Almost 9 in 10 people back headphones ban and compulsory helmets for cyclists say survey

Support for both measures from majority of cyclists too in new YouGov poll

by Simon_MacMichael   November 25, 2013  

London cyclist approaching junction.jpg

A poll conducted for The Sunday Times has found that almost nine in ten people (89 per cent) think cyclists should be banned from wearing headphones, and almost as many (85 per cent) believe cycle helmets should be compulsory.

The majority of respondents who describe themselves as “more cyclist than motorist” in the survey of 1,867 people conducted by YouGov agreed with those views.

59 per cent of those respondents agreed that wearing of helmets should be compulsory, an issue that is regularly the subject of fierce debate among riders, and 67 per cent of them said that there should be a ban on headphones.

The latter issue was in the news last week after Mayor of London Boris Johnson said in a radio interview about the safety of cyclists that he would be in favour of riders being banned from wearing headphones.

Other findings of the survey include that two thirds of all respondents – rising to three in four of those considered themselves cyclists first and foremost – believe that lorries should be banned from cities during rush hour, something British Cycling's Chris Boardman called for last week in an open letter to Mr Johnson.

Several things differentiate the YouGov survey from some others we have reported on road.cc.

First, respondents aren’t self-selected, as many opt-in internet-based polls are, and which tend to encourage only those with a strong opinion one way or another to respond.

Also, as well as splitting out responses by standard demographic breaks such as gender, age, social grade and region, it also divides them by voting intentions as well as by “motorists,” “people who regularly use a bicycle,” and those who are “more cyclist than motorist.”

How does YouGov separate those categories? Well, it’s based on a question that asks respondents to state:

I regularly drive a motor vehicle and do NOT regularly use a bicycle (60 per cent)

I regularly use both a motor vehicle and a bicycle, but I generally use my motor vehicle more often than my bike (9 per cent)

I regularly use both a motor vehicle and a bicycle, but I generally use my bicycle more often than my motor vehicle (3 per cent)

I regularly ride a bicycle and do NOT regularly drive a motor vehicle (4 per cent)

I do not regularly use either (25 per cent)

As a result, 60 per cent of YouGov’s weighted sample fall into the category it terms “motorists” and 15 per cent are “people who regularly use a bicycle,” including 7 per cent who are “more cyclist than driver.”

Asked, “What do you believe is the most common cause of cycling accidents [sic],” 36 per cent of people said “poor standards of cycling by cyclists,” while 22 per cent cited “poor standards of driving by motorists” and 11 per cent went for each of “badly designed roads” and “too many lorries and other large vehicles on the roads.”

Analysis of police reports in incidents in which cyclists were killed or injured carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory in 2009 found that reckless riding was responsible for only a small percentage of collisions, with police attributing blame to the motorist in around three out of four cases.

As happened across most of the questions, there was a polarity in responses among those considering themselves cyclists or drivers.

Some 41 per cent of motorists blamed poor standards of cycling, and just 20 per cent driving; among regular bike riders, 20 per cent said cyclists were to blame and 30 per cent drivers, and there was an even greater gap among those defined as more cyclist than motorist – 13 per cent versus 36 per cent.

Other responses highlight that different perceptions of road safety exist depending on whether you’re more used to being behind the steering wheel or on the saddle of a bike.

Only 1 per cent of motorists thought badly designed roads are the most common cause of cycling accidents, but that rose to 9 per cent of regular cyclists and 14 per cent of those who are more cyclist than motorist.

Bad upkeep of roads (e.g. potholes) was thought to be a factor by 4 per cent of motorists, but 8 per cent of regular cyclists and 10 per cent of those who are more cyclist than motorist; conversely, drivers were much more likely to see pedestrians as being to blame for cycling accidents than cyclists were, at 11 per cent versus 6 per cent of regular cyclists and 5 per cent of people who are more cyclist than motorist.

Other questions addressed issues including whether sentences for both drivers and cyclists breaking road laws are tough enough, presumed liability, publishing accident data and details of accident blackspots online, increasing the number of cycle lanes, and whether there should be early-start traffic lights for cyclists.

You can find the complete results of the YouGov survey, including the full breakdown of responses by demographic groups and voting intentions, here.

125 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

Nice summary!

So most cyclists are uninformed--or, more accurately, misinformed. Posts like yours surely help those who reach out to seek information, but do you have ideas on how to educate the general public? Do you wear one of those stickers that says "Ask me why I ride without a helmet"? Do you stop helmeted cyclists on the street and explain how they're killing people (presumably peer pressure functions much like a helmet law)? Do you start where I started (apparently more innocuously) by asking cyclists for advice: which brands and designs of helmets are the most effective? Any thoughts? I do none of those things, but I'd like to know if you've found advocacy that works well.

posted by bwpearre [6 posts]
26th November 2013 - 23:04

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Personally speaking, I managed to make it through from about 1974 to 2007 without wearing or needing a lid BUT (I know we've all heard the anecdotes...) after a friend of mine died from what would have been a easily survivable fall (brain haemorrhage due to a base of skull fracture), I do wear a lid nearly every time I ride one of my bikes.

