Monthly Archives: October 2014

Helmets, speeding and cake!

Well then, after our little introduction last time around this is where the traffic blog begins in earnest. So let’s start with a subject that causes the foundations of social media to shake with the choruses of “Yays” and “Nays”, every time it gets a mention on our twitter feed, that subject is of course…

Cycling Helmets, should you be wearing one?

“To wear, or not to wear” that is the question. No other subject stirs such feeling on both sides as this seemingly insignificant matter, given everything else that dominates our working landscape and resulting Twitter feed. With the recent explosion in popularity of both recreational cycling and commuting by pedal power, has come the ever increasingly volatile cycling helmet debate, that sometimes draws a surprising amount of vitriol from both camps.

Now before we continue along this path that is like skipping through a firing range, no matter how careful you are you will always draw fire from somewhere, let me make it clear the following views are representative of my own thoughts and in no way are the formal policies or thinking of the West Midlands Police on this matter. Neither am I going to cover law changes, cycling infrastructure or the balance of liability, this is about the decision as to whether to protect your noggin or not when astride a bicycle.

Before I can give you my opinion on the subject, it is only fair that I cover some of the most commonly thrown spears of argument from both sides, and debunk some very false arguments.

“They only work if you’re travelling under 12mph”. Utter rubbish, for a start if it were true, the professional cycling world wouldn’t bother with them. With speeds in the pro peloton averaging somewhere in the 25mph region, not one of those riders would be without a helmet. When you bear witness to some of the horrendous pileups that occur in racing at speeds well in excess of the 25mph average, and the forces involved, the fact that none come away with significant head injuries is in itself testimony to the effectiveness of modern cycling helmets. Just check out the manufacturers web sites and helmet testing regimes if your want further proof.

Embed from Getty Images

“They won’t save you from a ton of steel travelling at 50mph or a 44 tonne artic if it runs over you”. This is largely true, but there isn’t a lot that would save you under such circumstances apart from a miracle of biblical proportion. They do however give you a fighting chance of avoiding a serious head injury in “some” collisions. We must also remember that it might not be a collision, the cyclist is blessed with an elevated riding position and forward motion, two of the prime requisites needed in the formula for a serious head injury, just throw in a pothole, slippery surface or sharp (sometimes warranted) braking or the like and the formula is complete. I myself have been saved from a serious head injury under such circumstances, when a wet road and lack of talent saw me hitting my head on the kerb of a traffic island at well over 20mph. My head survived the blow, which as my hands were still on my drop bars when I hit the road, took full force with no time to break the fall. All I lost that day was a lot of skin and pride, thanks to the helmet I was wearing.

We have, unfortunately, dealt with incidents, which have resulted in the cyclist losing their life to a head injury that could have been prevented or lessened had a helmet been worn. Modern medicine is an amazing thing, we have witnessed people being brought back from the dead numerous times having suffered massive injuries, however a major head trauma remains a largely un-survivable injury.

“More people die in cars of head injuries than cyclists”. This again is largely true, however it must be placed in context by the fact that the majority that die of head injuries in vehicle born collisions do so because they or another passenger is not wearing a seat belt, either incorrectly or not at all, or they are killed due to intrusion into the vehicle interior. We don’t suggest they wear helmets because they are generally encased in steel and airbags, which as long as a seatbelt is worn correctly, does a pretty good job of protecting the occupant in the event of a collision.

“It stops people from cycling”. Does it? Cycling is booming and it seems that the majority are equipped with helmets. It’s actually quite unusual to see a commuter or recreational cyclist without a helmet of late. Besides helmets are cool, some of the coolest people on the planet wear a helmet, Sir Brad, Cavendish, Marianne Vos, the Brownlee Brothers, Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara, X Wing Pilots, Boba Fett, the Knights of the Round Table… I’ve gone off on a tangent again here ! Anyway, they are an accepted and increasingly important part of cycling fashion, can’t be seen in a lid that doesn’t match your bike or cycling apparel, can you?

“Why should I wear a helmet, it’s the drivers that endanger us” Sometimes true, sometimes not. Plenty of cyclists crash all by themselves (like myself) or endanger themselves through either judicious actions or lack of road sense. The tribal attitude of cyclist vs motorist is seemingly perpetuated by the “few” on both sides of the argument, that are incapable of accepting that to build a better future all must accept their failings, before we can truly share the road.

