Let''s start another helmet debate . . .

Commuting, Day rides, Audax, Incidents, etc.

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

Postby troywinters » 1 Dec 2004, 2:09pm

in reverse order, regarding 'But, the site also makes claims of its own: that helmets are designed only for impacts up to modest speeds and therefore don't help in the more common/serious faster impacts with cars;" erm the test standards involve dizzy heights of 1m for dropping helmets, hardly representative of been rammed at 30mph.
now on the original question about hi-vis, I believe it's another case of risk balancing. years ago drivers hardly bothered to put lights on when it was raining or dusk, now the slightest cloud and it's full beam and driving lamps on. hence any unlit road user is overlooked. if 'every' cyclist started wearing a hi-vis vest then guess what, in a short time drivers would stop looking for anyone not wearing one. road safety is like the arms race. as soon as you improve your defences the enemy build a bigger bomb.


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

Postby nigel » 2 Dec 2004, 1:22pm

Troywinters -the point you make that if 'every' cyclist wore hi-vis clothing then motorists would stop looking for anyone not wearing one is a tricky one; do individuals give up trying to look conspicuous and hopefully avoiding 'accidents' or should we somehow take some responsibility for our fellow cyclists too and continue to wear dark clothing and therefore increase our own chances of being hit?
I'd like to thank you for returning to the original topic because I still believe that this discussion should have preceeded the great helmet debate.
On a similar theme, why do new cars now have THREE braking lights? I now feel the need to have two rear lights on my bike because one isn't enough with the plethora of red lights on cars.
I would welcome a campaign by the CTC to reduce the number of brake lights on cars to only two as they had been for so long.
Troywinters point is valid for hi-vis wear for cyclists but once again, should cyclists, as arguably the most vulnerable road users, have to continually be on the defensive in matters of road safety?


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

Postby JS » 2 Dec 2004, 2:11pm

Pete: sorry, I posted a lengthy reply yesterday, but it disappeared into the ether and never made it to the web site.

But actually, I disagree with you. Let us accept that the evidence shows that where helmet wearing has increased (either through compulsion or encouragement) injury rates have not fallen. This could be because helmets make no difference to injuries in a given accident. But it could be because, at the same time, one or more of the following also varied: amount of cycling; type of people cycling; care exercised by cyclists; care exercised by motorists; reporting efficiency of injuries; classification of injuries.

I agree with you that at the level of society, it doesn't really matter which of these is applying: what matters is that helmet compulsion doesn't improve overall health in a society (and in fact I accept the evidence that it makes it worse, by reducing cycling).

But at the individual level, it does matter. If the explanation is that helmets make no difference, then I as an indivdual get no benefit from wearing one. But if the explanation is one of the others, then I as an individual would still get a benefit, provided that wearing one doesn't modify my own behaviour or motorists' behaviour towards me.

If wearing a helmet makes motorists more likely to be careless and hit me; or if wearing a helmet increases the chances of a serious rotational injury to the head; then my strategy as an individual is not to wear one.

But unless those apply - and they certainly haven't been proved in anything I've read - my optimum strategy is to wear one and receive whatever limited but finite benefit it brings.

The idea that the optimum strategy for individuals (wear one) may be different from that for society (don't encourage their use as it's counterproductive) is not new - the optimum strategy for me as a parent is for every other parent to give their child MMR but for me not to.

re pedestrian v cycling helmet wearing: in 20 years of adult life I've been knocked off a bike by a car once and fallen off by my own poor cycling four times - five occasions on each of which I landed on shoulders/head and therefore was potentially vulnerable to head injuries (one of those actually broke my helmet). Whereas everytime I can recall falling over on foot I've put an arm out to support/cushion myself - I may break a wrist but I haven't been at risk of head injuries. Even allowing for the danger of extrapolating from small numbers, I conclude that for me there is a stronger case for helmet wearing when cycling than when walking.

re the performance of helmets at different speeds: if I'm in a high speed collision, I entirely agree the helmet, not designed for that, will not save me. But it will extract some of the energy of the collision. In such an injury, I'd be glad of any reduction in the consequences however slight - I'd rather be a partial vegetable than a complete one. (But see my earlier comment: if it could be established rather than conjectured that helmets increase the risk of rotational injuries this would no longer apply.)

