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Forum: Hazards & Safety

Dog deterrents, rumble strips, trucks, traffic, bad drivers, insurance, security, locks, theft, safety & injury prevention

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#1: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Al Cyone on Sun 30 Sep 2012 08:09 (US/Pacific) Edit Delete   Reply (22)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
A recent article in the NY Times, To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets is, I think, worth a look. Here's a teaser:

"In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion.

But many European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems."

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#2: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By James Thurber on Sun 30 Sep 2012 09:13 Edit Delete in reply to #1     Reply (3)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
Helmets can cause all sorts of problems but:

a) They can keep your head dry in a rainstorm.

b) They can keep the sun off your scalp, reducing the risk of skin cancer.

c) They can keep you warm in the winter (although good ventilation is appreciated in the summer).

d) They're excellent for holding ice - enough to keep your beer cold.

e) They're a perfect fastening place for mirrors - which (if you ask anyone who uses one) is a top piece of safety gear.

f) Some helmets can broadcast your political intentions - the Nutcase Oregon State Beaver, for instance.

g) Helmets can be thrown at greedy squirrels when picnicking in the park.

h) Helmets are very protective in a bar fight - somebody can actually break a bottle of beer over your head and you'll barely feel it (don't ask me how I know this, please).

i) A (motorcycle) helmet saved my life when a deer knocked me off my motorbike on Skyline Road, Woodside, CA. Although I was unconscious for nearly two days and it took months to fully recover from the concussion I was fine. No Helmet = No Life

So I wear a helmet - whenever I'm atop a motorcycle or bicycle.

      
#3: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Neil Gunton (admin) on Sun 30 Sep 2012 09:28 Edit Delete in reply to #1     Reply (3)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
When I was in the Central Park Skate Patrol during the mid-1990's, we interacted regularly with the paramedics who were assigned to the park on the weekend. It's a big issue in Central Park, since it has a big 6 mile road loop that is closed to car traffic on the weekend, and so then it is used extensively by recreational rollerbladers, cyclists, runners and walkers. There are lots of accidents. The EMT's I spoke to were overwhelmingly in favor of helmets, both for skaters and cyclists, and they had many horror stories about people who had crashed without helmets, vs people who had. I have also read several personal accounts from people who have crashed, and are absolutely certain that had they not been wearing the helmet, then their injuries would have been much, much worse.

I've always thought it odd that people would have such strong feelings about bicycle helmets. It doesn't seem like an emotion that would arise naturally. I have a theory that some people pushed too hard for mandatory helmet regulations, perhaps particularly over in Europe, and this resulted in a push-back and politicising of the issue, much like what has happened with the climate change debate. These days we all know it is possible to come up with studies that say just about whatever you want them to say, depending on how questions are asked, what populations and data are included, what statistical analysis methodology is used, how external factors are taken into account etc. This unfortunately muddies the water, since the pool of available data gets polluted by those who have a chip on their shoulder. Then, as laymen, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell the real, valid science from the faux, biased studies.

Once people become this polarized, reasonable discussion becomes much harder. My personal opinion is that "of course" helmets help to protect your head, and it's definitely not the case that accidents where the helmet makes a difference are "exceedingly rare". But unfortunately, like I said, you can cherry pick the numbers to "prove" whatever you like.

My own feeling is that it should be left up to the individual whether they want to wear the helmet or not. This is not just a libertarian, "stay out of my business" viewpoint (I'm not really libertarian), but rather a pragmatic admission that we have seen what happens when we try to force people to wear them, particularly for something as apparently casual as bicycling (as opposed to motorcycles, where people seem much more ready to accept the mandatory helmet laws). If mandatory laws make people so riled up, then those laws are obviously doing more harm than good, if they make people swing so far over into completely the opposite direction, to the point where they are actively and rabidly against bicycle helmets. Once it's been politicised, the battle is already lost. You won't change minds, since people on either side can now point to "studies" that support their own viewpoint.

Just let people choose for themselves, take the heat out of the whole thing, and maybe people will stop having such strong opinions about bicycle helmets.

Neil

      
#4: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By James Thurber on Sun 30 Sep 2012 09:35 Edit Delete in reply to #3     Reply   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
And don't forget those squirrels.

Neil, excellent comments. It is polarized - just like motorcycle helmets. I agree that it is something that probably should be left up to the individual - sort of like how much air pressure you prefer in your bicycle tires.

Arguments about medical costs are always brought up - but any serious injury costs a ton - to your head - to your hip - to your knee - to your teeth . . . almost anywhere.

