2331 posts]
17th November 2012 - 12:18

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He is a sport cyclist. Racing and doing close manoeuvres. Much different to nipping down to shops like most people on bikes. Racing car drivers wear helmets and they might well say same thing.
Need to see and hear more people differentiating between kit for sport vs utilitarian riding.

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posted by AndrewRH [31 posts]
17th November 2012 - 12:50

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"Im not sure what changed his mind"
Riding on the streets of freakin Manchester probably did!
I am as anti helmet as it gets but even i concede that anyone who has to negotiate traffic on fast and busy A roads in an urban environment could probably do with as much help as they can get.
I do most of my riding on Cheshire lanes so have no qualms about going without a helmet but if i rode more on busy urban streets, where collisions like the one Shane suffered are much more likely, i may think about wearing one (just think about it mind you!)

posted by Some Fella [526 posts]
17th November 2012 - 12:59

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mad_scot_rider wrote:
"... although he remembers nothing of the crash, he believes his helmet saved his life."

Sorry, but evidence for helmets does not GET any more anecdotal than this


Do you think that his injuries if he had not been wearing a helmet would have been:
a. Worse
b. Not as bad
c. Just the same

posted by alun [44 posts]
17th November 2012 - 13:17

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alun wrote:
Do you think that his injuries if he had not been wearing a helmet would have been:
a. Worse
b. Not as bad
c. Just the same

Scot_rider and everyone else can only answer:

"I don't know."

Like others, I'm heartily encouraged that SS didn't start banging on that everyone should wear helmets and emphasised that wearing one is his personal choice.

Good man.

posted by JohnS [198 posts]
17th November 2012 - 13:40

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JohnS wrote:
alun wrote:
Do you think that his injuries if he had not been wearing a helmet would have been:
a. Worse
b. Not as bad
c. Just the same

Scot_rider and everyone else can only answer:

"I don't know."

Like others, I'm heartily encouraged that SS didn't start banging on that everyone should wear helmets and emphasised that wearing one is his personal choice.

Good man.


Are you telling everyone, including Shane Sutton, what to think now?

posted by alun [44 posts]
17th November 2012 - 14:10

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alun wrote:
JohnS wrote:
alun wrote:
Do you think that his injuries if he had not been wearing a helmet would have been:
a. Worse
b. Not as bad
c. Just the same

Scot_rider and everyone else can only answer:

"I don't know."

Like others, I'm heartily encouraged that SS didn't start banging on that everyone should wear helmets and emphasised that wearing one is his personal choice.

Good man.


Are you telling everyone, including Shane Sutton, what to think now?

not sure where you get that from Alun, JohnS seems to me to be saying that Shane's position is very sensible. He thinks the helmet saved his life and he's entitled to think that; after all, he was there, although it sounds like he can't remember much about it. we won't ever know for sure if it did or not and he's not calling for everyone to wear them, only for everyone to make their own choice.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [6736 posts]
17th November 2012 - 14:24

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Dave Atkinson wrote:
alun wrote:
JohnS wrote:
alun wrote:
Do you think that his injuries if he had not been wearing a helmet would have been:
a. Worse
b. Not as bad
c. Just the same

Scot_rider and everyone else can only answer:

"I don't know."

Like others, I'm heartily encouraged that SS didn't start banging on that everyone should wear helmets and emphasised that wearing one is his personal choice.

Good man.


Are you telling everyone, including Shane Sutton, what to think now?

not sure where you get that from Alun, JohnS seems to me to be saying that Shane's position is very sensible. He thinks the helmet saved his life and he's entitled to think that; after all, he was there, although it sounds like he can't remember much about it. we won't ever know for sure if it did or not and he's not calling for everyone to wear them, only for everyone to make their own choice.


Dave, where I get it from is the sentence

"Scot_rider and everyone else can only answer:"

Which I think is rather prescriptive. Shane Sutton seems to be of the opinion that his helmet did reduce his injuries, and I would not disagree with him. I would certainly not try to diminish his comments as being merely "anecdotal". I too am pleased to see that he supports choice in helmet wearing. It seems that some are so worried about cycle helmets becoming compulsory that they try to deny that they are of any use at all.

posted by alun [44 posts]
17th November 2012 - 14:53

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Quote:
Which I think is rather prescriptive. Shane Sutton seems to be of the opinion that his helmet did reduce his injuries, and I would not disagree with him. I would certainly not try to diminish his comments as being merely "anecdotal". I too am pleased to see that he supports choice in helmet wearing. It seems that some are so worried about cycle helmets becoming compulsory that they try to deny that they are of any use at all.

