/ 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

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Comments
chrisD says:
2 August 2012

I drive to work or I ride to work. When I ride to work I wear a full light weight high Vis jacket. Dont even know its there. I put my helmet on. Can,t say i,m really like them because i feel they look a bit silly…mmm but I would look a little bit silly in a wheel chair or my brain being mashed. Which could lead to death or a life of misery because I am concerned of what other people think?? Just think of the cost to the NHS this causes for every serious indecent that occurs. and the pain of family’s involved. Perhaps if we cant agree on helmets, can we agree that all cyclists have to wear Hi vis Jackets so Vehicle drivers can see them and try and prevent accidents? And to ride a bike you should know the rules of the road to ride on them. Preventative Maintenance as I would call it. Oh out on my bike the other day and police car came by. We both stopped at traffic lights and the officer said its nice to see you stand out.!

Steve says:
2 August 2012

I would agree if your helmet would be likely to save your brain from a mashing, but in an accident bad enough to mash your brain it won’t. If you’re happier wearing a helmet, wear it. It’s no doubt a comforter and to some a fashion accessory. As protection it’s of doubtful value. As to high viz clothing – much more important. There’s nothing scarier for a driver than suddenly seeing a dark clad cyclist without lights appear in his dip beam against the dazzling lights of oncoming traffic.

Wear high viz, use lights and pedal reflectors. Bin the helmet.

Roger says:
3 August 2012

Agree fully that high vis makes sense, but as for the helmets, if it’s cost to the NHS you are concerned about, then there’s a stronger case for drivers wearing them.

I will be wearing high-viz day and night now, following a nasty accident and shoulder injury. The driver said “I just did not see you”, it was midday and bright sunlight. Am still undecided about the helmet but I noticed that everyone involved (police, hospital, insurance etc) all made a pointed comment “I notice you were not wearing a helmet”!

Alan Jones says:
2 August 2012

WE fight wars to get rid of dictators, Keep Great Britain free, That’s why it is “Great” and let the rider decide.

gavanvan says:
13 October 2014

thank you. the shortest answers are always the best

We have had many comments that compulsory wearing of helmets discourages cycling. No-one doubts this, but why not address this problem rather than using it as an excuse not to wear protection?

John Stevenson says:
2 August 2012

wavechange – ‘Address the problem how? Re-education camps for helmet refuseniks? Massive, expensive and pointless advertising campaigns?

Pointless because helmets DO NOT SAVE LIVES. In all jurisdictions that have made them mandatory or where voluntary adoption has increased, thee has been no reduction in the number of cyclist deaths. None.

Pro-helmet jihadists, you have been fed a lie. Now please stop trying to foist it on those of us who’ve actually read the research and the stats.

Cyclists always know best, John. I saw six on the road tonight and only one had lights, and all were wearing dark clothing. I had to avoid one who was weaving across the road. Another two cyclists were on the pavement.

Another excuse for not wearing helmets is that they are ineffective except at low speeds. I wonder why professional cyclists wear them.

I don’t think that I can be bothered to discuss this further.

John Stevenson says:
3 August 2012

Yes, we know best because understand the activity and the actual risks. But thanks for revealing your anti-cycling true colours with those red herrings. Like most pro-helmet jihadists what you want is us off the road. At least have the honesty not to pretend it’s for our own safety.

I am not anti-cycling, John. In fact I promote cycling on a website, leaflets, etc.

I believe that I have been saved from serious head injury or worse by a motorcycle helmet. I was told this in hospital. I was riding slower than many cyclists and this was supported by police evidence. Thankfully, I escaped with concussion but the helmet was in a pretty poor state after the accident.

John, please do not put other commenters in pigeon holes, and especially don’t use a potentially offensive description of them like ‘pro-helmet jihadists’. Everyone is entitled to their opinion – let’s keep the debate civil and stick to Which? Convo’s commenting guidelines: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines

Richard Burton says:
10 August 2012

I’m sure John didn’t mean the term “pro-helmet jihadists” to be offensive, and anyway, it rather neatly sums up the fanatical belief some people have in cycle helmets. Their belief could indeed be described as religious, when all the data shows one thing but they believe the exact opposite as if it’s a matter of faith, not science.

If they ever make helmets compulsory, I’ll be starting a religion which will have a single belief: that we should not wear cycle helmets, and therefore it would be against my human rights to make me do so. I look forward to having plenty of converts, and I’ll try not to abuse the power. But not too hard.

I agree that evidence (or at least the controversy surrounding the evidence) is ignored or selectively quoted by the cycle helmet proponents. Anecdotal evidence appears to underpin the majority of opinions.
A question of law? Lets say a law was to be passed mandating the use of helmets. If there was insufficient evidence supporting the safety efficacy of helmets (as is the status quo) surely anyone could claim that without any foundation in reason the law founded on religious grounds, and the courts have no more right to compel you to wear a helmet than they have to force you to attend church?

Richard Burton says:
10 August 2012

@skeptictan

I’m of the opinion that one of the reasons some people are so in favour of cycle helmet wearing and continually publish lurid stories and push for laws, whilst refusing to debate the issue, is that if this doesn’t succeed because of the evidence, the public might start to question other so called “safety” laws. Like motorcycle helmets and seat belts, both of which were brought in with no analysis of either the risk or the protective effect or any unintended consequences, and no post law analysis of their effect. Evidence that either of those laws has reduced risk is very much like that of cycle helmets, mostly anecdote, assumption and opinions of people not qualified to make a judgment.

