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Helmet debate: Chairman of brain injury charity wants Welsh Assembly to debate compulsory wearing

Says helmets save lives and prevent lifelong disability - and save money for NHS

The chairmain of a leading brain injury charity has called for all cyclists to wear helmets, and says that the Welsh Assembly should debate a change in the law.

Andrew Harding,chairman of Headway, wrote a piece on Wales Online, weighing into the helmet debate. He suggested that costs to the NHS could be lowered if all cyclists don a lid.

He wrote: "As a lawyer specialising in head and brain injuries, I represent many clients who have suffered serious brain or spinal injuries, some of whom have been injured whilst cycling, and see the devastating effects it can have on their lives.

"Arguments are also fought over whether wearing a cycle helmet should be a matter of personal choice – an opinion voiced regularly by Mayor of London and avid cyclist, Boris Johnson. Yet what is usually disregarded in this argument is the impact that a brain injury could have on the victim’s family and friends as well as the cost to us all in NHS treatment."

Mr Harding also notes that increasingly cyclists who do not wear helmets might receive lower compensation payments and different outcomes in court cases than those who do have one on at the time of an accident.

He wrote: "In legal terms, all cyclists should note that if they are involved in an accident, contributory negligence (meaning that an accident victim could be partly at fault for their injury) is increasingly being taken into consideration by insurance firms and judges if a cyclist was riding without a helmet when the accident occurred."

Mr Harding has asked that the Welsh Assembly consider legislation in favour of cycle helmets.

He cites Northern Ireland and Jersey, two places where cycle helmet legislation has been considered.

As we reported at the time, in Jersey, laws to make helmets compulsory either for all cyclists in public places or just for under-18s were proposed to the island’s parliament, the States, by Deputy Andrew Green, a long-time campaigner for compulsion after his son suffered a brain injury after coming off his bike in 1988 when he was aged nine.

The motion to make it compulsory for all cyclists was defeated by 25 votes to 24, while that in favour of applying it to under-18s was carried by 32 votes to 16.

But in Northern Ireland, a bill to make helmets compulsory ran out of time, amid widespread lack of interest for the move.

Roger Geffen, CTC Campaigns Director told Road.cc: “Neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin – the two biggest parties in the Assembly - were interested in the Bill. The DUP felt that this would be legislation intruding into areas of life where it doesn’t need to go especially as they accepted that cycling is not a particularly dangerous activity. They also took on board our evidence that compulsory helmet use would seriously undermine cycle sales and the cycle tourist industry.

But Mr Harding thinks there might be more success in Wales for the proposal. He wrote: "I have recently spoken to one Assembly Member who thought that this was already law in any event, such was the obvious sense and necessity of the proposal."

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dave atkinson replied to ermine | 11 years ago
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ermine wrote:
Paul J wrote:

rather than

Those two words are the grenade at the heart of every argument against helmet use. Helmets and improved road conditions are not mutually exclusive. The key to mitigation is to do ALL that is reasonable, not to do one thing to the exclusion of all others.

not really. once you've mitigated by creating safe conditions, people don't feel they need to wear helmets or any other type of safety gear to go cycling. because it isn't 'dangerous' any more. that's the lesson from the low countries. no helmets, great safety stats. and the perception of safety is what counts if you want more normal people cycling every day. that won't come from making them stick a hat on and telling them to take their chances with the lorries.

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ermine replied to dave atkinson | 11 years ago
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dave_atkinson wrote:
ermine wrote:
Paul J wrote:

rather than

Those two words are the grenade at the heart of every argument against helmet use. Helmets and improved road conditions are not mutually exclusive. The key to mitigation is to do ALL that is reasonable, not to do one thing to the exclusion of all others.

not really. once you've mitigated by creating safe conditions, people don't feel they need to wear helmets or any other type of safety gear to go cycling. because it isn't 'dangerous' any more. that's the lesson from the low countries. no helmets, great safety stats. and the perception of safety is what counts if you want more normal people cycling every day. that won't come from making them stick a hat on and telling them to take their chances with the lorries.

