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"I had cyclists telling me I was a disgrace for saying my helmet saved my life": Dan Walker recalls helmet backlash after being knocked off bike by driver

The presenter revealed he did not ask the police to pursue charges against the driver responsible as: "We all make mistakes, don't we?"...

It is one year on from the collision caused by a driver that knocked Dan Walker off his bike and left him unconscious for 25 minutes, hospitalised with facial injuries and "glad to be alive". Unbeknown to the TV and radio presenter, his subsequent social media post thanking the helmet he was wearing that "saved my life" and advising others "if you're on a bike — get one on your head" would cause one of the great episodes in the well-trodden helmet safety debate path.

Now, 12 months on and looking back at the collision and aftermath, Walker explained to The Times newspaper how he did not ask the police to pursue charges against the driver as "we all make mistakes, don't we?"

 "Within 24 hours I'd had drivers tell me that if it had been them, they'd have finished the job," Walker recalled. "I had cyclists telling me I was a disgrace for saying that my helmet saved my life. 'You're the reason people wear helmets'. There's a lobby, apparently, that says if you wear a helmet drivers think you're safer than you are, therefore they hit you.

"So I got people angry on all sides and I thought, 'I don't want to enter this. I'm very happy that I'm still around'. There's a part of me that genuinely thought that was it."

Walker went on to explain how the collision felt like an out-of-body experience, he was knocked unconscious for 25 minutes by the impact, and passed out again once he had come round, waking up in the back of the ambulance that attended the scene at a Sheffield roundabout.

"In my mind I was cycling down a French boulevard, a tree-lined boulevard, which I think I'd been to before but not on a bike. Then all of a sudden I was watching myself on the floor, watching a screen, and then on that screen I saw these two heads appear. And then I jumped back into myself and I was on the floor and those two faces were the ambulance workers. I don't know. I don't know..."

> Why is Dan Walker's claim that a bike helmet saved his life so controversial?

Walker took up cycling in 2022 as "an eco thing" due to working in London where "taxis are a nightmare".

"I started to get around on the bike," he explained at the time. "I can go from Downing Street to St Pancras in about 15 minutes, and it's about 30 minutes in a taxi so although I feel like a bit of a geek sometimes, I'm very much enjoying it."

The BBC's reporting of the incident which left him hospitalised was criticised by many, BBC South East claiming Walker had suffered his injuries after "colliding with a car while cycling" despite him saying he had been "hit by a car [driver]".

In the aftermath Walker too was blamed for not using an underpass cycle lane and instead riding, perfectly legally, on the road. However, local cyclists defended the Classic FM presenter's choice to avoid using the subway, which was described by one as a "dank tunnel" and "filled with broken glass".

But it was Walker's line, "don't be a helmet, wear a helmet" that caused the most controversy as the former BBC Breakfast host seemingly innocently advised his large social media following to wear a helmet when cycling. A throwaway comment concerning the usefulness of his helmet?

The choice of focus on the personal protective equipment, rather than the main driving-related cause of the collision, irked some, while others took issue with the claim it had "saved his life".

Numerous days of social media debating and an at-length feature on why the claim was controversial by this website followed, Walker now rather wisely concluding he was left thinking: "I don't want to enter this"...

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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91 comments

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OldRidgeback | 1 month ago
1 like

I've had a few bike crashes when racing my BMX. My last was last September when I broke a little finger. My head did indeed slam into the berm but as this was a BMX race, I was wearing a full face lid. I've had a few other crashes in my years of BMX racing and training before as well. A lid has certainly prevented more serious injury. And I've also had to call out an ambulance for a lad who had a big crash at my local BMX track. He wasn't wearing even a skid lid at the time and I'm sure the severity of his impact would've been reduced if he'd had one. 

But I rarely, if ever, wear a lid when I'm cycling on the road. 

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Ronabike | 2 months ago
3 likes

There's nothing like bike helmets to generate some debate, so let me add my two penny's worth......I've had 3 "proper" bike accidents in 40 or so years.  First was 30 years ago when a car failed to give way and pulled out a left hand side road.  Destroyed my bike, shattered my bike helmet... my main injury was concussion.  What was then CTC did a great job of getting me compensation.  25 years later I came off at about 20 mph....no other vehicle involved....some impressive arm fractures, destroyed bike helmet, no concussion (perhaps the nature of the accident, perhaps better helmet technology) and the final one was on an MTB and entirely my fault (broken ribs, some damage to helmet).