The only such analysis as far as I know, was the Isles report, which examined the effects of seat belts in countries which already had them, before it was voted on here. It found that they did improve the safety of drivers, but increased the risk for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, because of risk compensation by the drivers. Strangely, the report was never issued, but there is a copy on the web.

There is likewise evidence that motorcycle helmets haven’t reduced risk to motorcyclists.

Risk compensation is a fascinating subject and shows that if you don’t take into account people’s behaviour when introducing laws and rules, you can end up achieving the precise opposite of what you set out to do. Like cycle helmets.

Hello all, with Bradley Wiggins coming out in favour of helmet wearing, we have put together a Conversation featuring some of your comments for and against compulsory helmets. See if your comment has been featured and then join the debate! https://conversation.which.co.uk/transport-travel/bradley-wiggins-compulsory-cycle-helmet-law-cycling-safety-olympic-park/

Alan Jones says:
3 August 2012

I don’t think that people who are against the helmet law are actually anti-helmet, I’m not trying to force anyone not to wear a helmet. So why do people who do wear a helmet all the time want to force there opinion onto everyone else. I am not anti-helmet I am in favour of wearing a helmet but I also enjoy riding with the wind flowing through my hair and do not want to be prosecuted for doing so. I am not hurting anyone. Keep the law to protect us from others not ourselves

I’ve just closed the poll on compulsory helmets – here are the final results:

Should cyclists be legally required to wear helmets?

No – cyclists shouldn’t be legally required to wear helmets (57%, 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)

Only a total idiot, or someone seeking suicide would ride a bike up the inside of a lorry at a junction. Yet every year many cyclists do, and get seriously injured or killed. This is basic common sense, and the second thing I learned about cycle safety [the first was never, ever ride without lights at night as you are invisible to motorists].

Instead of avoiding this highly dangerous practise, cyclists demand that lorry drivers make allowances, so we spend money on special mirrors and training courses, to pander to the twits who believe it is their right to put themselves in danger this way, and everyone else’s responsibility if they come to harm.
From what I have read here, it is the same selfish anti helmet argument from the cycle lobby [I like to feel the wind in my hair????], they believe that only laws they agree with should be obeyed, others should be ignored for the most ridiculous reasons. Yet demand everyone else must obey laws they agree with.

If I were to refuse to stop for pedestrians on a zebra crossing because it would ‘slow my car down’ you would all think I am some crazy psycho, yet that is exactly the excuse I have heard cyclists use when they plough on across zebra crossings in use.

We need to ignore these selfish people, they give sensible law abiding cyclists a bad name, pass the cycle helmet law and prosecute those who ride without them. along with those who ride on pavements, without lights and through red lights.

If cyclists want to use the roads, do as everyone else does and obey the law, riding a bike does not make you special or place you above the law.

Steve says:
10 August 2012

Some of what is said here is true – ie be visible, especially at night, ride with an awareness of risk situations and try to anticipate the actions of other road users. However, the writer is perhaps not fully aware of the statistics relating to helmets, that decorative topping to the safety conscious, careful, visible cyclist.

Would a nanny state make us wear them? Not in the true definition of the term, since a nanny would form a reasoned judgement of our best interests and act accordingly. The state that would make us wear helmets based on personal prejudice and irrational personal judgements is another sort of state altogether, and I don’t think we want to go there.

A nanny state made us wear seat belts, and saved thousands of lives in the process.
A nanny state made us wear motorcycle helmets and saved my life as well as hundreds of others.
A nanny state has banned smoking in work and enclosed public areas, and will save tens of thousands of lives.
To each of the above initiatives the arguments against mirror those being made the cycle lobby, and the statistics years later prove the nanny state was right.

If today’s helmets are not appropriate, then lets develop something that will do the job, and save lives and reduce the risk of serious injury, instead of manufacturing these ludicrous arguments.

Steve says:
13 August 2012

Nanny state decisions:

Seat belts – probably good
Motorcycle helmets – maybe
Bicycle helmets – nope: just not proven, indeed the opposite if anything
Smoking in public etc – different thing: smokers thinking it’s ok to inflict their burnt offerings on non smokers: that’s simply inconsiderate in the extreme, and it’s a shame it needed legislation to stop it.
Living – very risky, especially for mountaineers, hang gliders, pot holers, base jumpers – the list goes on. We all make our choices and choose how safe we want to live. Main thing is we don’t jeapordise or annoy others, so apologies to anyone this has annoyed :).

I thought that the imposition of motor cycle helmets was a bit of an imposition, but I got over it. Concussion following a minor accident made me very grateful that the government had decided we should all wear helmets. I’m glad that I didn’t have personal freedom on this and many other issues.

I appreciate that in a small percentage of cases, seat belts will do more harm than good. Let the government take its advice from those who have to deal with those cyclists that are unfortunate enough to suffer an accident and decide on the cycle helmet issue. Don’t forget that you can prove anything with statistics and pressure groups are remarkably good at doing this.

One of the main arguments against cycle helmets is that people would cycle less if they were required to wear a helmet. Sorry, but that is not a sensible argument, but might demonstrate a need for a good psychiatrist. 🙂

I think we are getting a bit carried away with personal freedom in this country. Let the experts advise the government on controversial issues and everyone else get on with it.

What is clear and non-controversial is that we need to spend more on making roads safer for cyclists.

