NSC suggests children should not cycle


Today the National Safety Council have suggested that children under 12 not be allowed to cycle on public roads without "training." Since 1896 25 million people have been killed as a result of motor vehicles. Cyclists are particularly in danger, not just because of their vulnerability but because driving standards have declined due to protectionist measures designed to prevent car users from coming into contact with vulnerable road users, thus making it less important for them to train themselves to be aware of other road users.

I see this regularly as a cyclist in Cork city, where a large percentage of drivers are completely unaware of other road users, and break even very basic road rules (such as, for example, driving through pedestrian lights or overtaking a cyclist and turning left). In an environment where cycling is shrinking, it becomes more hostile and dangerous as car drivers are less and less careful. The helmet study, however, is more dangerous yet.

Basically the study showed a 48% drop in head injuries amongst cyclists after a compulsory helmet law was introduced. What the study ignored however, was that cycle use had dropped by 40% or more, which more or less accounted for the reduction in injuries. The arguement has been, reasonably so, that the helmets were not effective in the event of an accident since they are too weak to prevent head injury.

As seasoned cyclist many years ago advised me that not only are head injuries not prevented, the likelihood of spinal injuries are actually increased as most of the helmets are very poor quality and the chances of breaking your neck are increased. However a result at http://www.cycle-helmets.com/results.html is also disturbing, suggests that in Victoria there was a fivefold increase in spinal injuries, a 25% increase in upper limb injuries and by 2000 there was a 25% increase in cycling injuries despite the fact that cycling had fallen considerably and helmet use compulsory.

This would suggest that much of the dangers to cyclist are due to othere causes or reasons. I would guess that the drop in cycling is a huge contributor as motorists are less accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists and therefore endanger them more by dangerous driving. Also there is a suggestion that use of a helmet is seen as a substitute for cycling training which nullifies the use of the helmet.

One thing I noticed when living in Dublin 6 as both a cyclist and motorist was that road users had to be extremely aware of the large community of cyclists. Generally most motorists were more aware of cyclists than in my native Swords, where cycling has drastically fallen since the late 1980s. Also the use of cycle lanes, though some are badly designed and dangerous, forces motorists to be aware of cyclists.

The story is very different in Cork, where road traffic law enforcement is less, its easier to get through a driving test with a low competency level and cycling has heavily declined. It is a much more dangerous place to cycle and also the one way system speeds up city centre traffic to a pace that is more dangerous for cyclists. Looks like I'll be writing to the Irish Times about this one.


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