Cyclists’ High-Visibility Gear May Increase the Risk. According to The Times, cycling enthusiasts may need to reconsider their use of safety gear. Recently, scientists noted that although helmets do offer a great deal of protection against traumatic brain injuries, the use of high-visibility clothing may actually increase a cyclist’s risk of being hit by a motorist.
Jessie Norman, the transport minister of the United Kingdom, commented to The Sunday Times that a government review would address whether cyclists should be required to wear reflective clothing and helmets. Norman is an avid cyclist, but he did not personally take a stance on the issue.
A prominent brain injury expert cited a new study that encourages the use of helmets. Some scientists were wary of another new study, which indicated that reflective clothing might not be as valuable as once thought.
Mark Wilson is an air ambulance physician and teaches brain injury courses at Imperial College London. He advised requiring children to wear helmets “because they are at an age where they are not necessarily making an informed decision.” He also said, “There appears to be a benefit from wearing helmets for some types of injury, and therefore I would recommend a helmet.”
Wilson is one of the authors of a new study that followed 129 cyclists who suffered serious head injuries. The group received treatment in west London at St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington during a four-year period between 2011 and 2015. Those who wore helmets, not surprisingly, suffered fewer subdural hematomas and skull fractures.
However, whether helmets should be mandatory is a highly contested matter, with passionate individuals on both sides of the issue. For example, a respected neurosurgeon, Dr. Henry Marsh, commented in 2014 that many of his patients’ helmets were “too flimsy” to actually guard against major head injuries. He explained, “As far as I know, the countries where helmets are compulsory—Australia, New Zealand, and [parts of] Canada—have not reported any significant change in bicycle injuries since helmets became compulsory.”
Australia was the principal country to make helmet use mandatory for cyclists. If a cyclist is caught without a helmet on, the cyclist may face a fine of up to $319 AUD, or approximately $255. However, experts of the law argue that it discourages people from using bikes.
Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, commented, “Where cycle helmets have been made compulsory the number of people cycling has fallen, with associated huge costs to public health.”
Cycling provides numerous benefits. For example, a Glasgow University study showed that commuting by bicycle could cut the risk of premature death by 40 percent. When helmet laws are implemented, cyclist numbers have dropped—meaning thousands may miss out on this important health benefit.
A psychologist at Bath University, Ian Walker, has published studies that show drivers seem to drift closer to cyclists when the cyclists have helmets on. On average, drivers pass cyclists approximately 3 inches closer than if the cyclists are not wearing helmets. At first, Walker thought this might be because drivers assumed cyclists who wore helmets were more advanced. Unfortunately, a subsequent study ruled this possibility out. A more troubling conclusion may be the answer, Walker explained: “That raises the very uncomfortable possibility that what I saw in the original study was people saying: ‘It kind of doesn’t matter if I hit him.’”
As for high-visibility clothing, studies are also split on the matter. For example, one study out of Denmark that followed 6,793 cyclists noted that 47 percent fewer accidents occurred if the cyclist was wearing a bright yellow jacket.
However, another study that analyzed 76 bike accidents concluded that there was “no evidence” that wearing reflective clothing “reduced [the] risk” of an accident. Rather, it found that cyclists faced “increased odds of a collision crash” if they wore reflective clothing. The study was completed by researchers at Nottingham University and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. It was published in the Journal of Transport & Health.
The authors hypothesized that cyclists who wear reflective gear and other types of high-visibility clothing “may have adopted more exposed road positions…in the belief that they were relatively conspicuous.”
The scientists added that the study’s conclusions “…should be treated with caution” due to the study’s small sample size. A larger study may provide stronger findings.
Walker theorizes that the arguments over whether helmets should be mandatory signify a “cultural” fear of cycling in the United Kingdom. He noted that in Denmark and Holland, cycling is a major part of urban life and has been for many years, but few residents actually wear helmets. He lamented, “As a culture, we are scared of cycling. There are far more head injuries inside cars, and yet people are never afraid of driving…this risk per kilometer is greater walking, and yet we are not afraid of walking. It is a shared cultural thing.”
Helmets cannot prevent all types of head injuries, of course. Studies have shown that they provide better protection for direct blows, such as those that may result in a skull fracture. They do not afford as much protection from shearing-type injuries, which involve a sudden deceleration, causing the skull to hit a surface while the brain continues moving. Some experts feel that separating motorists and cyclists altogether by the use of cycle lanes and other implementations is the best solution.
Drivers have an obligation to operate their vehicles in a safe, reasonable manner
Regardless of whether helmet laws are mandatory in your area, all drivers who use public roadways must drive in a safe manner that is reasonable under the circumstances. “Reasonable” generally means following all traffic laws and paying attention to the road. A driver who texts while driving is certainly not driving in a manner that is reasonable under the circumstances, for example—and if that driver causes an accident, the driver will likely be held liable for the injuries he causes to other drivers and cyclists.
In some states, if a cyclist is not wearing a helmet in an area that requires them and is injured in an accident, the cyclist may be held partially liable for his injuries. The cyclist’s damages may be reduced if he was not wearing a helmet—if that helmet could have prevented at least some of the cyclist’s injuries.
If you were injured in a cycling accident, you should immediately consult with a pedestrian accident injury attorney experienced in these complicated claims. There are specific deadlines in place that limit how long claimants have to seek legal recourse through the justice system. If these deadlines are missed, the claimants may forever lose the right to seek damages from the at-fault driver.
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Several types of damages may be available in a cycling accident claim, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and the expense of future medical care. Your Parker Waichman LLP attorney will carefully analyze your damages claims.
If you were hurt in a cycling accident, you need the experience and expertise of the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP. During your free consultation, we will explain your legal options. To schedule your free consultation, call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).