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Hey, Brits, what's up with helmets?(10 posts)

Hey, Brits, what's up with helmets?mike mcmahon
Mar 5, 2001 7:57 PM
I've been looking over the Jan. 2001 edition of Cycling Plus and it has a couple of interesting references to helmets. The first is in a piece at page 6 about the death of a bike postman who was killed on the road. First, I have a question: What is the CTC? Its "Campaigns and Policies Manager" makes some (to me) surprising statements about helmets. The following are excerpts:

"Helmets do not provide the protection these MPs [Members of Parliament] are claiming. Statistics show that they have made no difference either to fatalities or head injuries suffered by cyclists in London or in countries where helmets are mandatory."

"Furthermore, the loss of numerous health benefits of cycling to those who would stop if forced to wear a helmet, far outweighs any gains if helmets were to be made mandatory. This has been proved in Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand where laws forcing cyclists to wear helmets have led to a dramatic reduction in cycling."

In a letter at page 23, a reader recounts a recent crash in which he credits a helmet for preventing abrasions to his head and face and goes on to state: "Until it is universally agreed on whether helmets reduce serious injuries (because they don't improve bad driving) - I'll choose not having my head and face scrape along the tarmac even though it's minor and not life threatening."

As someone who has broken two helmets in crashes and knows numerous people who have done the same, I am quite certain that helmets decrease the severity of injuries. I haven't really heard much debate on that subject in the states in recent years. Most debate revolves around whether those who know the risks of wearing helmets but don't want to wear them should be forced to do so.

Is the effectiveness of helmets still a serious subject of debate in England, or is the CTC engaging in "knee-jerk" posturing, as claimed by the Association of Cycle Traders in the same edition of C+? Or are we in the states being overly cautious on safety issues, to the point of ignoring a legitimate debate over helmets? Does anyone know of any studies that would support the seemingly outrageous claim that the number of recreational cyclists will decrease substantially if helmet use becomes mandatory? Is there a differene between views in the states and Britain or am I just reading too much into a couple of passages from one magazine?
re: Hey, Brits, what's up with helmets?SteveS
Mar 5, 2001 8:36 PM
I'm not English, so I can only guess at their thinking. The CTC is a long standing organization for cycle touring so maybe Cycle Touring Club is what it stands for, I am not certain. When I last rode in Britain, they only people wearing helmets that I saw were us Americans, so the British have come a long way.

Having seen 3 or 4 people go down while wearing helmets and seeing them knocked unconscious, but saved by the helmet from any permanent damage, any argument saying there is no proof of their protection, rings more than a little hollow to me. Sounds somewhat like the arguments a motorcyclist might make. There are lots of major hills in the UK and lots of rain, a good place to wear a helmet.

If the Foot and Mouth disease epidemic ends in Britain and I go cycle touring over there this summer, be assured that I would always wear my helmet. Good luck to those guys whose faces are scraping and bobbing along the tarmac.
CTC policy on helmets...Ian
Mar 7, 2001 12:17 AM
The CTC has a very clear policy on helmets. It recommends wearing them for all the obvious reasons but it totally opposes legislation to make them compulsary for all riders. The two accidents in question would not have had a different outcome had the riders been wearing a helmet. However, the MP's and the insurance companies are trying to make not wearing a helmet into some form of contributary negligence. Helmet laws in NZ have resulted in a fall in the numbers of people cycling. Obesity and ill health are major killers which cycling (with or without a helmet) has a protective effect against. The argument can be summed up by saying that more lives will be saved by allowing kids to cycle without helmets.
Personally, I usually wear a helmet on road and always off road.
re: Hey, Brits, what's up with helmets?Dougal
Mar 6, 2001 12:07 AM
The CTC is indeed the Cycle Touring Club. They're basically the biggest organisation for cyclist in the UK but don't really appeal to the more racing minded of us.

A lot of riders over here wear helmets, and a lot don't. The debate has been running for years really, and I think the divide has to do with the amount of people in the UK who have been cycling for decades. Cycling is not as new a sport over here as in the US.

