/ Motoring

Should cyclists be legally required to wear helmets?

In the latest Which? magazine, we produced a full test lab report on adult and children’s bike helmets. While we recommend wearing a good quality helmet, there’s never been a law to make it mandatory. Until now…

A new EU report has proposed cycle helmets should be made mandatory for children up to the age of 13, as well as adding cycle safety training to the curriculum for all seven and eight year olds.

Reports from the Irish Independent newspaper also suggest that parents who allow their children to ride a bike without a helmet will face charges under new rules proposed by the Road Safety Authority. These rules could come into force in Ireland by 2016 if the government approves them.

But Ireland won’t be the first to impose a bike helmet law; bicycle helmets have already been made mandatory in 13 European countries, as well as New Zealand and Australia.

Cycle safety sanctions

There have been plenty of reports to support the use of cycle helmets spanning the last two decades. But an international review of the evidence gathered by the UK Department for Transport in 2009 concluded there was no reliable evidence that helmets resulted in a lower risk of head injury for cyclists.

While not mandatory, we think bike helmets are worth wearing when in the saddle – if you buy a good one. However, our testing found a few helmets that seriously underperformed.

For example, we awarded the Met Camaleonte Executive adult bike helmet our Don’t Buy status, having failed to meet the European Standard in our tests. We’ve even asked Met to recall the helmet. But do you think it’s better to wear a low-quality helmet than to not wear one at all?

But helmets aren’t ’cool’!

These new laws raise the question – can parents really be held responsible for the actions of their children to this degree?

For children heading to secondary school aged 11 and up, the potential for rebellion is greater (if my memory serves me correctly). I suspect the reality is that many kids will cycle round the corner, whip the helmet off and continue on their way.

And is it reasonable to have an age limit on wearing a bike helmet? Should it not be universally applicable? I’m also intrigued to discover how big the fines will be for parents of children who don’t wear helmets, and exactly who will be enforcing these laws.

In some countries, it’s illegal not to wear a helmet when cycling – but would you welcome these laws in the UK?

Should cyclists be legally required to wear helmets?

No - cyclists shouldn't be legally required to wear helmets (58%, 780 Votes)

Yes - all cyclists should be legally required to wear helmets (32%, 431 Votes)

Yes - but only under 13s should be legally required to wear helmets (6%, 77 Votes)

I'm not sure - I'm not convinced either way (5%, 68 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,359

Loading ... Loading ...
Peter Robinson says:
22 July 2012

In the countries with the highest cycle use, Denmark, Netherlands and Scandinavia cycle helmets are not worn except for racing. If all the money that has been spent on helmets in Britain had been spent on improving conditions for cyclists we would be in a better place. We should make it safe for ordnary people to cycle in residential areas without special protection, rather than seeking to blame the victim. I wear a helmet for more adventurous cycling but it should remain a choice for the individual to weigh the risks. The tiny risk of an injury that could be reduced by a helmet does not match the huge public health benefit of getting more people cycling.

Steve says:
25 July 2012

I agree. Read all about it at : http://cyclehelmets.org/ where you will see that there are also risks in wearing helmets.

Totally agree. I was nocked down by a car two years ago. (I had bright jacket, helmet, ride nicely on road, etc) My head was nowhere near the ground although I had a knee op as a result. Car driver simply did not see me exist. Road safty for cycles are more important.

And forcing helmet just add more cost to low income people.

Chris Wells says:
22 May 2014

I am in complete favour of cycle head protection. Your most precious organ is your brain and allowing it to wobble around at high speed , unprotected in modern traffic is pure folly. I have just returned to cycling after a long period away from it. It is fantastic, but in todays high volume traffic and the obvious tension between road users, it seems prudent to wear such protection. I have felt for many years that all cyclists should have annual taxation or at least third party insurance to give them some right to be on the road. I know this would improve their perception with motorists. Sorry to go off subject, but I know how emotive the whole subject of cycling and traffic is.

gavanvan says:
13 October 2014

does anyone out there not think that big business is involved in this propaganda involvig cycle helmets, there must be the potencial for millions of pounds worth of sales and you can bet theres an mp somewhere in the background promoting a law. id liken it to that ridiculous law the french brought out of carrying a breath test kit in your vehicle. they have a shelf life of 6 months, there are plenty of people who have never touched alcohol in there lives; what a scam and an ongoing one at that.