Now I can see people either nodding in agreement with my personal decision or shaking their heads, understanding the reasons but disagreeing with them...well I do wear a lid to save me in the odd chance that I do hit my head and don't get mangled in the process by a truck or car.

So lets put all the cards on the table, helmets are not the safety panacea that the uneducated think that they are, because while they may save you in impacts of <30mph (well they are only tested up to 30mph anyway) you are already in serious danger of injury or death...would it not be better to prevent the fall first!?! Angry

So do I still wear a lid knowing that, well yes I do, it is convenient for mounting the lights and video camera etc on and could save me from the lower speed impacts and banging my thick skull on some street furniture and ending up even madder than I already am, but in the majority of recent cases it will just as likely hold my skull together to make identification easier. Worried

Never the less I do encourage all riders to wear them but other than for children or youngsters I vehemently disagree with making them compulsory, especially when so many of those uneducated people believe that it is going to make any significant dent in the casualty figures that we are currently seeing. This is because they'll do bugger all to protect your spleen, liver or other internal organs that will cause you to bleed out while lying on the road if damaged in a substantial collision impact!! At Wits End

posted by Furry Mommy [32 posts]
26th November 2013 - 23:41

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Furry Mommy wrote:
a friend of mine died from what would have been a easily survivable fall (brain haemorrhage due to a base of skull fracture),

With all respect, you have no idea whether the fall would be survivable or not. It is extremely difficult to reconstruct the circumstances of a crash and without instrumentation recording what happened you are making a wild speculation.

Furry Mommy wrote:

ll I do wear a lid to save me in the odd chance that I do hit my head and don't get mangled in the process by a truck or car.

Or it may exacerbate the oblique blow you sustain and turn a painful injury into a life-threatening one.

Furry Mommy wrote:

So lets put all the cards on the table, helmets are not the safety panacea that the uneducated think that they are, because while they may save you in impacts of <30mph (well they are only tested up to 30mph anyway)

Helmets are most definitely NOT tested up to 30mph impact speeds.

Furry Mommy wrote:

, it is convenient for mounting the lights and video camera etc on

This is like strapping a sharp rock to your head with the intent to lower the effectiveness of your helmet.

Furry Mommy wrote:

Never the less I do encourage all riders to wear them

Again, with all respect, do what you want, but I think a large number of us would prefer to trust our own judgement. I certainly don't think from your post that you have the same decision-making process that I do. Unsurprisingly I prefer mine. I encourage you to do what you want and not to spend your time encouraging anyone else.

Furry Mommy wrote:

but other than for children or youngsters I vehemently disagree with making them compulsory,

There is no case for making helmets compulsory for children. This should be left to the parent to judge the risks and benefits. There is no clear basis to judge that helmets are useful for children.

This is very clearly a subject about which there is much less known than most people, including the "educated" believe.

posted by Ush [389 posts]
27th November 2013 - 0:58

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Colin Peyresourde wrote:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2513730/Miraculous-moment-16-yea...

Just goes to show, you never know when you might need one.

Not saying it should be compulsory, but I bet this lad wishes he'd put one on.

Sometimes you seem like a rational, evidence-driven person. Other times you post stuff like the above.

What evidence do you have that a helmet would have helped with the above? Do you even have the specific aetiology of the above accident?

More than likely a helmet would have made no difference.

posted by Ush [389 posts]
27th November 2013 - 0:59

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Ush wrote:
Furry Mommy wrote:
a friend of mine died from what would have been a easily survivable fall (brain haemorrhage due to a base of skull fracture),

With all respect, you have no idea whether the fall would be survivable or not. It is extremely difficult to reconstruct the circumstances of a crash and without instrumentation recording what happened you are making a wild speculation.

Furry Mommy wrote:

ll I do wear a lid to save me in the odd chance that I do hit my head and don't get mangled in the process by a truck or car.

Or it may exacerbate the oblique blow you sustain and turn a painful injury into a life-threatening one.

Furry Mommy wrote:

So lets put all the cards on the table, helmets are not the safety panacea that the uneducated think that they are, because while they may save you in impacts of <30mph (well they are only tested up to 30mph anyway)

Helmets are most definitely NOT tested up to 30mph impact speeds.

Furry Mommy wrote:

, it is convenient for mounting the lights and video camera etc on

This is like strapping a sharp rock to your head with the intent to lower the effectiveness of your helmet.

Furry Mommy wrote:

Never the less I do encourage all riders to wear them

Again, with all respect, do what you want, but I think a large number of us would prefer to trust our own judgement. I certainly don't think from your post that you have the same decision-making process that I do. Unsurprisingly I prefer mine. I encourage you to do what you want and not to spend your time encouraging anyone else.