Richard Burton says:
14 August 2012

“A nanny state made us wear seat belts, and saved thousands of lives in the process.
A nanny state made us wear motorcycle helmets and saved my life as well as hundreds of others.
A nanny state has banned smoking in work and enclosed public areas, and will save tens of thousands of lives.
To each of the above initiatives the arguments against mirror those being made the cycle lobby, and the statistics years later prove the nanny state was right.”

As someone who has spent some time looking at the case for seat belts and motorcycle helmets, I’m intrigued by your assertion that statistics prove it was right to impose them. Could you post a few links to authoritative, peer reviewed research papers please?

As far as I’m aware, the data doesn’t show that either was effective.

The “ludicrous arguments” about cycle helmets don’t need to be manufactured as they are based on real world experience of those places with helmet laws, and that shows that the effects of such laws are large and negative, in health, pollution, sustainability, road danger and cost terms. The only positive is if you are a shareholder in the manufacturers.

The arguments for opposing a cycle helmet law do not mirror those of seat belts and motorcycle helmets, as neither driving nor motorcycling are health promoting, life increasing activities, rather the opposite in fact. Therefore it at worst would make no difference in health terms is participation in them dropped, and at best improve public health. Rather like cycle helmets though, there is vanishingly little evidence that either have improved road safety overall.

Your comparison with smoking is rather appropriate though, but in precisely the opposite way that you think. Regular cyclists live longer, are fitter healthier and fitter than the general public, so any logical public health policy would be completely committed to increasing it, especially as the risks are very low. Smoking is the complete opposite, and smokers live less long, are less healthy and less fit, with high risks of debilitating disease, therefore any logical public health policy would be committed to reducing it.

Since the only proven effect of helmet laws and promotion are to reduce the number of cyclists, it would be absurd to the point of insanity to promote helmets or propose a law.

m
Couldn’t have put it better.

Now why should the motorist pay for improvements for cyclists?? In the UK the motorist pays for all roadways – not true in other EU countries. I think the cyclists should pay more on making roads safer for cyclists.

I propose the following conditions

1. All cyclists must show they can actually read and understand the UK highway code book – far too many completely ignore traffic signs and conditions or cannot read English.
2 All cyclists to pass a practical UK road test to gain a cycling license.
3 All cyclists to pay for a UK cycling license.
4 All cyclists of any age to pay an annual UK road tax of say £50 for road maintenance – why should other road users pay to give free road use to cyclists.
5 All cycles to have an Annual UK MOT say £10 to ensure all parts of cycle are in working conditions like lights brakes and tyres.
6 All cyclists to wear Hi Vis Jackets at all times and wear a suitable helmet.

I am convinced that too many cyclists do not know the highway code and/or blatantly ignore them.. A recent case (3 weeks ago) a local street is narrow and dense parking on both sides. A cyclist in dark clothing riding on pavement at night – decided without signalling in any way – to cross the road at speed between two parked cars directly in front of one car – causing one motorist to swerve to avoid him and swerve into an oncoming vehicle – the crash cost the motorists £1000’s for repairs. The cyclist did not stop. The “cyclist” was not injured – one motorist was very badly shocked. That is why cyclists should pay for the privilege of riding on our roads.

In addition I walk my three dogs in the same area – I am FORCED to walk into the road to avoid the irresponsible cyclists who completely ignore they should be riding on the road not the pavement.- nor do they slow down – so could easily scare my dogs very badly. One of my dogs cost £22,000 – repeat £22,000 as a pup.

Richard Burton says:
14 August 2012

@ wavechange

“Let the government take its advice from those who have to deal with those cyclists that are unfortunate enough to suffer an accident and decide on the cycle helmet issue.”

That’s rather like basing lottery policy on the tiny number of winners, without bothering to consult the vastly larger group of losers. The people who see a tiny number of injured cyclists are not those who should be making decisions on road safety, as they have a very narrow view, and can’t see the wider picture, and often deny it. The benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by at least twenty to one, and probably by much more than that, so it is much more dangerous not to ride a bike than to ride one, and any reduction in the number of cyclists will negatively impact public health.

The only proven effect of helmet laws and propaganda is to reduce the number of cyclists, and therefore the effect is negative. Countries with helmet laws have demonstrated this clearly, so why should it be any different here?

“Don’t forget that you can prove anything with statistics and pressure groups are remarkably good at doing this.” But nowhere near as good as the helmet promoters! I always find it intriguing that the people who complain that helmet opponents misuse statistics don’t look at the much more serious and widespread abuse of statistics by helmet proponents, including claiming that all children admitted to hospital were there because of cycling, or to claim that helmets are 85% effective by comparing children wearing helmets cycling around parks with their parents to children without helmets cycling on roads by themselves. Totally dishonest, disproved, and immoral, but it’s still the most widely quoted statistic about cycle helmets.

“One of the main arguments against cycle helmets is that people would cycle less if they were required to wear a helmet. Sorry, but that is not a sensible argument, but might demonstrate a need for a good psychiatrist.”

Since a reduction in the number of cyclists is the only proven effect of cycle helmet laws, and it is firmly based on factual evidence, I’m assuming that you think the people demanding a helmet law require the psychiatrist. The only proven effects of helmet laws and propaganda are negative, so I can only agree that the people proposing such things are in need of some kind of therapy.

“Let the experts advise the government on controversial issues and everyone else get on with it.” And every expert who has looked at all the evidence has refused to endorse the call for helmet laws. The only people who do call for them are those with a very narrow viewpoint who refuse to look at the wider picture.