Best wishes



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

Postby Pete » 3 Dec 2004, 3:38pm

John, have to disagree with your disagreements, I'm afraid... Taking them in turn:

"But it could be because, at the same time, one or more of the following also varied: " <variables snipped>

It could, you're quite right, but we do have reason to believe they're not problems with the interpretation.
For a start, most of these factors will have a slow drift over time, and affect the outcome with similarly slow drift. Mandatory Helmet Laws (MHLs), on the other hand, give a very sharp change which should still cause a bump in the trends if they are truly significant becuase they affect the dataset in a far more abrupt manner, but we see no such bump.
It would also be surprising if the various variables you mention all conspired to iron out a helmet benefit equally in every place we look, though it is everywhere we look that we find no tangible benefit.
Thirdly, pedestrian casualty trends for road accidents are a good control group becasue they consistently mirror the trends for cyclists. Although the pedestrian trend is unaffected by cycle helmet uptake (hopefully not *too* big an assumption!) the trends between pedestrian and cyclists show remarkable correlation despite increasing helmet use in the cyclists. Any effect from, e.g. motorist behaviour or casualty reporting changes /should/ affect the pedestrian group fairly equally to the cyclists, so again it seems reasonable not to worry /too/ much about this.

"But unless those apply - and they certainly haven't been proved in anything I've read - my optimum strategy is to wear one and receive whatever limited but finite benefit it brings."

No they haven't been proved, but why does that change your optimum strategy? "There is zero apparent effective benefit because of X" or "There is zero apparent effective benefit but we don't know why" still leaves you with zero apparent effective benefit. Whatever the reason, the "limited but finite benefit" appears to be zero, plus or minus a very wee bit. There is no particular reason to assume the helmet *must* be a good thing, but that is what you're doing. Knowing *why* the benefit is effectively zero will not change the number.

"Even allowing for the danger of extrapolating from small numbers, I conclude that for me there is a stronger case for helmet wearing when cycling than when walking."

I don't think you have allowed for it. I'm not aware of any data that suggests cyclists suffer proportionately far greater numbers of head injuries than pedestrians. Though note I say "I am not aware" rather than "I am sure and here's the data". If you have a link to better data than my memory I'd be happy to consider it, but the sample base does need to be much bigger than 1!

"But it will extract some of the energy of the collision. In such an injury, I'd be glad of any reduction in the consequences however slight"

Again the case that such instances don't show up, so your assumption that the helmet /must/ do some good is not reasonable. I'll grant you it's "common sense" and intuitive that it should, but that doesn't count for much as reasoning in (hopefully) objective science of this sort. Vegetable to partial vegetable won't be differentiated as both are "serious", but dead to almost dead should do, and is of the same order of importance, because fatalities are taken separately. And there's no clear benefit from the figures.

"if it could be established rather than conjectured that helmets increase the risk of rotational injuries this would no longer apply."

Actually, it wouldn't make any difference. If your "optimum stratgey" is simply "avoid serious injury riding bike on road" then the reasons /why/ a helmet wouldn't help you are not important, only the fact that it doesn't help you really matters. And although we don't know why they don't appear to be of any benefit in mitigating serious injury in road accidents, we do know that the data tells us that appears to be the case. Your "optimum strategy" in this case is unaffected by helmet wearing, whether you wear one, or whether you don't.

I'm concentrating my points on serious injuries and fatalities for two reasons. First, they are much less likely to be under-reported so represent more reliable data, and second because they're the ones that really matter. Note the above argumnet doesn't apply to bumps and grazes, mitigation of which would be a perfectly good reason to wear a helmet, but not to insist on it as a legal requirement. Furthermore, note that mitigating bumps and grazes is basically down to comfort, and you lose some of that ever time you put on a rigid foam hat with a snug chinstrap, so it's a swap of certain chronic minor discomfort to or from potentially serious acute discomfort which probably won't happen...



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

Postby JS » 8 Dec 2004, 5:48am

Hi again

I think we only really disagree on one thing: whether the evidence on the relation between increased helmet wearing across a society and serious injuries across a society is also valid evidence on the relation between wearing a helmet for an individual and the risk for that individual. If you accept that it is, as you do, then, broadly, everything you say follows; if you don't, as I don't, then, broadly, I think my position follows, ie that some energy reduction in a collision involving the head, however slight, is welcome.

But hey, actually, there's no great need for us to evangelise each other. We both agree that helmet compulsion is wrong and counterproductive. We both agree that even helmet encouragement is dodgy and probably counterproductive. I have no desire to try to convince you to wear a helmet. You, presumably, have no objection to me carrying on wearing one. So all's well with the world (well our little bit of it anyway).

