Not that Time Out magazine is a great platform for social change, but how's bloody Dr Peter Ward, GP, who's written an article in this week's issue (July 19-26, page 19) entitled “Ditch the helmets”.
Among other things (although I'll do my best not to take the remarks out of context), Dr Ward contends that: “Real life studies from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA have not found noticeable benefits from helmet use”, “Where (helmet) laws were enforced cycling actually became more hazardous because fewer people cycled. Less cycling means more danger for those still cycling.”, “The biggest thing that puts people off riding a bike is its dangerous image”, and “Cycling is being dangerised by the promotion of helmets”.
Where the bloody hell do you start ? The biggest thing that puts people off cycling is its dangerous image, and clearly that image is propogated by the fact that the people who do it wear helmets. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the idea of people on unprotected lightweight flimsy frames zipping in and out of huge moving lumps of steel. There were 3221 road deaths in Great Britain in 1994 – I've no idea how many actual drivers there are, however this figure and the fact that it's compulsory to wear seatbelts don't seem to be putting much of a dent in peoples' insistence on driving!
Less cycling means more danger for those still cycling ? It sounds dangerously close to Homer Simpson logic – “Dad, I think that man's an ivory dealer ! / Sssh Lisa, a man with lots of ivory is *less* likely to want *more* ivory !”. If we're going to assume that there will be the same number of cycle fatalities per year then certainly a smaller cycling population means those still there are more at risk, but surely this is more of a reliance on statistics and less of an actual case-by-case analysis ?
He goes on to say that in London the number of cyclists has doubled over the last 5 years, yet the number of cyclists killed has dropped by almost 50 percent. Let's explore possible scenarios here. Could the increase in cyclists be due to the Congestion Charge ? And if that's the case then surely the drop in fatalities would be more a product of fewer cars on the road ! Or have they all cottoned onto the idea of the more there are of them, the safer it is ? Why would the number of fatalities have dropped… perhaps it's cos motorists can't reach the speeds they used to because there's so many cyclists darting around the place that they're afraid to accelerate ?! How about this: as cycling appeals to a bigger market, the market share of Hooray Henry types who have to go out & get the best gear on the market to be seen increases in number, and consequently those types ride more carefully to avoid their precious bikes getting scratched or bent ?
Anyway, when dealing with a system as complex as the road, there's so many factors at play that it's surely impossible to conclusively point fingers at such things – has there been any studies done into the effects of GPS navigation systems on road fatalities ? I'm no scientician – I simply don't know, and unless it's backed up by evidence then I'm skeptical of those who make these claims. In fact, this post is a bit of an aimless ramble now, but I mean how's this for a statement: “I would suggest that spending thirty pounds on some good-quality training rather than on a piece of expanded polystyrene foam may go a lot further in preventing a head injury”. For an encore does Dr Ward assert that pilots shouldn't fritter away 2 grand on a parachute when they could just as well pay for some extra flying lessons !?
“helmets are not compatible with mass cycling and the sooner the fad passes the better”. Dr Peter Ward GP, I'd stick with dishing out second-rate health care if I was you, and stop trying to dissuade people from making use of an inobtrusive piece of safety equipment.
I've a good mind to write a letter.