Having covered a few of the arguments here’s my take on the helmet debate, and I think I’ve got it pretty cornered really. So whether you’re a “Yay or a Nay” read it, digest it, mull it over, and sleep on it. Do not start cracking out your 140 characters on our Twitter feed without rationalizing in full the following statement and its obvious implications. Deep breath having been taken, here goes…

“Wearing a cycling helmet is akin to wearing a lifejacket whilst on the water, you don’t have to do it, but you’re guarding against an un-quantified risk that you know exists but hope you never encounter. A life jacket would not save you in all situations, but would you advise someone not to wear one? And for those of supreme confidence and ability just remember that the best of swimmers would not sail into a storm without a life jacket, nor would the greatest fighter pilots fly into battle without a parachute. And let’s face it, sometimes when you’re on the road sometimes it is like sailing into a storm or flying into battle, there is risk out there, our daily experiences and the casualty figures show that, please guard against part of that risk by wearing a helmet. If you don’t you or your loved ones might have to live with the consequences.

The same could be said of seatbelts as well, but we’ll talk about those next time.

Moving on…

Reflections on another speed campaign

It’s been a few weeks since the last speed campaign, following which, some of the most dramatic and heart wrenching footage of road users losing their lives due to excess speed we have seen has been released. Footage that even made the most hardened of traffic officers draw a sharp intake of breath.

The shock that such footage causes amongst the motoring public however never seems to dull the right foot or throttle hand of the motoring majority though. Let’s face it, when we stand at the side of the road with a Pro Laser we don’t fall short of target practice, do we. It’s a problem that is not reducing or has even plateaued, and makes me think that the one plus point of congestion is that it slows road users to steady crawl, saving a good many lives!

Now you don’t need me to tell you that speeding is a problem, because the majority of you reading this will be on the road daily and witness those who repeatedly place their desire to get somewhere seconds quicker well above the lives of those they share the roads of our region with.

So if I were to tell you that speeding kills far more people than drink driving, you would think that like drink driving, speeding would be socially unacceptable. But alas it is not, why not you may ask? Well some argue that it’s because at some point most drivers have experienced intoxication and realise the sheer senseless stupidity of driving under such circumstances. However, the vast majority have not born witness to the carnage a speeding motor vehicle causes, and as a result are willing to risk their own lives, and those of the innocent, to save a few extra seconds of their day. I however think different; I really think that the British motoring public all have the odd moment when they have a selfish total disregard for others. Why do I think this, well it’s because I have to listen to the endless tirade of poor excuses at the roadside, that when I counter with “Have you seen the advert when the child dies because the car is travelling above 30mph” and I get the inevitable “Yes” I then ask “Why are you speeding then”,….. they say silence is golden……

Traffice officer PC Tina Benbow on patrol.

We carry out our speed checks at locations that have a history of serious collisions, or just past a school, a pedestrian crossing, a playing field/playground or even one of those wonderful signs that flash to tell you that your speeding, yet even here we rarely get chance to raise our speed gun before the next “customer” comes charging towards us.

We aim to educate primarily, make motorists see the errors of their rapid ways, try to reform driving habits that endanger. We offer courses instead of prosecution, councils run campaigns, static cameras line the country’s roads and speed bumps and traffic calming measures lie across them. Manufactures make vehicles with speed limiters and audible warnings that can be set for road limits for those to distracted or to lazy glance occasionally at their speedo. Yet despite all of this my trigger finger still aches through overuse at the end of every speed check, and my pen takes the resulting battering. The courts see daily, motorists who have accumulated enough points to achieve the shameful accolade of a “totter”, those who have managed to reach disqualification through their unquenchable need for speed. There isn’t a lot more we and our road safety partners can do, it really is down to the great British motoring public to change the way you drive. However with 20mph limits on the horizon, I fear for my trigger finger, and the stationery cupboards stock of pens and tickets!

Prove me wrong, slow down folks, make speeding socially unacceptable, however I think we won’t be short of Pro Laser practice until the vast majority of vehicles drive themselves.

Cake and its importance in policing the road

Wonderful thing cake, in all its many forms it truly is a magnificent thing, especially when combined with a cup of tea. But what role does it have to play in policing the roads I hear you ask? Well come close and I’ll let you into a secret, you may not have noticed but the average traffic officer is partial to a bit of cake. Why is this?, well cake never fails to lighten the mood of the worst day, and seeing as most traffic officers are a little dour in demeanour, a little sugar enhanced calorific mood lifter goes down nicely at any time of the day. Cake is readily available and can be eaten 24hrs a day and never even fails to put a smile on my face and smooth the furrows in my brow, and I was born frowning and haven’t stopped since!

And of course for those of us who cycle to work burning somewhere between 1000 and 2500 calories a day alone during our commute, we need cheap carbs to keep us going.

Next time we’ll discuss minimum driving standards, the one reason why you really should wear your seatbelt but never thought of, and the important role Star Wars plays in keeping our roads safe.

Until then, safe journeys all.

PC Mark Hodson
E unit