A FEW inches and there could have been a very different outcome for Grafton cyclist Peter Hughes last week, when he crash- landed head-first after his bicycle was clipped by a semi-trailer at Glenugie.
Wearing a helmet could also have been the difference between life and death.
On Wednesday the local police officer and Grafton Cycle Club member was training with a group for the Grafton to Inverell race, riding single file, and was on the home stretch of a ride from Coffs Harbour when he felt his wheels turn sharply away from the road.
"I remember the impact of my head hitting the ground but that was it," he said.
"My mate was riding a little bit up the road and heard the thud too, but then the truck went past, thought it was that and kept riding.
"It was only when he looked back that he saw I was on the ground not moving."
Next thing he knew, a passer-by who was the crash was running towards him with a first aid kit.
"I was under the impression I got up straight away but the lady said 'I thought you were dead because you weren't moving', so by the sounds of it I must have been knocked out," he said.
"I was really lucky I fell the way I did, and obviously the helmet has saved me."
The impact did plenty of damage though, to both the helmet and to Mr Hughes.
He was left with the shape of the helmet imprinted on his head in bruising, bruising to his jaw and scratches down the side of his face, as well as gravel rash and abrasions on his left arm.
After experiencing headaches Mr Hughes went to hospital as a precaution and was kept there four hours for observation.
He was okay, but the medical professionals confirmed he probably would be dead if not for the protection of his $300 stack hat.
It is a cautionary tale which is also timely, because from tomorrow the fine for bicycle riders who fail to wear a helmet will rise from $71 to $319.
"I'm not really for fining people more but it needs to be looked at as obviously a lot of people get around without helmets on, and some people set a bad example for kids," Mr Hughes said.
"Basically the thing I want to get across is yes, wear a helmet because it does save your life."
There is the fact the accident would never have happened if the truck driver had given the police officer enough room.
The laws which come in tomorrow also include a rule that drivers who pass a bicycle rider must allow a distance of at least one metre when the speed limit is 60km/h or less, and 1.5 metres when the speed limit is more than 60km/h.
Drivers caught not allowing the minimum distance face a $319 fine and the loss of two demerit points.
Mr Hughes said he hoped it would help in the Clarence Valley where there appeared to be an "us versus them mentality".
"We're entitled to be on the road, and I was just very lucky because with a 10% angle in the other direction it could have gone a very different way," he said.
"It not only affects us, it affects our families. I've got a four-year-old saying 'if you ride your bike going to die'.
"If anyone takes their mind off the road for a second it can be over for someone's life."
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