The pros and cons of cycle helmets

Published in Letters by

IT IS good to read that Georgina Steel is making a recovery from her cycle accident (The Press, November 12).

It seems the bus lane was felt to be a factor and research has found buses cause safety problems for cyclists.

A legal requirement of having a minimum passing clearance of one metre could be helpful to encourage drivers to take extra care.

Cycle helmets have been a problem for many years.

A judge said: “It is clear that there is a significant argument taking place in certain scientific circles regarding the efficacy of helmets, in terms of their ability to protect. On one view, they appear to pose as much danger when worn as the danger of not wearing them.”

This year, the New Zealand Medical Journal published my report, Evaluation of New Zealand’s Bicycle Law.

The abstract said: “This evaluation finds the helmet law has failed in aspects of promoting cycling, safety, health, accident compensation, environmental issues and civil liberties.”

It may be helpful if a conference in York would discuss cycle helmets.

If a college/university/hospital etc could provide a venue, then a full discussion of the issues could be presented.

My email address is Colin@vood.freeserve.co.uk in case a venue can be provided and I would help to circulate details to attract speakers.

Colin Clarke, The Crescent, Stamford Bridge, York.

Comments (16)

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11:25am Wed 14 Nov 12

mjr119 says...

I often hear about this - what is the argument?

Is it that in wearing a helmet, other road users think you are protected and therefore take less car when overtaking you? Or that the wearer thinks he is protected and therefore takes more risks? Or that the helmet itself is in some way responsible for additional injuries that wouldn't have happened otherwise?

Answers on a postcard please!
I often hear about this - what is the argument? Is it that in wearing a helmet, other road users think you are protected and therefore take less car when overtaking you? Or that the wearer thinks he is protected and therefore takes more risks? Or that the helmet itself is in some way responsible for additional injuries that wouldn't have happened otherwise? Answers on a postcard please! mjr119
  • Score: 0

12:24pm Wed 14 Nov 12

Stevie D says...

@mjr119
All of the above!

Surveys have indicated that a minority of drivers do leave less space or take less care around helmeted cyclists than those without, although it isn't fully clear why they do.

"Risk compensation" is a well-known phenomenon, and it is well established that, on average, cyclists take more risks when protected by a helmet than when not. (If you don't believe it, try turning your airbags off and then driving your car without your seat belt on ... and I'll bet you take more care than you normally would, even though you wouldn't see anything wrong with your normal driving!)

And lastly, yes, there are situations where wearing a helmet can increase the risk or exacerbate head injuries. This happens because the helmet makes the rider's head effectively bigger and heavier, which means it is more likely to hit the ground or other objects and can increase the danger of injuries to the neck (and thus the spinal cord) through rotation.

Sure, there are a lot of occasions when wearing a cycle helmet will give you additional protection, but the case in favour is not as clear cut as proponents would have you believe, and is certainly not strong enough to justify a mandatory requirement for helmet use.
@mjr119 All of the above! Surveys have indicated that a minority of drivers do leave less space or take less care around helmeted cyclists than those without, although it isn't fully clear [italic]why[/italic] they do. "Risk compensation" is a well-known phenomenon, and it is well established that, on average, cyclists take more risks when protected by a helmet than when not. (If you don't believe it, try turning your airbags off and then driving your car without your seat belt on ... and I'll bet you take more care than you normally would, even though you wouldn't see anything wrong with your normal driving!) And lastly, yes, there are situations where wearing a helmet can increase the risk or exacerbate head injuries. This happens because the helmet makes the rider's head effectively bigger and heavier, which means it is more likely to hit the ground or other objects and can increase the danger of injuries to the neck (and thus the spinal cord) through rotation. Sure, there are a lot of occasions when wearing a cycle helmet [italic]will[/italic] give you additional protection, but the case in favour is not as clear cut as proponents would have you believe, and is certainly not strong enough to justify a mandatory requirement for helmet use. Stevie D
  • Score: 0

1:10pm Wed 14 Nov 12

mjr119 says...

Cheers Stevie D - very helpful.

When I first started driving, I can always remember saying to my mum "don't worry about me" and she'd say "I'm not worried about you, it's the other idiots on the road that I'm worried about."

So the last issue concerns me, about the helmet exacerbating the injury. But in not wearing a helmet - because in theory it would make me ride more carefully - I would leave myself more exposed to other road users.

I think you can take care of the first argument - other people being less careful - by taking a more dominant position in the road, so that you avoid giving people the opportunity to pass you when there isn't enough room.

