Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My cycling helmet saved my life

Have you ever watched those all-action police video clips, the ones where drug squad officers sprint up the garden path of some unsuspecting dealer's house and smash down the front door brandishing a sturdy, hand-held battering ram? Last year, I pioneered a new, if slightly unorthodox, "battering ram" technique of my own which may well be of interest to police training officers everywhere. The ram I employed was a tool that proved robust, powerful and effective: my head.

I wasn't on a police raid at the time, although my actions did prompt a 999 call to the emergency services. And my head didn't actually ram a door. Instead, I used it to butt the front wheel of a car, parked in a street near my home.

I feel extremely fortunate to have escaped serious injury, or even death. The precise circumstances of my tumble are now a little hazy, but one recollection remains crystal clear. The nurses and doctors who treated me each asked me the same simple question: "Were you wearing a helmet?"

If my ordeal, which left me nursing strained shoulder ligaments, torn muscles and a bruised ego, has convinced me of one fact alone, it is surely that my cycling helmet saved my life.

And yet many cyclists, free to choose whether or not to wear protective headgear, choose not to. According to the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation, the average cyclist would have to pedal for more than 3,000 years to suffer a serious head injury – and yet some 150 cyclists a year die in accidents.

However, cyclists may soon be compelled to strap on a helmet before setting off. Last week, a High Court judge ruled that cyclists who fail to wear one should receive up to 15 per cent less compensation for injuries resulting from accidents in which the helmet could have made a difference.

The ruling, by Mr Justice Griffith Williams, came in a case brought by 29-year-old Robert Smith who sustained a serious brain injury when he was knocked off his bike by a speeding motorcyclist in Brightlingsea, Essex, in 2005. Because of the speed of this particular collision, however, the motorcyclist was held fully liable. But the judge ruled: "There can be no doubt that the failure to wear a helmet may expose the cyclist to risk of greater injury."

What continues to amaze me is how few cyclists wear a crash helmet. The day after my accident, my daughter, Rosie, who is 13, counted 50 cyclists on her way home from school: "I saw 26 not wearing helmets – that's crazy!"

Excuses not to wear a helmet range from youngsters who protest "It doesn't look cool", to one of my Telegraph colleagues who said: "I never wear one because I get cold ears if I do".

Last year, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London and a renowned cyclist, wrote in this newspaper about his only serious cycling accident in almost a decade of pedalling around the city. He was "negotiating Knightsbridge with extreme caution when a French tourist walked across the road without looking (you could tell he was French by the noise he made on impact)"; Johnson sustained a sprained wrist. A helmet – or, an "undignified plastic hat", as he described it – would have made no difference. "If I'd had a foghorn, it might have come in handy, or possibly a cow-catcher fitted to the front of my bike. But a helmet?"

Helmet-dodgers are always quick with their excuses. They were even given a licence not to buckle up in 2006 when traffic research from the University of Bath suggested that wearing protective headgear could put cyclists at an advantage. In surveys, drivers tended to give those they perceived to be "unsafe" cyclists – those wearing helmets – a wider berth.

However, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents insists that, in an accident, helmets do help protect against injuries. Peter Hutchinson, honorary consultant neurosurgeon at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, who regularly operates on cyclists with brain injuries, said: "Helmets act as a cushion and protect the skull. Common sense would dictate therefore that it reduces the risk to the underlying brain. If you're not wearing a helmet, there's an increased chance of fracturing your skull and causing a brain injury. If you are wearing one, then the helmet will fracture and protect the skull. It's better to have a fractured helmet than a fractured skull."

Source: health

1 comment:

Tony said...

I can never understand why people won't wear bike helmets. I had an accident just before Christmas when I was going round a corner, skided, and was down on the deck before I even realised what had happened. I had no time to break my fall it was that quick. It was only when I got home and saw the damage to my helmet and the briuse to my head, that I realised how lucky I was.

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