PUBLISHED: 00:45, 26 November 2017 | UPDATED: 08:42, 26 November 2017
Daily I risk death or serious injury on the roads, simply because I ride a bicycle. I know the danger, but I’d rather face it than box myself in a car.
I have many reasons for this. I think cars spoil our countryside and our towns, cloud the air with filth and noise, and make us horribly dependent on Middle Eastern despotisms for fuel.
I also think there’s no quicker way of transforming a decent person into a power-crazed selfish maniac than to put him behind the wheel of a car.
And I’ve found over time that cycling is good for me, at least for as long as it doesn’t actually kill me. In fact cars, like cigarettes, are one of the very few products which, used according the makers’ instructions, will damage the user’s health.
Heart disease, lower back pain and depression can all be traced to the lack of simple regular exercise which almost always accompanies car use. I’ve driven cars in the vicious madness of Moscow traffic and on the vast freeways of California, and I hate the responsibility. One small slip in concentration, and imagine how much damage you can do.
Now it seems I am to be punished for my rejection of the sacred car, by being ordered to wear body-armour while I bicycle.
A silly Minister, Jesse Norman, has launched a ‘review’ that will ‘consider’ the mandatory wearing of cycle helmets.
A bike helmet is not a device to make cyclists safer. It is a device for making drivers feel safer while driving selfishly
I’ve tried these things. Have you ever looked at one? A bowl of Styrofoam with a thin plastic coating, wildly expensive to buy, easy to leave behind on a train, which might conceivably save you from injury if you fell off at 4mph. Otherwise? Not much.
It’s quite useful in a hailstorm. But it won’t save you if a 45-ton lorry decides to turn across your path, or if a water-filled pothole deeper than it looks (there are more and more of these, and Mr Norman’s Transport Department seems unable to do anything about it) sends you sprawling in front of a bus.
More important, drivers think a rider in a helmet is invulnerable – so they treat him worse than they otherwise would. Research has shown that drivers steer dangerously closer to helmeted cyclists than to those without headgear.
A bike helmet is not a device to make cyclists safer. It is a device for making drivers feel safer while driving selfishly. Far too many motorists want cyclists to be wholly responsible for their own safety, so they don’t need to bother taking care. Many of their minds have been poisoned by Clarksonite rubbish about how we ‘don’t pay road tax’. Oh yes, we do.
Far too many motorists want cyclists to be wholly responsible for their own safety, so they don’t need to bother taking care.
In the Netherlands, where everyone understands that bicycling is a sensible, clean, quiet, healthy way to travel, you hardly ever see a bike helmet at all. It’s not the cycling that’s dangerous, you see. It’s the other road users who won’t show consideration.
As for cyclists themselves, yes, I know that quite a few of them are very stupid. I hate what they do just as much as anyone. And I notice that it is those most kitted out in headgear and battledress who take the most risks. Donning the Styrofoam bowl makes far too many riders think they are immortal as well as righteous. Watch the red-light jumpers. Most of them will be wearing helmets.
If this idea becomes law, the only result will be that, as happened in Australia, even fewer people will ride bicycles, especially the hire bikes that are now becoming increasingly common. Once again, we are planning to pass the law of unintended consequences.
Get on your bike! The many health benefits of riding a bicycle