Very interesting though!
Cheers Stevie D - very helpful. When I first started driving, I can always remember saying to my mum "don't worry about me" and she'd say "I'm not worried about you, it's the other idiots on the road that I'm worried about." So the last issue concerns me, about the helmet exacerbating the injury. But in not wearing a helmet - because in theory it would make me ride more carefully - I would leave myself more exposed to other road users. I think you can take care of the first argument - other people being less careful - by taking a more dominant position in the road, so that you avoid giving people the opportunity to pass you when there isn't enough room. Very interesting though! mjr119
  • Score: 0

1:21pm Wed 14 Nov 12

sheps lad says...

Just Google" cycle hemets" for lots of opposing views on there usefullness or otherwise.
Just Google" cycle hemets" for lots of opposing views on there usefullness or otherwise. sheps lad
  • Score: 0

1:31pm Wed 14 Nov 12

NoNewsIsGoodNews says...

Regardless of the for or against argument, if I was unlucky enough to be involved in a cycling accident, I know for a fact that I would prefer to be wearing a helmet.
Regardless of the for or against argument, if I was unlucky enough to be involved in a cycling accident, I know for a fact that I would prefer to be wearing a helmet. NoNewsIsGoodNews
  • Score: 0

2:17pm Wed 14 Nov 12

yorkshirelad says...

In terms of lives saved, I understand there is a stronger case for making in-car helmets compulsory.

I think there is a case for wearing a cycle helmet, but equally, I don't think there's a case for making them compulsory.

Good to see reasoned and considerate discussion on a cycling-related topic.
In terms of lives saved, I understand there is a stronger case for making in-car helmets compulsory. I think there is a case for wearing a cycle helmet, but equally, I don't think there's a case for making them compulsory. Good to see reasoned and considerate discussion on a cycling-related topic. yorkshirelad
  • Score: 0

2:58pm Wed 14 Nov 12

mjr119 says...

Here's a question then about something I genuinely think would help everyone.

Should pedestrians wear lights?

I drive, walk, run, cycle and am convinced that pedestrians should wear lights. Not because they are a danger or because I'm cycling on the pavement, but because being able to anticipate a hazard makes it far less likely that an accident will occur.

If I had a child at school, I would 100% make them wear a light of some sort.
Here's a question then about something I genuinely think would help everyone. Should pedestrians wear lights? I drive, walk, run, cycle and am convinced that pedestrians should wear lights. Not because they are a danger or because I'm cycling on the pavement, but because being able to anticipate a hazard makes it far less likely that an accident will occur. If I had a child at school, I would 100% make them wear a light of some sort. mjr119
  • Score: 0

3:14pm Wed 14 Nov 12

Sillybillies says...

A judge said: “It is clear that there is a significant argument taking place in certain scientific circles regarding the efficacy of helmets, in terms of their ability to protect. On one view, they appear to pose as much danger when worn as the danger of not wearing them.”

Which judge, when and where did he say it, and what were the circumstances of the case he was referring to?
[quote]A judge said: “It is clear that there is a significant argument taking place in certain scientific circles regarding the efficacy of helmets, in terms of their ability to protect. On one view, they appear to pose as much danger when worn as the danger of not wearing them.”[/quote] Which judge, when and where did he say it, and what were the circumstances of the case he was referring to? Sillybillies
  • Score: 0

3:37pm Wed 14 Nov 12

Mr Udigawa says...

Sillybillies wrote:
A judge said: “It is clear that there is a significant argument taking place in certain scientific circles regarding the efficacy of helmets, in terms of their ability to protect. On one view, they appear to pose as much danger when worn as the danger of not wearing them.”
Which judge, when and where did he say it, and what were the circumstances of the case he was referring to?
Try googling it.
[quote][p][bold]Sillybillies[/bold] wrote: [quote]A judge said: “It is clear that there is a significant argument taking place in certain scientific circles regarding the efficacy of helmets, in terms of their ability to protect. On one view, they appear to pose as much danger when worn as the danger of not wearing them.”[/quote] Which judge, when and where did he say it, and what were the circumstances of the case he was referring to?[/p][/quote]Try googling it. Mr Udigawa
  • Score: 0

5:36pm Wed 14 Nov 12

CynicaloldGit says...