Andrew says:
23 July 2012

“There have been plenty of reports to support the use of cycle helmets spanning the last two decades.” Really? References please – those published or funded by helmet manufacturers don’t count).

Theo Zeegers says:
23 July 2012

Yes, there are laws in Australia and so on and no, they don’t work.
Please read the recent superbig meta-analysis by Rune Elvik:
the effect of bicycle helmets in reducing the number of victims is close to zero, if positive.
the effect of helmets in reducing cycling is enormous (typically minus 25 – 35 %)

Also recent publications by de Jong (Australia ) are relevant.

All references to be found here


What is going on in UK and Ireland, is scaring people, not convincing them.

Alasdair Massie says:
23 July 2012

Absolutely not. “Compulsion” isn’t about making roads safer for cycling, it is about putting blame on victims and finding new ways to persecute people who go about their lives doing no harm, but doing it in a way that is “different” from the majority.

Is anybody pressing for helmets to be mandatory when we drive or walk down the pavement ? No, even though large numbers of people suffer head injuries while walking or jogging or travelling in motor vehicles. It is just discrimination. Well meaning sometimes, but still discrimination.

Anna says:
23 July 2012

Mandatory helmet laws are like introducing a bull to a china shop, and then blaming the china for getting broken when the inevitable happens.

Peter Clinch says:
23 July 2012

“Reports from the Irish Independent newspaper also suggest that parents who allow their children to ride a bike without a helmet will face charges”

Could be entertaining if this became law… This chap letting his son ride in just a cotton cap, would be asking for trouble! 😉

Bikecat says:
23 July 2012

Yes let’s arrest Wiggy for not wearing a helmet or letting his son ride without one! :-))

Precisely, if people who ride bikes for a living see no problem with riding without a helmet, and having their children do likewise, then clearly it is a metter of choice. After all Messrs Hamilton & Button find it OK to put on flame-proof suits and helmets to drive their racing cars, but would hardly consider doing this to drive on a motorway, despite the far higher risk of a crash.

CJ says:
23 July 2012

It is estimated that in the Netherlands, helmetted cyclists account for less than 1% of the cycle traffic. But they account for 13% of cyclists admitted to Dutch hospitals!

The reason for this startling statistic is that in the Netherlands only sporting cyclists wear helmets – and riding a bicycle as fast as you possibly can really is that dangerous.

That’s why you don’t need to wear a helmet when using a bike for travel and transport, even though they are required for cycle racing. It is in fact, exactly the same as comparing ordinary motoring with motor racing.

Paul of leytonstone says:
23 July 2012

Not only should they be required by law to wear helmets they should also be banned form using mobile phones whilst cycling or wearing headphones. Helmets save lives, using mobile phones is against the law for drivers of motor vehicles it shoull equally apply to cyclists for exactly the same reasons. Using headphone is also unsafe as many listen to very loud music and can’t hear sirens etc.

Bikecat says:
23 July 2012

Neither can motorists when they have loud music on in their cars. Or can they? Most cars are pretty well soundproofed nowadays. A cyclist is therefore OK as long as they are prepared to look around and behind a lot more often, especially before changing speed or road position. And of course one can hear sirens even with headphones on, they don’t on the whole stop outside noise coming in.
On mob phones, again the speed of a cyclist is so much lower than a car that although I personally think it’s silly to use a phone, the damage that can be done to others is minimal compared with cars and lorries and buses, all of whose drivers I have witnessed on the phone.

Helmets save lives? Australia and NZ mandated cycle helmets. The result was a reduction in both head injuries and cyclists in absolute terms of about 30%. i.e., it made no difference to safety but dropped the number by cyclists on the road. A net negative effect. If you think helmets save lives show your evidence.

I agree the cyclists should be banned from using mobile phones but I should point out that whilst is illegal for motorists to do so it hasn’t in any way stopped the practice.

Bikecat says:
23 July 2012

And using the same logic, would you ban deaf drivers and cyclists??

Alan Jones says:
23 July 2012

I hope not! I’m Deaf and I drive and Cycle. Cycling from the age of 11 driving both Motorcyccle and car since 1972 I rarely wear a cycle Hemet, even when timetrialling, Only 2 years age I won the VTTA north Midlands group Best all Rounder title which Covers racing from 10 miles to 100 miles and a 12 hour event where I covered 235 miles in the alocated time. I am now 62 years old and I am still alive without a damned helmet. and yeas I have crashed once coming off at 35 mph slid along the road on my unhelmeted shaved head and all it did was take a load of skin off. The need to wear a cycle helmet is well over exagerated.

Rich Boese says:
24 July 2012

I’m seeing mostly the same arguments that motorcyclists had back in the 1970s when crash helmets were made compulsory. Basically, “it’s my head and therefore my choice”. Only people are generally too dim or lazy to make informed choices about such things so we need Nanny to decide for us. I always were a helmet.
In the last 25 years I’ve come off my bicycle loads of times and never even touched my head. Knees, elbows and hands always, but never my head, until this year when I was hit by a car and bashed my head on the edge of the windscreen. Got a small cut on my face, not concussion or a fractured skull which is what I would have got if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet. So the helmet helped. What it also did was ensure the Police, Ambulance and Doctors at hospital were a lot more sympathetic to me and recognised that I had done all I could to stay safe and reduce injuriry. They treated me like a serious and experienced cyclist, not some prat arsing about on a bike. It made prosecuting the driver and getting compensation easier.

Bikecat says:
24 July 2012

Actually you have no idea ‘what you would have got’. It’s just not possible to know with any certainty. It’s much more accurate to say ‘what I might have got’ .

Steve says:
26 July 2012

“They treated me like a serious and experienced cyclist, not some prat arsing about on a bike.”

I suspect you would have been taken just as seriously by the police and medical profession without a helmet, as no doubt would any other casualty without a helmet – pedestrian, motorist, ice skater, someone falling down the stairs, the list goes on. Ever stand up and knock your head against an open cupboard in the kitchen? My sister did and suffered concussion for a week. Helmets mandatory in the kitchen, climbing the stairs, out for a walk (especially under trees)? Some people swallow wasps or bees and get dangerously stung in the mouth or throat – Darth Vader helmets and masks for all?

A low incidence/risk event, although having a great psychological impact on the victim, does not create a case for unilateral panic protection measures, especially when as with cycle helmets the protection given is of dubious, even negative benefit. See http://cyclehelmets.org/

gavanvan says:
13 October 2014

if you have fallen off that many times do you not think you should find a different mode of transport. ive been cycling for nearly 60 years and fallen off once when i went from free to fixed wheel. never had a cycling related head injury never worn a helmet and never would. i stopped using a motor cycle because i couldnt stand the things on my head. i can honestly say i hate them with a passion, and i think they are dangerous things to rely on.

Ceri Woolsgrove says:
24 July 2012

On the effectiveness point; helmets are only supposed to have an effect on impacts up to 12 mph, and that is when they are worn perfectly. They are not built for impacts with motor vehicles, indeed the UK BS standard states that
“The level of protection offered is less than that given by helmets for motorcycle riders and is intended to give protection in the kind of accident in which the rider falls onto the road without other vehicles being involved.’

I think that many of the anti-legislation helmet-wearing arguments have been put forward here in the comments including the huge impact that legislation has on cycling numbers and the consequent impact on public health. But I was looking at the Hierarchy of Controlling Risk the other day (I don’t get out much) and it occurred to me how inefficient and ineffective helmets really are
Protective clothing is always the least effective measure, the least sustainable and the least preferred and is always the very last resort.

Can we apply this to cycling?

bugbear says:
24 July 2012

“But an international review of the evidence gathered by the UK Department for Transport in 2009 concluded there was no reliable evidence that helmets resulted in a lower risk of head injury for cyclists.”

Evidence, eh?

Andrew: “References please”
Rob Hull: “You can find a few example reports here: http://www.cyclecraft.co.uk/digest/helmet_research.html

The most recent reference here is 2002, the earliest 1987. Only 13 of the 37 support helmets. 2 of those were predictions made in 1987 and 1990, which were not borne out by reality. Most of these 13 have critical comments attached by the list’s compiler (John Franklin) for their sample size and other flaws. Four of the other papers are neutral, 19 either do not support helmet use or come down against it.

One is not about cycle helmets at all: it concludes that helmets would protect car occupants better than airbags. See many previous comments.

So, Rob Hull, did you actually read this bibliography when you wrote your article: if so, why are you relying on a 10 year old source (albeit an excellent one, John Franklin), and why are you claiming that it supports recommending helmets? Or have you just grabbed it off the web in reply to Andrew’s challenge? Please give CURRENT references.