Somebody in a recent C+ made an interesting point. Even without a helmet, there are still less cyclist killed than people in cars, per capita. Almost half as many it was claimed...
re: Hey, Brits, what's up with helmets?Brit Racer
Mar 6, 2001 2:21 AM
The CTC have consistently been quite 'anti-helmet' for the reason that they feel that the government should be shouldering the responsibility for making cyclists safe rather than saying that it's up to cyclists to wear helmets to keep themselves safe.

I personally always wear a helmet and am pretty sure that the three I've trashed have saved me from substantial injury. Others feel that helmet-wearers take greater risks as they feel 'safe', an argument to which I don't personally subscribe.

The worry is that if it becomes a precedent that cyclists have to wear helmets to be safe, cyclists will then be viewed as being responsible for being injured by cars because they were taking risks and as such, could be blamed for, for example, having an accident on a busy road, because it's obviously dangerous and therefore the bike shouldn't ahve been there, taking responsibility away from the drivers. The situation's already very heavily stacked in favour of the drivers as most judges/juries seem to take a 'but for the grace of god, there go I' attitude and either find drivers not guilty or award pathetic fines / prison terms (drivers given a 500GBP fine and no jail scentence for killing a cyclist while talking on their mobile phone is pretty common). As has been said many times, if you wanted to kill someone, the best way to do it would be to run them off the road while they're cycling.

For the record, most guys I know who ride, wear helmets.
Please, let's not start a helmet debate. If you wear one, great.that's OK too. if not great
Mar 6, 2001 3:40 AM
If you don't wear one, it's your choice, isn't it? It scares me that there is any thought about drafting legislation requiring cyclists to wear helmets. That's starts us on a very slippery slope. Maybe we should require daily exercise for everyone?. Anyway, it opens the floodgates. Let's leave the helmet issue alone
Thanks- just my opinion.
Not intended as a helmet debatemike mcmahon
Mar 6, 2001 4:32 AM
I'm also weary of the Great Helmet Debate. I was just interested in what appears to be a cultural difference toward views over helmets in the US and Britain.
forget the UK, no helmets in germanygerald
Mar 6, 2001 7:47 AM
The people who say its safer not to wear a helmet base their arguments purely on statistics (i.e since helemets became common there have been more injuries but there are many other factors involved such as traffic increasing and even more cyclists) and you can find numbers to back up any argument. They don't consider indivdual cases were its pretty obvious that a helmet saves a life.

Forget the UK, since I moved to Germany I've been amazed at how few people wear helmets. Of course lots of people here cycle to work or the shops and only consider a means of transport and not a sport. The view is that helmets are for small children. In general the serious cyclists are wearing helmets. I've twice had verbal abuse for wearing a helmet, once from a rollerblader and once from a cyclist. Even people who have been hit by cars are still not converted to helmets.
I think I'm moving to Germany!n/mSoon
Mar 6, 2001 8:07 AM
re: Hey, Brits, what's up with helmets?muncher
Mar 7, 2001 2:27 AM
Looks like a load of drivel to me. In my experience, the vast majority of "serious" riders (meaning not kids on trikes etc) wear helmets these days - probably linked to the fact that the prices of them have tumbled, and the quality and comfort has rocketed over the last few years. Maybe people in the CTC are different folk (I think they are - more into lesurely touring - and good for them), but they are more and more the norm.
To add a story - a friend of mine now has a Ti plate in her head, having been hit by a car (she was stationary, witing to move into lane) in the middle of one of the biggest roads in the City of London. Low speed, just folded her onto the ground and pushed her along the road. Irony? The one day she didn't wear her helmet as she was on the way to somewhere for an interview and didn't want to mess her hair up. Certainly paid for that one - the Dr said that she was lucky to have lived (half her head was torn off) and that if she had been wearing a helmet, the damage would probably have been "superficial". For me - always, ever since I has hit at a light by a lorry side mirror from behind - what can you do?