Category Archives: cycle helmets

The big debate: to hell in a helmet, or to hell with the helmet?

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Setting a good example – helmets are compulsory in UCI events (but, I think, only since 2003)

Geraint Thomas has recently been reported as saying that he thinks helmets should be compulsory for cyclists.

He is said to argue that the development of helmet design in recent years now means there is “no reason not to” wear one, that he “always” wears a helmet – and feels that others should do the same.

It’s important to note that this is a news report and that the quotes attributed directly to him are also entirely compatible with him merely making a recommendation that helmets should be worn.

Since the article appeared he’s tweeted:

Wow! This was one question in an hour interview. It’s nothing I’ve ever thought about. So when asked I thought… I always wear one and I’d advise all children to wear them. Didn’t realise people felt so passionately about helmets!!

So, let’s be kind and say he was just unprepared and naive … however, whatever he said and whatever he thinks, it has reignited the helmet-wearing debate in the UK.

To put my cards on the table, I don’t pretend that I have understood (or even read) all the research on the topic – but I always wear a helmet when riding a bike (other than on the turbo!).

As far as I am concerned, I hope I won’t fall off, I try very hard not to fall off but if I do fall off I’m keen to have sensible protection to my brain, my most valuable and vulnerable organ. I also always wear a helmet for skiing.

Most members of my cycling group wear helmets – but a few very intelligent and rational riders do not. The non helmet wearers either simply do not like helmets, or have reasons for believing that they are not the answer to preventing injuries from falls.

One argument is that wearing a helmet gives a false sense of security such that it can promote less careful riding.

I don’t go along with that – I know that if I fall off my helmet won’t save me from road rash, bruises and other injuries to arms and legs, broken collar-bones or hips. I certainly hope that my helmet will offer some protection to me head, but with everything else remaining so vulnerable, the helmet in no way makes me less careful.

Other arguments are that helmets can actually cause some twisting neck injuries, that research has suggested that drivers may give less room to helmet wearers than they give to riders without helmets – and that helmets do not offer significant protection in many cases.

It is also said that we should be promoting healthy lifestyles so that anything that might put people off cycling – like compulsory helmet-wearing – should be avoided. It was reported that Western Australia’s helmet law reduced cycling in Perth by 30-40% and that in Melbourne, cycling levels reduced by 36% in children and 44% amongst teenagers as a result of helmet compulsion – I do not know if participant numbers later recovered.

I know we have compulsory seatbelt wearing in cars and compulsory crash helmets for motorcyclists in the UK, but is the legislative programme so empty that cycle helmets get national scrutiny?

If you’ll forgive the ‘reductio ad absurdum’, I believe that there are significant numbers of people who damage their health by being inadequately dressed in cold weather or by over-exposing themselves to the sun. Anyone for compulsory coat wearing if it’s below 10℃, or compulsory long sleeves, hats and sun cream when it goes over 25℃?

It’s complicated but although I choose to wear a helmet I am not in favour of legislating on this.

I know the BMA (the British Medical Association) advocates compulsory helmet-wearing, and you can call me a wishy washy liberal but I prefer to give people freedom of choice on issues that affect their own well-being and safety – all the more so when the case for legislation does not seem to have been made beyond reasonable doubt.

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“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall, 1906.

“I recommend helmet-wearing, but although I may not fight to the death over the matter, I am in favour of the rights of others not to wear one” – The Omil, 2018.

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