Incidentally, in epidemiology, the idea that a correlation that applies across a collection of individuals applies to each individual in that group is known as the "ecological fallacy" - there's been a debate about it rumbling on recently in the pages of scientific journals in relation to radon levels and lung cancer.

Incidentally too, I heard recently (if it was on the cyclehelmets.org website my apologies to them for not crediting it) that with motorcycle helmets, where there is no suggestion of de-legalising them, there is nonetheless a big issue about making them as smooth and slippery as possible and with no peaks sticking out, all so as to minimise the risk of rotational injury to the head.

Incidentally finally, I also understand that horse riding helmets are designed to a higher standard than bicycle helmets. Do any cyclists wear helmets that are actually better than the current generation of cycle helmets?


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

Postby Pinky » 9 Dec 2004, 2:11am

An interesting debate. At 67 with a renewed cycling involvement and a years 4800 miles behind me-- I wear a helmet every time I get on the velo.

1. It gives me an element of protection which on 2 occasions has been useful.

2. For most of the last 12 months it has been covered with a wind/waterproof hi vis yellow cover (complete with reflective stripes). This has kept my head dry, and warm ( In the Pyrennees it was invaluable)
3. I believe that, in wearing it, the average motorist might consider that I am an intellegent and traffic aware cyclist and not a member of the vast majority of casual cycle users who seem to regard all laws, common sense, politeness, and general intellegent behaviour to be repugnent to them.

4. It causes me no inconvenience whatsoever and it also covers my whitening, but full head of hair. I can still be vain about my appearence!
5. All my "bike wear" is steered toward the hi vis, "real cyclist" gear and my helmet is part of that image creation. That is important and I believe that most motorised vehicle drivers are more aware of what I would call a "proper cyclist". It tends to be, inevitably, all about visual image but my experience in this last year of cycling is that there are at least as many extremely bad cyclists ( actually many more in reality) as there are bad motorists.

If wearing a helmet helps to place me in the ranks of "real cyclists" then I think is it a very good reason for wearing it.
On my long cycling pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in April/May this year my overall opinion form was that the majority of cyclists I saw in France and Spain were wearing helmets -- btw it became compulsory in Spain this year!
In summary of my long ramble -- why not wear one if it help creates the right image -- and might even give some protection

Trevor A Panther in S Yorkshire


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

Postby TATANAB » 9 Dec 2004, 9:18am

Of course you are right that if you wish, you should be able to wear a helmet, and anything else you may choose. As long as there is no compulsion for others to follow I have no argument. The point I would like to pick up is that you had your helmet covered most of the time which helped you keep warm. What about the opposite problem? I have lived in warm/hot areas where I had to wear a helmet, and even the most ventilated helmet caused me heat distress when working hard such as climbing on exposed roads. I have seen people suffering heat distress even in the UK. Taking off the helmet (as I did) brought instant relief. Surely I am damaging myself by subjecting my brain to this? I know somebody will say "better temporary distress than permanent damage". In that case, look at the Tour de France for example. It is now a requirement for the riders to wear helmets almost all the time. Look at how many pay lip service to this by having dangling straps and a helmet pushed back to allow ventilation to the forehead. Similarly you comment that helmets are required in Spain, as noted in the CTC Gazette and other places, this may be true but there are many many exclusions to this.

In summary - I have no argument with your choice to use a helmet because it works for you, but I support the CTC in their anti compulsion stance.


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

Postby CJ » 9 Dec 2004, 10:48am

Dear Pinky: dressing up like a "real cyclist" may well engender respect in France and Spain. But in Britain, sadly, that strategy is likely to have the reverse effect.

Since you have cycled both at home and abroad you cannot fail to have noticed the much greater care and courtesy afforded to by the average French driver. Perhaps because cycle racing is a high-profile spectator sport in France, the French identify with cyclists just as they and we identify with footballers. A cyclist is a viewed as a fellow human being: different but in a good way.

Perhaps tellingly, the term "lycra lout" has no French translation and the situation Britain, as described by Stuart Reid's work on driver attitudes for the Transport Research Laboratory, could not be more different. To the average Brit a cyclist is an alien species: an embarrassing object in the way that must be passed, put out of sight and out of mind, as rapidly as possible. Our garb is not the outfit of a respected athlete but a clown's suit, a ludicrous ensemble that serves only to make us appear even more alien to the man behind the wheel. He does not see someone who will bleed like himself if pricked, he sees a cyclist.

