The next step in cycle safety – Canada’s trauma surgeons have the answer

This news story featured yesterday in the Hull Daily Mail 

A Hull man whose back was broken in two places when he was knocked from his bicycle faces a long struggle to walk again. Cliff Hattersley, 59, was cycling to his son’s house from his home in The Quadrant when he was hit side-on by a car.

Mr Hattersley was thrown from his bike by the impact and suffered two fractures in his vertebrae. X-rays revealed emergency surgery would be needed to help it fully heal.

His wife Linda said: “He couldn’t get out of the bed at hospital. He couldn’t stand up on his own. I would rather it was a broken arm or a leg but it’s such a serious thing, a back injury. It’s not something you easily recover from.”

Mr Hattersley’s son was away from his home in Priory Road, so he was heading round to check on it. As he cycled around the roundabout where Fairfax Avenue joins Cottingham Road, he was in a collision with a silver Vauxhall Astra. He did not lose consciousness and even spoke to his wife on the phone after being picked up by emergency services. It was at first thought his injuries were minor, before an X-ray revealed the bad news.

Mrs Hattersley, 59, said: “He didn’t sound too bad on the phone. He got a bang on the head and he hurt his shoulder but he never lost consciousness. I didn’t think it was that serious.”

But a CT scan revealed her husband had suffered an unstable fracture. His vertebrae was broken his in two places, meaning his back might not heal properly on its own. The family was given two choices – 12 weeks of bed rest coupled with therapy from a specialist unit at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, or an immediate operation.

They decided surgery was the best option, and on Friday afternoon, Mr Hattersley had screws and rods put into his back to help it heal properly. He is still in hospital and is walking only hesitantly with a zimmer frame but hopes to make a full recovery.

Mrs Hattersley said: “They’re trying to get him home at the beginning of this week. But with the pain he was in and him not being able to stand, I will just have to see how it goes when the doctors see him. It’s hard not knowing what the outcome will be yet. Once I know the outcome, I will be relieved.”

Her husband, who no longer drives, is fitted with a pacemaker and started cycling to improve his health. The couple do not yet know if he will get on a bike again.

Mrs Hattersley said: “The doctors said he will have less mobility but whether he will be able to cycle again I don’t know. He’s usually full of jokes. He’s not himself at the moment but he will get back there. There was nothing he could have done to protect himself. The police said about him having a helmet but a helmet wouldn’t have stopped a broken back.”

The crash happened just before 8am on Wednesday last week.

Well, Mrs Hattersley isn’t quite right when she argues that ‘there was nothing he could have done to protect himself’.

Her husband could have been wearing body armour.

Of course a helmet wouldn’t have protected her husband’s back! That’s just silly. No, that’s what a reinforced spine protector is for; and that’s what her husband should have been wearing. As well as a helmet.

Now there are some deluded fools out there who insist on arguing that the real solution to keeping people toddling around on bikes safe from harm is to separate them from motor vehicles to the greatest possible extent, and to ensure – through design and enforcement – that vehicles are driven slowly and carefully when mixing is unavoidable. They say that a country called ‘The Netherlands’ has apparently achieved some success in keeping people riding bikes safe with these kinds of strategies.

But trauma surgeons in Canada know better. Because they’ve seen the effects of injuries to cyclists up close

Study supports adding body armour to cycling safety gear

Trauma surgeons at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary conducted a study into cycling injuries and say the risk of serious injury can be reduced and even prevented by wearing body armour.

The doctors compared injuries between street cyclists and mountain bikers over a 14-year period and looked at incidence, risk factors and injury patterns.

One of the recommendations that came out of the report is that cyclists in both groups should consider wearing chest protection.

The research study was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Surgery and studied 258 severely injured cyclists in southern Alberta.

“Trauma to the head is still the No. 1 injury in both cycling groups, which underscores the importance of wearing a good-quality, properly fitted helmet,” says Dr. Chad Ball, the senior author of the research paper. “At the same time, almost half of the injuries we noted were either to the chest or abdomen, suggesting that greater physical protection in those areas could also help reduce or prevent serious injury.”

Yes, Canada’s cyclists are suffering serious trauma injuries all over their bodies. And not just to their heads. Isn’t it therefore completely frickin’ obvious that we should protect their entire bodies, and not just their heads?

