Thursday, August 02, 2012

Cycling Olympic Gold, also Cycling Death

Bradley Wiggins' brilliant performance in the Olympics cycling events has put cycling in the forefront of the news, but it coincided with yet another tragic accident in which a cyclist was killed by a bus carrying Olympic journalists. Eyewitness account here. It was the 61st this year, and the victim had just started to cycle to work.

We must use the transient salience and popularity of cycling to campaign to reduce cycling deaths.

Bradley was asked his opinion on cycling safety in the UK, and unfortunately he was reported to have led with compulsory helmets and no headphones. Which has led to a brisk debate about compulsory helmets.

In fact, Bradley Wiggins says he has been misreported. He tweets also: "I suggested it may be the way to go to give cyclists more protection legally if involved in an accident. I wasn't on me soap box CALLING, was asked what I thought #myopiniondoesntcountformuch"

I am a big advocate of helmets, but do not think they should be compulsory, on the grounds that it would
(a) create an insufferably loud and prolonged bout of whining from the libertarians, and
(b) when compulsory helmets law was brought in some countries (notably Australia)  the numbers of cyclists went down.

So, no compulsion. Helmets - and non-use of headphones - should remain advisory. Ideally, people who refuse helmets should pay the NHS for the extra work they impose, but that would be too contentious.

I have fallen off my bike 3 times in the last 20 years, and each time my helmets have saved me a trip to hospital with one or all of the following:

  • scalp laceration
  • concussion
  • skull fracture
OK, that's just anecdotal evidence. We need statistics. 

This is from this Times article:
An assessment carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT) of over 100 police forensic reports into cycling fatalities showed that between 10 and 16 per cent of those fatalities would have been avoided had the victim been wearing an “appropriate cycle helmet” - ie: a helmet that is in good condition, of good quality and fits properly.

The report also found that, in cases of serious cyclist casualties treated in English hospitals, 10 per cent had suffered “injuries of a type and to a part of the head that a cycle helmet may have mitigated or prevented”.

100 is not a lot, but it's a start. If you want the original reference, you should find it here.
So that is good enough for me. The debate will continue, but it gets bogged down into stuff like "Well a helmet isn't going to save you if you are run over by a 20 tonne lorry, is it?"
To which the answer is

This argument, which pops up everywhere, is a red herring fallacy.
Policy A, designed to address Problem A, does not address Problem B, therefore Policy A is no good.
Bollox to that.

So let us agree that helmets should be voluntary, and move swiftly on to the much more interesting matter, of what politicians in general, and in particular Boris Johnson,  Mayor of London, should do about it.

First, here are the Green Party's full walking and cycling policies. 14 points.
And here are the Times newspapers Cities Fit For Cycling manifesto points, which for a Murdoch-owned right wing rag, are pretty good. Here's a discussion of the manifesto.

We need infrastructure changes, not helmet laws. The key points for politicians are:

  1. Cycle paths and cycle lanes.
    Paris has these. Last year, Paris had 0 (zero) cyclist deaths.
    London has no cycle lanes to speak of. Last year, London had 16 deaths.

    Obviously there are other factors, but dedicated cycle lanes and paths makes sense. It will reduce cycling on pavements too.
  2. Blind spot technology for HGVs and PSVs. Many deaths happen when a lorry turns left while a cyclist is undertaking on the left, and gets crushed between the lorry and railings. Mirrors, cameral, or body sensors are all possibilities.
  3. Rails along the sides of lorries, to prevent a toppled cyclist (or pedestrian) from falling under the wheels.
  4. Other stuff. I put this in because there is always more stuff to do, and if I don't put it in, people will say "What you've written is all wrong because you've left out my Best Thing.". Government has to work out the optimum response. We have to kick Government into action. 
I hope that the Greens on the London Assembly will press the Boris to start thinking sensibly and realistically about how to respond. But we will have to kick him into action. His Twitter address is here, and his email address is

PS another irony of the whole current situation is that our intelligent, wonderful and freedom-loving coppers in the Met Police decided to attack the regular Critical Mass ride. Here's an account by the excellent JauntyAngle

The day of the opening ceremony for the Olympics the monthly Critical Mass Ride was taking place in London, which is an informally organised protest ride about the situation and provision for cyclists which also happens in a number of other countries around the world. Except that ride didn’t just happen as it does every month, the police decided that it was a threat to the peace and harmony of the Olympic games and decided to use kettling tactics to detain the riders and arrest 182 of them, including a 13 year old. Apparently riding your bike near the Olympic park can get you in a police cell for 5 hours and a bail order to not enter the Borough of Newham during the Olympics.

Sign the petition on Critical Mass here:

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