Should cycling helmets be compulsory? Bradley Wiggins thinks so…

By: guestblogger

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“As with any well publicised sporting event, it is expected that the hype surrounding the 2014 Tour De France, which starts off in Leeds next year, will encourage many young people to take to the roads on their bikes.

With a surge in the amount of cyclists on the roads there is always the worry that there will also be an increase in the number of cyclist deaths and number of cyclists injured from road accidents: it is usually the use of a helmet that dictates who falls into each of those two categories.

This is precisely why Team GB hero Bradley Wiggins is supporting a campaign to make cycling helmets compulsory. The Ryan Smith Foundation was set up by Mark Smith for his son, who was in a coma for around six weeks after being hit by a van whilst riding his bike: he refused to wear a helmet because he didn’t want to mess up his hair. Ryan is now severely brain damaged, and although he continues to make small improvements every day it is likely that he will require intense rehabilitation for the rest of his life.

Research by the Cochrane Collaboration found that “helmets provide a 63 to 88 per cent reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists,” and the Department of Transport found that “between 10 and 16 per cent of cycling deaths could have been avoided if the cyclist had been wearing an appropriate helmet.”  The majority of deaths from cycling accidents result from head injury, but many of these casualties are found to have multiple injuries. In 2012 118 cyclists were killed in road accidents, and 3,222 cyclists were seriously injured: a 4 per cent increase from 2011. The trend in casualties can be seen in this graph from the Department for Transport:

graAlthough the number of cyclist deaths seems to have been decreasing since 2005, the number of seriouly injured cyclists has been slowly creeping up since 2004. The next graph shows the relationship between the death of cyclists and helmet use in the US, and the results are staggering (data from Bicucle Helmet Safety Institute:)

gra2With so much evidence to show that helmets save lives you would think that everyone would think that compulsory helmets are a good thing right? Wrong. There are people who are under the impression that legislation for compulsory helmets is an infringement of civil liberties. There are others who believe that such legislation would discourage people to cycle as was seen in Australia, and that this would lead to unhealthy lifestyles and an unhealthy country.

In the early 90’s, Australia passed a law for compulsory helmets which saw cycling rates plummet, particularly in teenage girls who thought that helmets were not fashionable: in fact cycling rates in this group fell by around 90 per cent. But is this initial drop in cycling rates worth the risk to save hundreds of lives? I think so.

When the talks of compulsory seatbelt laws started in the 70’s many complained on all of the same grounds, yet four decades on it has saved over 50,000 lives and is part of everyday life. What are your views?”

EDITOR NOTE: This article was written by the Ryan Smith Foundation and published by Wiggle on their behalf. Wiggle’s stance on the helmet debate remains neutral.

After we published the original article, we received a response from Colin Clarke of the New Zealand Bicycle Journal, detailing his research into non compulsory helmet wearing. Click through here to read his take on the Helmet issue: LINK


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Click here for more information about the Ryan Smith Foundation.