The Helmet Debate – RCA View

August 25, 2012 | No comments | Technical Articles

Helmet Debate

The helmet debate reared its head again (pun intended) over the last week or so with an item on Close Up
We wouldn’t normally take much notice of sensationalising or over hyping media such as Close Up but it is an opportunity for the RCA to post a view.

Obviously first and foremost the RCA respects the law and we all happily wear our helmets at all times – no problem.
However helmets are a bit like seatbelts in cars. Some argue that they can be harmful or even ineffective while others swear they are essential to safety.

Personally I will always wear one because my doctor told me that as we get older we can’t take the same degree of knock to the head that a young person can sustain relatively easily. Thus a simple fall over at the lights can be more than just embarrassing – it can be fatal. So I like to err on the safe side and save myself some potential grief.

Wearing a helmet has never caused an injury that I am aware of, yet there are plenty of examples where not wearing a helmet has grossly aggravated injuries sustained– not just cycling but in many sports including snowboarding.

At the same time we are aware that many cyclists place undue faith in a lump of polystyrene on their head and wrongly assume they are completely safe from head injury as long as they have it on.

All of that said, the RCA can see how having to wear one at the beach or while cycling on a footpath or a cycleway may seem a bit unnecessary or even discourage some people from bothering with getting on a bike and exercising.
It’s a bit sad to think people might be so image insecure that they don’t want to be seen wearing a helmet but we can understand young people in particular thinking this way.
Similarly we can understand female (and some male) recreational cyclists wanting to avoid annoying bad hair days or even wanting to flaunt their locks sexily in the breeze..

As believers in individual freedoms where they are respectful and don’t impinge on other’s we support these peoples’ views as well.  If as adults they make a reasoned choice with a full understanding of the risks involved they should be allowed some freedom,  but – and here is the but – not on the roads in traffic as a sport cyclist or commuter.
The reason we need to wear helmets on the road we believe is for the exact same reason car drivers have to wear seatbelts – for our own safety and to reduce the severity of injury in the case of an accident.
We know an accident can happen right outside our front door so the length of the trip is irrelevant.

Another less compelling but possible reason to wear a helmet is as part of our responsibility to our wider communities. Notwithstanding the importance of minimising damage to ourselves, we should aim to cut down the cost of injury treatment in our society and to possibly reduce the trauma a motorist might have to endure if we were to fall off in front of them and be hit for example. We do owe it to our fellow road users to take some responsible steps to minimise harm to ourselves and potentially to others.

Tonto

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Compulsory High Viz Vests Debate – RCA View

The RCA opposes the unilateral suggestion of making high viz cycling vests compulsory for cyclists. If the proposal were to be significantly modified to effectively address the points below then we might review our opinion. See below under ‘Alternatives’

In the meantime we wish to give some reasons why the RCA opposes what many people might argue is a simple, sensible solution to reducing cycling deaths.  

Clarification
High viz vest wearing is not something we would in any way discourage for those cyclists who might choose to wear one.  It possibly gives them additional confidence that they can be easily seen and therefore they feel safer – I even did this when I was starting out too. However it seems to be the non-sports training rider, commuter or casual cyclist who favours them.

One of the Strongest Arguments Against Vests
Most cyclists already wear bright clothing and it doesn’t stop us being hit.

Other Reasons – Rider Comfort
This is not the biggest issue but is worth stating. The first thing most us would think of is that such vests would have a significantly negative impact on our rider comfort, performance and enjoyment of the cycling experience. Thus we think it could have some measurably negative impact on the number of people wanting to take up cycling as a health and recreational activity.
Having said that it’s not as though we are too stupid to think for ourselves.  A huge number of us already wear our ultra bright fluorescent yellow jackets in poor weather conditions uncomfortable as they are.
We also encourage people to wear bright clothing at all other times and not to dress as ‘Ninja Cyclists’ in a black kit.

Motorist Attitudes
A huge issue is that mandatory high viz vests for cyclists would subtly and unavoidably label us second class road users sending other road users the message that we shouldn’t really be there – a bit like motorway road workers.  Such a view has always dogged cycling and it is this attitude the RCA specifically aims to overcome.  Reinforcing any negative view of cyclists significantly negates the vast number of existing local body, government sport and cycling initiatives in the community aimed at normalising cycling as part of our everyday lives.
We have mandatory helmets, seatbelts and sensible modifications to all vehicles such as lights front and back to add to safety but forcing people to wear a uniform on their bodies would be stigmatic, erode civil liberty, and would be a huge backward step.

