Earlier this week, BikeBiz.co.uk carried a statement from Reading-based charity, the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust, where BHIT’s founder Angie Lee remonstrated with the CTC for daring to criticise the Department of Transport’s helmet campaign aiming to get more teenage boys to wear helmets.
This campaign used "macabre" imagery, said the CTC, and would propel children from "the saddle to the sofa."
BHIT finds it hard to believe anybody could have views contrary to their own, as BikeBiz.co.uk knows only too well after receiving writ threats from BHIT in the recent past.
Now, in an open letter to BHIT, CTC’s campaigns and policy manager, gives a point by point rebuttal of Angie Lee’s emotional outburst against the CTC. He also provides many statistics, including the figures that show how cycle use declined in those countris that enacted helmet compulsion.
The Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust claims that "Each week at least one child will die from a head injury sustained through cycling."
This is a massive exaggeration. In 2001 (the latest statistics available), there were less than half this number. And it is impossible to know how many of these (if any) would have been prevented by helmet wearing. What we do know, however, is that every one of those deaths took place on Britain’s highways – not one of them occurred as a result of off-road cycling. Helmet standards only provide protection against the equivalent of a fall from a stationary riding position – they are not, and cannot, be designed to withstand collisions with moving traffic. CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation, is not "anti-helmet", as some would claim). If helmets encourage some people to cycle, we’re more than happy with that! And there are some types of cycling activity for which helmet wearing may well be advisable on safety grounds too (although even here, the research evidence is far from clear-cut). All that one can safely say is that, where increased helmet wearing has occurred, nobody has ever detected a benefit to cyclists’ safety in real world casualty data. In all this confusion, the important thing to remember that cycling is first and foremost a healthy activity. And that, wherever helmets are promoted, cycle use goes down – particularly among teenagers. Of course we’d welcome any reduction in cyclists’ casualties. But the number who die cycling on our roads (138 in 2001) is still tiny compared with the 45,000 killed each year by heart disease due to physical inactivity. BHIT’s suggestion that we must chose between seeing our children in helmets or urns is pure emotional blackmail. What BHIT is actually saying that children should be forced into a choice between helmets or car-dependent, sedentary lifestyles. This would cause a far greater reduction in their life expectancy. At a time when health professionals
are expressing serious concern at the recent alarming growth of childhood obesity rates, BHIT’s campaign is at best seriously misguided, or at worst it is grossly irresponsible. The right thing for Government to do is to create safe and attractive conditions which encourage far more people to cycle. This involves reducing the dangers at source -"sticking plaster solutions" are not the answer. In countries like Holland and Denmark which have high cycle use (and higher life expectancy, incidentally), cyclists’ safety is far better than in Britain: so much better in fact, that helmet wearing is almost unheard of. That is what we should be aiming for here too. Cycling is good for our health (and especially that of our children), for the liveability of our communities, for the safety of our streets, for the quality of the air we breathe, for the efficiency of our transport networks and for the future of our planet. Yet BHIT wants to turn children who ride bicycles into criminals unless they are wearing
some polystyrene on their heads – as if the police have nothing better to do.
You could make a much better case for forcing pedestrians and car-occupants to wear helmets – they suffer far more head injuries than cyclists. Come on BHIT, get cycling and get real!
CTC’s REBUTTAL OF BHIT’s two recent press statements:
BHIT’s statements are in italic.
one child under the age of 16 dies every week in the UK of head injuries…
The 1992-2001 annual average number of child road deaths by all causes is 39. Maybe add two or three more per year for non-road deaths. Then subtract at least 20% for those which were not caused by head injuries, and the annual figure ends up in the low/mid thirties, not fifty three as BHIT suggests.
…and a further 60 are admitted to Accident and Emergency departments with serious head injuries
It is unclear what definition BHIT is using for "serious head injuries". However, if one uses the numbers of child cyclists attending A&E who are unconscious or concussed (using data from the Government’s Leisure Accident Surveillance System LASS), one finds that the number is about 1800 annually (i.e. c35 a week, not 60 as claimed by BHIT). And this is a pretty broad definition of "serious" injury; 70% of this group are released immediately, many of them needing no treatment at all.