Richard

I’m not promoting cycle helmets, but I am here because I am strongly opposed to silly arguments. If having to wear a helmet puts people off cycling, that’s the problem that has to be dealt with. Full stop.

I think we should agree to disagree.

Richard Burton – the US CDC has recently published a study on motorcycle helmet use and claims that 79% of deaths in states without compulsory motorcycle helmet laws were riders without helmets, compared with 12% in those with laws. Overall, 42% of all US motorcycling fatalities involved those without a helmet. Link and citations at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6123a1.htm

Richard (just plain Richard) – as far as I can tell motorists do not exclusively fund roads through vehicle excise and fuel duties. I couldn’t find any references to motorists exclusively paying for roads, nor how you arrived at your cycling fee proposals or why cyclists should pay a road tax when cars don’t. Road tax it was abolished in 1937 and motorists now pay vehicle excise duty, which isn’t the same as funding is now through general taxation. In London, for example, TfL and councils maintain most roads, funded from my travelcard and taxes, amongst other income (congestion charge included, but again that is not paid by all motorists).

If it is a principle of opposing perceived ‘carriageway freeloaders’ than a more lucrative source may be overseas lorries that run heavily on our roads but don’t pay the same vehicle excise duties as native HGVs.

Incidentally, Richard (Burton), I am equally opposed to those who use silly arguments to promote the wearing of helmets. Sometimes I think I should set up a pressure group against pressure groups. 🙂

Thanks for the information, Jonathan. You point out that overseas lorries could be a source of additional funding. Perhaps some of the money used to fund projects to keep motorists and cyclists separate. Quite apart from the safety benefits it might help cut down bickering between them.

I’d like to point out that some motorists are paying little or nothing in VED, thanks to measures to encourage us to purchase more economical cars.

Richard Burton says:
14 August 2012

@ wavechange

“I’m not promoting cycle helmets, but I am here because I am strongly opposed to silly arguments. If having to wear a helmet puts people off cycling, that’s the problem that has to be dealt with. Full stop.”

Please explain why you consider what is a clearly demonstrated phenomenon, and the only proven effect of helmet laws, is a “silly argument”? I’d really like to know.

I’d also really like to see your data to support your claims of motorcycle and seat belt effectiveness.

Richard Burton says:
14 August 2012

@ Jonathon Richardson

Thanks for the link, it does indeed reach the conclusions you say it does, but I would be very careful of accepting it at face value, especially when one of the papers they refer to includes one from the biggest liars about cycle helmets, Rivara.

There is also some research which looks at pretty much the same evidence and comes to rather different conclusions. I well remember a similar claim made about an area of Italy, which introduced a motorcycle helmet law, and it was proclaimed a success when deaths to motorcyclists fell by about 30%. It wasn’t until you got to the appendices that it was revealed that motorcycle registrations had fallen by over 40% and risk per motorcyclist had gone up, not down.

Also take a look at http://www.bikersrights.com/statistics/goldstein/goldstein.html

The figures for motorcycle helmet effectiveness in preventing death appear unlikely, given the relatively high speed of motorcycle collisions, the likelihood of other mortal injuries, and that even a motorcycle helmet doesn’t prevent catastrophic brain injury over about 16mph.

Like most people, I used to believe all the stuff told to us gullible public about safety, until I started researching cycle helmets, and found out that most of what we were told was assumption, or bad science done by biased researchers. Now I’m much more sceptical of such claims.

The BBC had a R4 programme last year, called something like “Where did it all go right” and one episode featured seat belts, which they claimed had been fantastically beneficial. To support this, they rolled in Barbara Castle, the Minister who introduced the law, and some academic that I’ve never heard of, but they didn’t produce any data to support that view. They very briefly interviewed John Adams who said that seat belts hadn’t saved any lives, and told them why, but his views were dismissed with barely concealed ridicule.

Risk and human reaction to it is a very complex subject, and simple things like putting helmets on people is unlikely to prove effective, and in the case of cycle helmets, would be completely counterproductive. I can really recommend “Risk” by John Adams.

As John Ward suggests below, it might be a case of education to deal with the problem that a requirement to wear helmets discourages cycling.

As I have said above, I think we need to take expert advice over matters such as cycle helmets, motorcycle helmets and seat belts. I would start by seeking the opinions of those involved with dealing with injuries and post mortems. The situation with seat belts might be different now that cars have airbags. If we can segregate cyclists and motorists in cities, that could make a major difference to the safety of cycling.

My mind is not made up. Can you say the same, Richard?

Richard Burton says:
14 August 2012

@ wavechange

“As John Ward suggests below, it might be a case of education to deal with the problem that a requirement to wear helmets discourages cycling.

As I have said above, I think we need to take expert advice over matters such as cycle helmets, motorcycle helmets and seat belts. I would start by seeking the opinions of those involved with dealing with injuries and post mortems. The situation with seat belts might be different now that cars have airbags. If we can segregate cyclists and motorists in cities, that could make a major difference to the safety of cycling.

My mind is not made up. Can you say the same, Richard?”

I can’t help thinking that quoting someone quite as misinformed as Mr Ward is really quite as conclusive as you think. He says a lot, but produces no data to support what are just his opinions.

Why do you think that the only experts consulted should be those who see the unrepresentative and incredibly rare instances of death and serious injury? Their viewpoint is coloured by their experiences and they likely to make invalid assumptions about the effectiveness of helmets, as they are not mechanical engineers and are unlikely to know much about the causes of collisions. It would be far better to get epidemiologists to examine the evidence and decide whether a course of action works at a population level.

