Saturday, April 09, 2011

Norman Baker is right not to wear a cycle helmet if he doesn't want to

Road safety groups, said the Guardian this morning, are claiming Norman Baker is unfit for his job as transport minister.

Norman has long been one of my favourite Liberal Democrat MPs, so what is going on?

It seems that it is because Norman has been seen cycling without a helmet. And he is not afraid to give his reasons:
"I don't wear a helmet when I cycle. The first reason is that I don't want to. I don't want to wear something on my head. For me the joy of cycling is to have the wind in your hair, such as I have left. It's free, it's unencumbered; I don't want to be loaded down.

"It is a libertarian argument. The responsibility is only towards myself. It's not like drinking and driving where you can damage other people. You do no harm. I'm not encouraging people not to do this, I'm just saying I make a decision not to."
That sounds reasonable to me.

As a Liberal I believe that people are the best judges of their own interests. And, as a Liberal, I also believe in the power of education and argument to change minds.

And it seems to me that the danger now, when even little children riding fairy cycles on the pavement wear helmets, is that we all form the impression that cycling is incredibly dangerous. the inevitable result of that will be that people decide not take up cycling at all.

But Joel Hickman from the road safety group Brake - neither of whom I have heard of before - does not see it that way. The Guardian quotes him as saying:
"Ministers should practise what they preach and when a minister directly responsible for cycling safety refuses to wear a cycle helmet, we then have to look at their suitability for the role."
This strikes me as extraordinarily arrogant. In the mind of Brake and Joel Hickman, it is not enough to get elected to parliament and then be asked to be a minister to by the new prime minister. You and your views have to be acceptable to a group of self-appointed campaigners too.

I don't want to live in a world where, whoever you vote for, Joel Hickman gets in.


Jackyboy86 said...

Brake are a very strange group of people. They claim that doing 10mph on a motorway is safe, and that if someone was doing 10mph in a 70 zone, and someone doing 75 hit them, it would be the faster person to blame. Because 'Speed kills'.

Realistically, nobody gives a shit what they say, and papers quoting them are just trying to find a way to paint the coalition as more unpopular than it is.

Ian Davis said...

I agree with you up to a point. But I think the rider has a responsibility to minimise psychological harm to other parties in the event of an accident. It's one thing to knock someone off and they break their wrist, quite another for them to crack their skull open. That can be pretty traumatic and have lasting effects.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Sounds as though Norman Baker may be campaigning against motorcyclists wearing helmets, and car passengers wearing seatbelts.

Actually, I'm sure he won't be, but that suggests there may be something a bit wrong with his argument.

dreamingspire said...

Take this to extremes and you have small child cocooned all the time in a safety cell to avoid any and every type of head banging.

If I were to cycle at the kamikaze speeds that I see cyclists doing down the straight, slightly downhill, busy urban main road, with lots of residential side roads, near me, I would wear a helmet. Otherwise no.

And then there is the cost to the NHS if you break your head... Sometimes, I believe, we have to bear costs to society as the price of having a free country.

Longwayround said...

Find one peer-reviewed article that shows the benefits to society and to the individual of wearing a plastic hat and I'll support the wearing of cycle helmets.

Just one will do.

dsj3000 said...

just wear a helmet man. if you fall off and hit your head, it won't hurt as much and you might not die. this is not a libertarian issue, it is like, sensible. but then if freedom to smash your brains on the kerb is what you're after, maybe you ought to re-examine your priorities.