Monday, 21 September 2009

Much ado about . . . police and bikes

95% of the time I wear a helmet when cycling. But sometimes I just like the freedom of nothing on my head or simply forget! Last Wednesday was one of those mornings.

As I cycled into Middle Meadow Walk I encountered a police checkpoint where cyclists were being stopped. The very courteous and affable young lady noted with appreciation that I was wearing a fluorescent tabard and carrying a pretty robust D-lock to secure my bike. She remarked that I didn't have a helmet - without any tone of pressure or blame. But she did point out that reasons for the police activity included that in recent years two separate collisions only a few hundred yards from where we were having this discussion, had resulted in the deaths of two cyclists. She then gave me some leaflets about cycle security and we parted company.

I liked the way she had drawn attention to the safety issue but had not inferred it was anything other than my choice. And I appreciated the cycle security information on bike identification which I am following up. I especially appreciated that the police were active on a main cycle route at the beginning of student term, knowing as I do that the cycle theft rate in university Edinburgh is huge. I appreciated the deterrence and prevention factors in their action. And I appreciated the chat. End of story.

Almost. Some people ask whether the police should have been stopping law abiding cyclists. Like my fellow councillor who blogged the incident. And on a quiet news day (very, very quiet!!) the local paper chose to make that stop and check along with Cllr Burns comments one of its 'top stories'.

End of post and end of story.

Except to say that having noted some criticism recently about councillors not knowing what it is like to be a cyclist in Edinburgh, three of the four councillors representing Southside and Newington ward are cyclists. And since you ask, yes, I drive a car as well.


Richard Keatinge said...

What a shame to have the police waste time harassing cyclists and peddling an intervention that has failed. Mass helmet use in Australia stopped a lot of people cycling and did nothing for head injury rates, see (Robinson's work uses the best scientific methods, all available control groups and so on.)

Helmet propaganda relies on overemphasizing the very small dangers of cycling and seldom seems to emphasize its large benefits. For anyone old enough to be a senior councillor it's far too dangerous not to cycle - regular cycling, Danish style, not too far, not too fast, nearly halves the death rate, see Taking up moderate exercise is about as beneficial as giving up smoking.

Bicycling is good for health, but bike helmets don't seem to be. Would the police more usefully spend their time enforcing the Highway Code?

CR said...


Thanks for commenting on my newsblog.

I agree with the thrust of your argument - that wearing a helmet should definitely not be compulsory.

Actually, the police were not harassing cyclists - nor were they peddling compulsory helmet use. They mentioned the issue in the context of a stop and check procedure which has many other plus points - prevention, deterrence included.

It was done in a perfectly reasonable way and was blown out of proportion.

Best wishes and thank you for engaging.


Richard Keatinge said...

Ah, thanks for clarifying. I am reassured about our police force, though not about bicycle helmets.

mj_wardlaw said...

Cameron, you may be interested to read a risk assessment of cycling that I published about 7 years ago. It demonstrates that the risk in cycling is very similar to walking or driving - begging the question why the Police were not advising the pedestrians about helmets on the basis of the (far greater number of) pedestrian deaths in Edinburgh. See:
It really irritates me that officialdom remains so ignorant about cycling. It would be a great help if the council issued some kind of reaction against well intentioned but ill-informed safety campaigns by the police. Some years ago I had to pull up the Edinburgh police over a ludicrously badly researched safety campaign. See

Good biking!

paul said...

Would be interested on your views on cycles using the roads without insurance, do you think its fair that othet road vehichles should be insured to protect the public but nor cycles

Richard Keatinge said...

A few facts may help: many cyclists do have insurance, it's included as part of CTC membership. That's cheap for the CTC to maintain because it's so rare for people on bikes to inflict significant damage on anyone else. CTC membership is at record levels this year. For some comparison of the scale of the threat, motorized vehicles kill well over two thousand people per year in the UK and bicycles usually less than half a dozen, generally the unfortunates who were riding them. De minimis non curat lex.

I'll leave opinions to others...

paul said...

I take you point that its rare,still there are instances, also i would suggeast that many instaces are instigated by motorists taking evasive action to avoid hitting cycles which have monouvered into there path or indeed as i see on a daily basis ignoring red lights ect

CR said...


Thanks for joining in.

I think I get your drift and have some sympathy. However, I do not think we should require insurance of cycles as a matter of policy.

Two things are particularly striking about our society: and over readiness to revert to regulation and a lack of perspective/proportion. I just don't the situation merits another foray into legislation. It is more important to break down barriers to cycling (for all sorts of reasons) rather than impose regulation out of proportion to the problem it seeks to cure.

Best wishes, CR

paul said...

just thought other road users would be more tolerant, must say tho i tried cycleing and i was scared, id never do it again dont know how you guys do it.

CR said...

Don't give up. There are plenty of off road cycle paths. Think of the fitness. Do it bit by bit

Kate A said...

glad you wear a tabard. Now that the students are back and even more on bikes between KB and George Square I do wish they and the EU staff would pay more attention to wearing reflective clothing and lights some on the bike. Too many think all black is the "in" wear. Perhaps you and Thomas Graham of the EU Student Association could do some work on this before it is really dark

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