[Prologue: At least one regular reader will know who’s involved in what I’m about to write. I’ve left out much detail but if you think any of what I’ve said is inappropriate then let me know and I’ll remove it.]
It’s Been on My Mind
I’ve been meaning to write about cycle helmets for ages but recent events have brought to the fore my want to share what I think.
A friend of mine was knocked off his bike and landed on his head, crushing a vertebrae. His helmet was severely damaged – his skull was intact.
This has obviously made me think hard about cycling and helmet-wearing and I’ve been trying to crystallise my thoughts.
I’m obviously a keen cyclist, and I read lots on the internet, Twitter, and other people’s blogs, about:
- pros and cons of wearing a helmet;
- pros and cons of helmet legislation;
- anecdotes about helmet wearing/not-wearing;
- pros and cons of websites/blogs/people that talk about the pros and cons of wearing a helmet;
You get the idea.
For those who don’t move in cycling circles, the safety benefits of cycle helmets are far from proven and they may even make injuries from an accident WORSE!
It’s all explained, far better than I could ever explain it, on the Cycle Helmets Site.
Anyway, other people seem to get very passionate about helmet wearing. Most people, and cycling organisations, I’ve come across are “pro-helmet-choice”, or “anti-helmet-legislation”. They are keen to educate people about the myth that a helmet makes you safer.
What strikes me is that the balance seems to be a bit out. People who are pro-helmet-choice come across as being anti-helmet, even though some of them wear helmets. Some of what I read also paints those who don’t know about the inconclusive bike helmet science as being a bit daft.
This annoys me somewhat as I used to be someone who thought that a helmet was obviously going to help protect you in a fall and I don’t think it’s stupid to think that way.
Out with it!
So, where am I at with the whole cycle helmet thing? Well:
- I instinctively feel that I SHOULD wear one. The thought of my head hitting tarmac at speed doesn’t fill me with joyous expectation. I’d like my head to be protected.
- I read the current science and research as being inconclusive. I’ve not read it all in depth, but it seems to say that if I fall one way a helmet will protect me, and if I fall another way, a helmet will make my injuries worse. There appears to be no right or wrong.
- So…I wear a helmet for all my cycling.
- I am “pro-helmet-choice” – I am against making cycle helmet wearing compulsory as I believe that this would put people off cycling (this seems to be fairly well proven by statistics).
- I am very much pro-cycling. The benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks, and the risks clearly decrease as more people cycle. (See CTC’s Safety in Numbers report)
- I’m also pro- other cycle safety measures: training people to ride on the road; better cycle infrastructure; use of lights, colours and reflectives to make sure you’re seen; and riding confidently and learning to anticipate driver movements. How’s about we reduce the risk of falling or being hit in the first place?
There are other aspects of this discussion, that I actually don’t feel I can answer, or even that they’re particularly important, such as:
- Do I ride more dangerously, and take more risks because I’m wearing a helmet?
- Do vehicle drivers give me less room because I wear a helmet…and lycra…and reflectives!?!
- Are there better solutions to protecting your head whilst on a bike? Is there a different helmet design that could be used?
What happened to my friend has really brought home the whole cycling safety and helmets issue. I no longer have just statistics, studies and reports, I have a real person, that I know, who has had a week in hospital, is wearing a brace, and who will have 6 to 8 weeks of not being able to do much at all, and probably a lengthly period of recouperation after that.
The studies say that wearing a helmet may increase the damage done in a nasty accident. But it may also save your life.
My common sense says that in a minor accident my head will probably be better off with a helmet.
And my personal experience is of a person who seems to have been spared injury because of a helmet.
I think it’s really important that people have information and make a choice about helmet wearing.
I think it’s really important that we offer people training on cycling on the road, build decent cycle lanes and infrastructure, and encourage more people onto bikes.
I think it’s really important that we all, when driving vehicles, give room to cyclists and take extra care to look out for them. And DON’T pass them at any sort of junction…especially a roundabout!
In the meantime, I pray for my friend and his family, and I continue to wear my polystyrene “lid”.
What do you think? Would the inconclusive facts change your mind about helmets? Would the experience of my friend change your opinion? Or would it reinforce your existing opinion?