My mind is made up, but I’ve looked at all the publicly available evidence, so my opinion is based on as much factual evidence as I’ve been able to find. If evidence is presented which conclusively proves that cycle helmets are effective, I will change my mind. The chances of that happening appear to be somewhat unlikely when more than twenty years real world experience from countries with helmet laws haven’t been able to prove it, and all research which has looked at all the evidence has been unable to show it either. In any other case, the data would be accepted and there would be no further argument, but with cycle helmets, there are so many people convinced by 25 years of propaganda that they are effective, that they keep arguing, when all they have is anecdote, opinion and assumption.

I’d still like to see your statistics about motorcycle helmets and seat belts.

@ Richard Burton. Well said.

Richard Burton

Wearing seatbelts and motorcycle crash helmets is required by law, so I’m not going to question this. As I have said, there may be a case to review use of seatbelts now that cars are fitted with airbags, but I suspect that seatbelts protect front seat passengers from the airbags!

I’m a scientist and know that statistics are frequently misused, for example by disregarding relevant facts. Let the experts decide on important issues. Hopefully they are aware of the limitations in their understanding, unlike members of the public who are often very vocal but often poorly informed.

Richard Burton says:
14 August 2012

@ wavechange

“I’m a scientist and know that statistics are frequently misused, for example by disregarding relevant facts. Let the experts decide on important issues. Hopefully they are aware of the limitations in their understanding, unlike members of the public who are often very vocal but often poorly informed.”

I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand: what kind of scientist ignores the evidence, and believes clearly wrong and manipulated statistics?

I’m also happy to let the experts decide on important issues, but I’d like to use experts who actually understand the whole problem, not those who see a tiny fraction of it. Would you be happy to have epidemiologists examine the evidence about cycle helmets and provide recommendations? Or just the experts who support your preconceived position?

I can only assume that your last phrase was self-irony of the most profound kind.

Still waiting with bated breath for your stats on seat belts and motorcycle helmets.

I’m sorry if you don’t understand and I believe that further discussion would be worthless. That is a good reason to discontinue our dialogue – so no more comments directed at me, please.

To put my last point in perspective, I am happy to admit that I am not an expert. You have not given me any indication that you have any specialist knowledge either. However, I am open-minded on whether cycle helmets should be compulsory, providing the decision is made by experts who have the experience that most of us lack.

Stephen Taylor says:
10 August 2012

Those who propose making helmets compulsory when cycling need to answer this question: May one remove the helmet after getting off the bike, and if so, why?

Answers need to take in to account the statistics that show more head injuries are suffered when walking or in a motor vehicle.

Then why leave your house at all? as statistics show more people are killed outside of their house than within it.

I don’t know the ratio of those who die in bed to those who don’t, but very few people die in or are injured in wardrobes, so we could all live in one, ,and be comfortable safe.

I’m not sure about the wardrobe, m. Don’t you remember the accident statistics published about ten years ago? They identified trousers and socks as frequent causes of accidents. From memory, they were not in the same league as tea cosy-related injuries.

Great things statistics, especially when used selectively by pressure groups.

Wavechange.
And the wire coat hangers, the eye piercing, palm puncturing demon spawn of, baling wire and knitting needle.
Those are deadly and they live in wardrobes too….I am now scaring myself.l

m.

Well, I used to have a dual-beam oscilloscope in a wardrobe, but never any baling wire. 🙂

I’m keen that we should do more to encourage certain colleagues to question statistics that they report on Which? Conversation. You have a more inventive mind than me.

Mr R A Matthews says:
10 August 2012

Surely we had all this sort of objections when seat belts were first brought in, how many motorists are alive to day due to that law being brought in. As a cyclelist having had a bad accident going to work in the early 60’s with no helmit. It was pitch dark and a black cat decided to run across the road and threw me off my cycle. I was brought around in hospital having been conveyed there by ambulance, My injuries were a badly cut head requiring stitches and was very badly cuncused. The fact it was in the early sixties that I can now write this comment, If it was yesterday or today with the traffic we now have on the road I would have been surely run over due to my concussion and I am sure the helmets you can purchase to day would have prevented that possibility. Also even today if you have an accident with out a helmet you will possibly, receive less award against any one, due to the fact you would have contributed to your injuries for that very reason. As for yougsters flouting the law I should think that is quite easy, what we must all understand young & old it is a privelidge to ride and drive on the Queens highway, not a right and their cycles should be withdrawn form their ownership until they understand that privilidge. There is another big reason for helmetts the national health service requires all the assistance we can provide and I am sure that helmetts will keep injury’s to a minimum

Steve says:
11 August 2012

I can go one better than a Ninja cat throwing you off your bike – some 30 years ago I had a deer stick its antlers in my front wheel, sending me over the handlebars. The bike then sailed over my head, something giving me a slight cut on the side of the head. I had to wrestle the bike back from the deer, his antlers still entangled in the spokes.

I lost a chunk of flesh out of my elbow, which had to be “darned” by a doctor, who said he could see into the joint.