That's a lovely utopic view. However, I recall that the groundwork (literally) for the creation of safe cycling conditions in the major cities of the lowlands was done by their neighbouring country in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It has proven difficult to convince landowners in UK cities to set about a similar demolition and rebuilding effort. Attempts have been made at making London safer, but many commentators and users of measures such as cycle lanes are concerned that they have, in fact, made matters worse by fooling cyclists into believing that they are immune to danger because they are cycling on blue tarmac.

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dave atkinson replied to ermine | 11 years ago
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ermine wrote:

That's a lovely utopic view. However, I recall that the groundwork (literally) for the creation of safe cycling conditions in the major cities of the lowlands was done by their neighbouring country in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It has proven difficult to convince landowners in UK cities to set about a similar demolition and rebuilding effort. Attempts have been made at making London safer, but many commentators and users of measures such as cycle lanes are concerned that they have, in fact, made matters worse by fooling cyclists into believing that they are immune to danger because they are cycling on blue tarmac.

most of the groundwork was actually done in the 1970s, long after the cities had been rebuilt with no great regard for cyclists. the catalyst wasn't the war but the inexorable rise of the motor car in living spaces, a rise which certain countries chose to counter with better infrastructure and more provision for other modes of transport. this was pretty unpopular at the time, 40 years on it looks far sighted.

so yes, it doesn't happen overnight. and yes, it can be unpopular and cost a lot of money. but it doesn't require scores of landowners to sign their property away, it just takes will and significant investment. Look at crossrail: if the political will is there, the money can be found.

Attempts have been made at making London safer? Not really. not real efforts, in line with best practice guidelines from the countries where it's been done well. not efforts that actually re-allocate space, as opposed to marking out 'shared space' that motorists ignore, including the majority of the cycle superhighway system. go to any of the London cyclist blogs to see any number of new road developments proceed with absolutely no thought for cycling at all. here's just one example:

http://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/the-utter-tragedy-of...

where's the space issue? there is none. the issue is with perception and provision, the political will to make cycling a proper alternative. and it's the same all over london, and throughout cities all over the UK. Bath has some of the widest streets in the country. do you think there's any cycle lanes on them?

you can't make cycling popular and safe by forcing people to wear helmets. there's two things that will help: change the driving culture and habits of the UK's 30 million motorists, or build some proper bike lanes. both will take decades. I say building bike lanes is easier. your mileage may vary.

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ermine replied to dave atkinson | 11 years ago
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dave_atkinson wrote:

there's two things that will help: change the driving culture and habits of the UK's 30 million motorists, or build some proper bike lanes. both will take decades. I say building bike lanes is easier. your mileage may vary.

Both will take decades? That's your positive outlook? So until those decades have passed, we should just do nothing? Roadcc is asking today whether there should be a presumption of liability against motorists. So put the two together and we have a situation where cyclists accept that the streets are not cycling friendly and will not be for decades, cyclists are not required to take responsibility for their own wellbeing and motorists are assumed to be liable for the results of any collisions? Which part of that scenario is fair and equitable?

The idea that building bike lanes will be some sort of panacea also troubles me. Bike lanes tend to be a bit like railway lines; one inevitably has to leave the safety of the lane at some stage in order to complete one's journey. As a result of the segregation, the areas of non-segregation tend to become even more dangerous, simply because motorists are less familiar with the presence and behaviour of cyclists.

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Paul J replied to ermine | 11 years ago
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Ermine wrote:

That's a lovely utopic view. However, I recall that the groundwork (literally) for the creation of safe cycling conditions in the major cities of the lowlands was done by their neighbouring country in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

I just noticed this. This isn't true. The country saw very little fighting or bombing, besides Rotterdam (parts of which were nearly completely levelled by German air raids prior to the dutch capitulation), and Arnhem (which didn't suffer significant damage). The overwhelming majority of the Netherlands was untouched, property wise at least, by WWII.

