Let''s start another helmet debate . . .

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nigel

Let''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby nigel » 12 Oct 2004, 6:29pm

This isn't really about helmets; it's a letter they wouldn't put in the magazine.

Why so much fuss about cycle helmets and so little about high-visibility clothing? Surely a debate about being SEEN should come first? I bought one of those bright yellow diddy-jacket things from the leaflet in 'Cycle' and it saves my life everyday! I no longer need to wear a helmet because I don't get knocked off anymore (touching wood).

Why are there so few bright yellow helmets around? Could it be that helmet manufacturers are happy to see cyclists getting run over, claiming that the crushed helmet has saved their life ("a lifesaver! -everyone should wear one . . .") and then going out and buying another dark red helmet. . . ?

Why no campaigns for compulsory high-visibility clothing? OK, so the yellow jackets look a bit daft, but to non-cyclists ALL cyclists look silly anyway.

Pedalling Pete

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Pedalling Pete » 13 Oct 2004, 5:02am

Agreed - injury prevention is better than injury reduction. A yellow "Gamex" jacket is always with me in busy traffic, and always a pair of track mitts to offer protection on those occasions when rider and bike are parted! It also helps the prosecution of motorists to be able to hold up the yellow jacket in court, when the driver claims they "didn't see you". I think Nicole Cooke always wears a yellow helmet, so there are good quality ones to be had.

Jon

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Jon » 13 Oct 2004, 1:22pm

Having read the bit is the latest magazine about police cyclists, I'm wondering how I can make myself look as much like one of them as possible. I'll bet they don't get stuff thrown at them!

Anthony

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Anthony » 14 Oct 2004, 2:50pm

As regards trying to look like a police cyclist, there have been a number of incidents where they have been deliberately targetted and rammed. One occurred recently in the news, but some quick googling has failed to find the original story I read.

Pete

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Pete » 15 Oct 2004, 10:09am

The problem with the fuss is it's primarily created by people who don't appear to have Any Clues Whatsoever... (did someone mention BHIT? ;-/)

You actually didn't need to wear a helmet anyway: there's no good evidence that they save lives at all (no, really, there isn't, even pro-helmet roads minister David Jamieson has said so in a written reply to a parliamentary question, and there's plenty of supporting data following up compulsory helmet legislation in Australia and NZ to underline this). The most you can reasonably expect is that it could save you a nasty graze and a bloody awful headache. There's nothing wrong with wanting to prevent either of those, but it certainly isn't something that's worth making compulsory. If the true effectiveness (or rather lack thereof) of helmets was better known then the clamour to force such "common sesne" items on us might not be so great.

Onto visibility, I note that one item which already /is/ compulsory is lamps after dark, but there's no shortage of Stealth Cyclists who don't bother or use pitifully inadequate lighting. These folk really aren't doing themselves any favours safety wise, and they aren't doing the rest of us any favours either as we get tarred with their rather daft brush.

I would be quite happy for police to actively target and prosecute people with no lmaps after dark. I suppose the main problem with this is seeing the numpties to start with!

Pete.

Anthony

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Anthony » 15 Oct 2004, 1:16pm

I always wear a helmet when cycling, it is quite obvious that they prevent injury.

However, my views on the compulsory use of helmets is somewhat different, given the possible effects on public health:

http://www.blacktriangle.org/blog/2004/ ... lmets.html

Pete

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Pete » 18 Oct 2004, 3:18pm

"I always wear a helmet when cycling, it is quite obvious that they prevent injury"

They almost certainly prevent a few minor ones, but when it comes to the sort of thing that gets you a starring role in the A&E department it is far from obvious that they do anything at all. Get reading in www.cyclehelmets.org and have a think about the information there. If you want to argue about it more head over to uk.rec.cycling and there are people quite well versed in an abundance of facts and figures to talk to about it. The figures you cite in your weblog have come in for quite considerable derision if you look into it rather more, the magic 88% figure coming from the incredibly heavily panned Thompson, Rivara & Thompson, for example.

