More on the cycle safety debate

Pedal Ready Group ride on the way to Flagg:
Pedal Ready Group ride on the way to Flagg:

A photograph of cyclists not wearing helmets in the Telegraph two weeks ago has divided opinion. Here, we publish a further selection of the many letters received on the subject:

From: Dr A Kennedy

Sheffield S11

I am concerned at the air of compulsion implied in the unfair criticism of Pedal Ready.

As one who once worked as a pathologist in South Yorkshire, I have some first hand knowledge of cycle accidents. In a study of fatal accidents I published in 1996, helmets might have saved about 14 lives in 15 years had they been worn by all cyclists in the Sheffield and Rotherham area.

However, head injuries were also very common in vehicle occupants and pedestrians involved in fatal accidents during the same period of time. In this group helmets might have saved 175 lives so why are drivers not told to wear helmets?

I have been cycling for about 70 years in this and other cities from which I conclude cycling is a safe method of personal travel even in such a hostile environment as Sheffield.

In order to reduce accidents first we need to replace, not repair, our awful roads many of which are not fit for cycling at night. Secondly, we need to enforce existing traffic laws so that cycle lanes and bus lanes are not obstructed. This must be combined with strict enforcement of speed limits. The cycle lanes on Clarkehouse Road, an important cycle route for students, are usually obstructed by parked cars while another chronic problem is the blockage of the cycle lanes on Castle St. by taxis. Cyclists, for their part, must obey ordinary traffic rules and observe signals at crossings and junctions. I was very glad to see that the Pedal Ready instructor and her pupil were both wearing bright jackets; far too many cyclists wear dark clothes which can make them invisible to car drivers at night.

We need to reallocate the existing road space to provide more room for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. If this leads to a reduction in the number of cars on the road then this can only be a good thing as motor vehicles are responsible for over 40% of the air pollution in the city. This costs the NHS £95m each year in Sheffield alone and it has been calculated that, in order to achieve a serious reduction in air pollution, traffic levels need to fall by 25-30%.

The most responsible methods of urban travel may be summarised as boots, bikes and buses.

From: Richard Attwood

Sheffield S6

It is really no surprise that some readers have written to express concern about this issue. Our precious heads are very obviously vulnerable to impact and possibly to injury causing varying levels of disability.

However emotive the issue, the statistics do not support any assertion that cyclists are any more likely to be victims of such an event than people moving around by other means.

Many people and organizations are of the research based opinion that the outcome of any legislation aimed to regulate what cyclists wear, whether or not they have insurance, bike MOTs etc is simply that less people will get on a bicycle and accrue all the benefits that cycling brings to them and to their society. A bike is an ordinary, convenient and totally accessible means of getting about, and needs to remain as such.

This sort of debate also has the unfortunate effect of giving a message to cyclists, potential cyclists and parents that cycling is fundamentally a dangerous activity, which is why we have parents and teachers saying no to children who wish to cycle to school.

Perhaps most importantly, this debate also misses and distracts us from the fundamental issue here regarding whether people feel they have the freedom to make choices about how they get around their community. This at a time when it is becoming clear our future physical and environmental health is dependant on these choices, and when those bodies that we pay to guide us regarding this health are stressing the importance of healthier choices than hitherto.

What this means in practice is that we do now need to address the fact that we simply have not evolved to the point where we can reliably avoid fast moving metal structures, or come off lightly in a collision with one, so our current habit of mixing the two in public spaces in the manner we do at present invariably means our anxieties will lead to us choosing what are perceived as ‘safer’ and ultimately more harmful transport options for our health and society.

There will always be a sensible case for helmet wearing and other safety aids during some conditions or types of cycling, and factual guidance on when and where it is recommended is welcome. Otherwise, what we as individuals and as a society really need is well intentioned people such as the readers in question to throw their weight behind intelligent debates, proposals and if need be legislation that leads to the creation of an environment where people of all ages can freely choose to move about under their own steam, without anxiety, on those occasions when their journey does not need to be a vehicular one.

From: Dr Neil Taylor

Sheffield, S17

Further to Pedal Ready’s response to your published letters of January 12, may I offer the following.

Whilst being aware of some degree of variation regarding the role played by cyclists’ helmets amongst concerned authorities, two unequivocal statements stand out:

a) The first reference to cyclists in the Highway Code (March ‘06) under RULES FOR CYCLISTS is that: ‘You should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations.’

b) Regarding the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents: ‘RoSPA recommends that all cyclists wear a cycle helmet that meets a recognised safety standard. Cycle helmets, when correctly worn, are effective in reducing the risk of receiving major head or brain injuries in an accident.’

Statistics can be tricky. Car passengers and pedestrians surely far outnumber cyclists so Pedal Ready’s throwaway line could possibly be construed as unhelpful, even flippant, by some. What next? ‘Two wheels good; four wheels bad’?

Finally, given their obvious role in road traffic issues, does the City Council have a position on this matter?