/ 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?

Zandranna says:
14 August 2012

The plain fact is, that we can’t afford a mandatory helmet law.

1) It’s costing this country millions in terms of obesity and lack of good healthy exercise. Helmets = Less people cycling

2) To police the act would also cost millions.

3) Wasted time – The act would then be tried and tested over several years while creating segregated cycling would be put on the back burner while they get all the stats together.

4) Our cities and towns need cleaning up “NOW” of the foul air we breath that is causing 29 thousand early lung disease deaths. More cycling = less motorised vehicles on the road.

5) Hundreds if not thousands of lives save with segregated cycling – a small handful saved with a helmet law.

For goodness sake. Cycling isn’t the only way of getting good healthy exercise.

Cycling isn’t the only way of getting healthy exercise but bear the following point in mind: Humans are no different to other animals in we evolved to exist in a world where we competed for scarce resources. We no longer live in the type of environment for which we are evolved but conserving energy is nonetheless powerfully built into our nature, and performing any activity that has no utility purpose requires a force of will. This is evidenced by the fact that fewer than 5% of people who embark on exercise regimes manage to sustain the regime.

I have never regarded cycling as a form of exercise & by exercise I mean an activity performed to compensate for a sedentary lifestyle. To me cycling is a form of transport, its a lifestyle activity with utility value that happens to provide health benefits and be enjoyable enough to use for leisure as well.

Richard F says:
16 August 2012

I do wear a cycle helmet when I ride a bike – I always thought it would be protective only if I fell off, but little use otherwise. When I used to go to work 20 miles away using train and bike I was one evening knocked off by a car turning right across my path – a pure accident. Most of the impact was taken by my shoulder blade being smashed; but some time after surgery I realised that another part of the offending car had damaged the helmet, which I replaced. So I’m quite convinced of the virtues of a Which? Best Buy helmet.

Steve Augustin says:
16 August 2012

I’m for safety but also reason. What do the statistics say. I read somewhere or perhaps heard it on a podcast that wearing a helmet made the wearer feel safer and therefore lead to a false sense of security resulting in them taking more risks which then lead to more accidents. Not wearing a helmet meant that riders felt more vulnerable and took less risks resulting in a lower level of accidents. Can anyone confirm this or what study it was ?

Christine Jones says:
16 August 2012


This might be what you are looking for. Worth reading.

I’ve heard this too, Steve. It’s fair enough to take risks off-road, but with cars and heavier vehicles on the road, it does not make much sense to take a lot of risk.

Drinking alcohol makes many people feel more confident about their driving.but if they have any sense they will recognise that this is a false sense of security.

We can probably discount the idea that wearing a helmet is, on average, likely to make injuries worse.

Christine Jones says:
16 August 2012

Having just spent three days having a mini holiday in Central London, taking bikes and cycling round the routes that 7 years ago were regular daily commutes I have seen some big differences in 7 years. There are alot more cyclists; mainly on trendy fixies (fixed wheel) with white tyres. Hybrids are yesterday’s news. Cyclists everywhere! there are the Boris bikes, and Bromptons (my choice too) of course but alot more of all types and ages. It is an uncomfortable tustle between the buses, taxis, white vans and alot more large lorries than I remember. Also the speeds were higher than I remember, drivers really putting their foot down between each set of lights, a few white van drivers that really wouldn’t care if they left you for dead.
The biggest thing that would make a difference would be to bring the law into line with Holland, Germany and Denmark in that if a driver hits a bike they are automatically at fault. The result is that drivers are more mindful of hitting a bike or pedestrian. If a driver faced a driving ban for hitting a cyclist instead of a slap on the wrist for killing someone’s mum they might think twice.
A helmet is useful but if you are hit by a double decker bus, there’s only so much you can expect a helmet to do. I don’t agree with making them law.
Changing the law to protect cyclists should be a cheap and easy step one but ultimately I found sharing the road with cement mixers and double deckers pretty harrowing, there must be a way to segregate cyclists on the major roads, there is plenty of road they really just need to get the Dutch in to design something for them – they manage it with far less space, especially in medieval cities like Utrecht.
Oh and whoever is responsible for the surfaces should be really ashamed of themselves, the road surface in places was shocking, the potholes were more like craters.
I think the first step would be to change the law – a vehicle is a deadly weapon and whoever is at fault, ultimately the one with the vehicle is the winner because they are still alive, making drivers more aware of this this will protect cyclist far more than a helmet.

We could have done quite a lot to deal with these issues if we had spent half the amount on the Olympics.