Furry Mommy wrote:

but other than for children or youngsters I vehemently disagree with making them compulsory,

There is no case for making helmets compulsory for children. This should be left to the parent to judge the risks and benefits. There is no clear basis to judge that helmets are useful for children.

This is very clearly a subject about which there is much less known than most people, including the "educated" believe.

Thank *goodness* that at least some common sense (and scientific understanding) prevails on this forum. Excellent post.

posted by Joeinpoole [227 posts]
27th November 2013 - 1:58

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Furry Mommy wrote:
So lets put all the cards on the table, helmets are not the safety panacea that the uneducated think that they are, because while they may save you in impacts of <30mph (well they are only tested up to 30mph anyway)

Myth! They're only tested up to 12.42mph (5.52m/s) and even then, only in a guided freefall - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EN_1078 for the helmet test standard most common in the UK. It's pathetic.

I wear a helmet but I'm going to stop as soon as I get a thick enough beanie to deflect the branches from the hedges and trees that the councils no longer cut... and actually, some of those have felt really nasty when they hit the helmet. Then I may still wear a helmet when it's icy and a free fall onto the ground is more likely.

posted by a.jumper [691 posts]
27th November 2013 - 9:48

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I never understand why I bother reading these strings. It always ends up the same way. I wear a helmet every time I get on my bike. Because I want to (and it makes me look cool like Chris Froome Cool ) But hey, if you'd rather not wear one, then don't. You will simply look less cool than me, which is fine. Until "the man" makes it compulsory, then you have the freedom of choice. I'm old enough to remember all the fuss about car seat belts becoming compulsory 30-odd years ago. Let's stop shouting at each other (particularly at those with headphones in who may struggle to hear the arguments at regular volume) and enjoy however we choose to ride our bikes.

posted by darren13366 [53 posts]
27th November 2013 - 10:15

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Without going in to enough details to identify the friend that died (I need to ask the family before I do this?!), according to the coroners report that the base of skull fracture was caused by a single direct impact to the rear of the skull, whereby the force of the impact was transferred to the weakest part of the skull...the thin bone at the base of the skull. From the autopsy evidence of the impact site/injury the pathologist determined that the impact speed was probably less than 20mph, there were no other vehicles involved and no other indications of significant impact injury (minor bruising to elbows, shoulders and buttocks).

The coroner determined from this autopsy report that the fall and impact would more than likely have been survivable if he had been wearing a cycle helmet, insofar that the impact site at the rear of the skull was at the thickest part and showed no signs of significant damage.

So I have to go with those that have far more medical expertise and experience than I do, as to both the cause of death and the potential survivability of this fall, if a helmet had been worn.

As an engineer with over 20 years experience in safety critical industries, material testing etc I much prefer my own ability to analyse the scientific/engineering data available and then decide for myself what is or isn't safe, though as an engineer I am always open to changes in technology and debate...so am always learning.

Yes I do appreciate that strapping both a light and video camera to the lid can detract from the ability of a helmet to absorb and dissipate the force of any impacts, so you are correct.

"This is like strapping a sharp rock to your head with the intent to lower the effectiveness of your helmet."

I do though consider the risk acceptable, at least for the light, to be able to have illumination wherever I turn my head. The video camera is a slightly different matter though, as I have found that since wearing one when ever I cycle I get far less abuse from other road user, which probably does balance out the increased risk of the helmet not being able to absorb any impacts in a fall, in possibly preventing other types of incident.

As to the increased risk of torsion injuries, well there are cyclists that have suffered such traumatic injuries through not wearing a helmet, so regardless there is a risk that has to be accepted for either wearing or not wearing a lid...?!

Now to the speed of the impact tests you are correct that they are not tested up to 30mph, I should have been more circumspect with what I wrote and not try and rely on memory, considering I did have the links to these documents somewhere that state the following:

"Helmet standards require helmets to be designed only to survive a simple drop test onto an anvil. The maximum permitted deceleration of the dropped head form is typically 300g, which is equivalent to an impact velocity of 20 km/h (12.5 mph).

The performance of a helmet above an impact velocity of 20 km/h is neither tested nor defined. Cycle helmets usually fail catastrophically rather than gradually, through total compression or disintegration. It is therefore not simply the case that the proportion of the force absorbed will decrease with increasing velocity. It is a matter of conjecture as to whether significant protection to the head would be afforded at higher speeds, and this is likely to vary from helmet to helmet. Mclntosh and Dowdell34 appear to have found no cases of helmeted cyclists surviving crashes where
the equivalent impact velocity was greater than 20 km/h.