If I had been wearing elbow protection I would have been saved injury. I didn’t knock my head so didn’t need a helmet. So based on my experience it’s elbow pads not helmets we need…

Commenting on Stephen Taylor’s remarks above, a large percentage of the head injuries sustained in motor vehicles are because the head restraints have not been adjusted correctly as required by law. This is almost impossible to enforce, and therefore isn’t, so there is a huge cost in medical treatment and insurance claims. I am not personally in favour of a new law to compel the wearing of cycle helmets but if – in response to EU legislation – it comes into place [for <13's let's not forget] then at least it would be easy to enforce and would, ultimately, be self-enforcing so the demands on our traffic police would not be greatly extended – indeed, even PCSO's and parking enforcers could do it.

The financial impact of cyclists' head injuries is not transferred to the cycling community in the same way that motor vehicle injury compensation is transferred to car-owners through insurance premiums. I share a lot of the views richard has put forward above [14:08:12] and wholeheartedly agree with m.'s contributions.

I wonder how some of the contributors to this column who are vehemently antipathetic to any form of head protection would react if their parents or spouse/partner or children requested them to wear a safety helmet.

I haven't yet seen any arguments to suggest that wearing a helmet increases the actual risk of riding a bicycle. I acknowledge the argument that the universal wearing of helmets at all times on all roads might be conducive to a "risk compensation" psychology among vehicle drivers. This is probably the issue that really should be addressed and, as wavechange has said, the tendency for cycling popularity to wane as a consequence of compulsory safety helmets would repay greater examination and corrective education.

It seems to me that the there are two things the cyclists-against-helmet-law are afraid of: [1] a possible reduction in the popularity and uptake of cycling [for which health benefits are an unconvincing explanation under existing environmental conditions], and [2] that a law introduced to protect the young and more vulnerable [who are also less able to make risk-based judgments on when and where to wear additional protection] might over time be extended to encompass the entire population at all time, on all permitted roads and cycle paths, and in all conditions. I do think most sensible cyclists are capable of mature and experienced judgments and the evidence for that is visible on our highways every day so a general law is not required. Those who cycle on footways, use no lights at night, ride dangerously, and have no regard for their personal safety and that of other road users nor for the thoughts of their families and friends, are in a different category and can be dealt with either by existing legislation or through the condemnation or despicion of the rest of us.

Mantequilla says:
14 August 2012

John, it’s about personal choice. No law should be blindly invoked solely on the instruction of the euro-politicians as it is undemocratic.

If you take the smoking ban as an example (and ignore the “saving lives” part for a minute), here in England we invoked a blanket ban and everywhere is now non-smoking. However, in Germany, they sent their top lawyers into action and discovered that you can indeed have smoking rooms and also smoking pubs without contravening European law. They are given a choice.

The issue here is the British government’s seemingly endless subservience to European initiatives without carrying out due-diligence. In Britain it seems as if the mantra is “it COULD save lives so we’ll make it law”, eroding more civil liberties as they go.

A democratic plebiscite and Parliament have taken us into the EU and we might one day have a chance to reverse it. Until then I suspect we have no choice but to adopt and incorporate the EU’s laws – a large number of which have been promoted by the UK – indeed, our own government has frequently sought to ratchet others up a notch or two [with Which? support in many cases]. Like members of any club, we’re not in a position to pick and choose the rules we can obey or disobey.

I was not aware that the smoking in pubs ban came from the EU but, anyway, our own Parliament had a choice of how to implement it and – after extensive consultation – chose the present arrangement. A different Parliament could change it again and would no doubt do so if the government thought there were any votes to be gained thereby.

Getting back to mandatory safety helmets for young cyclists . . . If we do indeed implement the proposal I would put money on no UK political party standing out against such a change in the first place or seeking to revoke it subsequently [well, UKIP might I suppose – bet cancelled!].

Anyone who does not adjust the headrest of a car is negligent. One some cars, headrests are quite difficult to adjust, and I find it embarrassing to do this I am a passenger with anyone I do not know well. I should not be so stupid and just get on with it, but a bit of publicity about the benefit of correctly adjusted headrests would make it easier.

It is interesting how we differ in the risks we take and how a near miss can change our outlook. When I was a teenager I ordered a new front brake from the bike shop but decided to take the risk and go for a ride on a warm day despite only having a back brake. Over 45 years later I still have a scar near my elbow thanks to a long hill, a bend, some gravel and the back brake failing. Ever since then I have been very careful about keeping bikes, motorcycles and cars in a safe condition.

Sorry to be off topic.

Tim Beadle says:
14 August 2012

“I haven’t yet seen any arguments to suggest that wearing a helmet increases the actual risk of riding a bicycle.”

* Ian Walker’s overtaking study? http://www.drianwalker.com/overtaking/
* Risk compensation? http://cyclehelmets.org/1180.html
* “Choose the yum and risk the yuk?” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8019357.stm

Risk’s a funny business, as is the Law of Unintended Consequences.

That there are people who are suggesting that cyclists should be “educated” to keep cycling with a lid on should a law be introduced is hilarious, were it not for the fact that these people are serious.

NOT EVERY PERSON ON A BIKE IS THE SAME, OR HAS THE SAME LEVEL OF RISK AVERSION. Some will carry on cycling, some will think “stuff this for a lark, I’ll go by some other form of transport instead”, possibly by car, leading to greater road danger for everyone else.

People keep asking for the “experts’ views”. They’ve already spoken. In the words of Dr. Ian Walker (referenced above): “I do not know whether or not bicycle helmets save lives. And, critically, nor does anybody else.”

There is not the level of evidence that a major medical intervention, which is what helmets are, requires.