Well said Applause

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posted by lostinfrance [13 posts]
17th November 2012 - 20:38

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Anti-helmeteers can count themselves fortunate to be so bone-headed.

posted by ontheroad [8 posts]
17th November 2012 - 21:54

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Let's just leave it there shall we?

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [564 posts]
17th November 2012 - 22:25

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...

posted by AlexStriplight [60 posts]
17th November 2012 - 23:32

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I am also as anti-helmet as anyone, but only in the sense that I feel it is a decision a responsible person can make. Many people (me included) can say "I've been riding for 20/30/40 years, never worn a helmet, fallen/been knocked off many times..." but that doesn't mean the next accident won't be the last one. Or that it will.

SS feels wearing a helmet saved him from worse injuries, and that is entirely possible. However, unless we have full access to all the information we cannot categorically say this is the case - SS may have that information. This is a scientific statement, not an opinion, and head injuries do happen to people, cyclists or not, and whether they are using any form of protective headwear, or not.

I live in NZ where it is compulsory to wear a helmet while cycling - one of (I think) two countries in the world where this is the case; other countries, like Hong Kong, have repealed the law. Many people feel as I do, that they want the choice to wear a helmet, and perhaps this was reflected in an estimated 51% drop in the number of hours cycled per year in NZ following the introduction of the law.
The law in NZ was introduced in response to (an average) 53 deaths per year as a result of cycling-related accidents, and a 19% drop in fatalities in the first year is quoted. No mention is given of whether the remaining ~40 deaths were head injury related, or whether the numbers involved have remained constant. Statistical evidence sucks - it can be manipulated to show whatever you want it to.

In the meantime, ride safely and enjoy cycling. Whether you wish to wear a helmet or not. Cool But please don't tell me what to do - I'm only human, and react badly to being forced to do something! Wink

Naked Seven
Orange Kish

posted by graham [15 posts]
17th November 2012 - 23:46

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This site needs 'like' and 'dislike' buttons (he says cryptically). Anyway, let's move on eh?

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posted by Martin Thomas [536 posts]
18th November 2012 - 0:16

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Appreciate Shane Sutton's point of view - especially as I am from Australia and I choose to wear a helmet (fortunately for me and the law here)
I came off my bike last year - morning commute on a damp bike path - fell onto grass and still managed to smash the back of my helmet. Not a hard decision to keep wearing a helmet for me…still it is anecdotal evidence…but quite relevant to me!
There has been some recent analysis of data in NSW that I find interesting - particularly when we often see the reduction in cyclists argument used.
Link below:
http://theconversation.edu.au/putting-a-lid-on-the-debate-mandatory-helm...

posted by tegski [4 posts]
18th November 2012 - 5:50

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mad_scot_rider wrote:
"... although he remembers nothing of the crash, he believes his helmet saved his life."

Sorry, but evidence for helmets does not GET any more anecdotal than this

Eh? How on earth can not remembering how much good his helmet did because he received short term brain damage be anecdotal. The opposite surely?

I would have thought the damage to the helmet would have given some idea of what protection it had offered. It would have been left on his head by paramedics at the scene and may have been taken with them for reference.

This argument has been raging since Road.CC started 4 years ago. It pisses me off that the freedom to choose argument get's mixed in with the flat earth brigade who want to keep pretending that helmets do no good. This is my last helmet debate so here goes:

- No one is forcing anyone to wear a helmet. If they ever try I'll see you in Parliament Square. Although as a proud Scot Mad_Scott you'll be living in Scotland of course - so it may not come to that....

- No one in their right mind could suggest a bare head comes off better upon impact with the road than a bare head with a polystyrene cover. However tiny the difference the helmet does more good than harm. Please don't come with those silly 'strap broke his neck stories'. It's similar to those that say seat belts in cars or airbags can do more 'harm then good'.

I'm illogical. I don't wear a helmet when I pop down the shops - but I do if racing or on long rides. It makes no sense but that's what I do. I will fight against compulsory HiVis and helmets as I feel it is the motorists responsibility to drive safely and look out for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders who don't want to wear the stuff - not our job to protect ourselves so they don't have to.