Around where I grew up, much of the housing stock was actually from the 1930s and 1950s (before the dutch started to work on engineering safety into roads). Indeed, a lot of town and city centres date back hundreds of years, and have narrow streets.

Lack of space / need for land to make roads bigger is definitely not a credible reason for why the UK has crappy cycling conditions.

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ermine replied to Paul J | 11 years ago
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Paul J wrote:

Lack of space / need for land to make roads bigger is definitely not a credible reason for why the UK has crappy cycling conditions.

In some areas, maybe, but please explain where the space is here:

https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&safe=off&q=central+london&ie=UTF-8

How difficult/costly was Crossrail? That development is absolutely minute compared to a city/country wide cycle segregation scheme.

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dave atkinson replied to ermine | 11 years ago
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ermine wrote:
Paul J wrote:

Lack of space / need for land to make roads bigger is definitely not a credible reason for why the UK has crappy cycling conditions.

In some areas, maybe, but please explain where the space is here:

https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&safe=off&q=central+london&ie=UTF-8

How difficult/costly was Crossrail? That development is absolutely minute compared to a city/country wide cycle segregation scheme.

http://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/the-physical-constra...

some london streets are narrow. many are very wide indeed. certainly you cant put decent infrastructure everywhere. but that's hardly an argument for not putting it anywhere.

crossrail is costing what, £8bn? I wonder how much sustainable transport in the UK's cities could be improved for that kind of money? Bristol had 'cycling city' status for what kind of investment? £23m? 0.2% of the cost of crossrail.

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Paul J replied to ermine | 11 years ago
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Ermine: Probably best if I direct you to David Hembrow's excellent blog, which goes into this into great great detail.

Basically, on narrow urban streets, bicycles and cars share the road, and the road is engineered to discourage cars hitting high peak speeds (cars average speed through dense urban areas is little faster than bicycles anyway), as well as there being 30 km/h or lower speed limits.

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alun replied to drheaton | 11 years ago
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drheaton wrote:
dave_atkinson wrote:
ermine wrote:
drheaton wrote:

Have to say that I wouldn't be astonished if courts started to take a lack of a helmet into account as mitigating factors should damages be sought for head injuries in collisions. It makes sense, if you could have reasonably done something to prevent some or all of your injuries and haven't then you're partly to blame for them.

I'm not saying helmet's should be compulsory, just that if you don't wear one and suffer a head injury which a helmet would have prevented (or where a helmet may have lessened the damage) surely you have to take some responsibility for it?

This is (pardon the pun) a no-brainer. Claimants in civil damages claims are always required to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable measures to mitigate the damage sustained and claimed. A court that fails to take such matters into account would be negligent and its decision would surely be subject to appeal.

If I'm walking past a building site and somebody drops a scaffold pole on my head, causing me a brain injury, am i then required to explain why i wasn't wearing head protection in order to receive full damages?

the only differences between that scenario and one where a motorist hits a cyclist and is entirely at fault, so far as i can see, are:

1) people (judges) think cycling is inherently dangerous
2) cycling helmets are commonly available and walking helmets aren't.

The truth is that cycling isn't really any more dangerous than being a pedestrian, or a bunch of other things where wearing a helmet wouldn't even be considered. Also, where does that argument stop? You can already buy body armour for downhilling - if i suffer a back injury in an accident that wasn't my fauly, am i negligent for not having bought armour that might have lessened the injuries? or knee and shin pads? if i am wearing a helmet and still suffer a brain injury, am i negligent because i wasn't wearing a full face helmet? or an MX helmet? where does my burden of responsibility end?

I don't have any statistics (and let's face it, stats will tell you anything you like) but I'd bet that accidents per journey made by bike are considerably higher than accidents per journey made on foot.