One other reason I always wear a helmet is that mine was given to me by my grand-daughter, Annelies. She told me when she handed it to me,

"Babu, it's perfect for you. It's a nutcase helmet and it has an eight-ball on it. Yes, it's just right, and look, it fits!"

      
#5: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By [deleted] on Sun 30 Sep 2012 12:34 Edit Delete in reply to #3   (2)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
A friend who occasionally rides his comfort bike at sub 10 mph around the neighborhood or on bike trails told me that he'll take the risk of falling at such low speeds. He said that someday people will be telling us to wear helmets when we run or walk. After all, there many walkers who trip and hit there heads on tables and counters, so why not wear helmets all the time and reduce the risk of head injury. However, he said that if he were riding an MTB on single track where the risk of hitting a tree or other object is high, or when riding a racing bike or other at high speed, then he'd wear a helmet.

Personally, I agree with that and with your comment that it should be left to the individual to determine whether their particular bike and/or riding style merits a helmet. When I road a DF racing bike, I wore them all the time, but on my bent I don't feel the same need. Sure, someone could hit me, but personal ORM is up to me. When climbing long hills in hot weather, for instance, I find the helmet heats me up too much, so I remove it (if I'm wearing anyway). The risk of over-heating is greater than the risk of falling in that instance.

I never wear them when I run, walk, or ski or play chess. But I do wear them when I ride motorcycles and four wheelers.

      
#6: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Al Cyone on Sun 30 Sep 2012 13:41 Edit Delete in reply to #5     Reply   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
"Personally, I agree with that and with your comment that it should be left to the individual to determine whether their particular bike and/or riding style merits a helmet."

That's certainly hard to argue with. I guess my problem is with people who haven't made a conscious determination but have simply bought into the idea that cycling is an inherently dangerous activity, fraught with peril. I see them every weekend on the (unpaved) rail-trail that runs past my house. They ride at a leisurely pace and the chances of falling are virtually nil. Yet helmet use is widespread.

I liked the last paragraph in the article:

Mr. De Jong, who grew up in the Netherlands, observes of Amsterdam: “Nobody wears helmets, and bicycling is regarded as a completely normal, safe activity. You never hear that ‘helmet saved my life’ thing.”

      
#7: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Jerry Harp on Sun 30 Sep 2012 14:33 Edit Delete in reply to #3     Reply (2)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
Helmets, of course, save lives and prevent debilitating injuries. To argue otherwise is akin to arguing about where the sun comes up each morning.

Mandatory? Of course not. Unlike seat belts, the cost of cycling head injuries to society is not big enough to justify the loss of individual freedom of choice.

Besides, helmets do look a bit dorky, don't feel particulary good, and involve some fiddle factor.

I wear a helmet 'cause I'm sort of a klutz and I have no desire to end my days as a head injury imbecile in a nursing home.

      
#8: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Reuben Ferguson on Sun 30 Sep 2012 15:24 Edit Delete in reply to #1     Reply   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
I was asked onto national radio here in NZ the other day, ostensibly to talk about my bike tour. From the weatlth of potential information that could've been drawn on by the interviewer, towards the end she instead asked why I wasn't wearing a helmet (which was mostly true), knowing that it was an inflamatory subject and therefore "good for radio". I'd naively thought I'd get to talk about adventures and cultural interactions and other tour-related things; I was caught by surprise with this petty deviation and tried to back out of it since I was not prepared with my stock arguments against the helmet law here. The disappointing thing in NZ, where you must wear a helmet when riding a bike, is that the most vocal supporters of compulsory helmet legislation are those who don't ride bikes, easily coerced by the hysterical and emotive stories about head injuries. Meanwhile, our towns are increasing paved over for the real menace of the road to further proliferate. The trouble here is that the helmet law is the only component of bike "safety", allowing the government to wash its hands of any real commitment to bike safety like driver education and bike-specific infrastructure: "There you go you pesky cyclists, put this on your heads - you're safe now, stop your complaining".

And James, tongue-in-cheek as your point b) may be, it was while wearing a helmet that I got burned on the (rather bare) head through the vent holes since skin otherwise protected by the cap I usually wore was exposed. And I got stung in the throat by a wasp that got tangled in the straps, and ...