Mantequilla says:
14 August 2012

John,

There are many elements of the EU which are beneficial. If you want to come and work in Spain, you can, without having to get a Visa.

I think you see my point though, the UK government chose to implement their interpretation of the law, that being a blanket ban and no choice for the UK consumer. In Germany they simply gave their population a choice, something that the UK government will never do.

That is the point, there should be no law forcing kids to wear cycle helmets, if parents want to protect their children, why should the state have to do it?

Parents need to take responsibility for their children, otherwise it wouldn’t even be considered. In Europe, personal responsibility is a mantra for many nations and you can see it in the way they don’t cow-toe to the US blame culture or EU dictatorate.

Leopold

John Ward, In response to your comment that you haven’t yet seen any arguments to suggest that wearing a helmet increases the actual risk of riding a bicycle then read is suggest you Google Dr Ian Walkers controlled study on overtaking which showed that drivers overtaking cyclists allow less space to helmeted cyclists than non helmeted cyclists.

Yours comments appear to indicate that you object to the tax payer cross subsidising the risk of head injuries in cyclists. The BMA has stated that the health benefits of cycling greatly outweigh the risk and consequently put less strain on NHS resources than non-cyclists. I assume you are also against the cross subsidisation of smokers suffering from cancer?

Two more conditions I want imposed on cyclists.

7 – All cyclists to have 3rd party Insurance – why should I – as a motorist or motorcyclist – have to have insurance but cyclists not – even though motorists have to pay for their share of accidents.

8 – All cycles to have and display a license plate like motorcyclists – so they can be identified by CCTV. If this had been the case recently – The idiot cyclist in the case reported earlier would have been identified rapidly. And it would allow CCTV to identify all those moronic cycling idiots who transgress traffic laws daily and are a danger to the rest of the driving public.

There are a number of reasons why cyclists do not need to have either 3rd party insurance or carry a license plate:

Regardless of the anecdotes quoted, a vehicle of approximately 12 kg propelled by the power of its owner does not present the same scale of risk as one weighing a ton and powered by an internal combustion engine.
I don’t like quoting anecdotal evidence but since it appears to be the order of the day I’ll make the following observation on the above assertion: I cycle with a helmetcam. It’s a double edged sword because although it records driving infringements against you, it also records you own misdemeanour’s so I can assure you that I don’t jump lights or cycle on pavements and have sufficient video evidence to prove it. This also means that my close encounters with pedestrians happen when they step into my path when crossing the road without looking. I have once actually been knocked off my bike by a pedestrian dodging though traffic. Something not as uncommon as you may think because I witnessed a motorcyclist being knocked off his bike at London bridge station by two pedestrians also dodging through traffic.

Incidents like these are under reported in the DfT data because the Stats 19 forms are designed to record accidents caused by vehicles not pedestrians but they happen nonetheless. So, following you argument to its logical conclusion, pedestrians also present a risk so I presume that it should also be compulsory for them to have 3rd party insurance and carry a licence plate around their necks?

At the risk of repeating myself I have cut and pasted a comment I made on 3rd party insurance on another thread:
Insurance companies insure risk. They have already looked at the feasibly of 3rd party cycle insurance and concluded that the the risk is too low and the administrative cost of the policy would exceed the cost of the insurance. The risk is so low that if you ask, many insurance companies will add it to your household insurance at no additional cost. In fact you may find that you may have 3rd party cycle insurance even if you don’t own a bike as it is already included in some household policies. Using the administration an existing policy is the only cost effective way they can provide it.

The only thing that compulsory 3rd party insurance and license plates for cyclists would do would be to reduce the number of cyclists on the road, but then perhaps that’s your objective.

You might feel different about registration numbers if you had been victim of a hit and run cyclist as I have, skeptictank. I am not wanting to reduce the number of cyclists on the road, only on the pavement. In fact, I promote cycling on my website and would like to see investment in making cycling safer.

A cycle may weigh 12kg but the mass of the cycle plus rider is much more!

That doesn’t change may argument. If want for cyclists to carry a registration plate then it is a logical conclusion that pedestrians should as well since they also present a risk.

I’m not here to defend cyclists who behave like louts, but when countries like Holland and Denmark can demonstrate strategies that increase the number of cyclists on the road with better safety, I can can conclude with certainty that reg plates for cyclists is not the way to go.

What on earth do cyclists have to hide? Why do they insist or remaining anonymous and untouchable? Curious.

The reason pedestrians don’t need license plates is that you can catch and stop a pedestrian.

AndrewRH says:
22 August 2012

Every Boris Bike has a registration number printed on it. Used it? After a million+ rentals how many people reported incidents? Two. Just two. And the registration number was not stated.

In view of the comments made above by several correspondents it would seem that it is not advisable for youngsters to wear a protective helmet in traffic conditions because other drivers will pass too close. I can understand the rationale but am left wondering why we are not, therefore, pouring our energy into dealing with that facet of poor driving. Such drivers can be witnessed and apprehended – but never are of course. I further deduce that where there is no passing traffic it remains a good idea for young cyclists to wear a helmet in case they fall off and hit their head on the road or run into a lamp-post or something. Presumably if they fell off or were knocked over or hit something on a busy road their parents would at least be thankful they had read the relevant studies on the subject [cited above] and told their child to take their helmet off in such conditions.

