Cycle SOS Consultant Solicitor, Paul Darlington spoke with BBC Radio Lincolnshire’s Melvyn Prior last week on the controversial topic of compulsory cycle helmet laws and whether they should be implemented in the UK.
You can listen to the podcast here from 12:25 minutes into his morning segment. Together with expert views, Melvyn also took calls from a number of listeners who wanted to voice their opinion on the topic.
Melvyn interviews his first expert at 16:25 into his segment, Mr Duncan Dollimore, the Road Safety and Legal Campaigns Officer for Cycling UK. In talking to Melvyn, Mr Dollimore proposes that the wearing of cycling helmets is instinctively a good idea, but it is one which may come undone with a little research. Drawing upon examples from compulsory helmet laws which take effect in New Zealand and Australia, he shows how this has led to a massive reduction from cycling in those countries. Further he also states that there would be a bigger reduction in the number of people who were being encouraged to cycle.
The main criticism that Duncan provided was founded in the public health interest. In trying to get people involved in active travel, the wearing of a helmet may discourage people and in trying to promote cycling, this would far outweigh the benefits of making helmets mandatory.
It is argued that wearing a helmet is a matter of personal choice. Where he couldn’t comment on the individual instances in which wearing a helmet had prevented injury, overall, Duncan argued that if we discourage people from taking up an activity such as cycling, there are huge public health implications.
Paul Darlington, Consultant Solicitor at Cycle SOS, an avid cyclist and Bikeability instructor was the next guest speaker on the debate – you can listen from 40 minutes into the podcast. When asked for his opinion on the matter, he identified the practical problem of enforcing such legislation.
“Enforceability is virtually impossible because there is no database, you don’t need a licence to ride a bike, no registration number, we’re not obliged to carry identity cards and you can’t disqualify someone from riding a bike.”
Enforcing mandatory cycle helmet laws would be difficult. Unlike for motorists, there is no national database or register that holds the data of people who cycle, and the police have more pressing issues to tackle than chasing down cyclists who aren’t wearing a helmet.
In discussing whether cycle helmets make a difference, Paul made reference to the design objectives of cycle helmets, stating that helmets are primarily to prevent injury from a fall onto a curb or road surface, they were not designed to protect the head in a collision with a motor vehicle. However, when involved in an accident with a motor vehicle, a bicycle helmet would do more good than harm.
Being a keen cyclist himself, Paul admitted that he may not wear a helmet on every short journey to the post box for example, but that it is ever more important if cycling competitively. Paul and his daughters enjoy participating in time trials in particular where helmets are mandatory if you wish to participate.
Duncan earlier stated that the wearing of a helmet was partially due to habit, to which Paul agreed. As a Bikeability instructor, Paul often sees children turning up with helmets which don’t fit them, so they spend half the lesson attempting to readjust the helmet. If a helmet is to be worn, it must be correctly fitted, or it will just provide another hazardous distraction.
In Paul’s opinion, participation is key, and learning the techniques of cycling to enable them to safely navigate roads in amongst traffic, is the most important factor. If children are going to wear a helmet as is encouraged, he would prefer it to be properly adjusted well in advance before getting on a bike.
Overall, Paul believes that wearing a helmet is a balancing exercise between potentially protecting the cyclist from the effects of an acquired brain injury which might be reduced if a helmet is worn and the wide spread health benefits of the uptake of cycling alongside all the other economic and environmental issues.