Offroad, where you are riding in a more sporting manner on more marginal surfaces and can thus say your chances of parting company with the bike are rather greater then it makes rather more sense, but for routine use on the road they don't actually have much (if any) tangible benefit beyond helping to keep the rain off, and there are good figures at population level to demonstrate the fact from before and after compulsory helmet laws increased wearing rates significantly but had no effect on serious injury rates.

I used to wear one any time I rode because "it was daft not to", but further reading has shown that there's more to it than "common sense". Since the DfT seem to think that anyone wearing a helmet is a vote for compulsion (and it seems some people in the DfT really do) then wearing one could actually be counter productive to public health. Sad, but true.

Pete.

nigel

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby nigel » 19 Oct 2004, 11:46am

Two points :

1) If there were no cars on the roads at all, would those who currently wear helmets still feel the need to wear them? My point being that although helmets are not designed to withstand impact from cars many people cite accidents with cars as a reason for wearing them. It logically follows that we (cyclists) should be campaigning to remove the causes of 'accidents' rather than dealing with the consequences.

2) (and I've made this point before) I don't wear a helmet and have fallen off my bike and been knocked of my bike many times without suffering a serious head injury, yet it seems that nearly everyone who comes off their bike whilst wearing a helmet is convinced that the helmet saved them from what would have been a fatal injury. Conclusion? Wear a helmet and you will have life-threatening near-misses. Don't wear a helmet and you will just come off your bike and maybe hurt yourself.

I apologise to anyone who knows someone who has had a fatal accident whilst not wearing a helmet -I am not trying to trivialise this. The most likely result of being knocked off your bike too many times is not that you will end up dead but that you will give up cycling before you are killed. And THAT is the real tragedy of all this.

Anthony

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Anthony » 19 Oct 2004, 12:56pm

I'd still wear a helmet.

I take the points about good cycling skills, educating other road users, making yourself visible, but having seen cycle helmets collected in an Casualty Unit I can't see the point of not wearing one. It's a bit like suggesting airbags are pointless, since we should be addressing the causes of accidents instead. Surely both are useful, given addressing causes will take forever, and is unlikely to be 100% effective.

Also being bald before my years, a cycling helmet gives the appearance of youth.

Pete

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Pete » 20 Oct 2004, 9:46am

"I'd still wear a helmet."

I don't want to stop you, but I would say you should think a little more about your reasoning. For example, "having seen cycle helmets collected in an Casualty Unit I can't see the point of not wearing one" has you looking at things which have *failed* to prevent their wearers getting into A&E, and citing that as a reason to use one!

The implicit assumption is that they'd be worse off without them but the fact that injury rates have /not changed/ with increased helmet wearing after compulsion shows quite effectively that this does not appear to be the case.
A pile of trashed helmets is a catalogue of failures, not successes! If the helmets have cracked and smashed rather than deformed then they'll have absorbed hardly energy and done practically no load spreading, both of which they /need/ to do in order to do a useful job. Beyond that it just makes it easier to hit your head and have your neck twisted.

To draw a parallel to argue against your "we might as well abandon air bags" argument, a good leather jacket will give you quite effective protection from stray duckshot, but it will make no effective difference to targeted rifle fire. So it doesn't make much sense to go out of way to wear one if it is targeted rifle fire you're dealing with. And so it is with sliding a bike out on some gravel against a collision with a ton of steel moving at speed. What is good for the first is not necessarily *any* use with the second.

People assume they /must/ be of /some/ use, and I used to think that, but look at the data from NZ and Oz and it's quite clear that they have no track record there of having helped *at all* in serious head injury reduction. They are an emotive diversion in safety terms rather than something that seeme to be genuinely effective.

Wear a helmet becasuse you want to mitigate an unlikely but possible nasty graze and headache. That's a good reason. OTOH, thinking it might do anything to save your life is probably just kidding yourself and possibly leading to risk homeostatsis which in turn leads you to more danger.

