Saturday, 19 July 2008

You can't be too safe, or can you?

There is some thought provoking analysis on the effectiveness of cycle helmets, here.

Some of the analysis is quite complex, but the gist seems to be that while cycle helmets offer limited protection, promoting their use raises fears about safety that have negative consequences. Not the least of these is that it discourages people from cycling; and lower numbers of cyclists puts the rest at higher risk. Efforts to improve safety are therefore better concentrated on training.

After reading the analysis, I went to look at the hospital statistics relating to cycling. Out of almost a million incidents in 2006/7 there were 13,649 related to bicycles. 281 of these involve people injured because they were hit by a bicycle (in virtually every case, it was a pedestrian hit by a bicycle).

In the other 13,386 cases it was a cyclist that was injured. The biggest group (9,191 incidents) are described as "Pedal cyclist injured in noncollision transport accident" - basically I think that means that they fell off their bike.

208 injuries resulted from collisions between bicycles, 92 were cyclists injured when they collided with a pedestrian or an animal, 518 were cyclists colliding with a stationery object. 1,940 involved a collision with a car or van, and a couple of hundred involved collisions with other vehicles, including one where a cyclist collided with a railway train (scary). 1,308 involved an unspecified transport accident.

Around 80% of the cyclists involved were male. 42% of them were aged under 15; 52% between 15 and 60; and 8% aged over 60.

The vast majority of injuries among those under 15 were the result of falling off the bike: less than one in ten (around 500) involved a collision with a moving vehicle. To put this in proportion, more than 2,500 children were injured falling out of bed, almost 2,000 falling off a chair, and over 6,000 were injured on playground equipment.

Among almost half a million incidents involving those aged over 60, 200 were cyclists in collision with cars, and 64 were injuries sustained on playground equipment. They really should know better.

All of this confirms that cycling is a relatively low-risk activity. Nevertheless, I will continue to wear my helmet, and I will keep off playground equipment - just in case.

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