My point being that plenty of accidents don't involve another vehicle and even when they do, the main injury can still be a head injury. 

Suspect none of my accidents would have been fatal without a helmet but head injuries would almost certainly have been worse without one.

No-one is obliged to wear one, but many of us do so for good reason.  In the same way that we could all drive a car with cheap Chinese tyres with tread close to the legal limit but most of us choose a safer option.

 

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Sriracha replied to Ronabike | 2 months ago
3 likes
Ronabike wrote:

No-one is obliged to wear one, but many of us do so for good reason.

And that's exactly how it should be! And probably a better result (in terms of numbers of cyclists wearing helmets) than would be achieved by compulsion.

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cyclisto replied to Ronabike | 1 month ago
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It's true, I have had many falls and all were on my fault skidding (touch wood, etc). Never broken a helmet though, but on some may have touched ground. In any case despite the low speed, the concept that you will think fast enough to protect your head is BS, it is pure luck.

To be honest though, the Specialized helmet (the cheapest possible, not the superlight ones) I have now fits remarkably good on my head, other that I tried seemed like a brick. Maybe people haven't found their right helmet.

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marmotte27 | 2 months ago
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Owd Big 'Ead | 2 months ago
1 like

Wow!

There's a lot of willy-waving going on.

People seem to have forgotten that Mr Walker was most likely using the roundabout due to the poorly maintained cycle track/underpass adjacent which is often glass strewn and results in near constant conflict with pedestrians due to being one of the only crossing points of the fast flowing inner ring road.

As an ex-resident of Nether Edge, one of the neighbourhoods in the local vicinity I'd be more inclined to aim my ire at Sheffield City Council and their woeful infrastructure provision than make ill informed opinions on the merits of wearing/not wearing a piece of polystyrene.

One can only assume Mr Walker suffers from delusions of grandeur for choosing to cycle across what is considered one of the two worst accident black spots in Sheffield. It's an extremely quick roundabout built and honed to reduce restrictions for motorists and everyone else can "get fucked".

Perhaps, in future Mr Walker won't be so stupid in his personal choices, rather than deflecting his unsubstantiated opinions onto others.

Bloke comes across as a bit of a twat.

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Hirsute | 2 months ago
9 likes

//cdn.road.cc/sites/default/files/styles/main_width/public/helmet-row_0.jpg)

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marmotte27 | 2 months ago
4 likes

The only question is, where's the evidence (so not case control studies) that shows helmets increase cyclists security? It doesn't exist.

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imajez replied to marmotte27 | 2 months ago
2 likes

Not entirely sure what you mean by 'cyclists security' but if you mean  protection, some pathologists [you know the actual experts on this sort of thing] did a study and determined that in fact a helmet could save your life in a very significant numbers of head injury fatalities. 37%

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chrisonabike replied to imajez | 2 months ago
3 likes

Firstly as Chris Boardman said in the UK we really don't need to spend more time and energy on "but helmets" (for a start they are for "after the bad thing already happened").

Study is interesting - but perhaps not surprising given what they are designed what the standards rate them as offering protection for *.

study of 119 autopsy reports of Czech cyclists wrote:

The results indicate that helmets could have helped the most in cases of single-vehicle crashes when cyclists fell off their bicycles or hit obstacles and in certain cases when an intracranial injury was the primary cause of death. Altogether 44 cyclists (37%) from this study could have survived if they had been wearing helmets during the crashes.

Helmets would not have helped cyclists in most high-energetic crashes, especially when motor-vehicles or trains were involved. Some rear-end crashes outside urban areas also resulted in injuries when a helmet would not have helped.

This study concludes that cyclists should wear helmets, but they should also be aware that it cannot protect them in particular situations. These facts should be incorporated into safety campaigns to prevent cyclists from feeling protected in such situations when helmets cannot help. Our results also support the building of cycling paths separate from traffic, particularly outside of urban areas.

All sounds sensible although the last comment about "outside urban areas" probably needs a deeper dig **.