Pete.

Anthony

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Anthony » 20 Oct 2004, 3:46pm

I'm fairly realistic about what a helmet will save me from, but it won't do any harm. Having had a recent fall where the helmet did take a bang, I'm glad it was inbetween my head and the tarmac. I doubt it "saved my life", but it at least saved me a headache.

I take your point about risk homeostasis, but I don't think I'm risk compensating because of the protection offered by the helmet. I suspect the risk compensation induced by using a cycle helmet is pretty small compared to that induced by ABS braking, seatbelts, and airbags in a car. Helmets are fairly useless if you go under a truck.

I forget which comedian said it, but it was argued that if all cars had a great big metal spike projecting out of the centre of the steering wheel, accident rates would drop dramatically.

Pete

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Pete » 21 Oct 2004, 9:44am

Actually, a helmet /might/ do you some harm. Because they expand the effective volume of your head you're more likely to hit it to start with (there's a study on that referenced at cyclehelmets.org, in fact), and some neuro folk are concerned that the risk of rotational injury is increased by the way the helmet protrudes. Rotations tend to be the cause of the really nasty ones where the spine gets tweaked, and these are also (I gather) the ones that tend to happen in more serious crashes, beyond the scope of lids to be useful.

It is the case that nobody has really quantified the risks fully, but OTOH it's also the case that you /cannot/ simply say "it won't do any harm".

As for not thinking you're risk compensating, one of the problems is that nobody ever does, which is why it happens!

I'm not trying to get you to abandon your helmet, in case it seems that way. But I do want people to stop using them for bad reasons. "To save a possible headache or nasty graze", or even "I just want to wear it, okay!" are Good Reasons, while "it can't do any harm!", "it's common sense!" and "it might save my life!" are not, AFAICT.

Pete.

nigel

Re:Let''''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby nigel » 21 Oct 2004, 10:36am

Just as a matter of interest Pete, do you have any figures for the number of motorists and pedestrians who suffer serious head injuries in accidents? Would there be a case for arguing that all motorists and pedestrians should be wearing helmets too?

Pete

Re:Let''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Pete » 22 Oct 2004, 11:00am

From www.cyclehelmets.org

* The road users most at risk from head injury are pedestrians and young drivers. 1

* In Great Britain, 6 times more pedestrians and 18 times more motor vehicle occupants suffer lethal head injuries than cyclists. Pedestrians and motor vehicle occupants also suffer more lethal injuries to the abdomen and thorax. 2

* Children are 2.6 times more likely to suffer head injury through jumping and falling than by cycling. 3

* More than 99% of head injuries seen by UK hospitals do not involve road cyclists. 4

* Helmets for motorists are much more effective than those for cyclists and more beneficial than seat belts, interior padding or air bags. Their potential for reducing injury is 17 times greater than that of cycle helmets. 5"

The numbers are reference citations. Pop over to the site and look them up if you want more information, and have a look at the rest of it while you're there. There's quite a lot of information that runs very much contrary to "common sense" as practiced in the UK.

The most fundamental conclusion to me is that cycling is a basically safe activity if you're not pushing the sporting envelope, and has no more need of special body protection than other basically safe activities like walking, using stairs and putting up shelves (all of which get people into A&E or even dead, but not that much by proportion). I don't feel a need to wear a helmet going down my stairs, even though it could be argued "it won't do any harm". So why should I use one on my bike?

Pete.

Anthony

Re:Let''s start another helmet debate . . .

Postby Anthony » 23 Oct 2004, 9:35am

I suspect my own views on cycle helmets, and my willingness to put one on, may be due to the fact I was a very keen climber and find it a hard habit to break. Mind you, there is debate in that sport as well, and I didn't always wear a helmet, especially if soloing.

http://www.tradgirl.com/climbing_faq/safety.htm#helmets