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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!

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.

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 [Link now dead]. 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.

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

Isn’t it time to end the Taliban approach to road safety?

Isn’t it time to end the Taliban approach to road safety?

Warning this is not a happy post, the writer is angry:

In Afghanistan it is considered dangerous for women to go out on the streets in case they are raped. The Taliban’s answer to this is to make all women there wear a burqa to “protect” them. If a woman is unfortunate enough to be raped, she is then at risk of being accused of adultery and stoned to death. The attitude is very much one of blaming the victim.

“But, what has this to do with road safety?” I hear you ask. Well, here in the UK, government funded road “safety” campaigns aimed at pedestrians and cyclists (especially those intended for children) take a clear stance of blaming the victim. They say to children, if you go out on the roads, not wearing “protective clothing”, you might get hurt and it will be all your own fault. There is no attempt to put the responsibility on those most capable of causing the harm. I mean, what sort of sick person came up with “Tales of the Road: What happens when it all goes wrong”. No wonder parents are frightened to let their children out on the roads. We have been using this approach for over 30 years, starting with the Tufty Club and the Green Cross Code, and over time the campaigns are steadily getting more extreme. This marketing of fear is not making our roads safer, it is just frightening people. Britain has one of the worst road safety records in Europe for child pedestrians and almost 20% of casualties occur on the way to or from school. This is not the way to change the situation! It is well known that drivers are responsible for over 85% of all road accidents crashes, so why does the Department for Transport choose not to deal with the real issue? Why is the UK one of only five countries in Europe which does not have a law of strict liability? We also has the lowest rates of active travel in Europe and the highest levels of child (and adult) obesity.

In a time of austerity, it is time to cut this cr@p! If we really wanted to save public money, we could take real action to reduce the harm done on our roads. Injuries caused by road accidents crashes cost the NHS £470m a year, and the cost to the wider economy is £8bn a year (from figures collated by RoSPA in 2007). If we want to reduce this cost, we need to change driver behaviour and place the blame on the guilty.

If you were to walk down the street with a shotgun and it were to accidentally discharge, then you as the person holding the shotgun would automatically be held liable, not anyone you hit. You can legally carry a shotgun down a street, so long as you hold a licence to own one and observe certain strict conditions. Likewise, you can legally drive a car along a road, as long as you have a driving licence and observe certain conditions. Sadly, the latter conditions are not so strictly observed or enforced.

A car driven at 20mph or above can easily do as much damage to the human body as the blast from a shotgun. Yet, no one suggests that we should all wear flack jackets as we walk and cycle, just in case someone is negligent enough to accidentally discharge a shotgun. Nor do we expect to have to keep out of the way of someone legally carrying a shotgun. Why is this? Both have an equal potential to cause harm. If you injure or kill someone by negligently discharging a firearm, you are looking at a prison sentence. Yet if you do damage to another person while driving a car, the penalty is likely to be a £200 fine and three points on your licence, for the same level of harm. Where is the difference between killing someone by negligently discharging a legally held firearm or hitting them with a car, the victim is dead. So why is it considered acceptable if the perpetrator is driving?

Cycle helmets

Cycle helmets

There was a thread on a cycling forum recently on how often a cycle helmet needs to be replaced. The person who starting the thread wrote that his helmet was now three years old and still in perfect condition but the manufacture recommends that cycle helmets should be replaced every three years. There was a sentiment expressed that this was a marketing ploy by the manufacturer to sell more helmets. This set me wondering about peoples understanding of the safety of using helmets and their motivations for wearing them.

Conversations with colleges at work show that at least one had suffered injury directly as a result of wearing a cycle helmet. The helmet was not properly fastened and a glancing blow caused the helmet to twist on his head leaving him with a gash across the forehead. He was of the opinion that had he not been wearing a helmet he would not have been as badly injured and consequently he no longer wears a helmet when cycling. One cycling expert has stated that apart from racing cyclists either off or on road, he, hardly ever sees a cycle helmet being worn properly. Research has also shown that a badly fitted cycle helmet can double your chances of a head injury in the event of a crash.

Do cycle helmets actually increase cycle safety anyway? This is rather a contentious question…

The manufacture and sale of cycle helmets is a highly profitable multi-billion pound international business, dominated by a few large companies. These companies have given money to campaigning organisations that seek to boost helmet use and introduce legislation. In Europe, industry campaigns to boost helmet sales in countries where helmet use is low (such as The Netherlands and Denmark) have been driven by purely commercial considerations. The claims made by helmet manufacturers for their products are very modest compared with those made by lobby groups and they do not claim that a helmet will protect from death. However, the industry has been active in promulgating the results of pro-helmet research by others, even where this predicts benefits from helmet use well in excess of what manufacturers feel able to justify.

As John Franklin, the author of “Cyclecraft”, concludes: “Although there has been much research into cycle helmets, too much of this is suspect with regard to assumptions made and control groups used. It does not relate well to real-world circumstances. Most research has been predictive in nature and based on small samples. Little has looked at the results that have actually been achieved in large population samples when helmet use has increased significantly. No research has put the risk of head injury when cycling into perspective with the risk from other common activities and the overall effect on life expectancy and health.

It seems reasonable to expect that reductions in injuries brought about through the wearing of cycle helmets would be reflected in the general accident statistics in places where helmet use has become significant. This should particularly be the case if the more optimistic predictions for injury reduction are correct. However, whole population statistics from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada show no distinguishable change in fatalities, and statistics for London show no such change for any severity of injury, as helmet use has increased substantially.

This suggests that the real-world performance of cycle helmets may be falling well short of the predictions that have been made.”

David Jamieson the former Minister for Transport, acknowledged in 2004 when the UK Government considered introducing a law to make the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory, that the Government knows of no case where cyclist safety has improved with increasing helmet use. The Government abandoned it is plans for this law after failing to find a single cycling organisation which was prepared to back such a law. Even the NHS has produced evidence the compulsory use of cycle helmets has a negative effect on health of the wider population. Four papers, published in UK in 2005, found little evidence of helmet effectiveness. Indeed there is evidence the wearing a cycle helmet increases the risk of neck injury if you are struck by a motor vehicle (Rivara et al. 1997).

The more I look to this question, the more the evidence convinces me that cycle helmets are a waste of money and do very little, if anything, to increase cycle safety. If, however, you do want to use a helmet then it is best to get one that conforms the highest standard, a list can be found here. They may cost a wee bit more but then it again are you going to wear it for safety or as a fashion statement?

I would just like to give the final words to Laurence Howman writing in the British Medical Journal “Sirs I worked as a Health Care Worker for 24 years at the Local Hospital. 4+ years of that Time was spend on the Neurological Ward. So I had to deal with many Head Injury Patients. It may be of interest to those who promoted the use of Cycle Helmets that During that 4+ years I can’t recall any of the Patients who was a Cyclist. I believe it about time that those studying Cycle Accidents take a look at the Neuro Wards and not the Emergency Wards. It is the Neuro Wards where the really head injuries come. I bet they may just change their tune. You could also look at the Heart and Stroke Wards too because Cyclist don’t turn up there much either”.

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