It's not a criticism of these kind of studies per se but most are not looking at overall population health so are not also considering the impact (if any) of PPE regulations on whether or how much people cycle.  Having more people being more active (and fewer trips driven, so less pollutants from motor vehicles especially in denser urban areas) may outweigh any negatives of injury / death that might have been reduced / prevented by e.g. helmets.

Similar conclusions (from different analysis) in a Dutch road safety study here:

https://www.veiligheid.nl/kennisaanbod/cijferrapportage/fietsongevallen-...

Note that while not the "big issue" in NL it is in countries like the UK (where effectively "nobody cycles") the idea that people should be pushed to wear helmets is not a popular one in NL - for what that's worth!

* Of course there's nothing to stop you wearing a motorbike helmet or manufacturers offering a great helm version (that might interfere with vision though ... and indeed breathing).  And lots of them say "ah but our produce exceeds the standards" but of course then they're basically reporting on themselves.

**   Those are IIRC data does show you're more likely to sustain a more serious or fatal injury in a collision.  Probably largely to do with higher motor vehicle speeds / lorries and farm machinery / longer emergency response times.  HOWEVER there will almost certainly be far more collisions within urban areas because many more cyclist - vehicle interactions.  And "feeling of safety", feeling you can have normal social interactions AND convenience is what seems to get "normal" people cycling trips.  Few sit down to carefully read the statistics before choosing a transport mode...

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imajez replied to chrisonabike | 2 months ago
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chrisonabike wrote:

It's not a criticism of these kind of studies per se but most are not looking at overall population health so are not also considering the impact (if any) of PPE regulations on whether or how much people cycle.  Having more people being more active (and fewer trips driven, so less pollutants from motor vehicles especially in denser urban areas) may outweigh any negatives of injury / death that might have been reduced / prevented by e.g. helmets.

Sigh! Missed the quite specific and singular point being made. Which is the research shows helmets will affect chances of injury and death if you do happen to have an accident and you are wearing or not wearing a helmet. It is not research on say wider epidemiological implications of compulsory wearing or how good bike infrastructure is or not. 
It is a counter to the denialists who claim a helmet has zero use should you choose to wear one and have an accident. You know, the very specific point I was rebutting. Not to mention that most accidents do not, as it made out by the helmet denialists involve being run over by a 38 tonne lorry. Many in fact involve no other vehicle. 

To save tedious nonsense attacks, I am in favour of safe segregated bike infrastructure, reducing car centric culture and hate the normalisation of road violence. I am also dead against compulsory helmet wearing/high viz and victim blaming. However I do choose to wear a helmet in case I do have an incident. Which has happened  several times, where helmets have been damaged and myself, not at all. At the very least I would have needed stitches and in one case almost certainly concusion/cracked skull when my head was slammed with great force into concrete. Also useful in cases of road rage. 
 

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chrisonabike replied to imajez | 2 months ago
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imajez wrote:

Sigh! Missed the quite specific and singular point being made. Which is the research shows helmets will affect chances of injury and death if you do happen to have an accident and you are wearing or not wearing a helmet. It is not research on say wider epidemiological implications of compulsory wearing or how good bike infrastructure is or not. 

Good for keeping focussed.  Also keen to avoid tedious nonsense - though I hope I mentioned that in my wider one?

chrisonabike wrote:

It's not a criticism of these kind of studies per se but most are not looking at overall population health so are not also considering the impact (if any) of PPE regulations on whether or how much people cycle.

Anyway, an interesting study as you say.

Quote:

Not to mention that most accidents do not, as it made out by the helmet denialists involve being run over by a 38 tonne lorry. Many in fact involve no other vehicle.

It seems likely* most cycle crashes are "single-cycle incidents" but (according to this UK 2020 summary - apologies, don't have more recent data) NOT most cycle fatalities  (there are some queries about how they've done those numbers IIRC e.g. what counts as being "involved" in the collision?).  (Again this shouldn't really be a surprise).  Not had a chance to look at the Czech study you linked and I don't know how comparable the road environments there are to the UK - I'd guess similar?

* The Dutch study I linked (sorry - need your own translation - but there's an infographic version here that's maybe clearer) did indeed show the clear majority of injuries / fatalities (63%) were single-cyclist "fell off bike" crashes.  Which shouldn't come as a surprise there (less interactions / much safer interactions / different demographics cycling e.g. more older / younger people).

