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Tag: cycle helmet

It is time to stop the victim blaming!

It is time to stop the victim blaming!

Today we heard the sentencing of Gary McCourt, the driver who killed Audrey Fyfe in August 2011, and it has generated much anger. At the end of the trial it was announced that Audrey Fyfe was not the first person that he had killed. McCourt had previously been found guilty in 1986 of causing another cyclist’s death by reckless driving. After that offence he was jailed for two years, this time round he has been ordered to carry out 300 hours of community service and given a five year driving ban. There have already been a number of complaints that the sentence was unduly lenient, and that, at the very least, he should have been banned from driving for the rest of his life.

If this wasn’t enough, the Sheriff, James Scott, said that the collision between McCourt and Mrs Fyfe was caused because of a “momentary” loss of concentration. Then he went on to suggest that Mrs Fyfe contributed to her death by not wearing a “safety helmet”, so blaming the victim for her own demise. This sort of victim blaming should be totally unacceptable. Had Mrs Fyfe been walking across the road when she had been hit, there would have been no suggestion that she should have been wearing a pedestrian helmet. What if she had been pushing a pram and he had “clipped” that? Would it still be the victim’s fault? Just because she was cycling, why should she have been expected to wear a plastic hat to protect her? It is not as if it would have provided any protection or prevented her from being hit in the first place. Her death was solely due to McCourt’s actions and the jury convicted him of causing death by careless driving. Mr Scott’s comments are disgraceful and totally unacceptable. I am not the only one to feel this way:

One can only hope that there will be better training of Sheriffs in the future, there is a need to teach them why wearing cycle helmets isn’t compulsory. Lets face it, until the judiciary take safety on the roads seriously, the law will not offer protection to vulnerable road users. For this reason I urge you all to join the Pedal on Parliament protest ride on the 19th May, to call for safer roads for all!

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Should wearing cycle helmets be compulsory?

Should wearing cycle helmets be compulsory?

If there is one issue that is highly contentious in cycling, it is this: Should wearing cycle helmets be compulsory?

It is no secret that I personally do not wear a cycle helmet, but I do understand that some people, for what ever reason, like to wear them. And I feel that they should be free to do so, if they want to. One of the most frequently stated reasons for wearing a cycle helmet is that it might save your life (especially when you are being sponsored to say so a brand ambassador for a helmet company). However, the evidence that cycle helmets have any influence on the rate of head injury is, to say the least, rather mixed. The empirical evidence from places where helmets have been make mandatory show that at best they only reduce the rate of minor injury. Nor is this helped by the fact that there is very little independent testing on cycle helmets, most test standards are set by the companies manufacturing the helmets, and do not test to the highest level of protection.

Do laws making the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory encourage cycling and make it safer? No, there is clear international evidence that where cycle helmets have been made a legal requirement, the number of people riding bicycles has dropped. Indeed, there is evidence from Australia and New Zealand that, after compulsory cycle helmet laws were introduced, the rate of death and injury for cyclists (per Km travelled) actually increased.

There is also the question of do cyclists have a disproportionally high risk of serious head injury? Well, no they don’t, per Km travelled cyclists have a similar rate of serious head injury to pedestrians. Whereas, the occupants of cars have a far higher rate of serious head injury (despite the use of seatbelts and airbags) due the higher speeds at which accidents crashes occur. So why is it that there no promotional campaigns for pedestrians helmets or motoring helmets? Why are cyclists being singled out for special treatment? This brings us on to the question of who actually benefits from laws requiring people riding bicycles to wear a helmet? Well, as this wee film shows, helmet companies like them, but only in countries where cycling is common…

Oh, and the motor industry is also keen on getting people to wear cycle helmets, to protect them against people driving cars, apparently…

So to summarise:

  • Cycle helmets may have some slight protective value, but no where nearly as much as has been claimed, or most people seem to think.
  • Wearing a helmet does nothing to prevent a cyclists from being hit by a car.
  • Real cycle safety comes from providing better infrastructure and restricting motor vehicles where they mix with cyclists (or until that happens learning how to ride properly).
  • Crash helmets for the occupants of motor vehicles could easily save more lives (as motorists are a greater risk of head injury) than making cyclists wear.
  • Helmet laws restrict freedom of choice, may result in the targeting of minorities, discourage cycling, make cycling more dangerous for those who remain, and shift the blame in car-bike collisions to helmet-less cyclists even if it was the motorist who was at fault.

