Cycle training ‘more important than helmets’: IAM

10.41 | 27 April 2010 | | 4 comments

Cycle training would have a more positive impact on cycle safety than the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets, according to an IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) survey.

In an online poll of more than 6,000 IAM members and non-members, only 1% of respondents supported the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets. The further introduction of cycle lanes would make the biggest difference to cyclists, according to respondents.

Duncan Pickering, IAM cycling development manager, said: "People see additional public money – by extension further training and improved infrastructure – as the most important factor affecting cyclists’ safety.

"While we would never discourage cyclists from wearing helmets, we stress that cyclist behaviour, awareness of other road users and visibility are the factors that would make a bigger difference to cycle safety."

In another finding, 96% per cent of respondents would approve of additional public money to be made available to make cycling safer in the UK.

Duncan Pickering added: "Government, employers and individuals all have a part to play in making cycling a safe and easy way of getting around, through education and by encouraging a mutual awareness and respect among cyclists and other road users.”

Click here
to read the full IAM news release, or for more information contact the IAM press office on 020 8996 9777.



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    In Norfolk we make helmet wearing compulsory for cycle training courses, and in some deprived areas this is believed by the schools to be a factor in low take up (along with poor condition bikes). I’ve been reading about these studies and my feeling is that whilst the studies are probably right on the macro level in terms of healthy lifestyles lost vs lives saved by helmets, it’s at the individual level that the effects are most potentially damaging. I’m in support of the cyclist training in tandem with education as to the individual potential – but the greatest safety to cyclists would surely be a greater uptake in cycling, leading to more regular awareness of cyclist by drivers (more of whom would then also be cyclists at times themselves) – eliminating the them & us syndrome

    Peter C, (RSA – Norwich)
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    The results of the survey didn’t come out conclusively against promoting helmets. The report above and the full IAM news release indicates that only 1% of respondents supported the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets. The report stated – “While we would never discourage cyclists from wearing helmets, we stress that cyclist behaviour, awareness of other road users and visibility are the factors that would make a bigger difference to cycle safety” – I do not get the impression that the report is coming out conclusively against promoting helmets.

    As for motorcycle crash helmets and seat belts, the debates about free choice etc have been going on for years. There are estimates that have been reported in various media concerning thousands of lives that have been saved over the years by motorcyclists wearing helmets; and drivers wearing seat belts. Those in favour of the laws and those against them can cite evidence to support their position.

    One clinician once commented to me that they were in favour of free choice, however, when an individual is seriously injured and occupying a hospital bed, diverting valuable resources that could be used to treat other patients, whose condition is not brought on by them exercising free choice; you might view it differently at the coalface. I can relate to that. I guess you could extend the argument about choice and treatment to a whole range of scenarios – but let’s not open that can of worms!

    My free choice is that I’ll happily continue to wear my motorcycle crash helmet, my seatbelt and my cycle helmet when I operate the relevent vehicles.

    Mark – Wiltshire
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    As one of the non-IAM respondents, with considerable knowledge of cycle helmets, it is gratifying that the survey came out so conclusively against promoting helmets. Nowhere with a helmet law or massive increase in helmet wearing has been able to demonstrate any reduction in risk to cyclists. The largest ever research project into helmets found that there was a positive correlation between helmet wearing and accidents to cyclists.

    If we really believe in evidence-based policy making, there will be no further promotion of helmets. Anything else is a denial of the facts.

    Your respondent Steve seems to assume that motorcycle helmets and seat belts are beneficial, but the evidence for either is highly questionable. Yes, deaths to motorcyclists fell after the introduction of the helmet law, but the distance travelled by motorcycle fell, and it would appear that all the lives saved were between the hours of 23:00 and 0100, i.e. after the pubs shut. Unless helmets suddenly became magically effective between those hours, there must be some other explanation, for instance something else happening at the same time the helmet law was introduced. Co-incidentally, the drink drive law and the breathalyser were introduced at the same time, and that is a much more likely explanation of the reduction in motorcylist deaths.

    Similarly with seat belts. If they are so effective why did the government refuse to publish the Isles Report, which investigated the effect of seat belt laws in other countries, and concluded that they were not effective? There’s a pirate copy on the web if you google.

    The only conclusion from these three cases is that much of what is said about road safety is complete nonsense, and there is no evidence to support most of it. Neither is there effective post-law analysis to find out if the laws have achieved their aims. Why not?

    Richard Burton, Bristol
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    Whilst I fully agree that training and experience is of the utmost importance to cyclists. I cant help but realise that a huge proportion of the 6000 surveyed will be Advanced drivers and will (probably/hopefully) be more considerate to other road users, especially pedal cyclists. We can train and prepare cyclists to the best of their ability, but we cannot affect those road users who have disregard for others, which is where I believe cycle helmets are of the utmost importance. Whilst before my time, I’m lead to believe that there was those that were against compulsory motorcycle helmets and even seatbelt use when first introduced, but look at us now….

    Steven (RSO, Cumbria)
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