Reid discovered that drivers do nevertheless associate the "real cyclist" image with a higher level of cycling skill. Not that it does us any good. Drivers apparently recognise that a more confident and skilful cyclist can be passed that much closer and faster! Cyclists in helmets are also perceived as being better protected. So far from engendering respect, by dressing up as "real cyclists" we simultaneously alienate ourselves from the man behind the wheel, whilst inviting him to take advantage or our greater cycling ability and invulnerability, compared to the average bloke on a bike.

My strategy therefore, is so far as possible to disguise my cycling skills and act the part of an ordinary bloke on a bike. It's wonderful how much more road-space one may secure with a mirror and a well-timed wobble! And I must say that instances of close and fast passing have become even less common since also abandoning the helmet for my regular commute.

Of course I put all the gear on for longer rides in the countryside, it does after all make cycling more comfortable, but as for safer – in your dreams, at least this side of La Manche.


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

Postby Pete » 9 Dec 2004, 11:14am

Hi agin JS, I'm aware of the "Ecological fallacy" and Simpsons Paradox, as it happens. My issue with your argument is that although I'd agree that some amount of energy absorbtion is a good thing it does require that all else is equal, and your basic assumption appears to be that all else is equal until proven otherwise. I don't see that that's a safe assumption.

As I see it the evidence suggests no benefit, as opposed to "there is no benefit to be seen but I'll wear one because any more energy absorbtion must be good", because that requires there to be no other possible effect beyond the extra absorbtion.

I'm not trying to stop anyone wearing one, I wear one myself at times (when I think there's a better than usual chance of a graze or a bump, such as on the MTB), but I do want people to be completely aware of what to expect (or not) from them, and no evidence for mitigation of serious injuries means just that with no caveats or side issues like "but a bit of energy absorbtion is better than none", as that assumes it is the /only/ difference, which we don't know.



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

Postby JS » 9 Dec 2004, 4:12pm

Well, let's agree to differ then! But thank you for an intelligent debate.

The one thing that would satisfy both of us, presumably, is a case-control or cohort study (ie not an ecological study) with proper control, demonstrating that helmet wearing by individuals - all other factors being equal - either does or does not reduce injury for those individuals. But that would be impossible - the only designs I can think of would probably be unethical and certainly impractical - so we'll just have to stick with our different interpretations of what data we have - and the fact that we agree on more than we disagree on.

Best wishes



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

Postby Pinky » 10 Dec 2004, 7:15pm

In brief response to CJ above

Perhaps one of the other reasons for the wide berth all motorist give cyclists in France and Spain is that, in law, if a car is involved in an accident with a bicycle then 99% of the time the car driver is automatically at fault.

That being said another aspect is the much lower levels of traffic on all French roads ( even the motorways) as compaared with the mad situation in UK. Even cycling on "country" roads ( class B and less ) is hazardous her in UK. And don't even enter the debate of the combined cycle/pedestrian ways which are even more hazardous -- see elsewhere on these message boards.
I certainly have been pleased to have my helmet on when travelling occasionally on these combined routes.

Trevor A Panther


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

Postby phooey » 14 Dec 2004, 9:16pm

Pete, pedal your intellectual diatribe in a forum where like minded idiots ....... oh stuff it.... the inversley proportional law....

I bash you on the head with a lump of iron and offer you a cycle hat for protection if you want.....

now, whose argument will hold water ?

yours or mine .


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

Postby phooey » 14 Dec 2004, 9:20pm

......and plus....
everyone should wear a hat

....because they look 'nice'.


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

Postby nigel » 15 Dec 2004, 1:23pm

You should be locked up, mate, and the key thrown away. Here we all are trying to have sensible debate about safety and all you want to do is go around smacking people over the head with iron bars and pieces of scaffolding. I think you've got the wrong chat show.


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

Postby JimS » 15 Dec 2004, 3:37pm

If Phooey had read some of the notice board he would have seen that his argument is nonsense. If you are wearing a helmet someone would more likely to hit you harder. The helmet has a greater cross-section than a head, so the iron would be more likely to hit the head rather than the shoulder. The helmet would only be useful if it was a rather soft blow, as helmets are only meant for low impact collisions. I'm convinced - helmets are great - for pedestrians.