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All cyclists should be forced to wear helmets!

Practical experiment reveals how motorists treat cyclists in head-gear differently to those without.

When I’m on my bicycle my head is protected by the packaging material that prevents TVs getting scratched when bringing them home from the shop. If I drove into a plasma-screen at thirty miles per hour – even though the screen’s cardboard box is padded with expanded polystyrene –  I wouldn’t expect to be able to turn on the telly afterwards.

EPS isn’t designed for high-speed impacts yet many people get irate at the fact many cyclists don’t wear helmets, as though the non-wearing of EPS makes cyclists culpable in collisions. Cycle helmets are designed to be protective in falls from about one metre and at speeds of lower than 12mph – they’re not so hot at deflecting the kinetic energy of moving motor-vehicles. When an HGV smashes into a cyclist it seems reporters are now duty bound to mention whether or not the cyclist involved was or wasn’t wearing a helmet as if a smidgen of foam packaging would make any difference to the gory outcome. 

It’s odd that so many “safety” activists, who claim to be interested in protecting cyclists, zero in on a measure that has so little to offer in car-v-bike crashes. It’s doubly odd that the if-only-one-life-were-saved-it-would-be-worth-it campaigners don’t wish to save the lives of pedestrians and motorists. Apparently only cyclists are worth saving. If helmets are so good (and they are good for what they’re designed for) why shouldn’t everybody be made to wear them? Pedestrians bang their heads after tripping on pavements, and motorists often suffer head injuries in smashes. The clear and obvious fact that pedestrians and motorists would also benefit from compulsory head protection is never discussed by those demanding that cyclists should wear helmets. Runners, too, travel at speed, often on the road, yet no-one is (yet) clamouring for them to wear head protection.

Now, what has all this to do with a motoring website? Amazingly, studies have shown that some motorists believe those cyclists who wear helmets are protected by a forcefield, and can be safely skimmed. A male academic – let’s call him Dr. Ian Walker, because that’s his name – used on-bike equipment to measure motor-vehicle passing distances when wearing headgear and when not wearing headgear. He also donned a blonde wig to make him look like a woman riding without a helmet. His measuring equipment found that he was afforded the greatest passing distances when he was riding as a helmet-free “woman”. If this study is correct, cyclists who don lids are more at risk on the roads, not safer.

Statistically, motorists are more likely to suffer head injuries than cyclists. Yes, this is because, for the moment, there are more motorists than cyclists but everyday motoring helmets would definitely save the lives of many thousands of motorists so why aren’t activists campaigning to reduce motorist head injuries? And it's not just drivers who would be saved, but their passengers, too – think of the children!

The helmet I’m wearing in the photograph is a helmet for everyday motoring, produced in Australia in the 1980s. The manufacturer recommended “you wear your Motoring Helmet at all times when motoring but particularly … during long trips when you may become tired … [or] within five kilometres of your home or destination.” In short, all of the time. How would you feel if some diktat from Brussels forced you to wear such a helmet while driving? Dole out the pitchforks, fire up Nigel Farage, how dare those faceless bureaucrats tell me what to do in my own car, I’m perfectly capable of evaluating my own head-injury risk.

Quite.

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Carlton Reid is the executive editor of BikeBiz.com and the author of Roads Were Not Built For Cars, a best-selling history book that shows how motoring was created by cyclists. He drives a Nissan, but not very often. He freely admits he doesn’t wear a helmet while motoring but sometimes wears one when cycling. 

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