Street fight: cyclists vs motorists
There is a three-sided conflict on London‘s streets between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Will there be a winner or should we call a truce? Here, some opinionated Londoners lay out their battle plans
Ditch the helmets
Dr Peter Ward, GP
When cycle helmets became popular I was an early adopter. I was a medical student and cycled to my A&E attachment at Sunderland Royal Hospital. The consultants and nurses were pleased with my setting such a good example. I felt virtuous. But after I lost my third helmet in 12 months I started to question the whole thing. They are a pain: uncomfortable, inconvenient, bulky and now expensive. I wondered whether not wearing one was in fact okay. I met an experienced cyclist who thought the whole helmet thing was nonsense and I started doing some research. After reviewing the evidence, I have come to the same conclusion.There is an ongoing debate in medical literature about helmets.
One type of study design, case-controlled studies, predicts big protective effects from helmet wearing. The usual figure given is that they should prevent two thirds of brain injury. But this type of research has fooled doctors before. Real-life studies from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA have not found noticeable benefits from helmet use. Where laws were enforced, cycling actually became more hazardous because fewer people cycled. Less cycling means more danger for those still cycling. If we really want to make cycling safer, real-world experience shows us we should encourage more of it. In London, the number of people cycling has doubled over the past five years, yet the number of cyclists killed has dropped by almost 50 per cent since the mid-’90s.
This guy's ditched the helmet
That may be because drivers get used to cyclists being around. Possibly it’s because a driver who cycles is likely to be safer around cyclists. But if simply telling people ‘cycling is dangerous, wear a helmet’ is a great way to put them off, and less cycling makes it more hazardous.So how dangerous is cycling? According to Government statistics on road casualties, fewer cyclists die per kilometre travelled than pedestrians. Also, people who cycle tend to live longer, regardless of helmet-wearing. A BMA study in 1999 found that the benefits of cycling outweighed the risks by 20:1. Cycling may be scary, especially if you are new to it, but I would suggest that spending £30 on some good-quality training rather than on a piece of expanded polystyrene foam may go a lot further in preventing a head injury. Cyclists need decent road sense rather than inadequate body armour. A lid that shatters if impacted at more than 12mph, like filter tips on a cigarette, only provides an illusion of safety.
These days my surgeries are full of overweight, inactive people. I get looks of incredulity when I suggest they might fight the flab by cyclinng to work. The biggest thing that puts people off riding a bike is its dangerous image. Cycling is not a high-risk activity but is being dangerised by the promotion of helmets. The British Medical Association still believes cycling can be made safer by making helmets compulsory (although even this is being challeneged internally). But helmets are not compatible with mass cycling and the sooner the fad passes the better.
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