Cyclists, helmets, and the chaos of social media

If ever anything showed the madness of social media, it was the hysterical reaction just over a week ago to a perfectly sensible tweet recommending that, in rush hour traffic, it really is unwise to cycle without a helmet (as I had seen two cyclists doing in the vicinity of the Westlink, in each case along side four lanes of traffic).

The frankly crazed response summed up fundamentally why democracy is failing – it covered all the basis.

Firstly, you get the “in group” argument – my “in group” (in this case cyclists) are all perfect; anything that goes wrong is everyone else’s fault. So, apparently, cyclists shouldn’t wear helmets because there wouldn’t ever be a problem if the evil “out group” (in this case, car drivers) didn’t drive into them.

(One of the cyclists not wearing a helmet had ridden through a red light near Yorkgate, by the way…)

Secondly, you get the misrepresentation. “How dare you suggest helmet wearing should be compulsory?”, I was asked, never having suggested it should be.

(It seems we have given up entirely on individual responsibility in the 21st century!)

Thirdly, you get the ludicrous exaggeration. “A helmet wouldn’t help you if a lorry landed on you”, I was helpfully informed. Indeed it wouldn’t. A seat belt in a car wouldn’t help you either, but that’s not a reason not to wear one.

(I noted that line repeated several times and subsequently found it on a lobby group’s web site, out of interest – so no points for original thinking.)

Fourthly, you get the ludicrous parallel. “Car drivers should wear helmets too; they would help in a crash”. That is up to car drivers of course, but the chances of it helping are tiny except, of course, if they are rallying (when they do wear helmets).

(That people cannot see the difference in vulnerability on a four-lane road between a driver who is surrounded by metal and is wearing seat belt and a cyclist who is neither, and that the cyclist thus needs extra protection versus the car driver, is just a bizarre sign of our irresponsible times.)

Fifthly, there is the faux offence. “You don’t know it all, you know!” – I certainly do not, but I have the World Health Organisation, the National Health Service, the Highway Code and all genuine academic reports (showing helmets reduce head/brain trauma by at least 63%) on my side. You have a right-wing daily newspaper…

(And yes, anyone advocating a plainly dangerous course of action, like not protecting yourself in four lanes of traffic by obeying health advice and the Highway Code, is a dangerous idiot.)

Finally, there’s the nutty prioritising. “Well, if we had better cycleways, we wouldn’t need helmets, so that’s where the focus should go”. That has nothing to do with whether you should wear a helmet in four lanes of traffic pending the construction of such cycleways!

(And we have completed the circle at this stage – if only “they” did stuff, “we” wouldn’t have to do stuff, so we’re not going to do it anyway.)

Essentially what we have is the automatic defence of the “in group” and total blame foist upon the “out group”, even in the face of all evidence. This is then backed by misrepresentation, silly exaggeration, daft parallels, faux outrage and irrelevant prioritisation because the “in group” must be defended against the “out group” at all times.

(There is of course evidence that people with helmets actually get hit more often on rural roads; so there is always a basis for the argument. But that is irrelevant to rush hour traffic and the sheer irresponsibility of advocating not wearing helmets during it.)

And we wonder why the Leave campaign won…

[What’s the social media equivalent of a helmet? I’d gladly wear one…]


7 thoughts on “Cyclists, helmets, and the chaos of social media

  1. William Allen says:

    Sadly the attitude of all to many cyclists is that actively trying to be safe should not be done. Also far too many seem to think that the Highway Code and the laws concerning road use do not apply to them. A few months ago I was knocked down by a cyclist riding his bike at high speed on the footpath on Dublin Road in Belfast. If I had been hurt I am sure he would have no insurance that could have compensated me.

    Cycling should be encouraged and infrastructure created to make it safer and more viable. However many cyclists need to improve their attitudes. It may actually encourage the state to invest in cycle lanes etc if the cyclists used them rather than ignoring them and cycling on the general carriage way.

  2. Peter Stitt says:

    Last month I cycled around Copenhagen and other (rural) parts of Denmark. These places have fantastic provision for cyclists, with many cycle lanes physically separated from motor traffic. I would still recommend cyclists wear a helmet (as I noted many Danes already do), even with better infrastructure. The fact is, cars or no cars, it is always possible to fall off a bike and hit your head. A helmet should be an essential piece of equipment for all wise cyclists.

    • Yes, that’s exactly right. Some seem to have this bizarre attitude that the only way you can receive an injury on a bike is by being knocked off.

      Last time I rode a bike *I* crashed!

    • D Baker says:

      I cycled around Copenhagen and didn’t see Danes wearing helmets (apart from some young children on bikes and a few tourists). The fact is cycling isn’t a dangerous activity. I think Ian has the right intentions – he cares about safety however he needs to look at the facts. Helmets are only designed to protect in low level collisions at speeds of under 12mph. Thousands of cyclists have still been killed despite wearing helmets! Also studies show helmeted cyclists are given less passing distance on the road by motorists. There are many factors but cycling safety is not about helmets. We should look to the Danes & Dutch for inspiration.

      • Peter Stitt says:

        I saw quite a few in Copenhagen. Not a majority but a decent number (I’d guess 1/4?). In the rural areas there were much more, perhaps because cyclist sometimes had to merge with motor traffic. It tended to be the more “professional” looking people who were most likely to wear them, while tourists tended to go without.
        I agree that we have a lot to learn. Physically separated cycle lanes would be a good start.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: