2 August 2012


Bradley Wiggins urges that cycle helmets should be made compulsory, to reduce the risk of injury. Here are 4 reasons why they should not:

1. There is no clear evidence that helmet use reduces the incidence of head injury, except perhaps in low speed falls / impacts.  Cycle helmets are currently required to survive a freefall drop of 1.5 metres onto a flat surface and a kerb shaped anvil at an impact speed of 5.42m/s (12.1mph). They are not designed to protect the cyclist from impact with a  moving motor vehicle. Reports commissioned for the Dept of Transport in 2002 and 2009 could not provide conclusive evidence of their effectiveness from population studies.

2. The public interest lies in promoting cycling, not helmets. Evidence from Australia, (one of only two countries in the world with national all-age mandatory bicycle helmet laws), Canada and Denmark demonstrates that promotion of cycle helmets reduces levels of cycling. Cycling increases fitness, longevity, reduces obesity and associated healthcare costs. It also diminishes traffic congestion  and fossil fuel pollution. The Government wishes to promote cycling; the culture of cycling helmets becoming compulsory would discourage people from cycling. (What TfL posters show cyclists wearing helmets?)

3. There is evidence that motorists drive more carefully around helmetless drivers, perhaps regarding them as more vulnerable. This is the phenomenon known as “risk compensation”.

4. Only in one reported case Reynolds v Strutt & Parker LLP [2011] EWHC 2263, did the court find both that a cyclist was at fault in not wearing a helmet and that this fault made a difference. The emphasis on cycle helmets can be seen as a distraction from making the roads a safer environment for cyclists.

It is upto the motorist to prove that the lack of a helmet has caused or contributed to the cyclist’s injuries. I would not comment on the sad case in East London  which prompted Bradley’s remarks,  because I do not know the facts. He offers very sensible advice to make sure cyclists look after themselves, carry lights and avoid the distraction of headphones and ipods. As he says, road users all have to co-exist. But I think he is wrong to assume that the cyclist is to blame for their own injuries because of the absence of a helmet  “…if you get knocked off and you ain’t got a helmet on, then how can you kind of argue?” The answer is it all depends on whether a helmet would have made any difference to your injury.

Helmet wearing should be a matter of choice for the individual.  As a cyclist  commuting across north London for over 35 years, I always wear one, but I would not condemn my fellow cyclists who don’t.

Myles Hickey

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