Cycle helmets debate
PRESSURE to make cyclists wear helmets started with studies of injured cyclists in hospital and from individual stories, such as those of Graham Hunt, (October 10) it's obvious that the answer is to protect cyclists' heads with something hard, isn't it?Well, no, actually.
PRESSURE to make cyclists wear helmets started with studies of injured cyclists in hospital and from individual stories, such as those of Graham Hunt, (October 10) it's obvious that the answer is to protect cyclists' heads with something hard, isn't it?
Well, no, actually. We are human beings, not robots.
There is no conclusive proof that helmets make cycling safer - rather the opposite. It's not enough to study cyclists in hospital: we have to look at whole populations of cyclists and then we see a very different picture.
We know that when helmets are made compulsory there is a big fall in the numbers cycling but a smaller fall in head injuries; in other words the proportion of cyclists suffering head injuries goes up. This was noted in the very early days of helmets in America: as helmet sales increased, so did head injuries.
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We also know that having more cyclists on the roads is the best way to increase cyclist safety. There will be more head injuries as a consequence, but fewer in proportion.
When helmets were made compulsory in South Australia, for example, there was no change at all in the trend for head injuries, even though fewer people were cycling.
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Not surprisingly, campaigns promoting helmets put people off cycling: they are enough to scare anybody out of their wits. Others, persuaded to wear helmets, are convinced by the propaganda that they are as good as armour-plated, which of course they are not.
This reveals one reason why helmets don't work: it's called risk compensation. We all have a certain level of risk with which we are comfortable. If we think the level of risk has been reduced, we ride faster or brake later to bring us back to the level of risk we like (drivers do the same). If risk increases (eg the roads are icy) we ride or drive more carefully. These decisions are subconscious.
Research for the British Medical Association found that it is 20 times safer to cycle than not to cycle: that is how much more likely we are to die from a disease brought on by inactivity than from cycling.
According to the NHS, 125,000 people die of coronary heart disease every year; of those cases, about 45,000 are thought to have been brought on by an inactive lifestyle. What better way to build activity into your daily routine than by cycling to work, school or shops?
Whether you wear a helmet or not, the main thing is to keep on cycling. But please do not force the pro-helmet views on the rest of us.