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Cycle helmets - again.

Published by Matt Polaine | Filed under Cycling infrastructure

I’ve avoided these helmet discussions because they aren’t factual, can never be factual, and are part of a complex cultural mindset. You can’t quantify why there are far fewer injuries in Copenhagen than Cambridge from cycling, where the former has 5 times or more the level of cycling and virtually no helmet wearing, but you can say that many, many small cultural differences add up to a huge difference in hazard perception and intermodal behaviour.

Child-development concerns are usually used to try and twist the debate to meet some ends, usually dubious political ones. If we were serious about real child development, their needs would be represented equally in transport planning. It never is.

The real reasons behind helmet wearing differ from activity to activity - of course - but this does not correspond to risk exposure. What it is confused is liability AKA contributory negligence, and this is the evil rot that has set within UK culture.

I wear a cycle helmet on the road when I am training because of the speed I am going at and the distance travelled - say 100km. Over that time, my exposure to the risk of head injury is say 2/10 where 0/10 would be never, and 10/10 would be definite. I am using this as a guide.

In the city centre, I may only travel 10km, but my exposure may still be 2/10 because of the increased risk posed by density of traffic and level of hazard thanks to rubbish highway design, blind drivers etc.

The worse my skills are for the same exposure type and time, the higher this may be. For my 8 year old son in the city centre over 10km it would be 9/10.

When I race in an MTB event in the Welsh mountains, where there are no motor vehicles or any other traffic coming towards me, my 100km in that event, may increase risk of head injury to 8/10.

This, along with Road Races, is what the cycle helmet was designed for. It does not protect your legs from being torn off and mangled around a cement mixers rear axle, though some Road Safety Teams seem to think helmet wearing save the user from injury, but won’t talk to truck drivers in the region. Go figure.

I wear a helmet where I think the density of stupid and selfish drivers is high because I don’t want their defence whittling down my fair claim for lost legs because I wasn’t wearing a helmet. This has happened, and yes the defence is that amoral.

My children wear helmets for the same reasons, but I have to say that despite riding and racing bikes for over 30 years, I consider current town centre traffic culture so awful in the UK, I don’t let the children cycle there. Even in Cambridge centre.

I should add that I have IAM training for motorcycling and I was a CTUK cycle instructor. I resigned from the Road Safety Team who ended up running the cycle instructors because their ideas of ‘road safety’ for cyclists was so far removed from what I believed in, but very geared towards liability reduction.

As a driver for a fire engine driver (to get him to the engine or RTI) way back in my past, I used to see the results of driver misadventure of the kind that isn’t printed in local newspapers, and head injuries are nearly always the cause of death, even with airbags. So why aren’t drivers wearing helmets, given that a typical driver who also cycles in the UK, has more chance of sustaining a head injury from driving than cycling, purely down to the levels of exposure to the risk inside a car?

As a motorcyclist, statistically I should be dead by now, yet as we all know, training is the best bit of safety equipment available, but the level of government subsidy available to improve road user training is miniscule. It is a tragic state of policy that those elected pour £billions into the economy patching up RTIs, families, and destroyed communities as the result of road deaths, yet the cost/benefit of training is never made a priority.

Hence why we have cycle helmets being promoted. It’s a cheap quick ‘fix’ and perfect tick-box road safety policy.

February 13th, 2009

2 Responses to “Cycle helmets - again.”

  1. DrMekon Says:

    Hi Matt - I guess you’ve seen this


    I’ve found that since I’ve read it, whilst I still wear a helmet on my BMX/MTB/Folder, if my son is in the front of the bakfiets, I often go without. My perception is that drivers give us more room when I am not wearing a helmet. I’ve yet to take this approach to it’s syrupy conclusion.

  2. Matt Polaine Says:

    I guess this reinforces the reason why fast TT riders are left the least space. There must be a market for a helmet cover and over-vest which has mock brain oozing out of mock smashed skull, and mock blood all down the over-vest, with the words CARELESS DRIVING DID THIS across the back in large letters.

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