The current design of helmet is rubbish and it looks like a piece of nerdy headgear.
The only one that would be really efective is the old type "space" helmet worn by motorcyclists before the advent of fullface helmets...........I know, one saved my live at over 40 mph, a slow speed accident on a motorcylce, bugt I hit my head just above and the ear and just below the ear, an area of about 3 to 4 inches.
The current design of helmet is rubbish and it looks like a piece of nerdy headgear. The only one that would be really efective is the old type "space" helmet worn by motorcyclists before the advent of fullface helmets...........I know, one saved my live at over 40 mph, a slow speed accident on a motorcylce, bugt I hit my head just above and the ear and just below the ear, an area of about 3 to 4 inches. CynicaloldGit
  • Score: 0

10:03pm Wed 14 Nov 12

Paul Hepworth says...

As I have pointed out in separate correspondence, this situation could have arisen in thousands of situations where there are multi- traffic lanes. It matters not whether the second lane is bus only, cycle or a second all- vehicle one. If turning right across two lanes, make sure that both are clear. If an oncoming driver offers right of way one one lane, don't assume that the second lane is clear as well. Check it for yourself!!

The debate over the unfortunate collision referred to, has been hijacked by bus lane opponents, who believe that they are entitled instead to a clear road for their car commute. No need for Mr Clark to reinforce their flawed reasoning, from across the border in East Yorkshire .

As a regular cyclist in York, I have no problem with buses. They are an equally efficient user of road space, and I treat their presence with neccessary caution.

Mr Clark's poorly phrased letter asserts that "helmets have caused problems for many years." Who for..the wearer or non-wearer?
And New Zealand's "bicycle law" is in fact a compulsory helmet law".

The UK's national cyclists organisation CTC supports helmet wearing for eg competitive racing and mountain biking. But for leisure and utility journeys, it must remain a matter of personal choice.

For a balanced view on the helmet debate, refer to the CTC website at
www.ctc.org.uk/campa
igning/views-and-bri
efings/cycle-helmets


And read CTC's top ten tips for cycling in general traffic at
www.ctc.org.uk/artic
le/cycling-guide/top
-ten-tips-for-cyclin
g-in-traffic
As I have pointed out in separate correspondence, this situation could have arisen in thousands of situations where there are multi- traffic lanes. It matters not whether the second lane is bus only, cycle or a second all- vehicle one. If turning right across two lanes, make sure that both are clear. If an oncoming driver offers right of way one one lane, don't assume that the second lane is clear as well. Check it for yourself!! The debate over the unfortunate collision referred to, has been hijacked by bus lane opponents, who believe that they are entitled instead to a clear road for their car commute. No need for Mr Clark to reinforce their flawed reasoning, from across the border in East Yorkshire . As a regular cyclist in York, I have no problem with buses. They are an equally efficient user of road space, and I treat their presence with neccessary caution. Mr Clark's poorly phrased letter asserts that "helmets have caused problems for many years." Who for..the wearer or non-wearer? And New Zealand's "bicycle law" is in fact a compulsory helmet law". The UK's national cyclists organisation CTC supports helmet wearing for eg competitive racing and mountain biking. But for leisure and utility journeys, it must remain a matter of personal choice. For a balanced view on the helmet debate, refer to the CTC website at www.ctc.org.uk/campa igning/views-and-bri efings/cycle-helmets And read CTC's top ten tips for cycling in general traffic at www.ctc.org.uk/artic le/cycling-guide/top -ten-tips-for-cyclin g-in-traffic Paul Hepworth
  • Score: 0

4:56am Thu 15 Nov 12

Magicman! says...

mjr119 wrote:
Here's a question then about something I genuinely think would help everyone.

Should pedestrians wear lights?

I drive, walk, run, cycle and am convinced that pedestrians should wear lights. Not because they are a danger or because I'm cycling on the pavement, but because being able to anticipate a hazard makes it far less likely that an accident will occur.

If I had a child at school, I would 100% make them wear a light of some sort.
It would be nice if they did... especially if they are walking along Clifton Backies at night - the number of times I go along there with my standard and 'high beam' bike light on and almost end up on top of somebody walking along there at night in dark clothing is unbelieveable.

--

"A legal requirement of having a minimum passing clearance of one metre could be helpful to encourage drivers to take extra care."
The Highway Code actually states more space should be given than one meter... it actually states motorists should "allow as much room for overtaking cyclists as they would if overtaking another car" - so this would mean going over the white line and onto the opposite lane.

