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Depressed about the future

June 30, 2005

I’m significantly disappointed today. Obviously the madness of the ID card bill getting it’s second reading, but today it was beaten by the BMA’s decision to campaign for mandatory helmets for cyclists. I’ve always thought that Doctors, being scientists would favour facts over emotion, truth over lies. It appears not the BMA.

The BMA now simultaneously have a policy to promote cycling, as it has great heath benefits and to a policy that has been shown to reduce cycling that of helmet compulsion.

Why?

Well as is so often the case there has been a campaign to get the BMA to take this position. To make the argument that cycle helmets are required you have to do a number of things:

  1. Show that cycling is dangerous.

  2. Show that cycle helmets reduce the danger.

  3. Show that cycle helmets do not deter cycling to such an extent that any benefit is lost.

  4. Show that the benefits are great enough that personal choice should be over ruled.

The problem is that none of the above can be shown.

  1. The government statistics for road accidents show the relative risks of various forms of transport:

    Cross modal comparison of fatality risk for passengers

2001

Fatalities per billion
passenger kilometres

Motor cycle/moped

112

Foot

48

Pedal cycle

33

Car

3

Van

0.9

Rail

0.1

Water

0.4

Bus or coach

0.2

Air

>0.01

Source: Road Casualties Great Britain 2002: DfT (2003).

Yes you did read that right. Foot travel is more dangerous than cycling. Walking helmets anyone?

  1. Cycle helmets are designed for impacts up to 13mph, the kind of impact you get from falling off a stationary bike. Oddly falling off a stationary bike is very rarely fatal. Being hit by a motor vehicle is what kills cyclists. No one claims that a cycle helmet would help when hit by a motor vehicle.

  2. Err they do. Everywhere mandatory helmets have been introduced the number of cyclists decreases. Not hard to see why. If to pop to the local shops by bike I have to put on a plastic hat which I then have to store when I get to the other end I may well just hop in the car. Also it makes me think that cycling is dangerous.

  3. Well clearly they have not done that.

My concern is that the Polatitions will treat the BMA’s position with some weight believing that they are based on reasoned argument and we will actually get this anti cycling policy for real.

Tags: topic:[Cycling] topic:[Id Cards] topic:[helmets]

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3 Comments
  1. William R. Walling permalink

    Chris,
    I know of you feelings about this ‘hot button’ issue.
    This past week, for the first time, a doctor explained why EVERYONE (bicyclist, roller-blade user, skater and now trooper) should wear superior head protection.
    Apparently, a human brain cannot take abuse during any stage of life.
    There must be something to this statement as the number one (1) injury suffered by U.S. troops returning home is for ‘tramatic’ brain injury.
    Weapons now used ‘in theater’ shake the human brain inside an exisitng helmet causing irreversable brain injury.
    A soldier might appear fine but be ‘changed’ by this ordeal. Testing is now done on ALL troops before AND after deployment to the war zone.
    This information was reported by CNN News.
    More work on head protection needs to be done!

  2. I agree with you on this one, it’s something which has been debated for a while. The plain fact is that forcing people to wear helmets will reduce bike use.

    If the government wanted to prevent road deaths there are other measures they could take:

    1) Ban SUVs. They are twice as likely to roll over in an accident than a normal car, resulting in more serious injuries. As a pedestrian you are twice as likely to die if you are hit by an SUV as opposed to a normal car (it’s to do with that blunt, industrial front end).

    2) Protect pavements from cars. More pedestrians are killed on the pavements in the UK than on the roads.

    If you simply want to prevent deaths then you need to look at wider statistics. For example in most European countries more people commit suicide than are killed in road traffic accidents.

    Most of these stats come from New Scientist articles and as one more interesting discussion point there was an article in 1999 called “Flight into danger” by Andrew Weir. He recalculated the chance of dying based on the number of journeys made, instead of passenger miles. His argument being that planes typically crash on take off or landing and all plane journeys involve both those things independant of the length of the journey. Recalculated on this basis air travel is more dangerous than car or train travel (55 deaths per 100 million journeys for air, 4.5 for cars and 2.7 for trains) only motorcyles at 100 deaths per 100 million journeys are more dangerous.

  3. I had the same issue with my kids. I tried to make them wear helmets, they declined to cycle. I read the evidence and let them ride without, they now cycle, oddly I now cycle without a helmet to.
    As to the statistics. They stand by themselves, walking is more dangerous per mile than cycling. If helmets have made cycling that much safer, and there is no evidence to support that, then helmets for pedestrians would be beneficial. If helmets have not made cycling safer then before we mandate them for cyclists we should mandate them for pedestrians.
    I think many take the view that this should be a personal prefernce issue, the trouble is there are some very well connected, PR savy, orgainsations spreading untruths about the dangers of cycling to promote complusorary helmet use. The effect of which I have no doubt will only be a reduction in cycling and therefore an increase in the number of people who have sendatary un healthy lives.

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