I would expect there are more people in the UK involved in collisions with motor vehicles than in NL because our road environment is rather different.  Again I suspect you're right on the overall proportions though.

imajez wrote:

Also useful in cases of road rage.

Sounds like a story there?

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ktache replied to chrisonabike | 2 months ago
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Trains!!?

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chrisonabike replied to ktache | 2 months ago
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Well obviously you'd want a train helmet for those...  haven't read it all yet but presumably they were being very thorough in checking what a cycle helmet might have protected against!

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Benthic replied to imajez | 2 months ago
2 likes

Ignoring that wearing a helmet makes you more likely to be involved in a collision.

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qwerty360 replied to imajez | 2 months ago
6 likes
imajez wrote:

Not entirely sure what you mean by 'cyclists security' but if you mean  protection, some pathologists [you know the actual experts on this sort of thing] did a study and determined that in fact a helmet will save your life in a very significant numbers of head injury fatalities. 37%

The paper DOESN'T state 37% of fatal head injuries would have been prevented.

It sets an upper bound of 37% for those where a helmet could have helped.

 

Basically it is very easy to go helmets won't prevent death when the person died from multiple injuries, or the (significantly stronger than helmet) skull was crushed. It is very difficult to determine if helmets would have prevented fatality in more minor incidents.

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imajez replied to qwerty360 | 2 months ago
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qwerty360 wrote:

 

The paper DOESN'T state 37% of fatal head injuries would have been prevented.

It sets an upper bound of 37% for those where a helmet could have helped.

 

Basically it is very easy to go helmets won't prevent death when the person died from multiple injuries, or the (significantly stronger than helmet) skull was crushed. It is very difficult to determine if helmets would have prevented fatality in more minor incidents.

  "37% cyclists from this study could have survived if they had been wearing helmets."
That is an incredibly significant result. 
Yes I wrote will when linked rather than could by mistake, so will amend. But that doesn't alter the fact that helmet wearing will save lives if you are unfortunate to have an accident. Which counters the denialist nonsense from the anti-helmet folk. 
 

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eburtthebike replied to imajez | 2 months ago
1 like

"37% cyclists from this study could have survived if they had been wearing helmets."

That is an incredibly significant result. 

No it isn't.  There are a large number of these hospital based studies and they all suffer from the same methodological shortcomings and are contradicted by the much more reliable long term, whole population studies.

Yes I wrote will when linked rather than could by mistake, so will amend. But that doesn't alter the fact that helmet wearing will save lives if you are unfortunate to have an accident. Which counters the denialist nonsense from the anti-helmet folk. 

It's hardly nonsense when those opposing you have much better evidence.  The fact that you wrote "will" instead of "could" is evidence of your bias.

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eburtthebike replied to imajez | 2 months ago
1 like
imajez wrote:

Not entirely sure what you mean by 'cyclists security' but if you mean  protection, some pathologists [you know the actual experts on this sort of thing] did a study and determined that in fact a helmet could save your life in a very significant numbers of head injury fatalities. 37%

Whereas this study https://trl.co.uk/publications/ppr446, says that the figure is between 10-16%.  It does admit, the final sentence, that population studies show no benefit, and that hospital studies show a much greater benefit, but have serious methodological shortcomings.

That study is an update of this one from nine years previously, which was roundly criticised for its estimation of 6% reduction in deaths, based on absolutely nothing, it was pure speculation https://trl.co.uk/uploads/trl/documents/PPR446_new.pdf  and the fact that they included a paper from TRT which was outside the chosen dates.  https://www.cyclehelmets.org/1230.html

The study you quote is likely to also have serious methodological problems, making it much less reliable than the long term, whole population studies.  There are a large number of studies showing massive benefits from cycle helmet wearing, but they all suffer the same lack of reliability, whereas the whole population, long term studies are highly reliable.

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marmotte27 replied to imajez | 2 months ago
1 like
imajez wrote:

Not entirely sure what you mean by 'cyclists security' but if you mean  protection, some pathologists [you know the actual experts on this sort of thing] did a study and determined that in fact a helmet could save your life in a very significant numbers of head injury fatalities. 37%

Since apparently you like citing studies, I now await your links to studies analyzing autopsy reports of people having taken a shower, walked the stairs, climbed a ladder, or recieved a brick on their head.