Whilst it is possible that some helmets may provide useful protection above the impact velocity for which they are tested, a report by the Consumers Association35 suggests that most helmets do not meet even the stipulated standard, and are therefore likely to provide reduced protection below 20 km/h. 14 helmets out of the 24 tested failed the test criteria for shock absorption, and two of the remainder failed tests related to retention and strap strength. Only two of the 24 helmets met the more
demanding Snell absorption test, and one of these caused some impairment of a cyclist's vision."

(taken from: http://www.cyclecraft.co.uk/digest/effectiveness.pdf)

I also refer to this article with regard to oblique testing of helmets: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-eps/metallurgy/perg/Docume...

So I am well aware that helmets as are currently manufactured and tested etc are not the safety panacea that the media is trying to make them out to be, which I is why I do not nor have supported the compulsory introduction of helmets other than for children, sorry but as they are more likely to have minor falls etc and that both their skulls and brains are still developing they are more susceptible to minor head injuries that can have devastating consequences.

So will I still wear a lid knowing this, yes I will and I will still encourage other cyclists to wear them as I said earlier but it is down to personal choice and not legislation, unless they really do improve the minimum standards that helmets are manufactured to. But until the causes of falls is addressed in the first place, as in the shoddy state of the roads, the poor design of the roads and the appalling "them" and "us" attitude between cyclists and other roads users has been resolved helmets are not going to save the numbers that keep getting banded around!

posted by Furry Mommy [32 posts]
27th November 2013 - 11:05

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Darren makes a passing comparison with compulsory car seatbelts. There is no comparison. Using the seatbelt, that is already in the car, stays there when you park it, automatically adjusts to a proper fit, does not make you look like an alien, or sweaty and besides it's not as if you're exerting yourself driving, is hardly any trouble at all. And making seatbelts compulsory did not stop anyone driving.

Helmets on the other hand, don't come with the bike, can't be attached securely to the bike when it's parked (or not without extra hassle), is complex to fit correctly and useless if not, does make you look weird (identifies you as a member of the social out-group who all jump red lights), does make my head at least, horribly sweaty. Helmets are altogther so much trouble that they suppress the number of people cycling in all countries where either law or social pressure require them. And the people they stop cycling are not the sporty types who would take some kind of exercise anyway, but the peaceful pootlers, who don't take any other exercise at all, so they get fatter, which is such a shame because they would be safer cyclists anyway, because pootlers avoid the dangerous roads where the scorchers get their speed kicks and don't do that awfully hazardous wheels-in-the-air mountain-biking. Riding slower also gives more time to react.

Interesting statistic: 13% of the cyclists admitted to Dutch hospitals are helmet-wearing sport cyclists, even though more than 98% of the cycle traffic in the Netherlands comprises bare-headed (or normally hatted) riders of non-sporting bicycles. The pro-helmet speedy and thrill-seeking scorchers really are doing a more hazardous kind of cycling, for which a helmet may well be advisable. They need to wise up to the differences and stop trying to lumber us peaceful pootlers with THEIR safety gear etc.

Sure a lot of pootlers have been browbeaten into wearing the darned things. I was one of them. Since I stopped wearing a helmet (except when it's icy, when it's fortunately cold enough I don't get sweaty) the problem I was having with stiffness in my neck has largely resolved and I'm sure that traffic gives me a wider berth.

No whole-population-based data shows any association between increased wearing of helmets in that population (whether increased by social or legal pressure) and fewer deaths per amount of cycling. Probably this is because increased helmet wearing is associated with increasingly sporty cycling, against which the fundamentally safer pootlers feel discouraged and stop cycling, and also the tendency of drivers to regard cyclists wearing "all the proper kit" to be more skilled, so less likely to wobble if passed very close. Not a safe assumption of course.

If helmets are made compulsory here: I WILL stop cycling. I'll be retired soon, so maybe I'll go live in another country, one with more respect for freedom and an individual's right to choose. Germany perhaps.

Crankwinder

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posted by Crankwinder [17 posts]
27th November 2013 - 11:53

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I remember when this website used to write about the wonderful pastime/sport/world of cycling.

Now its just friggin Hi Viz, Helmets and the Highway Code.

Give it a rest for heavens sake.

posted by Hoester [52 posts]
27th November 2013 - 14:07

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Hoester wrote:
I remember when this website used to write about the wonderful pastime/sport/world of cycling.

Now its just friggin Hi Viz, Helmets and the Highway Code.

Give it a rest for heavens sake.

While I agree with you, we are at a critical stage in utility cycling development that all the myths, fallacies and hyperbole that is spouted against investing in sustainable forms of transport are torn down once and for all and we end the ridiculous huge subsidy cars receive.

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posted by zanf [459 posts]
27th November 2013 - 14:17

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Furry Mommy wrote:

LONG SNIP OF UNNECESSARY MATERIAL
helmets as are currently manufactured and tested etc are not the safety panacea that the media is trying to make them out to be, which I is why I do not nor have supported the compulsory introduction of helmets

It's not just "the media". It's people like yourself that consistently claim, despite a mountain of uncertainty that a helmet did this, or that. Frankly I see this as a form of lying.