Reuben

      
#9: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By David O'Haver on Sun 30 Sep 2012 15:47 Edit Delete in reply to #1     Reply   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
I wear mine MOST of the time,if I'm going out to do some serious miles where I'll be riding on a shoulder beside fast traffic I wear mine,on my little 10 mile daily commute I mostly don't wear it,The thing that really got my attention was on another forum about helmets that talked about not being able to do a whole lot about serious brain injury IF involved in an accident WITHOUT wearing one,a lawsuit might get you a lot of money BUT what good will it do you IF you are a talking head in a wheelchair,although this COULD happen even IF you are wearing a helmet,you'll just be able to get MORE money IF your wearing a helmet.Another thing that got my attention was a crash that I had where I landed on my shoulder and broke my collarbone ALTHOUGH I didn't slam my head into the pavement I COULD have,THAT GOT ME TO THINKING,so I wear my helmet a little more often BUT not as MUCH as I should. For me it really comes down to personal choice,Seems like it would be common sense,HOWEVER one mans floor is ANOTHER mans ceiling.The other side to this is ,IS MY NUMBER UP ? if so there isnt really much I can do about it one way or the other,IF its my lot in life to end up as a talking head in a wheelchair or worse there isnt a whole lot I can do about it,helmet or not. SO I choose to use what brain I have left after years of self abuse to wear my helmet most of the time,and HOPE and PRAY its NOT my lot in life to end up as a talking head in a wheelchair OR worse

      
#10: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Don Weinell on Sun 30 Sep 2012 17:12 Edit Delete in reply to #1     Reply   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
Lately I've found myself riding more and more without my helmet. It's not so much that I even mind the helmet, it's just that I seem to be getting more resentful of people telling me I have to wear a helmet all the time. I too tend to use the ORM (operational risk management) approach. If I'm riding along a busy road, or if I'm riding along a trail in the woods, I always wear one. But, if I'm just on a leisurely ride through the neighborhood or on an uncrowded bike path, the helmet is left behind. The bottom line is that each rider should evaluate the conditions and weigh the risk accordingly. By the way, it's not just helmets that scare a lot of potential riders away from a bike, it's also the tight fitting, neon colored clown costumes that many cyclists seem to think they have to wear to enjoy a ride. How did we ever let the simple pleasure of riding a bike become such a complex fashion statement? (answer: marketing)

      
#11: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Kevin Lanahan on Sun 30 Sep 2012 19:00 Edit Delete in reply to #1     Reply (1)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
I personally prefer to use a helmet, but I tend to use a lot of bike trails. It seems there are always tree branches right at head level when I go by. I also notice those steep, rocky drop-offs along the shoulders of the roads I travel on, etc.

I also believe that helmets should be given away with bicycle purchases and rentals.

But I really don't want my local, state or federal government telling me I must wear a helmet. That's going too far, especially the way most people ride bikes. Most casual riders won't have high-speed crashes, they aren't going to climb mountains and they rarely leave the bike path.

Touring, on the other hand, puts riders in traffic, poor roads, and unusual spots. I'll keep mine on, thank you, but feel free to feel the wind in your hair if you'd like.

      
#12: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By [deleted] on Sun 30 Sep 2012 19:13 Edit Delete in reply to #11   (2)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
Speaking of trails, I met a lady on the Katy a few years back. She and hubby were riding slowly along with her in the front. He said something to her, she turned around to respond and pulled the handlebar to the side, causing her to ride off the trail and hit her head with helmet square against a tree. I'm thinking she should always wear one.

      
#13: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Kevin Lanahan on Sun 30 Sep 2012 19:22 Edit Delete in reply to #12     Reply   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
I tend to be on the Katy a lot as well. There's plenty of places with bluffs on one side and a steep drop-off on the other. A long, straight trail, spending time contemplating your front tire, and it's easy to hit a hole or crack and go down.

I wear gloves for the same reason: when I was 13, I fell when I turned onto a gravel road and got a piece of rock in my hand. Ounce of prevention...

      
#14: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Durrin Hynes on Mon 1 Oct 2012 00:31 Edit Delete in reply to #7     Reply (1)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
Helmets, of course, save lives and prevent debilitating injuries. To argue otherwise is akin to arguing about where the sun comes up each morning.

This is almost certainly not true. A helmet may save a life in an accident, yes, but do helmets yield a net gain in safety?
People that feel safer act more dangerously, as their accepted level of risk is static. This is true both for the bicyclist and the driver near the bicyclist. For example, an English study showed a few years ago that drivers passing bicyclists with helmets gave them less room than if they weren't wearing a helmet. The article linked to below refers to a study that claims "Cyclists with helmets have 14% greater chance of getting into an accident".

