Cycle helmet law? Don't even think of it.

Wiggins' call for helmet compulsion is damaging diversion from lack of safe cycle routes

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Bradley Wiggins’ call for helmet compulsion in the wake of the death of the 28-year-old cyclist who was run over last night by a bus at a notoriously dangerous junction outside the Olympic Park, while well meant, is a serious diversion from the real issue of reducing danger to cyclists at source.

This is, in my opinion, the most stupid thing that ever came out of the mouth of a “professional” cyclist.

When Australia introduced such a law cycling fell by 40% and this would happen in the UK too, if not even more so.

First of all the helmets that are being worn in the main are a total waste of time and when you get hit by a driver who just will not consider cyclists no helmet will help.

The great majority of cyclists in the main cycling countries of Europe, Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, do not wear helmets and they seem to be doing just fine.

And, as can be seen by the death of young Raj Soni in Bristol recently while cycling – it would appear that he hit a wall coming down a hill, wearing a helmet – that a helmet, very often, makes no difference at all.

The problem in the UK is that motorists have an attitude that cyclist have no right to be on the roads and thus they appear to be quite prepared to push them off the road.

It is not a helmet law for cyclists we need but education of motorists and persecution of those that do not give cyclists enough space.

The so-called cycle routes in Britain, whether London or elsewhere, are a joke, but especially in London, and this is what needs to be addressed. I addition to that sidewalks should be made dual use, with pedestrians, however, having priority.

On the other hand, if we would but look to other countries in Europe where cycling has a much higher standing it is possible to have cycle networks, even across towns and cities, that are separated from the motor traffic.

Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany could be cited as examples here and I have traveled by bike through the Netherlands as well as through Germany when I was stationed there, such as, in the case of Germany, from Hamburg to Braunschweig, on cycle paths alongside the Bundesstrassen, which continue through the towns and villages, and are totally separated from the roads themselves.

It needs political will which in Britain, unfortunately, simply not existent. And the excuse that there is no space to introduce such cycle paths does not wash at all as they were introduced in those many European countries where they exist also after the roads and houses had been built.

However, the UK government seems to be getting too much in the form of backhanders from the motoring lobby to countenance reducing the building of roads for cars and actually doing something to advance cycling.

Long distance cycling, from town to town, from village to village, is a pleasure in the Netherlands and Germany (I have not had the pleasure of trying the routes in Denmark) and it is understandable why people cycle to the shops, to visit friends, to school, college, university and work, in those countries.

Most people going to visit friends or relations, even if some kilometers away in a neighboring village or in town, use the bicycle, at least in Holland, and also to a great degree in Germany. In town especially the bicycle is the vehicle of choice for most to get around (or they use public transport) as parking a car is a hassle and also costly.

While we are seeing more and more commuters on bikes on an almost daily basis and also – which is very positive – many more children cycling to school, Britain is so geared towards the motorcar that the authorities refuse to think outside the box. In addition to that there seems to be some incentive for them not to consider the cyclists and to work for the motorists predominately.

OK! I admit! I am biased, as I am a cyclist and I don't drive and don't own a car. And I also admit that I am a little naughty as I, predominately, use the sidewalks to cycle as the roads simply are not safe to use.

However, even though I use the sidewalks I will always consider the priority of the pedestrians and cycle at a very slow speed. There is no need to race. I'll get there and that a lot safer than anyone racing along.

Another problem, and now I will be going for the cyclists themselves, is the “Lycra brigade”, as I tend to call them, with their environmental fruit bowls on their heads, who push their luck all too often by crossing red traffic lights, even at junctions, by talking on their cell phones and also by listening to MP3 players.

The rule must be: Obey the rules at traffic lights. If it is red that also means it is red for the cyclist. And earplugs have no place in a cyclist's ear in the same way as they have no place in the ears of a motorist.

If you have to, for some reason, use a cell phone on a bike, as cycle couriers may have to, then use a blue tooth device or stop, get onto the sidewalk and talk there. MP3 players have no place in a cyclist's ears in the same way as they also have no place in the ears of a pedestrian crossing the road. People! You are deaf to your surroundings, and a danger to yourself and others.

Finally, let's get onto cycling helmets. The majority of those environmental fruit bowls are an absolute waste of time and money and give just a false security. The only kind of helmet that would protect you in a fall is the kind that horse riders wear and those riding BMX bikes. The others are useless. And I mean utterly useless and, as previously mentioned, the sad death of young Raj Soni proves that. He died from serious head injuries despite wearing a helmet.

Helmets will not make cycling safer for cyclists; a change of attitudes, on all sides, including cyclists, and proper cycle routes across the country will.

© 2012