This, by the way, is from the abstract of the second item:
Rodgers 1988: “The most surprising finding is that the bicycle-related fatality rate is positively and significantly correlated with increased helmet use.”

Rob Hull: ” spanning the last two decades,’ with no suggestion any of this would be recent.”

Since the most recent report cited was a decade ago, the list you quoted does NOT span the last two decades: its spans the two decades up to 2002.

But you are trying to distract from the important point which is that the bibliography does not support your statement: ” plenty of reports to support the use of cycle helmets”. It lists plenty of reports NOT supporting the use of cycle helmets, and a few supporting the use, some disproved by later events and others methodologically flawed.

Please list the reports supporting the use of cycle helmets spanning the *second* of the ‘last two decades’, to which you are referring.

Ceri Woolsgrove says:
25 July 2012

The DfT have indeed said there is no evidence of helmets reducing head injuries. I can point you also to the European Commission working paper that looked into different measures to improve road safety and after looking through all the literature came to the same conclusion as the DfT.
“In conclusion, cycle helmets are likely to prevent minor wounds to the head, but
not serious, life threatening injuries. Moreover, helmet promotion has also been shown to
decrease cycle use (TRL, 1997): in all countries where helmet laws have been introduced and
enforced, there has been a substantial reduction in cycling. Instead, it seems that the greatest
influence on cycling safety is the number of people who cycle (Jacobsen, 2003; Robinson,
2005; Turner, Roozenburg, Francis, 2006).”

Roger says:
25 July 2012

If as is stated above in this conversation by Ceri Woolsgrove, the cycle helmet ‘standard’ applies only up to 12 mph and is not applicable in any accidents involving motor vehicles, then I suspect that this would come as something of a surprise to many people who have spent good money thinking they are more fully protecting themselves and their families..

In light of this, perhaps Which could consider that rather than appearing to support a push to promote the riding of helmets becoming law, the interests of the consumers they champion might be better served by a campaign to see all such cycle helmets sold with a prominent warning to ensure that potential buyers are aware of these obvious limitations-or perhaps with a warning that they are not to be ridden above 12 mph!

Stephen Taylor says:
26 July 2012

Though I do not personally support it, here is a case for *banning the use of cycle helmets on public highways*. (An exception should be made for organised road races.)

Where laws have made helmet-wearing mandatory for cyclists they have had two effects: reduced the number of head injuries and reduced the number of cyclists. The second effect is widely thought to result from a heightened perception of danger: cycling looks more dangerous when cyclists wear helmets. The first effect, once the lower number of cyclists is taken into account, is negligible. In other words, the only measurable result of requiring helmets is to reduce cycling. The outcome is a measurable harm.

Personally, I’m inclined to permit cyclists to wear helmets if they wish, but you can see the line of argument. Wearing a helmet deters others from using bikes to get about. There are always limits to how much we may harm others to improve our personal well-being. For example, although it would make me safer, I may not fit chariot blades to my car wheels. Cyclists who insist on wearing helmets on the public highway harm public health.

Hypothetical nonsense? I spent four hours on Monday cycling around central Paris. There were plenty of cyclists and most were women. No one was wearing Lycra and I saw only two cycle helmets the whole time – both on English tourists. Cycling fatalities last year: London 16, Paris 0.

Matt says:
26 July 2012

This should most definitely be an individual decision for many reasons.
The risks of cycling are not great you are about as likely to be killed in a mile of cycling as in a mile of walking so who is in favour of making pedestrians wear helmets?
The health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks and experience in other countries has shown that helmet compulsion reduces the amount of cycling. The net effect on health of helmet compulsion would be negative.
Car drivers and passengers also suffer head injuries. Formula one style racing helmets for all car occupants would save more lives than any possible saving from cycle helmets so why not compulsory car helmets?
As a cyclist riding over 7000 miles a year I choose to wear a helmet and other special clothing when I go out for a days ride. I see no reason to wear special clothes and a special hat when I slip down to the local shop. In Holland where half the population cycle regularly hardly anyone wears a helmet and the idea of compulsory helmets would be laughed out of court.

wear a helmet,u need more than that to keep u alive on roads today,ive heard of a few horror stories 1 man got killed in scotland a vans mirror hit him on the head without a helmet result killed instantly,many many more just google them