The unanswerable case for pedestrian helmets

From the Bristol Post

Hanham mum: My son’s pedestrian helmet saved his life after crash

WEARING a pedestrian helmet was a choice that saved one 12-year-old boy’s life.

Charlie Baggot was walking to Hanham High School when he was hit by a car. He fell into the road and was left with a broken nose, as well as serious bruising and grazing to his face, arms and legs. But had he not been wearing a pedestrian helmet he may not have survived.

Paramedics, and a policeman who rushed to the scene, all told the Year 7 pupil that wearing his helmet – which bears a dent where Charlie’s head could have hit the road – had saved his life.

After the accident, which happened in Creswicke Avenue in Hanham on Friday, May 9, keen pedestrian Charlie was taken to school in the car by his mum because he was struggling to walk. It was then they both noticed how many children – and adults – were walking about without pedestrian helmets. His shocked mum Tracy, 40, has now begun a campaign to encourage all pedestrians to wear helmets.

She wants people to see her son’s injuries and to understand how much worse they could have been.

“After what happened to Charlie I was left completely shocked when we noticed how many pedestrians were walking without helmets,” she said.

“I can’t believe that some parents don’t enforce this with their kids – for Charlie it was always no helmet, no shoes.”

Charlie was crossing the road on foot when he says a car came around a corner very quickly, knocking him to the ground.

He rang his mum but as she couldn’t reach him, he managed to get to school, where an ambulance was called. It was after he was taken to hospital for stitches that paramedics and a policeman broke the news that he may not have survived if he hadn’t been wearing his pedestrian helmet.

He said: “Since my accident my friends have realised how important their helmets are. One of my friends who never wore one has had it on every morning.”

His mum’s campaign has already got the backing of his head teacher at Hanham High School, Phil Bevan, who told the Bristol Post: “The incident highlights the need for safety to be a top priority. It is absolutely vital that every student should wear a pedestrian helmet – the fact that Charlie was wearing his means that it might just have saved his life.

“I would compel every parent to make their children wear a pedestrian helmet when walking.”

And who could possibly argue with that, if it saves just one life?

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48 Responses to The unanswerable case for pedestrian helmets

  1. Mark Hewitt says:

    While we are still forced into cycling on the road with fast and heavy traffic then helmets are an unfortunate reality, even though their benefits in a crash are marginal. When we get infrastructure such that I don’t have to deal with motor vehicles except for a short period at the start / end then I’ll leave my helmet at home.

    • Joel C says:

      *sigh* – this one again. He isn’t asking you not to wear a helmet – just to consider:
      1) why the focus of the story about a child being knocked over by a car is about the victim wearing a helmet, not “hey, he was just knocked over by a car! Let’s do something about that”
      2) why we treat one activity (walking) differently from another (cycling), when people have a similar probability* of sustaining a head injury doing either.

      (*) depending on how one normalizes the data of course

    • paulc says:


      the entire point of this blog article has just flown completely OVER your head… he’s making a case for how stupid it seems when you take a news item arguing for mandatory cycle helmets and replace every instance of cyclist with pedestrian…

      • Mark Hewitt says:

        I got the article, thanks. But let us remember that pedestrians have their own infrastructure, when cyclists have the same we can ditch the helmets like the Dutch did.

        • Mark Hewitt says:

          PS my point is that we need to get the environment changed so they very idea of having to have helmets seems unnecessary, which seems to have whooshed over your head…

          • Chris says:

            Do you really think that the only reason for wearing a helmet is because you’re sharing the tarmac with motorised vehicles?????

            If a truck runs over your head, no helmet in the world is going to help. If, on the other hand, you come off your bike at 20mph with nobody else in the vicinity, then I can say from experience that a helmet can spare you a huge amount of pain and inconvenience.

            To each their own, but based on my personal experience, I won’t get on a bike without a helmet, and don’t really understand why others make such a fuss about it.

            • Joel C says:

              Because it unfairly casts a normal, everyday activity as something dangerous and risky which requires specialist PPE to participate in.

              • Chris says:

                OK. I’ll leave you to stick to your political posturing, and I’ll stick to basing my actions on my prior experience.

                I sincerely hope you never have to put up with the sort of incident that I went through to change my mind.

              • I think the point of this post has got slightly lost. Helmets should be a matter of free choice; if you want to wear one, that’s fine, it’s up to you. (I note that there’s no disagreement on this specific point, between the people arguing here in the comments!)

                The argument here is the absurdity of focusing on helmets when a person was run over by a speeding car, when they were crossing the road. It is so absurd because this logic implies that pedestrians should wear helmets too, in case they get struck by speeding cars while crossing the road.