Arguing over helmets with fellow cyclists is just pointless. Insulting the intelligence of those that choose to wear helmets is as patronising as those that suggest you're stupid not to wear one. Wear - or don't wear what you want. Fight the fight if compulsory laws start looking likely - bu inthe meantime why not support '20 is Plenty' in your local area. It's certainly more proactive than arguing about helmets.

MercuryOne

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [873 posts]
18th November 2012 - 8:32

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alun wrote:
JohnS wrote:
alun wrote:
Do you think that his injuries if he had not been wearing a helmet would have been:
a. Worse
b. Not as bad
c. Just the same

Scot_rider and everyone else can only answer:

"I don't know."

Like others, I'm heartily encouraged that SS didn't start banging on that everyone should wear helmets and emphasised that wearing one is his personal choice.

Good man.


Are you telling everyone, including Shane Sutton, what to think now?

Precisely the opposite.

SS seems to think wearing a helmet should be a matter of personal choice. I agree with him.

And so far as your options a, b and c are concerned, no one can give a definitive answer - we just don't know whether SS would have been more or less injured depending on what he had on his head.

Now why are you telling us there are only three possible answers to your question - are you telling us what to think?

posted by JohnS [198 posts]
18th November 2012 - 10:28

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I for one have no problem with Sheen Sutton's position that a helmet saved his life it is his opinion and he was the victim in this. The default position should be wearing a helmet is a matter of personal choice and that the onus should be on anyone that claims a helmet would have reduced injuries to prove so if they are in court of Law on a case by case basis. As yet no one has ever claimed that helmets prevent accidents and any case against a motorist or cyclist should focus on cause not effect.

However, those of us that claim helmet wearing is about choice have to accept that this will throw up some odd actions. Whilst out yesterday I saw a parent out with three children (12 or under?) on a busy main road. All three children were wearing helmets and the parent was not. This is not I admit an uncommon sight but it is a bewildering sight and it is choice in action.

THE ONLY WAY IS BIKE

posted by lushmiester [144 posts]
18th November 2012 - 11:15

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he was asked a question, what do you expect him to say, 'sorry I've been unable to recreate the event in a lab'. It's clear he is giving an opinion.
Having snapped the foam in my helmet after a crash and having hit it with a hammer and not snapped the other side, I suspect it stopped me fracturing my skull. Personally I'm pro-choice so that bike hire schemes can stay in place.

posted by musicalmarc [49 posts]
18th November 2012 - 12:58

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The parent bareheaded and children helmeted thing isn't that illogical. Kids are more likely to fall off and have softer skulls than adults.

It may also be the case that some adults think that they can make a choice for themselves which errs against the side of danger, but can't make that choice for youngsters.

If there was only one adult, there may have been pressure from the non-cycling parent too.

What a web of decisions these helmets spin around us!

Edgeley

posted by Edgeley [128 posts]
18th November 2012 - 18:53

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Having met and spoken to Shane previously i know he is a man who thinks very hard before he makes a comment as it usually ends up in the papers etc etc.

So having said the comment about the helmet he must have received info from the consultant about his head bleed which has prompted his comment.

Now taken into account the ward he was in it tends to suggest that the consultant knows a thing or two about head injuries and their causes.

I agree though its a personal choice in the end and should stay that way.

Stumpy

posted by stumps [2086 posts]
18th November 2012 - 20:28

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alun wrote:
JohnS wrote:
alun wrote:
Do you think that his injuries if he had not been wearing a helmet would have been:
a. Worse
b. Not as bad
c. Just the same

Scot_rider and everyone else can only answer:

"I don't know."

Like others, I'm heartily encouraged that SS didn't start banging on that everyone should wear helmets and emphasised that wearing one is his personal choice.

Good man.


Are you telling everyone, including Shane Sutton, what to think now?

By reading my original post he managed to get my response to the somewhat fatuous question 100% right

Odd - it did seem obvious - maybe my view just wasn't clear to everyone

(to save time ...

fat·u·ous [fach-oo-uhs] adjective

1. foolish or inane, especially in an unconscious, complacent manner; silly.
2. unreal; illusory.

...courtesy of dictionary.com)

posted by mad_scot_rider [492 posts]
19th November 2012 - 9:18

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AndrewRH wrote:
Need to see and hear more people differentiating between kit for sport vs utilitarian riding.