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eburtthebike replied to marmotte27 | 2 months ago
1 like
marmotte27 wrote:
imajez wrote:

Not entirely sure what you mean by 'cyclists security' but if you mean  protection, some pathologists [you know the actual experts on this sort of thing] did a study and determined that in fact a helmet could save your life in a very significant numbers of head injury fatalities. 37%

Since apparently you like citing studies, I now await your links to studies analyzing autopsy reports of people having taken a shower, walked the stairs, climbed a ladder, or recieved a brick on their head.

Or indeed, walking, which has the same death rate as cycling for distance travelled.

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Sriracha replied to imajez | 2 months ago
1 like
imajez wrote:

Not entirely sure what you mean by 'cyclists security' ...

Marmotte could be a francophone rodent - like a fat, oversized burrowing squirrel. Their natural language lacks the precision of our own beautiful tongue, and the distinction between security and safety is one of the casualties, since either can be translated by their word sécurité.

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john_smith replied to marmotte27 | 2 months ago
2 likes

If by "security" you mean "protection in the event of head impact" or the like, could you explain why you think they wouldn't do so? How is something that can reduce the forces acting on the head not going to help at least some of the time?

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qwerty360 replied to marmotte27 | 2 months ago
1 like

**reproducible evidence**

 

The issue with most studies is using the same/similar methodologies results in significantly different results (i.e. the methodology doesn't exclude other more relevent factors correctly).

 

And the lack of significant correlation between helmet usage and head injuries anywhere in the world (either comparing different countries or time periods)

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imajez replied to qwerty360 | 2 months ago
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qwerty360 wrote:

And the lack of significant correlation between helmet usage and head injuries anywhere in the world (either comparing different countries or time periods)

The issue here is firstly that correlation is not the same thing as causation. 
Secondly efficacy of a helmet in event of an incident is completely separate discusion from likelihood of an incident in the first place. Particularly when safe cities to cycle means helmet use is very rare. This may mean more TBIs could correlate to higher helmet use, despite there being no causal link - the important link.
As it happens cycling injuries [including head injuries] have risen even in previously safe cycling areas due to rise of eBikes. 

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Rendel Harris replied to imajez | 2 months ago
4 likes
imajez wrote:

As it happens cycling injuries [including head injuries] have risen even in previously safe cycling areas due to rise of eBikes. 

How much of that is actually due to the rise in popularity of eBikes and how much due to the rise in the use of illegal electric motorcycles? As discussed many times in these pages, they might look the same but they are very different things.

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eburtthebike replied to imajez | 2 months ago
1 like
imajez wrote:

As it happens cycling injuries [including head injuries] have risen even in previously safe cycling areas due to rise of eBikes. 

AFAIK, this evidence comes solely from the USA, where ebikes are allowed to go up to 30mph, so inevitable that inexperienced people who have only ridden an unpowered bicycle will have significantly more injury collisions.  I haven't seen anything similar from countries with a rather more sensible top speed.

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chrisonabike replied to eburtthebike | 2 months ago
1 like

Worth a look at some of the Dutch cycle figures?  Veiligheid NL had an analysis a few years back (in Dutch).  I believe when they say "electric bike" here they are NOT referring to a speed-pedelec (different category) or illegal bikes - but since I needed machine translation to read this doc I am not certain.

It seems that although in their follow-up study overall approximately the same number of victims rode an electric bicycle (36%) as a normal bicycle (35%) there was a skew - there was a significantly greater fraction of A&E visits by people in the 55+ year old category who road an electric bike.

They said that seven out of ten bicycle crashes were single-vehicle crashes. This share did not differ for electric bicycles and regular bicycles. ...  Two-thirds of emergency department visits after a cycling accident involved serious injuries (MAIS2+).  Older cyclists (55 years or older) were almost twice as likely to be seriously injured after a cycling crash than cyclists aged 25-54. Looking at the bicycle type, there is a greater chance of serious injury in an accident involving an electric bicycle compared to cycling accidents involving a regular bicycle. However, corrected for age and gender, victims on an electric bicycle did not suffer serious injuries more often than on a regular bicycle, but on the contrary had a significantly lower chance of serious injury. This difference in probability after correction for age and gender may be due to the fact that older victims relatively more often ride electric bicycles and more often have more serious injuries.