Likewise the rate of head injuries per cycling accident is probably considerably higher than head injuries per pedestrian accident (assuming you include trips and falls, and other self caused accidents as you would include coming off the bike unaided or crashing into a wall etc...)

Finally, I would expect the seriousness of head injuries sustained in cycling accidents to be more serious, on average, than head injuries received in pedestrian accidents.

Would you say all of those are sensible guesses? Obviously without looking into the actual statistics I couldn't be certain but common sense would say all of the above would probably be true.

In that case cycling is more dangerous than walking (just saying that there are X accidents for cyclists and a similar number for pedestrians doesn't take into account the vastly higher volume of pedestrian journeys, likewise injury per distance isn't a fair representation as walking journeys tend to be shorter but slower, injuries per hour of walking/cycling could be a better stat to use).

By that extremely fuzzy logic based on wildly unverified foundations I'd say that wearing a walking helmet would not be deemed to be a reasonable precaution to take whereas a helmet when cycling may be.

I don't have any statistics
I'd bet
probably considerably higher
assuming you include trips
into a wall etc
I would expect
on average
sensible guesses
I couldn't be certain
common sense would say
probably be true
just saying that
tend to be
extremely fuzzy
wildly unverified

I have never seen a post with so many if's, but's and maybe's. Not a convincing post at all.

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ermine replied to dave atkinson | 11 years ago
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dave_atkinson wrote:

If I'm walking past a building site and somebody drops a scaffold pole on my head, causing me a brain injury, am i then required to explain why i wasn't wearing head protection in order to receive full damages?

the only differences between that scenario and one where a motorist hits a cyclist and is entirely at fault, so far as i can see, are:

1) people (judges) think cycling is inherently dangerous
2) cycling helmets are commonly available and walking helmets aren't.

The truth is that cycling isn't really any more dangerous than being a pedestrian, or a bunch of other things where wearing a helmet wouldn't even be considered. Also, where does that argument stop? You can already buy body armour for downhilling - if i suffer a back injury in an accident that wasn't my fauly, am i negligent for not having bought armour that might have lessened the injuries? or knee and shin pads? if i am wearing a helmet and still suffer a brain injury, am i negligent because i wasn't wearing a full face helmet? or an MX helmet? where does my burden of responsibility end?

We're dealing with a common (or judge-made) law system here in the UK, therefore much of the decision-making process is based on a combination of precedent and contemporaneous observation and opinion. That element of perception might, in this instance be guided by consideration of factors such as; the availability of cycling helmets (cf the limited availability of walking helmets), the wearing of helmets by professional road cyclists (cf the limited wearing of helmets by professional walkers), the growing body of opinion from medical professional in support of the contention that helmet-wearing might reduce the number/severity of head injuries sustained in cycling accidents (cf ... you get the point). The same goes for knee and elbow pads, full-face helmets, etc - they simply are not accepted into the consciousness as default safety attire, in the same way that helmets are. The measure is, as stated above, whether the party seeking damages, has done that which would be considered reasonable in all the circumstances to mitigate the damage. Most cyclists wear helmets (certainly in the public perception) and every cycling shop sells helmets.

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badbadleroybrown replied to dave atkinson | 11 years ago
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dave_atkinson wrote:

If I'm walking past a building site and somebody drops a scaffold pole on my head, causing me a brain injury, am i then required to explain why i wasn't wearing head protection in order to receive full damages?

the only differences between that scenario and one where a motorist hits a cyclist and is entirely at fault, so far as i can see, are:

1) people (judges) think cycling is inherently dangerous
2) cycling helmets are commonly available and walking helmets aren't.

The truth is that cycling isn't really any more dangerous than being a pedestrian, or a bunch of other things where wearing a helmet wouldn't even be considered. Also, where does that argument stop? You can already buy body armour for downhilling - if i suffer a back injury in an accident that wasn't my fauly, am i negligent for not having bought armour that might have lessened the injuries? or knee and shin pads? if i am wearing a helmet and still suffer a brain injury, am i negligent because i wasn't wearing a full face helmet? or an MX helmet? where does my burden of responsibility end?

