Cycle Helmets and Olympic Heroes as Role Models: why it’s plain daft not to listen

Cycle Helmets and Olympic Heroes as Role Models: why it’s plain daft not to listen

Those who have worked to promote the uptake of cycling during the past decade – in the Cycling Demonstration Towns, in businesses and organizations with cycling as part of a workplace travel plan and with schools and colleges, all realize the inestimable benefit of ‘cycling champions’ at both macro and micro level.

These are the experienced people who will encourage and assist their more apprehensive fellows. They are voices and opinions to which it pays to listen. Their input is invaluable and must be encouraged. They are the cycling role models and their advice will be respected and followed.

Cycling, as with many activities, is potentially hazardous. Cyclists fall from their bikes. The cause may be rider error, component failure, an obstacle in the road (animal, vegetable or mineral) or the antics of the driver of a vehicle.
It matters not from a hurt perspective how the fall begins; contact with the road surface, kerb stone or vehicle is going to leave its mark, to a greater or lesser extent. Pedestrians die from striking their heads on the ground; a cyclist will be traveling at not less than walking pace and up to the speed limit applicable in a built up area, sometimes more.

So when we part company from our machines, we cease to be in control of our destiny and become a projectile. The whole episode will have taken less time than it has to read this sentence. That’s when we need every bit of help we can get. Just as cricketers, boxers, horse riders, ice-hockey and rugby players all use protection. Boxers particularly; it’s their heads, you see.

The human and economic cost of crash injuries is staggering. Everything possible has to be done to reduce these incidents. That encompasses the cyclist’s own bike maintenance, the design, manufacture and quality control of componentry, highway maintenance, education and training of cyclists and motorists and road design and facilities.

In the face of all these potential hazards, there are a few steps we can take for ourselves.  Learn how to maintain a bike and spot the danger signs soonest. Ride within limits and with due anticipation for the behavior of other road users. Use lights and hi-viz. And wear a helmet.

It’s all about identifying risk and managing it. Sheltering in a slit trench under fire, one will find very few atheists, I’m told. As we make an unplanned approach to the tarmac, hands up who would prefer not to be wearing a helmet?

Head injury is not necessarily fatal to life. It is however frequently fatal to career, standard of living, and to social, recreational and family lives. The victims (and their friends and families) of any form of acquired brain injury will describe, to a greater or lesser extent,  personality change, cognitive and behavioural issues, memory impairment, emotional liability, and alcohol dependency, all of which one would sensibly seek to avoid. If anyone has any doubts, go visit a brain injury rehabilitation centre.

The re-design of roads to improve cycle safety is not going to happen overnight, nor is re-education of certain elements in both the motoring and cycling populations. The Demonstration Towns, in their three year life span, found that little meaningful could be achieved in infrastructure within that time scale. So, while we wait for our cycling utopia, let’s manage the risk and helmet-up.

No-one is pretending that a cycle helmet eliminates the risk of injury.  Neither do full face motor racing nor motor cycle helmets. But their use improves the prospect of survival and reduces the risk of injury or the severity of an injury.
It’s facile to attempt to distinguish pedal cyclists from motor cyclists. Impacts at 10, 20, 30 mph all hurt, maim, kill. It matters not from what ones fallen.

Equally, the suggestion that a helmeted cyclist is more prone to the vagaries of the motoring population is wholly unsubstantiated by any credible research. Even if that were the case, collisions with vehicles are not the sole cause of cyclist casualties.

Compulsion is to all intents and purposes unenforceable, as are prohibitions against a raft of misdemeanors from littering through jaywalking to use of a phone whilst driving. But the presence of the legislation will make us cyclists stop and think. We had all the personal liberty arguments with seatbelts four decades ago: today the logic of seatbelt use is universally accepted.

As to Cycling Champions, we now have more than anyone could ever have imagined. 

All with a huge influence and experience of the sort those tasked with increasing the uptake of cycling could only dream of, five or ten years ago. Suppose we listen to what these role models say, encourage our children and peers to do likewise, rather than jumping to contradict them?

© Paul Darlington Cycle-SOS  05.viii.2012.

(Paul Darlington has been working in the field of cycle crashes and collisions and associated injuries for almost 25 years. He is a life member of Headway, a qualified solicitor and member of the Law Society’s Personal Injury panel and APIL. He has attended training courses and conferences organized by the Institute of Traffic Accident Investigators and the Association of Commuter Transport. He has served on the steering committees of two Cycling Demonstration Towns and is an accredited Bikeability cycling instructor. He has personally confronted the issues and challenges of injury including acromio-clavicular joint reconstruction and spinal fracture/dislocation. He has initiated and run cycle helplines since 1988 and is currently working with the Cycle-SOS organisation).