Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust threatens BikeBiz with legal action

The chief executive of the single-issue lobbying organisation accuses of "bias".
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The chief executive of the single-issue lobbying organisation accuses of "bias".

Angela Lee of the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust has written to BikeBiz two days in a row. In her first letter she said "It is nonsensical that anyone can be opposed or critical of helmets."

In her second letter she took exception to the fact that BikeBiz said she was a "non-cyclist".

This, she said, was "simply not true and together with your other comments [which she doesn't list] is only aiming to detract your readers from our aim for the safety of child cyclists. I deplore this form of journalism as it is aimed to be biased and misleading. I therefore require that BikeBiz make a correction and apology on to your website immediately, otherwise we will be seeking legal advice."

The text of Angela Lee's first letter will be used as BHIT's point of view in a major helmet feature in the next issue of BicycleBusiness. Also included in this issue will be the views of a variety of pro- and anti-helmet lobbyists, including a roadie brain surgeon (pro) and the CTC (anti-compulsion).

Here's the BikeBiz reply to Angela Lee's second letter:

Dear Angela

Obesity, to coin a phrase, is a growing problem in the UK. We need fit kids, not fat kids. It's therefore important that as many children as possible exercise regularly. Cycling is excellent exercise. Pro-helmet scare tactics, well-meaning though they may be, don't tend to make parents rush out and buy helmets for their cycling offspring, they just discourage them from cycling altogether. There's ample evidence from around the world that helmet compulsion leads to a drop in cycle use. Helmet laws in Australia caused cycling levels to drop by 30 percent. Less cycling is not good for the health. As the British Medical Association famously stated in the 1990s, the dangers of cycling are far outweighed by the positive health benefits. This is a point that is regularly reiterated by editorials in the British Medical Journal. Less cycling equals more deaths from heart disease and obesity. The compulsory wearing of helmets is not the panacea many seem to think it is. Helmet use in the UK has risen from close to zero to 22 percent between 1985 and 1999 but there was no detectable change in fatalities or serious injury rates for cyclists. Cyclists account for less than one percent of head injury admissions to hospital. There are 4.8 times more car occupants who die of head injuries than cyclists, and 4.6 times more pedestrians. More children die of head injuries within the 'safe' confines of cars, than die from cycle-related head injuries. Will BHIT ever lobby for motorists and pedestrians to wear helmets? What about legislating helmet use for those who live in houses with low ceiling beams? Now, speaking personally, I am in no way anti-helmet. I wear one every day and my three young children are made to wear them too. But I don't kid myself that wearing a few grammes of polystyrene will protect me or my children in the event of a collision with a car. Cycle helmets are designed for slow speed crashes from waist height on to concrete and curbs. Sure, there are sackloads of anecdotes from cyclists whose lives have been saved by helmets and many cases where helmet-less riders have been killed or seriously injured but, equally, there are cyclists who have never worn helmets and who have added years to their lives thanks to their regular cycling. It's wise to wear a helmet for those rare moments in a cycling lifetime when one might be needed, but compulsion would lead to a drop in cycling, something that would be detrimental to the nation's heart-health, waistlines and, of course, the environment. There are many pros to helmet wearing but there are also many cons. You wrote that "It is nonsensical that anyone can be opposed or critical of helmets." As a single-issue lobbying organisation you may not like to think there are views out there contrary to your own, but there are. In the next issue of BicycleBusiness, there will be a round-up of all the current points-of-view on the helmet issue, pro, anti and indifferent. Such a balanced approach allows people to consider all the evidence and make up their own minds.

Yours faithfully

Carlton Reid




You yourself told me you were a non-cyclist. My notes from 25th October 2002 show that I asked "[Are you] a cyclist,[then]?" You answered: "Not really." I was drinking mineral water at this BHIT benefit dinner and took contemporaneous notes. If you now wish to go on record saying you are, in fact, a cyclist, be my guest. I can easily change the phrase you found so offensive.

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