It's very likely that helmet laws _cost_ lives:
they tend to cause the number of people bicycling to fall, due to the "it must be dangerous" thought process, as well as making some people decide they don't want to look dorky with a helmet. This fall costs lives in a couple ways: general population fitness falls, and the general safety of the remaining bicyclists is compromised (it is fairly well accepted that a higher share of bicyclists causes higher safety, as there is a lot more acceptance and awareness)

an interesting article about this:
http://www.copenhagenize.com/2012/09/dutch-rationality-saves-childrens-lives.html

      
#15: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By iain c on Mon 1 Oct 2012 03:18 Edit Delete in reply to #7     Reply   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
Unlike seat belts, the cost of cycling head injuries to society is not big enough to justify the loss of individual freedom of choice.

Actually it is questionable if seat belts save many lives overall. While you are better wearing one if you are going to crash it appears seat belt wearing means on average drivers feel safer, take more risks, and have more crashes (risk compensation) losing the some of the benefit of the belts. More crashes mean more pedestrians and cyclists are killed which results in little overall change in road deaths. At least that was the UK experience

I'm not sure that a law which saves few if any lives overall and increases the risks to vulnerable road users is a good law. The year after the UK seat belt law was introduced cyclist deaths increased by 13%. Arguably the law killed those cyclists.

http://www.john-adams.co.uk/2009/11/05/seat-belts-another-look-at-the-data/

http://www.john-adams.co.uk/2009/09/30/second-open-letter-to-executive-director-of-pacts/

      
#16: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By George Garber on Mon 1 Oct 2012 05:51 Edit Delete in reply to #1     Reply   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
I love reading about bike helmets. The more I read, the less I know.

I truly don't know whether helmets make sense for us. But I am sure of a few things:

1. Most people decide early on, with scant evidence, whether they will wear a helmet. After that, they only pay attention to the evidence that seems to support their decision. This statement is true both for those who wear helmets and those who don't. I'd like to think I am an exception, but I'm probably not.

2. Many things contribute to safety on a bike. Helmet use is only a tiny piece of the puzzle. I can think of half a dozen factors that matter more, but get much less attention.

3. Given the weak and contradictory evidence, and the relative unimportance of helmet use, nobody has any business criticizing anybody else for wearing, or not wearing, a bike helmet.

On another note, the Times article quoted at the top of this thread contained the sentence "Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke." I once rode for a week with a guy who was surprised, at first, to find that I rode bare-headed. He didn't criticize me, but clearly he found my behavior odd. However, he smoked cigarettes, and I didn't. Who was taking the greater risk? Fortunately we both liked beer.

      
#17: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Douglas Boyd on Mon 1 Oct 2012 06:22 Edit Delete in reply to #1     Reply (2)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
I commute in and out of NYC everyday by bicycle. There are 2 occasions when I was hit by a car when I very literally used my helmet. If I had not been wearing a helmet on those occasions I would most certainly not be here to write this. Whenever I use my experiences to explain why a helmet should be used (and more importantly, properly fitted) there's always some boastful guy who takes the angle that it could never happen to him because he is so alert and skilled on a bicycle. While there is certainly some truth in that attitude, I can say that the only way to assuredly avoid the stupidity of others is to never leave your house. No one is pretending that a helmet is some sort of magic charm that sheathes your entire body in transparent armor. Head trauma and injuries are a terrible thing that medicine doesn't yet fully understand, whereas broken wrists, ribs, legs, etc have much less mystery.

      
#18: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By John Meiners on Mon 1 Oct 2012 07:32 Edit Delete in reply to #1     Reply (2)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
Al started this thread to take "another look" at the helmet debate. It seems, however, that this thread is taking the "same old look" at the debate. The rather interesting observation in the NY Time article Al cited is that mandatory helmet laws have the undesirable consequence of stifling bike-sharing programs. It's a thought-provoking point.

      
#19: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Pete Staehling on Mon 1 Oct 2012 08:03 Edit Delete in reply to #18     Reply   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
In addition to stifling bike-sharing programs, I think mandatory helmet laws also stifle bike usage in general. They present bicycling as an inherently dangerous activity, which I think does cycling a disservice.

Voluntary helmet usage is fine, but I am very much against mandating it.

FWIW, I wore helmet every time I rode a bike for 30 years or so, but have lately been leaving the helmet home when touring. I came to find it unbearable when climbing in the heat and for a while I was carrying it and using it when heat wasn't an issue. Then I started wearing it only on fast descents. At that point I decided that riding without it was much more pleasant and I started just leaving it at home. Around home I sometimes wear a helmet and sometimes don't.

I kind of expected to get lectured with some regularity, when on tour, but have not thus far.