Furry Mommy wrote:

other than for children, sorry but as they are more likely to have minor falls etc and that both their skulls and brains are still developing they are more susceptible to minor head injuries that can have devastating consequences.

What evidence do you have that bicycle helmets prevent serious brain damage in children? What are probabilities that a child on a bicycle will have an accident of the type theoretically mitigable by a helmet? How do those risks compare to that of an infant tumbling around the living room? Should infants at play be required to wear helmets such as the ThudGuard.

Honestly, you really have no business even having an opinion on this subject, let alone suggesting compulsion of anything unless you have the answers to some questions which no one else does.

I strongly suggest doing a lot more research before you start handing out advice.

posted by Ush [389 posts]
27th November 2013 - 14:53

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Crankwinder wrote:

Helmets on the other hand, don't come with the bike, can't be attached securely to the bike when it's parked (or not without extra hassle), is complex to fit correctly and useless if not, does make you look weird (identifies you as a member of the social out-group who all jump red lights), does make my head at least, horribly sweaty. Helmets are altogther so much trouble that they suppress the number of people cycling in all countries where either law or social pressure require them. And the people they stop cycling are not the sporty types who would take some kind of exercise anyway, but the peaceful pootlers, who don't take any other exercise at all, so they get fatter, which is such a shame because they would be safer cyclists anyway, because pootlers avoid the dangerous roads where the scorchers get their speed kicks and don't do that awfully hazardous wheels-in-the-air mountain-biking. Riding slower also gives more time to react.

If you're finding helmets "complex to fit correctly" then how you're operating a bicycle without trouble is beyond me. If you find helmets "so much trouble" then you must find life in general in inconvenience. My helmet weighs 175g - I hardly know I'm wearing it, it's ventilated enough that I rarely, if ever, get horribly sweaty.

As a helmet wearing cyclist, I have absolutely no problem with whatever other cyclists wear or don't wear on their head. Do what you want, it's your head, but it's the venom with which "anti-helmet wearers" on this site have I find a bit distasteful.

Just out of interest, if you rode a motorbike, would you wear a helmet?

posted by welly2 [9 posts]
27th November 2013 - 15:53

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We've had a compulsory helmet law here in NZ since 1994. Cyclist modal share has declined and injuries and deaths have gone up since then. A recent two year coroners review of thirteen cyclists deaths has finally started to move away from focusing on high vis and helmets as the sole safety measures. Unfortunately his only recommendation was for another report. It would be great to put the onus for safe roads on society rather than on cyclists.

posted by jestriding [10 posts]
27th November 2013 - 19:58

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welly2 wrote:

If you find helmets "so much trouble" then you must find life in general in inconvenience. My helmet weighs 175g - I hardly know I'm wearing it, it's ventilated enough that I rarely, if ever, get horribly sweaty.

As a helmet wearing cyclist, I have absolutely no problem with whatever other cyclists wear or don't wear on their head. Do what you want, it's your head, but it's the venom with which "anti-helmet wearers" on this site have I find a bit distasteful.

Just out of interest, if you rode a motorbike, would you wear a helmet?

I don't see the relevance of your last question - motorbikes and their helmets are entirely different beasts to bikes and bike helmets, so whats the point of the question? My answer is "I wouldn't ride a motorbike - too dangerous and environmentally damaging for my taste - and most of all, too bloody loud!".

The "venom" you refer to is, insofar as it actually exists, a bit unfortunate. I also wear a helmet and also leave it up to others to decide.

But as with high-viz its pretty obviously a reactive venom to that spouted by the judgementalists and assorted victim-blamers and compulsionists on the other side. The recent Met police "Operation Victim Blame", for example, almost made me want to stop wearing a helmet, just to annoy them.

Also - are you really saying you never get a distracting itch under your helmet? Or that you never set off, then realise something's missing and have to go back for the damn thing? They _do_ add another inconvenience, another thing to forget or mislay when cycling.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [655 posts]
27th November 2013 - 20:42

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Same old, same old shit I see

Should cyclists wear a helmet? In my opinion yes

Should cyclists wear headphones? In my opinion no (or at least not at a volume which prevents them hearing the surrounding events.

Should either of these be compulsory? No

Like I said at the start Same old same old shit once again

posted by sodit [67 posts]
28th November 2013 - 10:28

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Ush, I know you're upset, but it's an open forum. She has a right to her thoughts.

The only stat that I'm aware of that suggests helmets are unhelpful is that they deter cycling and so 'make people less healthy active' which suggests they don't run, swim or do other activities as a result. Helmets provide protection against head trauma, but how often cyclists are subject to this is not exactly apparent. Wearing a helmet is probably a good idea.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1107 posts]
28th November 2013 - 10:54

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Colin Peyresourde wrote:
The only stat that I'm aware of that suggests helmets are unhelpful is that they deter cycling and so 'make people less healthy active' which suggests they don't run, swim or do other activities as a result. Helmets provide protection against head trauma, but how often cyclists are subject to this is not exactly apparent. Wearing a helmet is probably a good idea.

