Spotted in a local newspaper –
I remember a debate on cycling helmets. People were writing to the Times newspaper stating that, statistically, helmets were not effective in the reduction of injuries. And then one correspondent cut through all the crap with one simple letter.
It was along the lines of: “To all those claiming cycling helmets are ineffective, I have a challenge for them. We can meet up and I’ll hit them round the head with a plank of wood. And, before I do it, they can choose to wear a helmet – or not.”
That says it all really. Let common sense prevail.
Let common sense prevail. Let common sense prevail.
Looked at objectively, this obviously isn’t a meaningful test of whether a cycling helmet is actually ‘effective’, unless the author is suggesting that such a helmet should be worn at all times. A helmet will protect your head – a bit – from someone wielding a plank, whether you happen to be on a bike or not. The fact it is a ‘cycling’ helmet is rather irrelevant here. Why minimise your risk of plank-related injuries only while you happen to be cycling? Wear a helmet all the time.
Nor does it make a particularly compelling case for why helmets, alone, are necessary items of safety equipment, but not other pieces of protective equipment. For instance, I doubt you would be persuaded by
For all those claiming bulletproof vests are ineffective, I have a challenge for them. We can meet up and I’ll shoot them in the chest. And, before I do it, they can choose to wear a bulletproof vest – or not.
as an argument for the wider use of bulletproof vests by the general population. Or, similarly –
For all those claiming shin guards are ineffective, I have a challenge for them. We can meet up and I’ll kick them in the shins. And, before I do it, they can choose to wear shin guards – or not.
as an argument for the mandatory use of shin guards by pedestrians. You would probably say, quite reasonably – don’t kick me in the shins or shoot me.
But precisely this same insane logic appears to be so persuasive to the author he presents it as an ultimate, winning knock-down argument for the use of bicycle helmets.
Why? It’s hard to hazard a guess, but I suppose an answer might lies in the notion that being ‘in the road’ is an activity that involves an innate acceptance of danger, like entering a war zone. You wouldn’t enter a war zone without a bullet proof vest, so why cycle in the road without a helmet? Being in the road is where random acts of violence similar to being hit by a plank could occur, so it’s just obvious you should take action to protect yourself. By contrast, walking on pavements is somewhere we don’t tolerate risk, and we don’t expect to have to wear shinguards in case people come flying out of nowhere to kick us in the shins.
So, in a way, the fact that arguments like this appear so often, without any reflection on what they actually imply, is a nice little window onto the established British view of the road environment, where danger is accepted as normal, and the only way to address it is to clad your body in protective equipment, rather than minimise or remove that danger at source.
This recent news story from Australia – where helmets are indeed compulsory – represents almost a textbook example of this kind of attitude –
A HAMILTON cyclist’s life was saved by his helmet after he was hit from behind by a car on Saturday morning. The impact thrust the 63-year-old man backwards on to the car windscreen before landing on the roadside. Yesterday, he was in a stable condition in Melbourne’s The Alfred hospital with multiple fractures.
“Had he not been wearing his helmet it would have been a different story,” Sergeant Darren Sadler said. “The helmet’s taken the impact when he hit the windscreen. Fortunately the driver was travelling below the speed limit. It’s a timely reminder for all cyclists to wear a good quality helmet when they are riding.”
The accident happened in a 100km/h zone on Nigretta Road about 9am. Local crews called in the ambulance helicopter to fly the man to The Alfred for emergency surgery. Sergeant Sadler said investigations were continuing and no charges had been laid.
Multiple fractures, hit by a car travelling at around 60mph, and yet the story here is entirely about a polystyrene helmet, not about whether human beings mixing with metal objects travelling at that kind of speed is sensible or even sane.
The disturbingly similar British version of these attitudes often manifests itself in response to the injuries of children in the road environment. Earlier this year the Ryan Smith case attracted a huge amount of publicity, as the family campaigned for – you guessed it – compulsory helmets after Ryan was left in a coma after a collision with a van (while cycling, not while walking).
And more recently we have the Put Things Right campaign, set up in the wake of the death of 15-year-old Harrison Carlin, hit while cycling by a driver travelling at or above 60mph, and 12-year-old Jeff Townley, a pupil at the same school, again killed while cycling. Put Things Right is also campaigning for compulsory helmets, as well as more education.
Depressingly it seems that campaigns like this can’t conceive of any other way of approaching the issue of reducing serious injury and death, beyond shifting responsibility onto the vulnerable parties, and doing little or nothing to tackle the physical environment. We need a different kind of common sense to prevail.