The Quality Of Life

Three lessons for a better cycling future

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7276.1582 (Published 23 December 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1582
  1. Malcolm J Wardlaw, business analyst (A.Wardlaw@btinternet.com)
  1. 92 Drymen Road, Bearsden, Glasgow G61 2SY

Cyclists were the only group of road users in Britain whose death rate increased sharply during the 1990s,1 yet cycling was in decline throughout the decade.2 How could this happen, when attention on casualties was the most intense in the history of the bicycle? Perhaps a vision of the near future will be instructive …

Summary points

Recent safety campaigns have destroyed faith in the bicycle as a safe means of transport, reducing participation, compromising public health, increasing the risks, and decreasing road skills

Deaths of cyclists have increased since the introduction of helmets

Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles

Promote cycling for a safer road environment

Safe walking

It began in America, as so many trends do, but for years no one in Europe took any notice. American tourists wearing helmets around the streets of London first drew media attention. And although public response to walking helmets was initially amusement, the appeal of extra safety drew some pioneers to the habit, especially academics and competitive walkers.

The first case-control study of about 2000 injuries to pedestrians in Britain (180 of whom had worn helmets) concluded that the risk of serious head injury was reduced by 75% when a good walking helmet was worn. Safety campaigners used the slogan “walkers need helmets” to encourage parents to send their children to school in helmets. Several high profile accidents focused public attention on the dangers of walking. A well known television presenter was severely head injured by a police van answering an emergency call. Doctors concluded that her injuries would have been “substantially reduced” had she worn a helmet.

Walking helmets became widely available. The entire cabinet posed in their helmets outside Number 10, the beaming prime minister urging: “Let's go forward together into a new era …

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