Inconsistency
While on one hand we are defined as ‘vehicular’ road users who must comply with all road rules, it smacks of inconsistency and inequity that on the other hand we might have to wear special clothing while other road users such as motorcyclists wouldn’t be required to wear such gear, nor compulsory padded leather suits for that matter. Furthermore I seriously doubt motorists would ever be required to drive fluorescent orange cars so cyclists and pedestrians could see them more easily nor would they be required to wrap their vehicles in foam rubber so they represent less danger to others. Suggesting compulsory high viz vest wearing for cyclists is just as silly.

So why do we think helmets are OK, but  not high viz vests?  What’s the difference and are we being inconsistent ourselves?
The Distinction is a ‘direct’ vs ‘indirect’ argument essentially.
With helmet wearing the cyclist is directly protecting themselves in the same way a seatbelt protects a motorist – it is within the cyclist’s control to protect him or herself and directly for the cyclist’s own personal good. The head is just too important to take such risk with when there is such a simple step available to directly improve its protection exponentially –even if in some accidents we would all concede  it may make no difference.
There is also good consistency in cyclists wearing helmets, motorcyclists wearing crash helmets and motorists wearing seat belts – all are examples of direct action for self protection.
With a vest  there is no direct protection to the rider in wearing one in itself – there is only a vague notion that wearing one will indirectly change the behaviours of other road users. However not even road signs, traffic lights, or speed limits manages to achieve behavioural change in irresponsible drivers so how would simply wearing a bright vest achieve this?
Behaviours influence other behaviours and that is what the RCA is all about – respect engenders respect – awareness comes from encouraging caring attitudes towards others  – not from a law.
There has to be some room for personal choice here too . If it gives some riders comfort to wear a vest that’s fine – they can wear them.( Similar to the freedom of latitude we support with regard to wearing helmets – see our helmet comment)

Evidence
Does any evidence exist that proves such a decree would make any long term difference to the statistics of road rage incidents, near misses, or even deaths in order to justify such a huge potential negative trade off in attitudes to cyclists?

Alternatives
Finally you will notice in my opening sentence I said ‘unilateral’ compulsory vest wearing and that we might change our view if the concept was better defined.
The idea of a ‘vest’ comes from the fact that such items are in use in industrial settings already and too easy for non cyclists to point to such vests as a solution. Unfortunately it is a simplistic idea and lacks real thought.
However the concept may have an element of merit. Perhaps we could improve visibility through use of reflective additions to our cycling kit.
The RCA hopes to incorporate 3M reflective piping sewn into the seams of our lycra kit much like the reflective tape on a runner’s shoe. This is already on offer from the manufacturers and as it may not add huge cost to the garments it seems from our early inquiries to be a possible option.

Conclusion
Mandatory high viz vest wearing appears to be a flawed and horrendously simplistic approach to improving cycling safety and almost always seems to come from non-cyclists who might have good intentions but who are out of touch with cycling as a recreational sport and community activity.
Some might argue that the RCA approach to long term cycling safety through promoting mutual respect, understanding, tolerance and friendliness between cyclists and all other road users is idealistic, simplistic or even utopic but leading sociologists and  psychologists support the view that cultural or attitudinal change in a society is the only genuine and long lasting solution where there is the potential for on-going friction. 

 Tonto

We welcome your comment and thoughts – Register in our Log-In section and if you click on the “Read More” button below this article you will find a box appear at the bottom of the page where you will  be able to post a comment.

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Cycling News.Com

Click on this link to go to Cycle News .Com …my favourite cycling news source.

This is an excellent source for all international cycling news – (with a million ads )….but the latest easy to read breaking news on all the big names in cycling and full reports including the results from events. 

In – depth news or just a quick summary if you want the news in brief ……Enjoy !!!!

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YOUR COMMENT: (have your say in our “Trash Cafe”.)

October 19, 2010 | No comments | News and 'Trash Cafe'

There is a facility for you to post your views underneath any of our individual news items.

Or you can post a general comment on this page which we call the ‘Trash Cafe’ – for example what do you think of this new RCA initiative?. What suggestions do you have?

This is a site for all cyclists to hang out and chat – so please do share your ideas, feedback, comments.

Occasional brickbats are fine but we really like bouquets for good behavior.
Humour is always appreciated.

We will also be canvassing members to tell us of ‘cyclist friendly cafes’. We will promote them on this site and see if we can arrange special discounted promotions for RCA members on selected weekends.

To post larger items, links or profiles contact us at: [email protected]

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