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Reframing safety: An analysis of perceptions of cycle safety clothing

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Aldred, R 


This article contributes to debates around cycle safety clothing, specifically helmets and high-visibility clothing. In England such items are widely promoted in safety campaigns and in broader cycling publicity, particularly for children. However, the impact of this approach on cycling safety and cycling uptake is unclear and contested. This article uses a combined analysis of three sets of qualitative interview data to explore talk about cycle helmets and high-visibility clothing. A thematic analysis involved coding all references to such safety clothing, and within that coding meanings, experiences, interactions, and links to other safety equipment. Reported use of safety clothing was strongly associated with perceived threat from motor vehicles, but accompanied by scepticism about effectiveness. Many interviewees felt and/or exerted social pressure to wear a helmet, and, to a lesser extent, high-visibility clothing. Analysis identified a widespread dislike of safety clothing, sometimes linked to cycling less. We found evidence of resistance to social pressure, expressed in complaints about inconvenience, discomfort (helmets), and personal appearance. More interdisciplinary research is needed to explore the complex relationships between cycling safety, the promotion of safety clothing, and cycling uptake. However, our findings suggest that, policy-makers and practitioners should carefully consider how promoting safety clothing might impact cycling uptake and experiences. Policy goals of increasing cycling and making it more 'normal' and subjectively safer might imply reducing or even avoiding the use of such accessories in everyday utility cycling contexts.



Cycling, Safety clothing, Helmets, England, Perceptions

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Transport Policy

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Elsevier BV
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/K004549/1)
Wellcome Trust (087636/Z/08/Z)
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/G007462/1)
Medical Research Council (MR/K023187/1)
Medical Research Council (MR/K021796/1)
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/J022101/1)
The Changing Commutes project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Grant number ES/K004549/1. The projects from which the interviews come were funded as detailed in the appendix. The work was undertaken under the auspices of the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence which is funded by the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, and the Wellcome Trust.