16 March 2010

Jersey's helmet law does my brain in

Oh. Helmets have been made compulsory for under-18s in Jersey, that famously progressive island-peculiar. Jersey likes to style itself a cycling island. This will do nothing for that image. Freewheeler watched the predictably uninformed BBC TV news item on the new law yesterday morning.

The bill was brought in by a politician who had the heartbreaking experience of seeing his son suffer brain injury after falling off his bike. Very sad, but that's not a good reason to make laws.

Still, it gives me an idea. We're always hearing from people with an unprovable anecdote about how a helmet saved their life, so therefore they should be able to tell everyone else what to do. (However, they usually didn't escape as unscathed as they think: their ability to type upper-case letters and write coherent sentences often appears to have been compromised by the trauma.)

Well, my granddad was saved in the Great War when a sniper's bullet was deflected by his cigarette case. So I'm going to campaign for smoking to be made compulsory.

Regular readers will know from previous posts (1, 2) where I stand on helmets. Right on the top of them, to tread them as far into the ground as possible. They're of very questionable effectiveness and largely irrelevant to the Safety Debate, merely drawing attention away from the real issues, such as how we persuade the public and politicians to invest money and willpower into better cycling facilities.

Still, I have a tip for those who believe better personal protection is the way forward rather than better bike lanes, and that it's the victim's responsibility for any accident. Nip up to the excellent Wallace Collection, just north of Oxford St. (It's free, and they have good bike parking now.) In their basement, you can try on a suit of armour (picture).

It's great fun, and you can see how much more you'd enjoy riding round London, and how much safer everyone would be, if only they'd make it compulsory for cyclists.


  1. < the real issues: how we persuade the public and politicians to invest money and willpower into better cycling facilities. >
    Are you sure that's the main issue - how about taming motorised traffic and teaching drivers (by cycling lessons?) to treat cyclists and pedestrians with a bit of respect? That would do more for safety than more cycling facilities.

  2. As I've said elsewhere (well, on cyclechat to be honest), last week I was hit from behind by a people carrier that didn't stop. The initial impact was on the plastic child seat on the back of my bike, which absorbed a good deal of the impact and meant I got pushed to one side rather than run over.

    I hereby start the campaign for all bikes to have child seats on the back. :)

  3. @Tim - I've amended the post to '...the real issues, such as how...'.

    The post wasn't intended to spark a debate on our campaigning priorities. It was more an excuse to sneak in that picture of me wearing armour, which I've been waiting to use for ages.

  4. I'm not sure it's either/or though. Why can't we push for better bike lanes and encourage people to wear helmets?

  5. There's enough encouragement to wear helmets already. We don't need that, we /do/ need better cycle facilities.


  6. I agree with Tim. Bike lanes, helmets et al don't solve the real problem or even try to. Changing the culture out there on the roads might seem like a biggie, but it is the only solution that will work in the end, and will have a wider benefit for more than just cyclists.

    Nice armour by the way. I think the future in that line of safety clothing lies in steel chainmail though. In the quest for more performance, it will later go through a chromo, an aluminium & a titanium stage, before metal armour is dumped altogether for carbon fibre.

  7. News from 'Down Under': guess what? - I am no longer a criminal for riding a bicycle without a helmet!!! This decision has made my month!!!!

    I appealed to the NSW District Court, and whilst the appeal was not upheld, the criminal conviction was QUASHED!!! - so on with the next part of the battle which may yet see me at the UN!!!!

  8. Way to go Sue!


  9. "The bill was brought in by a politician who had the heartbreaking experience of seeing his son suffer brain injury after falling off his bike. Very sad, but that's not a good reason to make laws."

    If the compulsorary wearing of helmets saves one more parent the heartbreak of having to bury a child who died from head trauma as a result of a cycling accident then praise be to the law makers.

    There is no reason to not wear a helmet.

  10. @Nigel... I'm afraid your reasoning is naive, and confused by the tear-jerking references to burying children.

    According to your argument, we should make the wearing of body armour for all children compulsory, or perhaps even compulsorary, because if it saves even one juvenile death from stabbing - quite a problem here in south London - then praise be to the law makers.

    No doubt you can't think of a reason not to wear a helmet, but I suggest that's a comment on your knowledge and imagination. There are very many reasons not to wear a helmet, borne out by experience and study, not by sentimental armchair theorists.

    These include the tendency of cars to drive more dangerously past helmet wearers than non-helmet wearers; the reduction in cycling levels in places with mandatory helmet laws, leading to reduced safety for the remaining cyclists; their lack of effectiveness for any impacts other than falls from a stationary bike onto a smooth surface; and the fact that they're expensive, uncomfortable and unnecessary.

    I can see you just don't understand the cigarette case/suit of armour business, so I won't waste my time further.

  11. Nigel, this is why the medical profession is in favour of helmet laws - because they see the people who are scraped off the roads, and not the wider benefits of encouraging cycling in terms of reducing obesity, congestion, pollution etc. Remember that even with the odd head injury thrown into the mix, cyclists live whatever, 2 to 5, years longer than non-cyclists. Anything that puts kids off starting to cycle is counterproductive!