Stop the War Coalition
Stop the War Coalition

Stop the War Coalition

Cycling in Croydon
    



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Cycle Helmets

LCC Policy Briefing

London Cycling Campaign is opposed to any proposals to make the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory. Individual cyclists may decide to wear helmets, but this should be their choice, and they should make this choice on the basis of he full facts.

Q. What are the advantages for cyclists of wearing helmets?

A. Research shows that correctly wearing a helmet in good condition reduces the risk and/or the severity of head injury in an accident. Helmets cover the top of the head and provide it with some protection by spreading the forces of impact and absorbing as much of energy of the impact as possible. However, there are serious problems in assessing some of the statistical evidence and a number of critics have suggested that the safety benefits are more illusory than real.

Q. Why do you say the "safety benefits may well be more illusory than real"?

A.

  • Helmets are designed to provide protection from drops, not glancing impacts. Children are more usually involved in 'drop' accidents, while injuries to adults sustained on the roads are more commonly glancing impacts.
  • The relevant BSI standard specifies a force that is equivalent to a low speed impact, i.e. less than 13 miles per hour. Helmets are designed as 'one-use only' devices. After a single impact, even a minor one, they become ineffective. Helmets also have a design lifetime dependent on the frequency of use. This means that helmets must be replaced regularly or after every impact, even, for example, dropping the helmet a few inches onto a table.
  • Helmets must be worn correctly or they will not provide the designed protection. It is even possible that incorrectly worn or fitted helmets may cause injuries.
  • Helmets do not protect the parts of the head, face or neck which account for more than half of all "head injuries" to cyclists. They provide no protection from "rotational" or "centrifugal" trauma which is commonly caused by glancing blows from vehicles.

Q What's wrong with the statistics?

A. Accident statistics are notoriously difficult to, assess in a rigorously scientific method. In Australia, for instance the compulsory use of helmets had the side effect of drastically reduced numbers of cyclists - by between 40 and 60 percent. So, although accident statistics show a 20 percent reduction in the number of head injury admissions following the compulsory use of helmets, it is difficult to determine whether that "reduction" was due to helmets, or to there being fewer cyclists and thus fewer accidents. And, indeed, if the fall in the number of cyclists was so large, the 'per cyclist head injury rate' may actually have increased, not reduced!

Q. Why would compulsory helmets deter people from cycling?

A. Increasing cycling levels is a crucial part of the government's strategy for dealing with the problems created by motor vehicle use - pollution, congestion, ill-health and accidents, and problems of social and geographical dislocation. The statistical evidence is clear - compulsory helmet laws reduce the levels of cycling.

There are lots of reasons why cyclists do not like helmets, such as: fashion and peer group pressure; cost; discomfort and the tendency for helmets to cause overheating in hot weather; practical issues such as the need to carry around a helmet at the end of journeys or the need for a helmet to be available before making any cycle journey; fear of creating additional danger due to risk compensation by motor vehicle drivers who assume helmeted cyclists have a greater protection from accidents.

The figures from Victoria, Australia show that the biggest drops in cycling levels were among children and youths after the introduction of the law compelling the use of helmets came into force. These figures showed a 60 percent decrease among youngsters, and a 40 percent decrease among adults.

Q. What better ways are there of achieving reduced accident rates?

A. Britain has a poor record for casualty rates for 'vulnerable' road users, i.e. pedestrians and cyclists. The solution to reducing the appalling levels of death and injury to vulnerable road users is to rectify the causes.

Roads should be designed with all users in mind and the following should be considered:

  • Road space allocated for the safe use of the roads by pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Motor vehicle speeds reduced.
  • A law to put a 'duty of care' of motor vehicle drivers to take all possible measures to avoid hitting vulnerable road users.
  • Police and government policy for enforcing road law to bring about a change in attitude.

Last updated 04 December 2000