Helmets do not provide protection and that's a myth that fuels accusations of risk compansation. Helmets merely lessen a very specific type of head trauma. They are not a magical protective cloak for the head.

Other stats about unhelpfulness that one should consider include increased risks of accidental hanging (Bicycle helmets and accidental asphyxia in childhood, Byard RW, Cala A, Ritchey D, Woodford N.. Medical Journal of Australia, MJA 2011;194(1):49. 2011.), rotational injuries (Assessment of current bicycle helmets for the potential to cause rotational injury, StClair VJM, Chinn BP. Transport Research Laboratory, PPR213. 2007) and concussion because the increased size of helmets hits things when a thin hat wouldn't (I can't find the reference for this just now, but it might be The Effectiveness of Bicycle Helmets, Henderson M, Motor Accidents Authority of New South Wales. 1995.)

posted by a.jumper [691 posts]
28th November 2013 - 11:53

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You fall in to the trap of how good the helmet design is. I didn't say they protect from all head trauma for a reason. But they do provide protection. I have friends with cracked helmets from falls (without incurring any damage themselves) with illustrates that they have been protected. I'm not saying they cover every area, but they do better than fresh air.

The 'no helmet' brigade come out with this idea that they don't protect against certain accidents, and potential torsional injuries make them worse, but the evidence from A&E departments show that they do help, not in every case, but in some. Some protection is better than none. I'm not even saying that helmets be compulsory, but based on the evidence that is provided the biggest case against them (because other studies are inconclusive) is that they affect cycle usage negatively whether that be cost or fashion.

If you can afford a helmet it is probably worth wearing (and really is no trouble to wear) and if you can't carry on and hope for the best. No one can tell you when you will need a cycle helmet, seat belt, life vest or lifeboat - some people take comfort that they, some will never need them. But denying that they do anything isn't right. Argue all you like about it but some people will always choose to wear them and this will make those that don't appear cavalier with their safety and they would be right - even though the perception of how useful they are is misunderstood.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1107 posts]
28th November 2013 - 12:53

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Colin Peyresourde wrote:
The 'no helmet' brigade come out with this idea that they don't protect against certain accidents, and potential torsional injuries make them worse, but the evidence from A&E departments show that they do help, not in every case, but in some. Some protection is better than none.

And you fall into the traps of attempting proof by assertion (it's not protection in general until it's proven and let's see that A&E evidence... hospital returns have some interesting quirks when it comes to supposed protective personal equipment, including that the equipment would be reducing A&E attendance if it worked) while ignoring the negative effects of the equipment that you don't like or can't explain away.

I would suggest considering helmet use on a trip-by-trip basis. I don't even carry a puncture repair kit on every journey, after all.

posted by a.jumper [691 posts]
28th November 2013 - 13:25

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If helmets protect, why can't we tell? When wearing in Oz trebled because of the law casualty rates did not change.
What is the explanation for this.
In none of the jurisdictions where helmets have been made mandatory has there been a clear reduction in casualty rates. How can this be?

posted by felixcat [208 posts]
28th November 2013 - 13:28

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You want a proof negative, which you can't tell. How do we know if air bags save lives, how do we know live boats save lives? Well you can't tell how many people survived an incident, unless there is statistics which show that following seat belts/live boats introduction that significant numbers have avoided dying by the same means. The problem with statistics around bike helmets is that it is likely that no one reports their bike accident because they survived and didn't require hospital treatment, and this is the trick.

But, do you really think a bike helmet does nothing? And has never helped? I don't think you can argue that it doesn't and never has. I'm not saying how significant it is, but you make yourself look ridiculous by saying that it doesn't protect. You can make your educated choice about wearing one every time you go out, I'm not stopping you. But you cannot deny 'a helmet affords a greater level of protection to your head, than not wearing a helmet at all'. The question over how effective it is warding against the average cycling injury is a different question. And whether the compulsory wearing of one has a positive effect on cycling is another. The debates by 'experts' generally come down to the later - trading off the safety aspect against the deterrent of an unwanted expense.