The critical mass protest movement in cycling began in Holland in the 1970’s by Dutch parents who saw that roads were increasingly becoming death traps for their children. The Dutch government to their credit listened and made the politically courageous move of building a safe infrastructure for cyclists rather than trying to armour plate the child. The success of the cycling culture in Holland wasn’t planned, its the serendipitous consequence of trying to make the environment safe for children. It’s a sad indictment of the selfish powerful vested interests on British roads that we can’t achieve the same for our own offspring here, or find enough politicians with the political will to try. Much easier for us to stop them cycling and invest in obesity and heart disease by watching TV or playing video games. After all that’s safer isn’t it?

Like adults, there is no evidence in the efficacy for cycling helmets in children. And even if there was, it only protects them against one type of risk. Not all cycling KSI’s involve head injuries.

There are also the unintended consequences to consider. Sweden for example implemented helmet laws for children and without any evidence that they had made any inroads into head injuries, found they had created a second problem. A number of children were hung or had their necks broken by the helmet straps getting snagged on things like playground furniture. When questioned on the efficacy of the law, one official in an unusual bout of honesty replied “we know how many we have killed but we don’t know how many we have saved”.

Richard Burton posted this comment in one of his replies.

‘The arguments for opposing a cycle helmet law do not mirror those of seat belts and motorcycle helmets, as neither driving nor motorcycling are health promoting, life increasing activities, rather the opposite in fact.’

This mantra is at the heart of all cyclists campaigns, and why they feel they have a right to flout the law, and put forth some of the ridiculous arguments posted here.

For those who deny that seat belts, motor cycle helmets and the smoking ban does not save lives, There are non as blind as those who will not see, you ask me for evidence of this, the fact that you need to ask indicates that your level of bias is such that rational discourse is not part of your agenda.

A breath of welcome fresh air from Skeptictank, who has hit the proverbial nail on the head.
If all cyclists [yes I do occasionally ride my bike and wear a helmet whist doing so] started demanding what we need, an alternative cycle network. We have enough disused rail lines [thank you Dr. Beeching] canal tow paths [controversy here] green paths, spaces and tracks to develop pretty good ‘get around’ networks in our major cities, which would remove most of the motor vehicle / cycle contact.

Eg:- London streets were designed for horses not cars, but we adapted to cars, there is no reason why with some hard work, imagination and tenacity, we cannot adapt properly to cycles.
Maybe this is where we should concentrate our energies, instead of fruitless arguments about helmets.
In reality, my cynicism tells me that helmets will be foisted upon us by the Government if it puts cash in some cronies pocket, regardless of any arguments. If no profit is there then it will not happen.

With regard to canals, the new Canal & River Trust has dropped the requirement for cycle permits outside London and most of their towpaths are available for cycling. It is now made clear that pedestrians take priority, so any cyclists who think that pedestrians should jump out of their way if they give ‘two tings’ need to learn a little consideration.

That’s good news wavechange. I like walking along canal towpaths and country paths but dislike the antics of bike riders who go too fast, ride two-abreast where there isn’t really space, and go directly through the puddles so [a] they splash everyone else, and [b] carve a rut in the underlying depression so that a bigger puddle occurs. If I see cyclists on a towpath I am tempted to keep well into the bank but then walk erratically to close the gap between me and the water. The country paths near us are more richly bordered by stinging nettles this year offering additional opportunities to induce speed reduction.

One glance at cyclists on towpaths and you can usually tell whether they are the responsible ones or the idiots who tear along ringing their bells furiously and bunny-hop over anglers’ roach poles. I enjoy chatting with the former and hope that the latter end up going for an unexpected swim. 🙂

I’m a towpath walker too, John, but not in fit condition to ride a bike. Many of our towpaths do have potholes and ruts. If anyone would like to help improve towpaths, CRT is looking for volunteers to work on their canals.

AndrewRH says:
22 August 2012

Yesterday, an insurance company started promoting the need for compulsory testing and exam before anyone allowed to ride their bicycle. Education is good, but requiring a defacto licence will cost excessive amounts of money to administer (just think the startup costs alone, banning the millions of children from cycling now until their parents get them passed through a course, and themselves too).
The company has already had much feedback on how their proposal would only reduce the number of people using bicycles – see twitter hash tag #ShareTheRoadUK

Peter Moss says:
14 October 2012

No.

I’m a cyclist, doing around 3000km per year. I choose to wear a helmet when a ride includes steep off-road sections or during icy conditions on the roads. The majority of the time I don’t.

Helmets are a secondary safety measure. Much more important are the primary safety measures like brakes, correct road-craft and the behaviour of other road users; improving all these will have more of an impact on safety.

Paul Kirk says:
23 October 2012

as someone who recently suffered head injuries whilst helmetless i was surprised that it appears that the majoroty of helmet designs would probably not have prevented my injuries. A lot of injuries are sustained to chins, jaws, noses and faces by tha bsence of protection. It strikes me that helmet design has more to do with style and fashion than protection and the same could be said of clothing where fashion items predominate at the expense of sensible items including High visibility clothing. The questionable reliance on the safety of helmets is borne out to by some of the correspondence here that indicates that low speed protection is the best skull/brain protection one is likely to obtain and highlights the real danger of the ignorance of the protection provided.

Lancelot sanderson says:
14 May 2016

I am absolutely sure ALL cyclists, with any wisdom, do/should wear helmets, particularly those probably young enough to warrant using any pavements.
Perhaps any law is too demanding, and anyone above two wheels are likely to know, ie beware of any ‘Tin box’ upon tarmac.

When are you going to update your 2012 on best buys for cycling helmets?