--

Cycle helmets are OK but are not a 'prevent-all' solution. I would like some sort of clothing add-on which deploys airbags if you start to topple over. My bike skidded on a tight bend just the other morning and I fell off and landed partially on my bike which has now left me with sore ribs and a sore side - had there been 'airbag clothing' available this would have offered padding and protected my sides... even better if something could be used to deploy an airbag outside your arm so you don't scrape all the skin off your arm and hand if you come off.
[quote][p][bold]mjr119[/bold] wrote: Here's a question then about something I genuinely think would help everyone. Should pedestrians wear lights? I drive, walk, run, cycle and am convinced that pedestrians should wear lights. Not because they are a danger or because I'm cycling on the pavement, but because being able to anticipate a hazard makes it far less likely that an accident will occur. If I had a child at school, I would 100% make them wear a light of some sort.[/p][/quote]It would be nice if they did... especially if they are walking along Clifton Backies at night - the number of times I go along there with my standard and 'high beam' bike light on and almost end up on top of somebody walking along there at night in dark clothing is unbelieveable. -- "A legal requirement of having a minimum passing clearance of one metre could be helpful to encourage drivers to take extra care." The Highway Code actually states more space should be given than one meter... it actually states motorists should "allow as much room for overtaking cyclists as they would if overtaking another car" - so this would mean going over the white line and onto the opposite lane. -- Cycle helmets are OK but are not a 'prevent-all' solution. I would like some sort of clothing add-on which deploys airbags if you start to topple over. My bike skidded on a tight bend just the other morning and I fell off and landed partially on my bike which has now left me with sore ribs and a sore side - had there been 'airbag clothing' available this would have offered padding and protected my sides... even better if something could be used to deploy an airbag outside your arm so you don't scrape all the skin off your arm and hand if you come off. Magicman!
  • Score: 0

8:43am Thu 15 Nov 12

Mr Udigawa says...

Paul Hepworth wrote:
As I have pointed out in separate correspondence, this situation could have arisen in thousands of situations where there are multi- traffic lanes. It matters not whether the second lane is bus only, cycle or a second all- vehicle one. If turning right across two lanes, make sure that both are clear. If an oncoming driver offers right of way one one lane, don't assume that the second lane is clear as well. Check it for yourself!! The debate over the unfortunate collision referred to, has been hijacked by bus lane opponents, who believe that they are entitled instead to a clear road for their car commute. No need for Mr Clark to reinforce their flawed reasoning, from across the border in East Yorkshire . As a regular cyclist in York, I have no problem with buses. They are an equally efficient user of road space, and I treat their presence with neccessary caution. Mr Clark's poorly phrased letter asserts that "helmets have caused problems for many years." Who for..the wearer or non-wearer? And New Zealand's "bicycle law" is in fact a compulsory helmet law". The UK's national cyclists organisation CTC supports helmet wearing for eg competitive racing and mountain biking. But for leisure and utility journeys, it must remain a matter of personal choice. For a balanced view on the helmet debate, refer to the CTC website at www.ctc.org.uk/campa igning/views-and-bri efings/cycle-helmets And read CTC's top ten tips for cycling in general traffic at www.ctc.org.uk/artic le/cycling-guide/top -ten-tips-for-cyclin g-in-traffic
You been at the half pint of Tetleys in the Fox eh PP?
The problem with you is you wear the very same blinkers that you accuse other people of wearing.
The section of Bus lane outside Aldi was reviewed and found to be dangerous, so it was removed. Most people can accept that.
And what does the fact that Mr Clarke comes from the East riding have anything to do with the point he's making? If he lived in Richmond or Hawes would that make his views more relevant?
Get a grip and don't let your personal prejudices take over.
[quote][p][bold]Paul Hepworth[/bold] wrote: As I have pointed out in separate correspondence, this situation could have arisen in thousands of situations where there are multi- traffic lanes. It matters not whether the second lane is bus only, cycle or a second all- vehicle one. If turning right across two lanes, make sure that both are clear. If an oncoming driver offers right of way one one lane, don't assume that the second lane is clear as well. Check it for yourself!! The debate over the unfortunate collision referred to, has been hijacked by bus lane opponents, who believe that they are entitled instead to a clear road for their car commute. No need for Mr Clark to reinforce their flawed reasoning, from across the border in East Yorkshire . As a regular cyclist in York, I have no problem with buses. They are an equally efficient user of road space, and I treat their presence with neccessary caution. Mr Clark's poorly phrased letter asserts that "helmets have caused problems for many years." Who for..the wearer or non-wearer? And New Zealand's "bicycle law" is in fact a compulsory helmet law". The UK's national cyclists organisation CTC supports helmet wearing for eg competitive racing and mountain biking. But for leisure and utility journeys, it must remain a matter of personal choice. For a balanced view on the helmet debate, refer to the CTC website at www.ctc.org.uk/campa igning/views-and-bri efings/cycle-helmets And read CTC's top ten tips for cycling in general traffic at www.ctc.org.uk/artic le/cycling-guide/top -ten-tips-for-cyclin g-in-traffic[/p][/quote]You been at the half pint of Tetleys in the Fox eh PP? The problem with you is you wear the very same blinkers that you accuse other people of wearing. The section of Bus lane outside Aldi was reviewed and found to be dangerous, so it was removed. Most people can accept that. And what does the fact that Mr Clarke comes from the East riding have anything to do with the point he's making? If he lived in Richmond or Hawes would that make his views more relevant? Get a grip and don't let your personal prejudices take over. Mr Udigawa
  • Score: 0