      
#20: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Ashenafi Hailu on Mon 1 Oct 2012 08:56 Edit Delete in reply to #17     Reply   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
Doug - you literally took the words out of my thought!! I agree with you 100%. I too commute to work and was in an accident where aproperly worn helmet saved my life. The impact had caused for me to lose consciousnes for some time. Thank God all is well now. I don't understand how one could think he/she is smart nad alert all the time? Accidents are caused by two individuals when one is not focused. It is like a chess game. If you only think your moves you ain't gonna win. When riding a bike to the extent possible you may have to guess the other guys moves.

      
#21: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Robert Ewing on Mon 1 Oct 2012 08:59 Edit Delete in reply to #1     Reply (1)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute 97% of dead bicyclists were not wearing helmets. I think cyclists should be given the choice of one - wearing a helmet or two - carrying a organ donor card with a current DNR release on the reverse side.

      
#22: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Neil Gunton (admin) on Mon 1 Oct 2012 09:01 Edit Delete in reply to #18     Reply (2)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
"It seems, however, that this thread is taking the "same old look" at the debate."

Yup

      
#23: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Joe & Susan Bousquet on Mon 1 Oct 2012 09:13 Edit Delete in reply to #22     Reply (1)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
So related below are some pics taken from the journals with the three highest hit counts. Those obviously dangerous folks...but they do look happy...

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Marianne and Frank from Holland, riding Ushuaia to Caracas over the next year.

Image on journal page: Nov. 18, 2008: near Tapi Aike to near Puerto Natales (Chile) in journal A few years in North, Central & South AmericaFeatured Journal #186 by Jeff Kruys (Completed Dec 2010)

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Gerold from Germany/Australia.

Image on journal page: Nov. 20, 2008: near Morro Chico to Punta Arenas in journal A few years in North, Central & South AmericaFeatured Journal #186 by Jeff Kruys (Completed Dec 2010)

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Me, northbound German man, Markus, and northbound German woman

Image on journal page: Nov. 25, 2008: Río Grande to Tolhuin in journal A few years in North, Central & South AmericaFeatured Journal #186 by Jeff Kruys (Completed Dec 2010)

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Me, Markus, and another northbound German

Image on journal page: Nov. 25, 2008: Río Grande to Tolhuin in journal A few years in North, Central & South AmericaFeatured Journal #186 by Jeff Kruys (Completed Dec 2010)

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What most of our riding these days was like. To get a sense of how wide the shoulder is (it was wider than it looks here), look only at the space I have between me and the blue truck, the vehicles further behind are misleading in how narrow they make the shoulder look. It's fine aside from the whine and noise of traffic.

Image on journal page: April 3 - 7: Making our way to Bangkok in journal A Honeymoon to RememberFeatured Journal #305 by Erin Arnold Barkley and Sam Barkley (Completed Aug 2010)

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Sam with the gents who worked in our Kathmandu hotel, who gathered to send us off.

Image on journal page: May 2: On the road again in journal A Honeymoon to RememberFeatured Journal #305 by Erin Arnold Barkley and Sam Barkley (Completed Aug 2010)

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The easy part: Tim on a descent

Image on journal page: Meeting old friends: Udaipur - Jodhpur in journal A long ride homeFeatured Journal #188 by Peter Gostelow (Completed Nov 2008)

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Nathalie descending

Image on journal page: Meeting old friends: Udaipur - Jodhpur in journal A long ride homeFeatured Journal #188 by Peter Gostelow (Completed Nov 2008)

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And me

Image on journal page: Meeting old friends: Udaipur - Jodhpur in journal A long ride homeFeatured Journal #188 by Peter Gostelow (Completed Nov 2008)

      
#24: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By Neil Gunton (admin) on Mon 1 Oct 2012 09:17 Edit Delete in reply to #23     Reply (1)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
To tell you the honest truth, I don't care who wears a helmet and who doesn't, or who thinks this or who thinks that about helmets. I think it's a really boring debate that just tends to polarize people, but we seem to keep wanting to talk about it for some reason.

Neil

      
#25: Re: The Great Helmet Debate: Another look (thread)
By iain c on Mon 1 Oct 2012 09:41 Edit Delete in reply to #17     Reply (1)   Printable Relation | Link | Bookmark | Report
There are 2 occasions when I was hit by a car when I very literally used my helmet. If I had not been wearing a helmet on those occasions I would most certainly not be here to write this

Perhaps, perhaps not. Unless the crashes were repeated without a helmet it is impossible to know. It's hard to prove anything with a sample of two crashes and no control sample.

Helmets are not designed to protect from motor vehicle impacts and helmet wearers can and do suffer serious or fatal head injuries.

http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1054.html


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