Forget about safety helmets – let’s get back to the days of red warning flags

Safety kit for pedestrians...how many lives would be saved if we had to put gear like this on before strolling down to the pub?

Alf despairs at the persistent attempts to pamper us, cosset us and turn us into a nation of wimps.

Today his list of mollycoddlers is enlarged by the addition of those who demand helmets be made compulsory for board riders after a Marlborough bloke was killed in a motorised-skateboard accident.

Tom Lawrence Kenny, 41, of Havelock, near Blenheim, died about 8pm on Wednesday after he lost control of an electric skateboard and fell, hitting his head on a concrete driveway.

He is the second Kiwi in two years to die after falling from a motorised skateboard. At least five people on non-motorised skateboards died between 1999 and 2008.

Shriek. Two deaths in two years.

A bloody epidemic.

Well, it is in some lunatic quarters.


But Alf is undismayed by those statistics and says them’s the breaks for those who get their buzz from dashing around on skateboards.

Trouble is, there are some namby-pamby coroners out there who want to keep us alive, failing to recognise that this must lead ultimately to many, many more old people making intolerable demands on the public purse.

Jeffery White’s death in 2008, when he crashed his motorised skateboard in Palmerston North, prompted Coroner Carla na Nagara to call for helmets to be made compulsory for riders of motorised boards.

She found motorised skateboards fell outside the 2004 road-user rules requiring riders to wear helmets.

Alf notes that Steve Duggan, of Christchurch’s X-Rides, reckons the powered boards are “safer than manual models”.

“They are a nice big board and have a brake and feel a lot safer,” he said. “I let my four-year-old ride sitting down.”

Having said this, Duggan wimps out and says children should wear helmets and he would not oppose a compulsory-helmet rule for skateboarders.

Alf is more in tune with Mitch Hayden, of Quest Christchurch, who said making helmets compulsory would take some of the appeal away from urban skating.

But if the wimps must push to slap helmets on skateboarders, what should we do with pedestrians, who get knocked over – and finish up dead before their time – much more often than skateboarders.

During the 2009/2010 Christmas holiday period there were 12 fatal crashes resulting in 13 deaths.The deaths included one pedestrian.

Maybe we should oblige every pedestrian to gear up in those heavily padded suits and helmets worn by American football players.

Yeah, of course it’s silly.

The bloody authorities are much more likely to do something along the lines recommended in a recent ODT article by Hank Weiss and Dorothy Begg.

The authors identify themselves as injury prevention specialists representing a combined 50-plus years of experience in injury prevention and road safety and as leaders of the Injury Prevention Research Unit at the University of Otago.

Obviously they are bright buggers, because they use words that require Alf to consult his dictionary.

In their article they explain that there is a strong connection between effective efforts to lower speed and reductions in crashes, injury severity and risk of death for cyclists and pedestrians and vehicle occupants.

The reason for this is straightforward and based on well-known principles of physics.

It is because when a crash occurs, the forces (kinetic energy) released are exponentially related to the speed of a collision (for the mathematicians among readers, this is determined by the formula Ek=(1/2)mv2, where k = kinetic energy, m = mass, and v = velocity).

Because of this, there is a sensitive relationship between speed and the injury-causing potential of a crash; which means even modest speed changes can have dramatic effects.

For example, for occupants, at an impact speed of 80kmh, the risk of death is 20 times that at 30kmh (European Transport Safety Council, 1995).

For pedestrians, the risk of death is less than 5% under 30kmh but becomes almost certain over 55-60kmh (Ashton and Mackay, 1979; Anderson, McClean, Farmer et al, 1997).

Applying these principles, Western Australia safety authorities have estimated that if the vehicles involved in pedestrian injury incidents had been travelling just five kmh slower, one-third of the pedestrian deaths could have been avoided and one in 10 pedestrians would not have been hit at all (Office of Road Safety, 2009).

They strongly support efforts to reduce speed limits on this road.

But dropping the speed limit won’t necessarily stop accidents.

Alf is reminded that –

The first death by motoring happened on August 17, 1896, at the Crystal Palace, London, when Bridget Driscoll of Croydon was run over and her skull fractured by the wheel of the offending car. The driver (Arthur Edsell) was employed to give joy rides in a Rogers-Benz on the terrace of the Crystal Palace. Driscoll was crossing the road when she saw the automobile hurtling toward her at the speed of 4 mph. She took fright and stood still in the path of the oncoming car. The death was ruled accidental.

It won ‘t be failsafe, but Alf nevertheless is tempted to go back to those slow old days of pioneer motoring.

He is especially attracted to warning flags.

When German inventor Karl Benz invented the first petrol driven motor car in 1888 he had designed a completely new means of transport.

The new powered vehicle immediately became subject to legal controls. One early law said that all cars had to have a crew of three which, included someone to walk in front with a red flag as a warning to pedestrians, other traffic and to calm frightened horses.

The big benefit would be in having Mrs Grumble carry the flag, sparing Alf from having to listen to her harping on about how he should be driving.

One Response to Forget about safety helmets – let’s get back to the days of red warning flags

  1. Nasska says:

    Would decimate the pool of unemployed too!

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