Sunday, 25 August 2013

Helmets - Should they be compulsory?


Simple short answer. Quite a long winded reason why below.

There's been a lot of flurry recently as a family managed to garner a lot of media coverage calling for cycling helmets to be compulsory as their son was hit by a van while cycling and ended up in hospital with a head injury. According to the media he didn't want to wear a helmet as it would have messed his hair up.

OK, I can understand their anguish and sympathise with them, but there was little about the cause of the collision, and who's fault it was. In most crashes between people riding bikes and motor vehicles the driver is the at fault party.

A helmet would not have stopped the lad from being hit. What if he had suffered crush injuries or badly broken legs?

The best approach for all improved safety is prevention, NOT mitigation after the event.

A better and safer road environment would have helped and possibly prevented the collision.

Better awareness and sensible road safety education (not the bloody silly and offensive Niceway code) could have also helped.

I personally wear a helmet only when I think it appropriate due to increased risk, not all the time 

That is when it's slippy for example when raining or snowy or icy.
When I'm mountain biking as crashing is more common, and there tends to be lots of pointy hard things called rocks. Although to be fair I cycled off road using a touring bike for years before I got a mountain bike and a helmet.

As I wear glasses, I also occasionally wear a helmet with a peak when it's raining anyway as otherwise I would be wearing a cap or hat with a peak. Again if it's cold I will sometimes pop the lid on.

I've had a helmet since the late 80s when I started mountain biking, and started wearing it on the road in the circumstances above. Sometimes wore it a lot, it spent most of the ride strapped to the rack though.

I don't wear one when cycling around normally at 10 to 20 mph, on normal pleasant days as the risk is minimal. Likewise I don't wear a helmet or a stab vest when I take the dog for a walk.

What most people who DON'T ride a bike realise is that riding a bike is actually quite easy and people don't tend to just fall off very often. 

Riding a bike is no more dangerous than walking, or jogging, or for children playing in the playground.
There are almost 170,000 hospital admissions yearly for head injuries. Given the very low overall percentage of cycling takeup in the UK, then the number of injuries from falling off a bicycle is going to be a lot lower than that.

If helmet campaigners want to save lives and reduce injuries, then why do they not target car passengers, runners, children playing etc?

Having the likes of Bradley Wiggins say that helmets should be compulsory to ensure that cyclists have done all they can to protect themselves is very wrong. It is like promoting compulsory stab vests to prevent knife crime.

Courts or insurance companies that pronounce partial liability as no helmet was worn, when the victim was not at fault, Again would they do the same to a stabbing victim if they weren't wearing a stab vest?

quick google about for a breakdown of head injury figures found this page. There are lots of others with similar percentages for UK & USA etc

Statistics for hospital admissions where head injury was the primary diagnosis in 2002/2001 totalled 112,978

  • 75% of these were male admissions and 33% were children under 15 years of age.
  • 70-88% of all people who sustain a head injury are male. 
  • 10-19% are aged ≥65 years.
A breakdown of those admissions on the same study showed the following main causes
  • Falls (22-43%)
  • assaults (30-50%)
  • road traffic accidents (25%). 
  • Alcohol may be involved in up to 65% of adult head injuries.
So from the above stats, if people REALLY want to save lives, then they should campaign to make helmets compulsory for:
  • All children engaged in any activity. 
  • All Males
  • Anyone over the age of 65
  • Anyone drinking alcohol 
All cycle helmet campaigning and calls for compulsion do is raise the perceived risk factor and reduce the numbers who will  consider cycling.

This of course will just increase the numbers of people in the UK who do little or no exercise and place more people at increased risk of sedentary linked illnesses and early death. The UK already has 50% of children who do not get enough exercise

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