This is such an idiotic comment... not unlike most defending riding helmetless.

First off... a person cannot be reasonably expected to know that there was a chance of the scaffold falling on you so that example is garbage.

As for your further idiocy... Cycling is inherently dangerous. You're traveling at high speeds on a minimal amount of rubber on a vehicle which, if subject to any of a variety of mechanical failures, rider inputs or external forces, can very quickly become unstable and cause a crash... and that's setting aside any other vehicular involvement. People crash their bikes because they got a flat tire, because of an unexpected gust of wind, etc... So, YES, it's an activity which presents much more risk than walking or those other activities where a helmet wouldn't be considered. That's also before you consider the statistics of it all... that people on average spend over 21,000 hours walking in their lives. Trying to bring downhill into the debate is just flat out retarded...

All that being said... I highly encourage you to ride fast and often without a helmet. The world could use more Darwinian justice.

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dave atkinson replied to badbadleroybrown | 11 years ago
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badbadleroybrown wrote:

So, YES, it's an activity which presents much more risk than walking or those other activities where a helmet wouldn't be considered. That's also before you consider the statistics of it all...

I'm sorry: it presents more risk before you consider the statistics?

The statistics quantify the risk. that's what the the risk is. you're talking about the perceived risk, which is different. cycling is perceived as risky because of all those factors you describe. however, in purely statitical terms it isn't any more risky than walking.

if i'm riding fast i wear a helmet, that makes sense to me. if i'm riding to the shop down the road i don't wear one. horses for courses, i say.

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badbadleroybrown replied to dave atkinson | 11 years ago
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dave_atkinson wrote:

I'm sorry: it presents more risk before you consider the statistics?

The statistics quantify the risk. that's what the the risk is. you're talking about the perceived risk, which is different. cycling is perceived as risky because of all those factors you describe. however, in purely statitical terms it isn't any more risky than walking.

if i'm riding fast i wear a helmet, that makes sense to me. if i'm riding to the shop down the road i don't wear one. horses for courses, i say.

Yes... it's obviously more risky based upon the nature of the activity undertaken. Once you get to the statistics of it, it IS more dangerous statistically... add to that the frequency with which people walk day to day compared to how often people cycle and trying to compare it to walking is miles beyond foolish.

I do agree that there are times a helmet isn't called for, I don't wear one if I'm just talking the dog for a quick spin around the block for example... but, if I'm going for an "actual ride" a helmet is a must.

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imaca replied to drheaton | 11 years ago
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Presumably you think this will apply to pedestrians, car drivers (there's evidence that even with airbags helmets would reduce car occupant head injuries), people who fall over in their home, etc. Its never going to happen for this reason : It just doesn't stand up to any rational scrutiny to single out cyclists as requiring helmets.

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ermine replied to imaca | 11 years ago
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imaca wrote:

Presumably you think this will apply to pedestrians, car drivers (there's evidence that even with airbags helmets would reduce car occupant head injuries), people who fall over in their home, etc. Its never going to happen for this reason : It just doesn't stand up to any rational scrutiny to single out cyclists as requiring helmets.

Interesting presumption! Obviously a troll post.
I'm not aware of anyone, anywhere, ever suggesting that people in their homes or drivers, other than race drivers, should wear helmets. Rarely do people in their homes find themselves moving at speeds of around 20mph at a distance of less than a metre from moving cars, trucks, etc. I understand that the mantra of the anti-compulsion lobby is that cycling is not dangerous and this, presumably, is the point of this post. However, as pointed out by someone above, the complete inability of such lobbyists to recognise any weakness in their argument is harmful to that argument. The tone of this post is clearly that being inside one's home is as dangerous as cycling through London! I'll be sure to wave at you as you are tucked up to sleep on the hard shoulder of the M1.