All in all, compulsory bicycle helmet laws are not good for cyclists themselves, but are good for third parties with vested interests. While cycle helmets may reduce the risk of some minor injury, they can’t not prevent serious head injury or make the roads safer. So should anyone suggest such a law where you are, protect your freedom (where did I get that slogan from?), question why they want to bring in such a law and who is funding them. It should be up to each individual whether or not they wear a helmet while riding a bicycle, it should not be a matter of law.

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James Cracknell and the cycle helmet company

James Cracknell and the cycle helmet company

According to a recent blog post on the Merida Bikes website, “James Cracknell is being seen all over the place, promoting his programme [on the Discovery Channel] following his incredible journey back from his near fatal head injury”. During these interviews, he has been very keen to promote the wear of cycle helmets and he has also been telling people that “I don’t have a commercial relationship with the [helmet] manufacturer, by the way.”

This is a wee bit odd, as he is a “brand ambassador” for Alpina cycle helmets and one of the main sponsors of his trip across America was Merida Bikes [link now dead]. These bicycles are sold in Britain by Merida UK, which has exclusive distribution rights to sell Alpina cycle helmets in the UK. This may well lead some people to question the claims that a piece of polystyrene covered with plastic could have actually saved Mr. Cracknell life.

What is certain is that it was the quick actions of the ambulance crew, along with the attention of the medical team at the hospital within the “golden hour“, which actually saved Mr. Cracknell’s life. According to the medical team which saved his life, as a result of this rapid treatment there is no reason why Mr. Cracknell shouldn’t make a full recovery – in time. I wish him well for the future.

Another thing we can be certain of, is that the lightweight Alpina Pheos helmet failed to prevent his skull being broken in two places, when he was hit by the wing mirror of a passing truck. It is perhaps fortunate for Merida UK and Alpina, that Mr. Cracknell wasn’t hit by the truck while he was walking along the road and not wearing a helmet. As the likely outcome would, given the same rapid treatment, have been the same. The only difference being that they would have been unable to take the credit for saving Mr. Cracknell’s life (instead of the timely intervention of the medical team) or use Mr. Cracknell as a “brand ambassador” to promote their products.

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Slowed down…

Slowed down…

On Saturday we went out for a short ride, as you do. We decided to check out some quiet back roads and off road routes. We got as far as the Inch Community Centre, following the road through the park looking out for its speed ramps, there to slow down motorised traffic. Only I failed to see one: it being a bright sunny day, my wearing sun glasses and it being in the shade with no markings to make it more visable. This caused me to rapidly dismount, forward over the handle bars. Well it has certainly slowed me down.

After Ulli had lifted my bicycle off me, I got up and started a damage control check. Legs looked OK, a few superficial scrapes but nothing serious, waved arms about, seemed to be moving fine. Turned to bike, front wheel badly buckled, so much so that it was fouling the frame. Started to wonder about the my body again, ran a hand over each shoulder, left side just didn’t feel right, big bump mid shoulder. So we decided to take the bikes over to the shopping centre at Cameron Toll, lock up mine, then I would take the bus to the Royal Infirmary, Ulli could ride down.

Felt a bit odd catching a bus in cycling gear, but there you go. On the approach to the hospital I stood up and moved towards the door, gasped as the pain started to kick in, the driver slowed down and drove gingerly to the stop. I thanked him as I left. In A&E, I was asked what I wanted at Reception, I said I had probably broken my collar bone and could I see someone. I was asked had I been wearing a cycle helmet? No. Had I hit my head? No. After about 45 minutes I was summonsed to see a medic, who took me to a side room for a spot of prodding and poking, then off to X-ray, and sure enough I have a broken clavicle. Interestingly there was no follow up one the possibility of head injury. Maybe I should have said I had bumped my head (and been seen sooner) and added to the non helmet wearing statistics.

So for the next six to eight weeks, I will have my arm in a sling and enjoy the delights of one handed typing 🙁

The forward dismount  technique is not the recommended way of getting off a bicycle!

Addendum: This is how it looked from the inside:
broken clavicle

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Cycling and the culture of fear, don’t panic!

Cycling and the culture of fear, don’t panic!

Mikael Colville-Andersen recently gave this talk at TEDx Copenhagen, it is sooo good I thought I would post it up here. Enjoy!

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