Should Cycle Helmets be Mandatory?

A comment I’ve seen recently is that Helmets should become a legal requirements for cycles just like it currently is for Motorised bikes in the UK. This would be using the polystyrene type of cycle helmets rather than the full protection offered by motorcycle full face crash helmets. In fact one of the questions asked is whether cycle helmets should be mandatory even if not cycling on a road.

This is a point hotly contested by many cycling groups, even though they are usually in favour of helmet use. Here is one comment from one such group: Bristol Cycling Campaign – Helmets.

Many other groups put across a number of points against making helmets mandatory.

The main arguments are:
That a 2 inch layer of polystyrene is does not offer adequate protection
for most cycling accidents. It has definite benefits for children,
particularly when traveling at less than 13mph, but when involved in
accidents with vehicles traveling above those speeds, the protection
offered is greatly reduced.

That making helmets mandatory would significantly reduce the number of
cyclists (as has happened in Australia). The health benefits of cycling
outweigh the risks of injury whether wearing a helmet or not.

The case of contributory negligence. A 9 year olds parents were accused of
contributory negligence when their child was hit by a car when not wearing
a cycle helmet, even with no law making it mandatory. Provident, the
insurance company that was taking the parents to court later backed down
in face of a public outcry. If they use that to try and worm their way out
of paying compensation, then they are likely to use similar means against
others, even if the accident was not the cyclists fault. See my earlier blog entry on: New Highway Code. Cyclists accused of contributory negligence even if you choose the safest route.

Additional concerns about how this would affect those that are not cycling
on public roads. The law could even apply if cycling in your own garden.

Cycling is safer where there are a higher number of cyclists and proper
facilities are in place. The Netherlands is one of the safest places to
cycle, despite having few wearing cycle helmets.

That the government is putting the emphasis on minimising injuries during
a crash, whereas they should be concentrating on preventing accidents in
the first place. As an example they should be creating safe cycle paths,
and not follow the current practice of sticking a cycle lane anywhere just
to meet government cycle path mileage guidelines. See: Cycle Facility of
the Month

RoSPA encourage the use of cycle helmets, but does not believe they should
be made mandatory:

See RoSPA Cycling Policy

RoSPA recommends that all cyclists wear a cycle helmet that meets a
recognised safety standard. Cycle helmets, when correctly worn, are
effective in reducing the risk of receiving major head or brain injuries
in an accident.

It is recognised that helmets do not guarantee protection for the wearer,
nor prevent accidents from happening in the first place. The most
effective ways of reducing cyclist accidents and casualties are to improve
the behaviour of drivers, improve the behaviour of cyclists and to provide
safer cycling environments. However, wearing a cycle helmet is a simple,
low cost and effective way that individual cyclists can protect themselves.

Surveys in 2000, showed that only 22% of cyclists on major built-up roads
wear helmets. Education and publicity measures to promote the use of cycle
helmets should continue.

RoSPA does not believe that it is practical to make the use of cycle
helmets mandatory because voluntary wearing rates are too low. Should
compulsory cycle helmet legislation be considered in the future, it should
be based on evidence that cycle helmets are effective in reducing cyclist
casualties, and on evidence that voluntary use is sufficiently high for
enforcement of the law to be practical. There may be stronger arguments
for limiting mandatory cycle helmet use to child (rather than all)
cyclists. As cycling provides health and environmental benefits, the
likely effect of such legislation on cycle use should also be assessed .

The following report is commissioned by the Department of Transport, who has already indicated that they want cycle helmets to be compulsory. It is however one of very few reports that actually consider both parts of the debate.
Cycle Helmets Review of Effectiveness.

Personally I believe that we should be encouraged to wear cycle helmets, and their should be more encouragement and subsidy, but I don’t think that they should be made mandatory. I do normally wear a cycle helmet (examples of places where I don’t include places with restricted traffic, such as when I visit Center Parcs) and when my daughter is old enough to ride a bike I will ensure that she wears one.

I do not think it should be mandatory, particularly for teenagers and adults for whom the risks are lower and where they are more likely to give up cycling rather than wear a helmet.