With all the partisan bitching that has gone on in this thread, this is the best point that has been raised.

As soon as all the pro helmet brigade start banging on about compulsory helmets, utilitarian cycling will have a massive fall off, just as demonstrated in countries that have introduced such laws.

Utility cycling is safe enough that, weather permitting, everyone could (and should) ride in casual clothing.

Banging on about helmets/hiviz is not about extolling the freedom of the bicycle but about the fascism of uniforms and perceived safety. If they are ever made compulsory in this country then I will never wear one just to say "fuck you!"

posted by zanf [338 posts]
19th November 2012 - 11:02

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Note that Shane broke a cheek bone, so it's quite possible the primary impact that caused the injuries was to a part of the head not protected at all by his helmet. Any damage to the helmet may have been from secondary impacts (and tbh most road helmets are pretty flimsy things that break even for impacts that wouldn't injure you otherwise, judging by the number of helmet wearers who have "my helmet broke and saved my life" stories, compared to the number of cyclist in the Netherlands who actually die from head injuries - get a Snell certified hardshell helmet if you actually want to protect your head).

Finally, there are other ways to reduce the risk of injury on a bicycle:

a) Go slower. Especially around parked cars, cars waiting to turn in or come out of a side-street, or queues of traffic. RESIST the temptation to speed down hills if it's a busy urban area, or otherwise risky.

b) Have good lights from dusk till dawn. (Though not those stupidly bright ones that blind all oncoming traffic - there should be a law against those, and cycling sites reviewing lights perhaps should stop to consider whether they're adding to lumens hyping).

c) Ensure your bicycle is good running order and meets legal obligations (e.g. those using reflector-less road bikes for after-dark commuting, perhaps you should rethink).

If you wish to wear a helmet, that's fine. However, helmets are not the be all and end all of cycling safety, indeed evidence strongly suggests they are a symptom of poor safety for cyclists rather than any kind of solution to cycling safety generally. The above points - the first point particularly - are just as, if not more, important than the wearing of helmets.

Though, if you do wear a helmet, make sure the straps are fastened and tight..

posted by Paul J [364 posts]
19th November 2012 - 13:05

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mad_scot_rider wrote:
"... although he remembers nothing of the crash, he believes his helmet saved his life."

Sorry, but evidence for helmets does not GET any more anecdotal than this

There's always the physical evidence. If Shane can look at the helmet he was wearing and it's anything like this one then I think he could legitimately feel that it saved his life.

We don't have the actual pictures so we can't know, but in my opinion of the man, he's not one given to hyperbole.

I'm just glad we're discussing whether he thinks it saved his life instead of debating whether his helmet failed to save him. Whew!

neildmoss's picture

posted by neildmoss [136 posts]
19th November 2012 - 21:09

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Wearing or not wearing a helmet does not have to be life or death extremes.
Like other cyclists I have had a few falls. Mainly suffered the usual gravel rash plus a dislocated shoulder and a broken bone in my hand. however on two occasions I have no particular recollection of hitting my head hard but looking at at the state of my helmet made me think otherwise. I cannot help but think if I was not wearing a helmet I would have suffered a lot more pain at best and quite probably worse.

peajaybee

posted by peajaybee [60 posts]
19th November 2012 - 21:51

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I came off my MTB (I know!) not so long ago at a trail centre.

I hit a kicker on the entrance to a berm too fast and ended up going over the top into a tree, which ejected me off the bike sideways, so I landed on my left shoulder and rear left of my head behind my ear. Bent bars, bent stem, saddle snapped off the seatpost when it hit me in the back and bent rear wheel. Pretty nasty.

The rear left part of my helmet was trashed and I can only imagine what my skin and skull would have looked like if I hadn't been wearing it.

I believe, like Shane Sutton, that my helmet prevented a much more serious situation. I had a helmet cam on too, so I've been able to replay it slow-mo and work out what went wrong and how I landed etc...

Personally I think that a collision with a vehicle has much more potential for injury than an off-road dismount such as mine, so I can't see past wearing helmets being generally better than not wearing them.

As always just an opinion, but I'm in the pro-helmet camp.

Chiggety check yourself before you wreck yourself

posted by therealsmallboy [83 posts]
3rd February 2013 - 9:55

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