/ Motoring

Your say: for and against compulsory cycle helmets

Olympic gold medallist Bradley Wiggins has come out in favour of compulsory cycle helmets. It’s a debate we touched on last month, so here’s a look at the arguments you made.

The recent death of a cyclist in a collision with a bus near the Olympic Park led to Tour de France winner and Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins calling for better laws to protect cyclists.

Wiggins said there may need to be legal intervention against cyclists using iPods and phones, with helmets also singled out. He’s since stepped back from this position, explaining that he hadn’t ‘called for helmets to be made law’. Whatever the case, the question of compulsory helmets is in the news again.

We debated the issue last month, and with more than 200 comments, it’s one of our most popular Convos. The poll came out strongly against the idea, with 63% of 1,175 voters saying ‘cyclists shouldn’t be legally required to wear helmets’. What were the arguments against them?

Your comments against compulsory cycle helmets

Peter Clinch argued that mandating helmets would be an own-goal:

‘When you look at the actual track record of making them compulsory (New Zealand, Australia for example) the rates of head injury have not changed but cycling levels have been reduced. And since cycling is a health benefit, mandating helmets actually makes for a public health own-goal. Cycling saves lives (through general fitness and well-being improvements). Cycle helmets, judging by their actual track record across whole populations, don’t.’

Zandranna said the cost/benefit ratio of compulsory helmets didn’t add up:

‘The money wasted to police a mandatory bicycle helmet wearing would far out weigh the cost (emergency service wise) of the rare cyclist whose life might be lost because he/she didn’t wear a helmet.’

Cycling instructor Charlie Holland said we need to be cautious:

‘A legal requirement to wear a helmet will deter children from cycling (and their parents from daring to let them take up such a “risky” activity) to the detriment of their health and fitness and to the cost of the UK in obesity, diabetes and other debilitating long-term illnesses, not to mention pollution and congestion.’

And Tim Beadle added that compulsory helmets could damage the popularity of cycling:

‘“Should cyclists be legally required to wear helmets?” Only if you wish to finally put a nail in cycling’s coffin in the UK. It’s been bumbling along in its death throes for 40-odd years, having never quite died out. Now it’s enjoying something of resurgence. Want more cycling? Focus on cycling’s intrinsic safety as an activity, and campaign for infrastructure that allows people of all ages and genders to ride without having to share with HGVs, buses and cars.’

Biggles concluded with this:

‘Is the risk of head injury when cycling much greater than that of normal day-to-day activity? If not, then why not propose that wearing a helmet all the time is a good idea for everyone?’

Your comments in favour of compulsory helmets

And now to the ‘for’ camp. Rich Boese argued that cyclists needed to be nannied:

‘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 wear a helmet.’

Joe argues that wearing a helmet is common sense:

‘Personally, I can’t see an argument for not wearing a helmet, it wouldn’t harm to make it law, but to be honest, it’s common sense. After all, helmets are not expensive, and if it was law, I’m sure something could be done to make helmets more affordable. If a helmet improves my chances of survival by even 0.5% then that’s good enough for me.’

Ambrose thinks now is the time to invest in a helmet:

‘Helmets save lives and prevent catastrophic injury because they protect the brain from trauma. We live in a renaissance of materials, manufacturing and design. Cycling helmets have never been so varied and stylish and sorted. Yes, they must be worn correctly. Same with trousers.’

Judith Smith felt very strongly about the matter:

‘Some vocal cyclists are paranoid about this matter – as they fear that mandatory helmets will discourage people from cycling and hence reduce the interest in their hobby. However they refuse to answer the simple question: if you were to be involved in a cycle accident, is a cycle helmet likely to do more good than harm?’

Cathy Moore, who’s worked in children’s intensive care units, extolled the virtues of helmets:

‘I have seen many children die who could have survived with a helmet as protection, and survival in those wearing them. However, head injury is often not about dying but the quality of recovery and that is less measurable but has a huge impact on the families. There will be a few worse outcomes because of helmets but they are far outweighed by the reduction in permanent brain injury and its consequences.’