Repeated studies are roughly inconclusive, with a possible bias set into the study, with statistics difficult to obtain. ER and brain specialists have come out in favour, and other medical 'experts' not - I don't dispute that it is unclear, I just dispute the fact that people completely disregard them and say there is no benefit to wearing them. That is false - you'd have to tell me that my friends would not have smashed their heads open when they fell off their bikes and hit their helmets instead.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1107 posts]
28th November 2013 - 14:32

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The number of road deaths in a country, or any other population level statistic, can be forecast with a surprising degree of accuracy. Look at a graph of road deaths. Allowing for the general trend the number of, deaths is predictable, given a large number.
Any road safety intervention which is as sudden and as definite as putting a large number of cyclists into helmets who were not wearing them before ought to produce a corresponding reduction in injiries or deaths.
If someone has an accident which helmetless would have produced an injury, but now is saved by the hat there will be a reduction in the collected figures.
When the trend in casualties is unaffected by the large scale intervention the conclusion has to be that if some injuries were averted, then others must have been caused.
The difference in efficacy as calculated by case controlled studies and population level studies really does need an explanation.
The notorious 1989 Thompson, Rivara and Thompson study claimed that helmets could save 85% of head injuries. It is still quoted by helmet proponents. If this was true it would have made a huge impact on the national figures and put paid to any dispute.
No jurisdiction has produced a fall in casualties. It is highly unlikely that they all have coincidental confounding variables.
Published data from across Alberta shows how the province's child helmet law has reduced child cycling by around 56% while at the same time the absolute number of injuries has gone up.
For example, in the state of Western Australia where bicycle helmets have been mandatory for all ages since July 1992, the annual cyclist death toll from 1987 to 1991 (pre-law) averaged 7.6 fatalities per year. From 1993 to 1997 (post-law) it was 6.4 fatalities per year, representing a 16% reduction (Meuleners, Gavin and Cercarelli, 2003). However, Government cycling surveys show cycling declined in Western Australia by approximately 30% during the 1990s following mandatory helmet law enforcement . Thus, relative to cycle use, fatalities went up, not down.
Individual cases are anecdotal and superficially persuasive. It is impossible to prove benefit without repeating the accident without a helmet, and this is impossible too. They are scientifically equivalent to the healthy eighty year old chain smoker stories.

posted by felixcat [208 posts]
28th November 2013 - 15:02

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But are you saying a helmet has no safety benefit?

Fatalities and head injuries are two different things. You can correlate the figures regarding road deaths to helmet use, but again, you don't have statistics on reduction in hospitalised head injuries. I've read this about Australia, but the reports are inconclusive because of the proof negative problem. The only thing that is recognised is the fall in cycle usage. My Australian friends have told me how dangerous cycling in Australia is. I know how Matthew Pinsent feels about wearing a helmet after being hit by a truck in the head while cycling in the US. He still wears one now.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1107 posts]
28th November 2013 - 15:14

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Colin Peyresourde wrote:
Ush, I know you're upset, but it's an open forum. She has a right to her thoughts.

I disagree. Someone handing out advice and calling for laws interfering with other people's choices has a responsibility to spend a long time sorting out the basics. Otherwise they deserve to be called on it. Strongly.

Colin Peyresourde wrote:

The only stat that I'm aware of that suggests helmets are unhelpful is that they deter cycling

Then you need to look at the population-level data in high helmet use areas and attempt to discern whether there is a correlation between the treatment and the response. It is highly questionable whether this can be seen. To say the least.

If helmets were a new drug being tested on the population there would be howls of outrage from the public about a bogus drug being sold. One of the reasons I find this subject so offensive is that the basis for it is pseudo-science resting on folklore and "common sense" for its basis. It's like hearing someone bang-on about how their naturopathy should be compulsory for every one else and anyone that doesn't take powered rhino horn is a fool.

Colin Peyresourde wrote:
Helmets provide protection against head trauma,

As do hats.

Colin Peyresourde wrote:
but how often cyclists are subject to this is not exactly apparent.

RoSPA and other organizations have plenty of data as to the incidence of serious head injuries broken down by activity and age. You'll find the cycling head injuries are in the same ballpark as pedestrian injuries.

Colin Peyresourde wrote:
Wearing a helmet is probably a good idea.

For what exactly? What specific injuries do you expect it to mitigate?

posted by Ush [389 posts]
28th November 2013 - 16:13

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Colin Peyresourde wrote:
You want a proof negative, which you can't tell.

No. If the claim is that helmets reduce head injuries then it's a matter of comparing the head injury rate in high-helmet populations versus that in low-injury populations. We can do this, albeit with the proviso that there may be other variables to account for in the two populations, by comparing Australia, N.Z., Canada (N.S., B.C.) versus the USA. It is not possible to show that there is a difference.

Helmets have not been shown to have a clear protective effect (whether against their actual test scenario or the more fanciful magic capabilities such as deflecting trucks as you mention).