                Is that kind of urban environment we want to live in?

              • Chris says:

                I see them as two completely separate but equally valid conversations to have.

                In this instance, we don’t (I don’t think?) actually know what happened to the lad. He might’ve been hit by a driver not paying attention, but he might equally have cycled straight off a kerb without looking, giving the driver absolutely no chance of missing him. Without wishing to cast aspersions on the lad, the reason his mother isn’t campaigning for cars to be kept separate from bikes could well be because she knows that her lad was completely at fault.

                The cause of the injuries doesn’t alter the fact that in this instance the mother would’ve quite probably lost her son if he’d not been wearing his helmet. After my serious accident, I had to endure the humiliation of my own mother dragging me over to anyone she saw not wearing a helmet to point out the perils of their situation whilst I was convalescing at home. This is not something you want at any time, and especially not when you’re 23 and until that point had fancied your chances with at least one of the girls she’d just accosted! Since having kids of my own, however, I can at least see my mother’s (and the mother in the article’s) own point as a parent.

                Whether I come off through the fault of another or through my own stupidity (for reference, when on a loose surface, thinking “ah, that’s the path I want” and immediately trying to turn onto it at 20mph are not mutually compatible actions), if wearing a helmet increases the likelihood that I’ll still be in a position to tell others about it afterwards, then I’ll wear the helmet.

              • He could equally have stepped off the pavement without looking, on foot. The cause of the injuries doesn’t alter the fact that in this instance the mother would’ve quite probably lost her son if he’d not been wearing his pedestrian helmet. So it’s quite sensible that people should wear pedestrian helmets – especially as wearing a pedestrian helmet increases the likelihood that one will still be in a position to tell others about it afterwards.


              • Joel C says:

                But we’re hitting Bez’s “Brick Wall” again. Even if all the things you suggest (regarding the child’s culpability) are true – they would equally apply if he was on foot. Why don’t you advocate for pedestrian helmets too?

              • Chris says:

                Cyclists can and do travel far faster than pedestrians. There’s a whole host of ways we can damage ourselves on bikes with nobody else involved which can be mitigated by the wearing of a helmet which just don’t apply to pedestrians. It’s a daft straw man argument, especially when nobody on this entire thread is suggesting that helmets should be mandatory.

              • pm says:


                But now you are changing horses in mid-stream. The original incident that this is all about involved a car and had nothing to do with the cyclist’s own speed. So make your mind up.
                Personally I wear a helmet mainly for those occasions when I go fast downhill and fear coming off by myself. I don’t think it would be of any use whatsoever for the main thing I worry about, which is the far-faster moving cars around me. I’d rather the emphasis was on keeping me safe from them.

                And compulsion is an ever-present threat, as I understand it that’s exactly what the woman at the centre of the original post is calling for, so someone _is_ calling for it.

        • Dermot says:

          The Dutch didn’t really ditch helmets. They haven’t as yet ever taken to them in appreciable numbers.

    • fonant says:

      Except, if you read the label inside your helmet, or see what tests it has to pass, you’ll notice that it’s most certainly not designed to protect in the event of a collision with a fast-moving motor vehicle.

  2. Bez says:

    Bravo! Given that pedestrians have the highest modal fatality rate per mile, this is exactly the right place to start campaigning for people to wear protection. It would (unless you wanted to address the biggest cause of traumatic brain injury, which is being in a car) defy all logic to campaign for helmets for other modes before this.

  3. enas says:

    Mark: Honest question, and don’t mean to fuel yet another helmet discussion. But I can’t understand the rationale behind your choice. Surely, if helmets are of little use in a crash involving a motor vehicle, then the choice to wear one while vehicular-cycling is rather irrelevant. Conversely, if helmets really do best in low speed falls involving no other party, then they really only protect you against the kind of risk you’re exposing yourself to while using segregated infrastructure (whether you think the risk is high or not is a personal matter, but it seems to be the ideal scenario for which they’re designed).

    • Mark Hewitt says:

      I don’t have strong opinions either way. Given that I wear a helmet on the slight chance it will help.

      • Dan B says:

        You also have to consider the chances of having the incident in the first place, along with the effectiveness of the helmet. I wear one when I’m riding quickly (commuting on a road bike) because I feel I’m more likely to have an incident than when I’m riding to the shops (slowly on a utility bike).

        You have to draw the line somewhere. A helmet has the slight chance it would help in most situations that you don’t wear one for (walking down stairs, for instance). There’s also body armour that has the slight chance it could help when on the bike but I assume you don’t wear that either.

  4. Harry says:

    I see what you did there.