* MAIS = Maximum Abbreviated Injury Scale I believe.

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qwerty360 replied to eburtthebike | 2 months ago
1 like
eburtthebike wrote:
imajez wrote:

As it happens cycling injuries [including head injuries] have risen even in previously safe cycling areas due to rise of eBikes. 

AFAIK, this evidence comes solely from the USA, where ebikes are allowed to go up to 30mph, so inevitable that inexperienced people who have only ridden an unpowered bicycle will have significantly more injury collisions.  I haven't seen anything similar from countries with a rather more sensible top speed.

 

I thought there was evidence from NL of e-bikes increasing injuries overall.

But the evidence from NL is basically that the elderly make regular use of e-bikes and have comorbidities that result in them occasionally collapsing. If you double/triple time spent on a bike (which e-bikes allow) you double/triple the chances of it happening while cycling (while also potentially reducing the risk of it happening on other modes of transport, i.e. while driving a car...)

And overall the cycling still improves lifespan + quality of life - i.e. for every elderly person collapsing while cycling and suffering serious injury in resulting collision, several don't collapse at all because of improved health from regular low level exercise that e-bikes allow.

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A V Lowe | 2 months ago
4 likes

I've investigated a number of RTC for lessons learned, and had a few myself. On one occasion I wrote off the car - when the driver rammed into my bike, and I survived with minimal injuries because I wasn't wearing a helmet - although it was a little worrying watching the white line pass inches below my head as I cartwheeled past the side of the car. Not the first time either that not having a bulky enlarged head form has avoided more serious harm, allowing for a tuck in & roll, for example when I went over the 'bars at around 30mph and did a double roll before getting up and cursing migthily after a loose strap on my front bag caught in the wheel. Rather like parachute jumping, in 60 years of cycling you fall off a few times and learn how to land without getting hurt.

The video clip is dark, but appears to show a lack of road awareness from both parties involved in the collision on their converging paths in the central lane on the roundabout, with the cycle being struck from the rear offside by the front nearside of the car, when the cyclist was moving closer to the centre of the roundabout and centre of that centre lane and the driver seems to be maintaining a steady position in the lane, but not reacting to the closing course with the bike

Facial injuries like those pictured are consistent with the peak of a helmet forcing back the head and pressing the soft fleshy (& full of small blood vessels which can bleed spectacularly) chin and cheeks into the tarmac.  The testing of helmets also bears little relation to the typical real world crash of a face plant that is generally the most common type of cyclist crash (70% of tram track crashes are face plants from a number of studies - including Edinurgh and Toronto, and 50% of all the crashes are cause by the actions of another road user 'distracting' the cyclist from the hazard of crossing the rails - but that's a whole article and research paper in itself)
The helmet drop test (& equivalent to a 12mph square-on impact) is nothing like the tangential impact at around 20mph, and the rotational forces on thoracic spine/& brain where 90% of body weight is forcing the head (10%) violently backwards

Tests in late 1940's also established that the fused plate structure of the cranium is actually an excellent shock absorbing detail which is only at 30% of its strength in a 20mph square, flat plate impact (a helmest is around 160% past its catastrophic disintegration point at 20mph remember that KE & forces are multiplied twice over the speed difference)

A particular detail that is consistently missed by the ill advised focus on PPE is the road danger reduction culture:
- cyclists must learn the lifesaver, that is a detail drummed into motorbike riders, and ALWAYS be aware of what is happening behind you. Remember that Met Police crash investigators report that 80% of the fatal HGV-cyclist crashes, begin with the driver hitting the rider from BEHIND,

- with a high % of London victims being female, the findings from the 5000 cyclist study over a decade ago align with the reported detail that female cyclists said thay had difficulty looking behind, and also had more incidents arising from not knowing what was behind them. Several RTC details bear this out as well, and the picture released after the Bank fatal RTC (2015) shows how many such deaths arise

So watch the video again and ponder on whether Dan Walker was actually aware of the impending collision by checking behind as he moved into the lane ahead of the car driver

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