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ribena | 11 years ago
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Martin Porter has written a very good article on this from a legal point of view...
http://www.cyclistsdefencefund.org.uk/cycle-helmets-a-duty-to-wear

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themartincox | 11 years ago
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Guys and gals, come on lets be serious here.

its not a matter for joking about and clearly some people are very passionate about this problem that we as cyclists face.

having spent some considerable time weighing up allthe cases and the evidence, and many hours poring over volumes of statistics and points of view I have come up with my own, and may i add the best, solution to the problem.

I conclude that as all accidents/incidents involving cyclists involve a bicycle, yet only some may or may not involve a helmet, it is CLEAR that its the bikes fault.

therefore I urge you to give up on this sport and go back to sitting at home in the comfort and safety of your armchairs - as NO-ONE has ever had an accident/incident with a car or lorry whilst sitting comfortably at home - and research has shown that not wearing a helmet whilst on the comfy chair is JUST AS SAFE as wearing one.

I for one will be recycling all my lycra this afternoon and cutting my bike into pieces so no-one will ever be at risk again from it!

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aslongasicycle | 11 years ago
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I'm with Dave. The killers of tens of thousands in this country are lifestyle choices. Lack of exercise, smoking, over eating, over drinking, stress, cancers.

Cycling en masse helps hack down those type of deaths. We should be encouraging, not discouraging that.
Oh, and I wear a helmet by the way!

*dives behind sofa*

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dave atkinson | 11 years ago
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Perhaps we could have a point-counterpoint thing with someone from an obesity charity  39  1

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colhum1 replied to dave atkinson | 11 years ago
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dave_atkinson wrote:

Perhaps we could have a point-counterpoint thing with someone from an obesity charity  39  1

LoL...some might say i'm a charity case and the missus always has a go about my weight (btw cycling keeps you fit !!)So as a member of the above I say: wear a helmet  1

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JonSP | 11 years ago
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Mr Harding refers to "the obvious sense and necessity of the proposal."
Yes, and it's also obvious the the earth is flat. Obvious is not always correct.

There are lots of complex issues here. I always wear a helmet and encourage others to do so but it's not at all clear that compulsion would actually be a good thing.

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stabiliser | 11 years ago
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"As a lawyer specialising in head and brain injuries, I represent many clients who have suffered serious brain or spinal injuries, some of whom have been injured whilst cycling."

If only *some* of his clients suffered their injuries while cycling, I think Mr Harding should concentrate his efforts on making helmet wearing compulsory, for everyone, all the time.

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ermine replied to stabiliser | 11 years ago
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Predictably trotting out the same old brainless claptrap in the face of science and common sense.

So, another highly qualified, knowledgeable, experienced individual pops his helmeted head up to be shot at by those self-centred fools who value vanity over safety. Have fun.

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Coleman replied to ermine | 11 years ago
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ermine wrote:

Predictably trotting out the same old brainless claptrap in the face of science and common sense.

So, another highly qualified, knowledgeable, experienced individual pops his helmeted head up to be shot at by those self-centred fools who value vanity over safety. Have fun.

Wow. "Shot at... Self-centred fools... Vanity over safety"

 39

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JonD replied to ermine | 11 years ago
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ermine wrote:

in the face of science and

Other than an unrepresentative impact test, good luck in finding any.

ermine wrote:

common sense.

Yeah, we all know how reliable that is...

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Paul M replied to stabiliser | 11 years ago
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stabiliser wrote:

"As a lawyer specialising in head and brain injuries, I represent many clients who have suffered serious brain or spinal injuries, some of whom have been injured whilst cycling."

If only *some* of his clients suffered their injuries while cycling, I think Mr Harding should concentrate his efforts on making helmet wearing compulsory, for everyone, all the time.

I would also be interestd to know what types of spinal injury Mr Harding imagines would be mitigated by a helmet.

I undertsnad that the family of last week's London victim don't want their son to be exploited by vested interest groups. hame they can't honour the family's wishes.

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