Death of cyclist hit by Olympic bus reignites helmet debate


Cyclists protested about road safety in London outside the Olympic Park on the opening night. Now, they mourn the latest road victim

LAST FRIDAY night, hundreds of members of a cycling campaign group protested at Stratford near the Olympic Park, complaining about road safety in London.

In the hours that followed, social media websites were filled with charges that the protesters had been manhandled by police, with allegations that officers had pepper-sprayed one disabled man.

One member of the Critical Mass group complained that some of them had been held by police all night. “They’ve had no food. Completely disgusting,” he tweeted.

Some of the images were seized upon by Russian and Chinese television, although not locally, with majority opinion believing the police had enough to worry about on the night.

Yesterday, Twitter was again alive with messages from Critical Mass, but this time mourning the death of Daniel Harris, who was dragged under an Olympic bus just outside the Stratford grounds.

The tragedy occurred when the double-decker, used to ferry journalists between venues, was turning left on a slip road.

Emergency crews, including an air ambulance, hurried to the scene to save the 28-year-old but he was soon to be pronounced dead by doctors.

Last year, 16 cyclists were killed, and many more injured, on London’s roads – often in identical circumstances, when vehicles were turning left. Ten more have been added to that list in the eight months of this year.

Within hours of the tragedy, Olympic gold-medallist and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins said: “Ultimately, if you get knocked off and you don’t have a helmet on, then you can’t argue . . . You can get killed if you don’t have a helmet on.”

By yesterday evening, however, Wiggins, now a national hero, had clarified his message, denying that helmet-wearing should be made compulsory for cyclists – an issue that sharply divides cyclists, with many fiercely opposed.

“I suggested it may be the way to go to give cyclists more protection legally [if they are] involved in an accident,” said the outspoken Wiggins, “I wasn’t on me soap box [calling for it]. I was asked what I thought,” he said.

His retreat was prompted by a wave of criticism over his remarks, with the national cycling charity CTC saying that compulsory helmets would do little for safety and would prompt large numbers of cyclists to leave their bicycles at home.

“Two-thirds of collisions between adult cyclists and motor vehicles are deemed by police to be the responsibility of the motorist,” said the CTC’s Chris Peck. “Any legislation should put the onus on those who cause the harm, not the victims.”

Critical Mass has held monthly cycles in London since 1994, demanding better treatment. Next Friday, they are due to hold another, with the image of Daniel Harris to the forefront. Meanwhile, the driver of the bus is still being questioned by police.

On his way into Downing Street for the morning meeting of Olympic organisers, by bicycle as usual, mayor of London Boris Johnson said: “I have to say that in countries where they have made them [helmets] compulsory, it hasn’t always necessarily been good for cycling.”

Wearing his own helmet, Johnson ruled out making it mandatory but added: “The evidence is mixed, [but] I think they should do so if they want to.”