So, which side do you come out on? Do you think cycle helmets should be compulsory, or should the choice be left to the individual cyclist?

Geoff Rone says:
3 August 2012

Wiggins actually retracted the statement – he was actually filmed riding without a helmet the same day!

What he was trying to say was that cyclists need to do all they can to stop motorists having the excuse that cyclists are all to blame.


Hello Geoff and Tim below – Yes, I referred to his retraction in the copy above: ‘He’s since stepped back from this position, explaining that he hadn’t ‘called for helmets to be made law’.’

I still thought it was worth featuring some of your comments! Thanks

Tim Beadle says:
3 August 2012

Wiggins then went on to state that he wasn’t calling for compulsory helmets…

Q. Should I wear a helmet?
A. It depends.

Q. Should helmets be mandatory?
A. No.

RON says:
3 August 2012

Nanny State , You break the law if you do not wear a helmet when cycling ? I think not .
When you carve the sunday roast you must wear a chain male glove, When you drive your car you must wear a F1 style safety helmet , When you cross the road you must carry a warning triangel , and so on .
Lets stop this nanny state tosh Now .T he majority of people know when they need to take care and use safety equipment , they do not need confining laws to do so.

David L says:
3 August 2012

I am in principle in favour of helmets although when I started cycling about the age of seven they were unknown. However, what I am more concerned about is the comparatively large number of cyclists who ignore basic traffic rules like red lights, weave all over the place, use pavements, no lights. I am surprised that there are not more accidents. I also think it should be compulsory for cyclists to have insurance.

MartynA says:
6 August 2012

I would also add the frustration of cyclist on main roads when there is a perfectly good cycle path next to them. They can then have no surprise that passing motorists treat them with little care or respect.

Christine Jones says:
6 August 2012

In response to: “I would also add the frustration of cyclist on main roads when there is a perfectly good cycle path next to them. They can then have no surprise that passing motorists treat them with little care or respect. ”

There is never any excuse to treat cyclists with little care and respect. Just because there is a cycle path next to a road, unless you’ve actually used it on a bike how can you say it’s perfectly good? many cycle paths end abruptly, are poorly surfaced, meaning you need to pedal twice as hard to get anywhere, leave you in the middle of a dangerous junction or force you to walk sections. I know of many places where I prefer to take my chances on the road rather than weave round overgrown branches – I am a vehicle and can and will use a road on a bike and follow the rules of the road. If you, like all drivers are in charge of what is if you look at it from a safety point of view, a deadly weapon then to say you think cyclists are asking for it for using the roads that is no different to saying women are asking for it if they wear a pretty dress and get raped.
The reason Holland, Denmark and Germany have laws that put the driver of the car at fault whatever the situation is because if you hit a cyclist at 30mph you will most likely kill them, helmet or not. If I hit your car with my enormous 28 inch wheel Dutch mummy machine, you would be at best a bit irritated and have to get a few dinks in your car sorted.
Over the years in the UK, I’ve been car doored, slapped on the bum, knocked off by a driver turning right (this resulted in concussion and broken bones), knocked off several times by vehicles including a cement mixer turning left over taking me – on these occasions, I dove off my bike onto the pavement and both me and the bike were fine. 10 years in Holland cycling every day, the only collision I ever had was with another cyclist. I love cycling and do it as much as I can. Every day an increasing number of people in the UK choose to ride a bike, we pay tax and we should have the right to use the highways and be protected by proper provisions like separate roads (that actually go somewhere), traffic lights and lanes (that don’t end abruptly when you most need them) as well as laws to protect us from drivers who think that to drive is a god given right.


If you want to push for segregation of cyclists and drivers you might need to persuade fellow cyclists to stop saying how safe cycling in the UK is. Rather than widening roads for people that drive 20,000 miles a year we should be spending money on cyclists and pedestrians.