So, use your head. Don’t just protect your head. Protect your chest and your spine. And your limbs! 38.4% of trauma injuries to cyclists are in ‘the extremities.’ Just think of the horrible consequences to your arms if you’re caught in a serious motor vehicle smash without your hard shell arm protectors. There’s no way I’d cycle anywhere without these bad boys. Even if I’m just popping to the shops. (I only have two arms, and I’d like to keep them, thanks.)

Of course, some might say we should address the so-called ‘root causes’ of those injuries, like being struck by motor vehicles travelling at high speeds, or being run over by heavy trucks, rather than taking the logical step of cladding people head to toe in safety wear.

But they haven’t seen a serious head injury, or a crushed chest. Just think how those injuries could have been very, very slightly lessened with a polystyrene helmet, or a hardened plastic thorax protector. Or reinforced limb armour.

Then you’ll understand. It’s for your own safety

This entry was posted in Absurd transport solutions, Helmets, Road safety, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The next step in cycle safety – Canada’s trauma surgeons have the answer

  1. Matthew.W says:

    I noticed a young female work colleague riding with steel toe-cap shoes on (honestly).

    My initial thoughts were that was taking cycle safety equipment too far but according to the research as well as 12% of severely injured cyclists having fractures to their lower extremities, approx 5% were suffering from exposure and as she said the steel toe-caps kept her feet warm and dry, it is beginning to make perfect sense now.

  2. A J says:

    t’is very funny! well written🙂

    Date: Mon, 9 Sep 2013 22:35:38 +0000 To: schnauzerminelli@hotmail.com

  3. pm says:

    I still say the only real protection against motor-vehicles is an RPG or LAW. The best defence is a good offense.

    Seriously, that is the logical end point of all the talk we get of ‘taking responsibility for your own safety’ over helmets and high-viz and the rest. The same language that is used to push cycle helmets is that used on the fringes of the US right to promote the everyday carrying of firearms (or bullet-proof vests for school-children).

    Behind both is the same philosophy – that its not acceptable to have any expectations of a civilised society providing any protection for the vulnerable – rather you have to live as if you are in a state-of-nature and just look after yourself as best you can, whether through armour or weaponry.

    The irony is that many of the ‘paternalistic’ ‘liberals’ who push compulsory helmet laws sadly delude themselves into thinking they are somehow the opposite of right-wing libertarians, when in fact their underlying viewpoint is very similar. They both push a form of ‘self reliance’ that ignores power imbalances.

  4. Surely it’s time to shoot Canadian Trauma surgeons? Which would inevitably indicate that trauma surgeons who make idiotic suggestions way outside their knowledge zone should wear full body armour.

  5. Simon says:

    Makes you realise those medieval knights in shining armour were well ahead of their time. Just think of the injuries caused by falling off your horse.

  6. Fred says:

    I worry for the lack of protection to pedestrians, I think they should all be forced to travel around in some kind of vehicle with crumple zones etc. Crossing the street unarmoured should be banned. Pedestrians should wear hi vis and lights at night. Pedestrians should pay road tax, take a proficiency test and be licensed.

  7. That’s quite a funny parody of bicycle safety ideas. Wouldn’t it be better to stop the collisions from happening in the first place than to have huge amounts of money into things like helmets and armour? That armour isn’t capable of shielding you from mental effects of collisions. You will be scared witless after a collision, and may very well cycle less or not at all. You may still have injuries you’ll have to deal with, pain, and possibly paralysis. And almost always you are going to be dead after a collision at 60 km/h, which is the normal speed limit on newer arterial roads by the way, which tend to be designed for 70, body armour or not. Plus, the armour makes it harder to cycle, it is going to be heavier the sturdier it is, and it makes it harder to regulate your heat level. And it’s likely going to make cycling more dangerous. Imagine if you had to dress up like a knight every time you wanted to go for a drive. Would you stop driving or would you do it less? Probably.

    It also doesn’t address the issue that cars make a lot of bad byproducts of their existence. Emissions, unless a car is fully electric and the source of the power is from a renewable clean power plant. More space needed for cars. Harder for pedestrians and cyclists to move around effectively. All sorts of problems.

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