Safer Cycling

Cycling is fun, healthy, practical and sustainable. These benefits far outweigh any fears that you may have of sharing the road with other traffic. Figures show that you are far more likely to live a long, active and healthy life if you begin cycling regularly, than if you take no such exercise. Here's how to maximise your safety on the road.

Safer Cycling Tips

• Keep your bike in good order: many cycle accidents have nothing to do with other traffic.

• Know your bike well, so that you ride intuitively.

• Know the rules of the road: Knowledge means power and added security.

• Be aware look ahead and think ahead in traffic.

• Position yourself to be visible to other road-users, especially at junctions and roundabouts.

• Wear bright clothing incorporating reflective material.

• Move smoothly and predictably. Speed and acceleration can give extra safety; so a good quality bike helps.

• Keep your brakes well adjusted; you need them a lot in traffic.

• Shout ‘Room Please' if a driver comes too close. It's fast and effective.

• Don't cower in the gutter. Keep a space free to your left in case you need to move into it, or if a car-door opens suddenly.

• Hold your lane for periods if it's safer for you, but don't cause frustration behind you.

• Use your eyes and ears to be aware of what's happening.

• Learn to look behind with confidence, or use a mirror. Signal and move out smoothly to pass parked cars and buses.

• Watch out for pedestrians stepping out: they can't hear your engine!

• Be assertive, and proud to be pedalling, but also polite.

• Ride wide of parked cars to leave space for people opening car doors in front of you.

How to choose a helmet.

• It must carry the mark of the helmet standards authority of the country of sale and one of the established safety standards such as ANSI or SNELL.

• Try the helmet on before you buy it. It should fit comfortably, not swivel, and sit level across your forehead without obscuring your view – it has been suggested that ill-fitting helmets could actually cause worse injuries.

• Get a helmet that allows you to pass a cable lock through one of the ventilation holes, so you have the choice of leaving it with your bike.

• Look for good ventilation

• Look for user-visibility, a bright colour.

• Some modern helmets have an adjustment strap around the inner circumference, for easy fitting to your head. This allows you to have adjustment room for wearing a headband or thin thermal hat under your helmet in winter.

Helmet hints

• Look after it. Change your helmet every three to five years; sooner if you see signs of wear.

• Adjust the strap carefully and keep it tight: you should be able to get no more than two fingers between strap and chin.

• Don't paint your helmet, or put stickers on it.

How useful are helmets?

(The following article has international significance, but a few references relate to the UK only. It is still a useful piece: Ed)

Helmet use is not compulsory and remains a personal choice. We hope the following helps you weigh up the pros and cons.

Understanding the effects and benefits of helmet wearing is extraordinarily difficult. Research now suggests that while helmets are useful for low intensity incidents, their effectiveness tails off very quickly in the kind of crashes more likely to be encountered by experienced adult riders. Researchers in New Zealand found that the wearing of helmets reduced head injuries in minor incidents but had no significant effect in major accidents. This, of course, backs up many people's common sense: that an inch of polystyrene helps with little bangs but not big ones. So, should we all throw our helmets away? No. Just because they don't help much with serious accidents, doesn't mean we shouldn't protect ourselves. Serious accidents are not the only cause of serious head injuries: you can always be unlucky in a minor accident. Also, even relatively minor concussion can have a serious cumulative effect.

Many cyclists are thoroughly pro-helmet. For novice cyclists, particularly children, they're a must, and helmets are genuinely useful for competition cyclists, who are less likely to get hit by car drivers. Helmets are still a relevant safety feature for any cyclist. The British Medical Association's estimation suggests that around a third of serious head injuries are of a type that can be avoided by helmet use. It is children who benefit most from wearing helmets.

But campaigns like this can cause a major reduction in cycling, even when not pushing for mandatory use. The Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire has revealed that there is a ‘strong link' between Local Authority helmet promotion campaigns and a fall in cyclist numbers. They have found that in these areas helmet wearing went up 4% and cycling went down 5%. The problem is that the campaigns are very emotive, and make cycling seem much more dangerous than it really is. Many parents are very worried about letting their children cycle, and the emotive helmet propaganda is often the final straw. So their children generally end up being driven to school. But motorists on the school run are the biggest cause of children being killed on the way to school. Furthermore, reducing children to passive passengers can harm their mental and physical wellbeing.

Why is the cyclist singled out for concern? If we're saying that cyclists should wear helmets then why not everyone else? Between 1987 and 1991, head injuries were responsible for 39% of pedestrian deaths, 25% of driver deaths and 15% of car passenger deaths. Only 8.5% of cyclist fatalities were caused solely by head injuries, in other words, 90% of cyclists would have died without any head injury they may have also received. So why pick on cyclists? 3500 people die on Britain's roads every year; less than 200 of whom are cyclists. If about 20 die because of a head injury, then if we apply the BMA statistics we can expect no more than six lives saved if every cyclist were to wear a helmet. (There is also the incidence of serious injury, but that also applies equally to pedestrians and car users.) Car helmets are already on sale in Australia, and Japanese schoolchildren are also being issued with helmets to protect them walking to and from school. It sounds weird, but actually gives more safety benefits than cycle helmets do.

Remember, there are around 3,300 non-cycling deaths on the roads each year, and a higher proportion of them are caused solely by head injuries. There are, of course, complications, like deaths–per–kilometres–travelled for example, but calling for motorists to keep a couple of helmets in the car, and popping them on whenever they drive makes – in public health terms – a lot more sense. If it encourages people to cut down on their driving, or drive more safely, this would be good for them and everyone else. On an individual level, cyclists are much better protected if they wear high visibility gear and get some serious safety training – which does not mean they should shun cycle helmets.

Read More

Helmets or Not: Research Findings Turn Up the Heat

A Beginner's Guide to Cycle Commuting: Safety Wear