Children, aged five to 15, account for 50 per cent of all head injuries sustained by cyclists.
Children age 5-15 accounted for 25% (not 50%) of all reported road casualties sustained by cyclists in 2001. Can head injuries be so very different?
International and national research has shown that at least 75 per cent of head injuries would never have occurred had the cyclist involved been wearing a helmet
All claims about the percentage of head injuries saved by helmets are contradicted by real world data, since no-one has ever detected a benefit to either the rate or severity of cyclists’ casualties as helmet wearing rates have increased.
Canada, New Zealand and many of the American states introduced compulsory helmet wearing many years ago and there has been a corresponding decrease in the number of head injuries sustained in cycling accidents.
a) In America between 1991-2001, helmet wearing went up from 18% to 50%, but cycle use went down by 21% while the absolute number of cycle head injuries went UP by 10%, indicating a 40% increase in risk.
b) In Western Australia, cycle use in 2000 was 10-20% below pre-law levels but the proportion of hospitalised road users who were cyclists rose from 17% to 26%, indicating a one-third increase in cyclists’ risk of serious injury.
c) In New South Wales it is estimated that the overall cycle injury risks for children increased by 68% relative to cycle usage after the helmet law was passed.
d) There is very little data on cycle use in Canada.
e) In New Zealand, cyclists’ head injuries have fallen at a lower rate
than for all other road user groups since the helmet law was introduced.
Critics of cycle helmets in these countries, as in the UK, predicted a long-term decrease in the number of cyclists following the introduction of compulsory helmet-wearing. Due to the positive way in which the law was introduced this did not happen.
a) Cycle use fell by 21% in the USA between 1991-2001.
b) In Western Australia, cycle use (which had been rising steadily prior to the law’s introduction) suddenly fell by 30-60%. It is still 10-20% below its pre-law levels.
c) In Melbourne, cycle use fell by 24% for adults and 48% for children post law.
d) In New Zealand, the time spent cycling fell by 34% between 1989/90 and 1997/8.
e) As noted above, there is little data on cycle use in Canada but that which exists suggests a fall of 40-60% in cycle use.
11 to 16-year-old boys are at greatest risk of serious head injury.
Risk per what unit? This is meaningless.
Boys account for 70% of cycle injuries.
In 2001, boys accounted for 17% of fatalities and 21% of all reported road casualties (ditto for serious or slight reported casualties). BHIT must be including a hell of a lot of non-serious off-road casualties in their figures to get to 70%!
Every year approximately 90,000 children in the UK under the age of 16 are treated in Accident and Emergency departments for cycling related injuries.
The HASS/LASS figures for 1999 suggest that around 78,000 children aged <16 attended A&E with cycle related injuries. Most of these will have needed no treatment.
Seventy five per cent of deaths are due to brain injury. Of the 41,000 children who sustain a head injury, 29,000 sustain cranium injuries.
The first of these sounds about right (or am I confusing brain and head injury), but it is true for all fatal injuries regardless of the activity involved. The second stat is meaningless – the cranium is just part of the head.
42% of the total number of children aged five to 15 who are admitted to hospital with head injuries sustain their injuries in a cycling related accident.
One of our members obtained HASS/LASS data suggesting that the number of children aged <16 going to hospital with concussion or loss of consciousness from all causes is around 42,000, of whom around 1,800 (or about 4.5%) incurred their injuries while cycling. So where Angie gets her 42% figure from I have no idea. Moreover, 70% of those arriving at
A&E with concussion or unconscious needed no treatment. There is no reason to suppose this figure would be different for those of them who were cyclists.
85% of child cycling injuries occur off roads in parks, on pavements and on cycle lanes.
How many of these have serious or fatal consequences? There was not a single off-road child fatality arising from off-road cycling in 2001.
Just 2% of injuries involve another vehicle.
Of all cyclists’ road casualties reported in 2001, 96% involved a motor vehicle (86% for fatalities and 93% of serious injuries). Once again, BHIT must have included a hell of a lot of minor knocks in playgrounds and parks to bring this down to 2%.
30% of child cycle related head injuries are admitted into hospital.
Given the numbers of minor knocks that BHIT must have included in their previous stats, there is no way they can be using a consistent definition of "injury".