Do Helmets Make Cycle ‘Accidents’ more Likely?

Posted by chdot on September 11, 2006

Research just published in Accident Analysis & Prevention indicates that drivers drive (on average) 8cm closer to cyclists wearing helmets than to those without. Inevitably misjudgements are made.

University of Bath traffic psychologist Dr Ian Walker carried out the research using his own bike and analysed the results from 2000 passing vehicles. He also wore a long wig at times (instead of a helmet) and concluded that drivers also gave more room to ‘female’ riders. (Press Release)

Dr. Walker said “Drivers think, ‘He knows what he’s doing, he won’t do anything surprising’. But that’s really quite a dangerous thought, particularly as so many cycling novices are told to wear helmets.” BBC story | Daily Mail story | The Scotsman – filed under Weird, odd and quirky stories!

Helmet use is still a controversial issue. Some ‘pro-helmet’ campaigners argue that their use should be compulsory. One counter-argument is that, statistically, people who cycle, live longer and so anything that would discourage cycling (e.g. helmet compulsion) should be discouraged.

This story emerged on the day that the death of 14 year old Edinburgh schoolboy, Jamie Flannigan, was announced. Evening News story. Jamie was on a paper round and knocked off his bike on the city’s busy Hillhouse Road nine days previously. He wasn’t wearing a helmet. It is possible that a helmet might have reduced his “severe head injuries” and saved his life. Such certainty is difficult to prove.

Helmets undoubtedly reduce injuries in some circumstances – “a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents insisted: ‘We wouldn’t recommend that people stop wearing helmets because of this research. Helmets have been shown to reduce the likelihood of head and brain injuries in a crash’.”

What is certain is that helmets won’t prevent accidents. Sometimes using a helmet seems to be regarded as a way of keeping children safe! More use is good quality Cycle Training. In Edinburgh some primary schools make it available to all children. At others no cycle training is offered.

Cycle campaigners in Edinburgh have been arguing for many years that CT should be available to all P6/7 pupils. Unfortunately neither City of Edinburgh Council nor Lothian and Borders Police regard such safety training as sufficiently important to ensure that rules and resources are made available. At present training for pre-teens relies on concerned parents and Head Teachers.

In Edinburgh The Bike Station trains cycle trainers and delivers training for schools, groups and individuals.

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