    More cyclists will wear helmets when they all come in this style–M/SdcQ1db3HXI/AAAAAAAADEk/dTVCVp-Daj0/wm-Crazy%20Helmet.jpg

    However true safety requires the wearing of special suits

  5. Chris says:

    I’ve come off a bike twice at 20mph. In neither instance was a third party involved.

    On one occasion I was unconscious for 3 hours, in hospital for 3 days and off work for a month and still have the divot in my skull to show for it. On the other, I’ve still got a 15 minute concussion memory blank, but was back at work the following Monday, albeit not cycling in, but that was down to busted ribs, not a busted head.

    The only significant difference between the two instances was that I wore a helmet on the second occasion. The helmet was in bits after I crashed, but better the helmet than my head!

    As a pedestrian, I’ve never exceeded 5mph. As a cyclist, I’ll exceed 20mph every time I get on a bike. Trying to compare the need for helmets between the two is pretty daft in my view.

    If people want to cycle without a helmet, I suppose that should be left up to them, but if they choose not to, I don’t think they can complain if they do incur greater injuries than might otherwise have been the case.

    I don’t really understand the “no helmet at any cost” mentality of some people. It doesn’t hurt to wear one, they’re not particularly expensive and they might reduce or eliminate the sort of injuries which can come about from the added speed of cyclists over pedestrians. Why wouldn’t you wear one?

    • Simon Still says:

      Chris – the point is just over there on the left.

      • Chris says:

        So you’ll be able to reiterate it then?

        The vast majority of cyclists I see on a daily basis already wear helmets, so people posting statistics about head injuries being a more common cause of death amongst pedestrians rather than cyclists are surely the ones missing the point? That just suggests that helmets do their job.

        • Joel C says:

          Well… that’s a new one at least and only adds more weight to the argument for other road users to also wear helmets. Compulsory pedestrian helmets NOW!

          • jimmy-j says:

            I’ve only ever damaged my head while walking (and I cycle every day): I slipped on an icy pavement in Hawes on New Year’s Day, and knocked myself out. I was only walking at 3mph. Obviously, I’ve worn a walking helmet ever since, and urge other people to do so too. I get really angry when I see other people walking around without a walking helmet, especially young children. What’s the point in not wearing one if it saves a life?

    • Harry says:

      Why do you keep falling off with no other vehicles around whenever you exceed 20mph? I didn’t think 20mph was that fast. It’s a semi serious question, so we can know what to avoid that’s so dangerous. I’ve fallen off on ice and attempting to exit into a driveway at 15mph at a slight angle. Never hit my head. I have bruised my thumb though. I do wonder if prior falling experience helps such as skateboarding. I came off a skateboard over 15mph downhill, rolled over a few times, got up and said “nothing to see here”. No helmet again.

      I’m hoping you fall off whenever you’ve exceeded 20mph because of the flux capacitor modification. It’s tricky to hold onto the bike when the flux capacitor kicks in.

      • Harry says:

        As a fyi, I judge my speed by how fast my t-shirt sleeves are flapping in the wind, how often I glimpse the grimp reaper from the corner of my eye, and if I start to hear myself screaming that’s a def. 30mph downhill speed. Just so you know the accuracy of above numbers…

      • Chris says:

        I don’t keep doing it! I’ve only done it twice in two decades!

        The first (helmetless) one was around 20 years ago back when I was still young enough to be immortal. I was pushing it downhill, went round a bend, hit some loose earth on the road and went straight over the bars. I don’t remember much about it after thinking “Oh bollocks…. This is going to hurt!”. It did too.

        The second one (with helmet) was last summer. I can only really take a guess at what actually happened as concussion left me with absolutely no memory of the incident or the next 15 minutes and 1.5 miles. I actually had to upload the data from my Garmin to figure out where and when I’d crashed, which is why I know I went from 20.1mph to nothing in a very short distance. I was on an off road path on my CX bike, and it happened next to a turning that I’d kept missing, so I can only assume that I saw it at the last minute and stupidly tried to turn into it before registering that I really wasn’t going to make it at that speed.

        The second one hurt as well, but I was able to get up and cycle on for another 15 minutes or so before encountering a police cyclist of all people and asking him if he could help me home. There’s no way I could’ve got up from the first under my own steam, much less got back on my bike.

        Both of these were absolutely my fault (well, I assume the second was!), and no cars were harmed in the making of either incident, which is really my point in suggesting that the helmet debate is a perfectly valid one which can be held in parallel to a debate about the provision of safer cycling facilities, especially as the second happened on a completely car-free cycling facility.