8:54am Thu 15 Nov 12

old_geezer says...

Making pedestrians wear lights is sadly unrealistic, though thanks to those who do carry them. More useful would be encouragement to fit lights to dogs, which are more of a hazard. Again, some do, and you can buy special collars.

As for helmets, all said above - I always wear one, but don't want them to be compulsory.
Making pedestrians wear lights is sadly unrealistic, though thanks to those who do carry them. More useful would be encouragement to fit lights to dogs, which are more of a hazard. Again, some do, and you can buy special collars. As for helmets, all said above - I always wear one, but don't want them to be compulsory. old_geezer
  • Score: 0

12:26pm Fri 16 Nov 12

J-Dawg says...

Personally, helmets, visibility clothing and lights should be mandatory at all times.

I would also like to see a well designed indicator system which is linked to lights and wrists (not physically linked, just wirelessly or something). when you indicate right it'll set the indicators off. Or one that can be turned off and on by a switch.
Personally, helmets, visibility clothing and lights should be mandatory at all times. I would also like to see a well designed indicator system which is linked to lights and wrists (not physically linked, just wirelessly or something). when you indicate right it'll set the indicators off. Or one that can be turned off and on by a switch. J-Dawg
  • Score: 0

1:34pm Fri 16 Nov 12

YSTClinguist says...

I've seen quite a few cyclists recently as the nights have drawn in, wearing black clothes, on black bikes, with no lights. This is the height of madness.

The need to wear clothing that is broken up, light and colour, (not a full hi-viz vest/jacket that I think isn't the answer) is also carried over to cycle gloves that have logos, flashes or reflective material that enable road users behind to see it on the hand outstretched as an indicator.

But many cyclists have yet to learn to indicate effectively and legally. Pointing forwards, lifting your arm up for a second at 45 degrees, these are not legal methods. There is also a prescribed method (just like motorcycle training) to manoeuvre on the road, and many do not follow this:

Shoulder check, indicate, shoulder check, manoeuvre, then when finally turning off the road, there are checks to be made again for the traffic movement.

I have frequently seen many riders unable to rotate their heads enough to shoulder check. I've seen over and again at specific junctions on my rides women who don't have the confidence to signal and manoeuvre to turn off the road to the right and end up pulling to the left opposite the junction and waiting for a gap in traffic. This is dangerous, they aren't meant to be there, and it means anyone coming up behind them is put at great risk.

Cycle training must be made compulsory like I had when living abroad. But once everyone is trained, and behaving themselves, it won't stop the rants. fro drivers. Only reducing fuel taxes will ease this in desperate times.
I've seen quite a few cyclists recently as the nights have drawn in, wearing black clothes, on black bikes, with no lights. This is the height of madness. The need to wear clothing that is broken up, light and colour, (not a full hi-viz vest/jacket that I think isn't the answer) is also carried over to cycle gloves that have logos, flashes or reflective material that enable road users behind to see it on the hand outstretched as an indicator. But many cyclists have yet to learn to indicate effectively and legally. Pointing forwards, lifting your arm up for a second at 45 degrees, these are not legal methods. There is also a prescribed method (just like motorcycle training) to manoeuvre on the road, and many do not follow this: Shoulder check, indicate, shoulder check, manoeuvre, then when finally turning off the road, there are checks to be made again for the traffic movement. I have frequently seen many riders unable to rotate their heads enough to shoulder check. I've seen over and again at specific junctions on my rides women who don't have the confidence to signal and manoeuvre to turn off the road to the right and end up pulling to the left opposite the junction and waiting for a gap in traffic. This is dangerous, they aren't meant to be there, and it means anyone coming up behind them is put at great risk. Cycle training must be made compulsory like I had when living abroad. But once everyone is trained, and behaving themselves, it won't stop the rants. fro drivers. Only reducing fuel taxes will ease this in desperate times. YSTClinguist
  • Score: 0

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