By all means wear one if you wish. But, please, don't talk ignorant rubbish. It matters because you're helping to convince the other eejits that don't know how to think. End of.

posted by Ush [389 posts]
28th November 2013 - 16:23

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I am not saying that helmets have no protective effect. What the figures show is that if they do protect, then something must be cancelling it out. Maybe helmets cause an equivalent number of injuries. Perhaps risk compensation operates. What is your explanation?
It is those who say that helmets don't work who have the problem of trying to prove a negative. All we can say is that it is impossible to show they work. The pro-helmet people have a positive to prove.
It is not only in Oz that a law has failed to lead to demonstrable injury reductions. In none of the law countries has there been a reduction. I mention two in my last post.
I know that Oz is a dangerous country for cyclists. All the compulsion countries are. In none of them has the law changed this.
I have not posted citations and figures here, in an attempt to make the subject less tedious. You can find them at cyclehelmets.org. If you are really open minded I will dig them up for you. Enough to say that quibbling about "hospitalised head injuries" does not obscure the force of the figures.

posted by felixcat [208 posts]
28th November 2013 - 18:52

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Colin Peyresourde wrote:
You want a proof negative, which you can't tell.

No, I just want the A&E evidence that you made up... sorry, I mean that you mentioned.

Colin Peyresourde wrote:
But, do you really think a bike helmet does nothing? And has never helped? I don't think you can argue that it doesn't and never has. I'm not saying how significant it is, but you make yourself look ridiculous by saying that it doesn't protect.

Well, a helmet does protect in a slow-speed gudied freefall onto a flat surface or a kerb, so it clearly does something and will help if you have that sort of silly crash. So I'm not saying either of those: I'm saying that, taking all effects together, it appears at best completely uncertain that helmets do more good than harm - in other words, I don't think there's any net benefit been shown yet.

We can dance around it by modifying the claim. You seem to have tried claiming that there's a net benefit to head injuries, but even that weaker claim doesn't seem clear from what I've read and there's been only hand-waving at A&E figures to support it in this discussion.

posted by a.jumper [691 posts]
29th November 2013 - 13:34

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Ush wrote:

Colin Peyresourde wrote:
Wearing a helmet is probably a good idea.

For what exactly? What specific injuries do you expect it to mitigate?

As you ask for specifics, i'll give you a couple. I had an off last year, front wheel wipe-out whilst turning to exit a roundabout (seemingly on some oil). Speed was pretty much exactly 20mph. I went down on my right side - head, upper arm, hip, knee and ankle were definitely in contact with the ground, secondary compression injury to the ribs.

I later examined my helmet and noticed the following.

- There were a number of small (~2mm), relatively deep (2-4mm) indentations in the shell. The tarmac on that part of the road is pretty rough, and the indentations looked to be consistent with the lumps of exposed aggregate.

- There was an overall compression of the shell on the upper right side.

- There was a crack entirely thought one of the internal foam structs.

In addition, there was the 'normal' scratches and grazes over the right-hand side, such as you might expect to see on a shiny surface after being run across a rough surface.

So, in my case, the helmet has in all likely-hood prevented quite an amount of abrasive injury and lacerations to my head (little to no hair) including the ear. Judging by the small, puncture-type indentations some of these may have been quite deep - although consideration has to be given to the extent to which the helmet extends beyond the skull line. Given the abrasive injury to other parts of my body, I would suggest that I have a reasonable idea as to what I could have expected without a helmet.

The breakage of the structure of the helmet tells me that a reasonable amount of energy was also adsorbed by the helmet - which may have otherwise been transmitted into my skull in part or in whole. From the direction and location of the crack, it would also indicate that it may have provided a very small amount of reduction in deceleration. From discussions with my doctor, the amount of force inflicted on the ribs via my arm was not inconsiderable - and would more than likely have resulted in a significant whip-lashing of my head towards the ground as the arm made contact with it. The extent of the helmet beyond the skull line may have helped here by reducing the time the skull had to accelerate and by providing an energy adsorbing layer.

In summary, as best as I tell, the helmet has apparently saved a fair amount of lacerations to my head - which I consider justification enough for me to choose to keep wearing one - and may have reduced the total load and deceleration of my head against the road. The effect of the latter is impossible to ascertain, but I personally feel it may have been to my benefit, rather than anything else. This was an opinion backed up by two physicians.

I will continue riding with a helmet, but I have no wish to enforce that on anyone else - it's their body and they can treat it how they like. I'm not saying this applies to your comments, which are more general, but I do consider people telling me 'oooo - you can't be sure it helped you' not only bloody irritating but irrational. I'm damn sure it helped me in a crash situation that I do not consider extraordinary, in a manner that I consider worth other risks. In particular, in this case I do not believe it would have been possible for my head NOT to have contacted the road - so at least part of the energy adsorption and damage to the helmet must have been necessarily taken by my head.

Now, as far the statistics go, I know i'm potentially exposing to, or exacerbating , other injuries because of wearing a helmet. On balance, I still choose to wear it. I hope this example has been specific enough for you.

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posted by fukawitribe [331 posts]
29th November 2013 - 14:32

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I saw someone wearing a cycling helmet backwards once, that was funny as f***!!! Big Grin

Feel the fear and do it anyway

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posted by hood [117 posts]
1st December 2013 - 0:50

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