        • Harry says:

          Ok interesting to know. I’m taking a mental note that downhill is dangerous. Every time I go out onto the roads I do think, this could be my last day, so it is interesting to know what causes danger to other people. Incidentally I lost control on the ice downhill, then I thought this is going to hurt. Slid down the hill thinking, actually this doesn’t hurt at all… oh no wait my bike is wrecked.

          W/ regards to the helmet debate, I think they are a marketing gimmick. I make a point when I do wear a helmet it’s a fully padded full face downhill helmet, not a polystyrene cap. But people outright laugh at you or go “vroom vroom” as you ride past.

          I think there’s a case that helmets cause other injuries such as spinal injuries from rotational forces, so there’s a definite debate still to be had. Every time I’ve gone down my hands have prevented my face hitting tarmac, and I wear full finger gloves for that precise reason. My personal belief is that’s a bigger safety product than the helmet.

          The kid who got hit and this story is a complete product of car centric culture. There’s no reason to hit a pedestrian in a car or on foot. I’ve had people step right out in front of me, and I would still blame myself if I hit them. The whole point of this post I think is to highlight the car centricity. If a driver dies, it’s a dangerous junction, bad lighting, awful weather conditions etc. If a cyclist dies, he should have been wearing a helmet. If he was wearing a helmet then he must have been risk taking or . This post has really taken it to the extreme and high quality helmets can prevent injury.

          However this blog is targetted towards kids cycling to school, old people cycling to the shops etc. At a speed where single vehicle accidents are unlikely to be dangerous. If we helmet up all the kids, then we need to make sure they’re all helmeted up whenever they run, because you can reach similar speeds and fall over loose concrete (cracked by cars parking on the pavement 😉 )

      • D. says:

        You can get a flux capacitor for your bike? Yeees! I want one. I’ll travel back to the seventies and tell myself to keep riding 😉 Question – how on earth do I get up to 88 mph on a bike? Must be one heck of a downhill run…

      • Charlie says:

        I’ve fallen off my bike on ice and hit my head very hard on the road. I’m very glad I was wearing a helmet, and will continue to do so. But I don’t think this means we should make helmets compulsory, because of possible negative consequences of doing so.

  6. paulc says:

    ah yes the old ‘if it saves just one life’ argument rearing it’s ugly head again…

    Nice switcheroo on the typical news article replacing cyclist with pedestrian 🙂

    It has been categorically proven that for the mass population, mandating the wearing of cycle helmets results in an increase of mortality though people no longer cycling because they won’t wear a cycle helmet thus the population as a whole is less fit.

  7. Har Davids says:

    A long time ago I had an accident where, as a pedestrian, I could have used a helmet: it was during the winter when I slipped and banged my head into a wall. The other time was two years ago in France, when I was coasting down a mountain-road and the bike someone had lend me for the day started falling apart. Lucky for me, there was one big bush I could use to ‘stop’ without making a sliding on the asphalt; I guess the helmet worked there and then.

    I’ve been cycling for over 50 years by now and apart from that incident, I’ve never worn a helmet. In some countries you are considered a dork if you take the kids to school or run some errand, while wearing a helmet. I sometimes wear a suit and tie and they are very hard to combine with some colourful, plastic ‘head-protection’.

  8. Nobody says:

    Yet another anti-helmet posting: waste of time reading this blog. (Where I live, about 80% of the accidents in which cyclists are seriously injured are single-vehicle accents: no cars, no other cyclists, no pedestrians involved. And more people are injured on bicycles than in cars (in absolute numbers); in fact, more cyclist are injured in traffic than any other category.)

    • Joel C says:

      Oh yeah?

      Also, if more people are injured in traffic than any other category, don’t you think there’s a bigger problem than whether or not people are wearing helmets?

    • jimmy-j says:

      80% of collisions are single-vehicle? Where do you live – Morzine? Les Gets?

      • pm says:

        “Made Up Land” probably. Certainly nowhere I’ve ever lived.

        And if more cyclists are injured in traffic, clearly something needs to be done about that traffic. Or would need to be, if the place actually existed, which it probably doesn’t.

  9. Interesting how they are calling for the promotion of helmets, but not a mention of any kind of measures to deal with dangerous speeding drivers. It’s like suggesting all women wear chastity belts to protect against rape.

    • cyclestrian says:

      Indeed. Or imagine Charlie’s BMX lid was dented when he tripped in a pothole in the badly-maintained pavement. Would Tracy be promoting helmets for all or would she be petitioning her councillors for safer streets?

      Bizarre that the article does not even acknowledge the existence of a driver. Was this a hit and run? One of Google’s cars gone become self aware? Are the police pressing charges of careless/dangerous driving? Is the driver’s insurance company going to replace Charlie’s helmet?

  10. D. says:

    Chris said “Without wishing to cast aspersions on the lad, the reason his mother isn’t campaigning for cars to be kept separate from bikes could well be because she knows that her lad was completely at fault.”

    Isn’t it equally possible that she isn’t so campaigning because it has never crossed her head that it was possible to keep cars separate from bikes?

  11. paulc says:

    In olden days, pavements were invented to separate pedestrians from the faster moving horse-drawn and cycling traffic… and the law was passed which defined cycles as carriages and thus not allowed to be on the pavement.

    We’re well past the point where the invention of the vastly faster moving and heavier motorised vehicle should have resulted in separated infrastructure being provided to protect cyclists…

    instead we’re suffering from miserly penny pinching with painted lines on the road and crappy shared use pavements… whilst billions is blown of rail projects that benefit very few people at all or road upgrades to cut down travel time for motorised traffic at the expense of vehicles moving even faster in close proximity to vulnerable cyclists.

    cyclists get the seriously smelly end of the stick, motorists hate us as we get in their way and impede their highly important short journeys (most journeys are less that 2 miles, well inside cycling and walking distance), and pedestrians hate us because we rush silently (well rush compared to them) on the shared use paths we’re permitted to use…

    Cycle helmets are a sideshow… the real issue here is fast, heavy motorised traffic in close proximity to slower moving unprotected (no steel cages here) cyclists…

    We want proper separated Dutch style cycling infrastructure that continues through junctions and gives priority OVER side-streets and entrances.

  12. vantheman says:

    Not many helmets here:

  13. rdrf says:

    Oh dear, nobody is talking about compensatory behavior by users of helmets and other road users to them :
    Mark Treasure writes: “So it’s quite sensible that people should wear pedestrian helmets – especially as wearing a pedestrian helmet increases the likelihood that one will still be in a position to tell others about it afterwards.

    No, I don’t.

    The main issue is – of course, and that’s why satire is and should be employed – the red-herring effect of helmet advocacy diverting attention away from the real problem (danger from motor vehicluar traffic to cyclists, and in this satirical case, to pedestrians).

    But also users adapt their behaviour, which explains why you don’t get the supposed benefits of helmet wearing showing up over time among populations who start wearing helmets. (Do have a look at the New Zealand experience and the reasons for this

    It’s all in the second post.

  14. Mike Chalkley says:

    Helmets can help to prevent ‘outside’ injuries like skin abrasion and even help to reduce skull fracture but these are not what cause death and disability.

    The real danger comes from internal injuries due to severe acceleration which makes the brain bounce and twist about inside the skull, severing blood and nerve connections.

    Being hit by a vehicle at 30mph can generate the same forces as falling from a two-storey building on to concrete.

    The small amount of compressible foam in a helmet will do virtually nothing to mitigate such forces. Rotational forces (which cause most brain damage) are not reduced at all.

    It’s time we stopped accepting that it’s OK for roads to be dangerous places. Helmets won’t save your life – neither will the current attitude to ‘road safety’! Reduce the danger at source through engineering and enforcement.

  15. Nico (@NicoVel0) says:

    All the self-centred helmet obsessives above completely miss the points that (1) it isn’t about YOU and how YOU ride and how YOU fell and how that one time a helmet helped YOUR brain carry on doing whatever the hell it is doing inside its little polystyrene box. Also miss (2) that a child going to school was ran over by (going on the scarce details in the article, shoddy journalism Bristol Post) a driver going too fast round a corner near a school. Were this my kid I’d be hunting down the bastard, not blaming the child. And campaigning for segregated infra of course, but then I’m doing that already.

  16. Ken S says:

    I’m glad Mark Hewitt isn’t advocating helmet compulsion but I would like to draw attention to some ironic truth about his comment that until the infrastructure is right he’ll keep wearing one. The inference is that while we have to mix it with motor vehicles helmets are a necessary evil and when we have the nirvana of decent segregation they won’t be necessary. Er, I’m afraid this logic is fatally flawed. If helmets have any real value in a crash (and it’s a very big if) then it is precisely in the type of crash that will be experienced away from motor traffic. The protection given by a cycle helmet will do little good against the forces that will be experienced in a collision with a motor vehicle.
    I don’t wear a helmet as I wish to continue to set a good example. I do not wish to give the impression that cycling is anything other than a very safe activity which you can do in normal everyday clothes.However, for all those like Mark who may feel the need to wear a helmet to give them the confidence to ride in amongst the motors I say please continue,even if your logic is flawed. The value of having you out there cycling still outweighs the negative image that the your helmets might portray.

  17. Pingback: My week of walking on the wild side | Fit Is a Feminist Issue

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