Should the UK Government make bicycle helmets compulsory?
In 2010 the Jersey government voted to make bicycle helmets compulsory for under 18s.
In January 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly members voted in favour of a bill to make the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory. If it eventually becomes law cyclists not wearing a helmet will be liable for a £50 fine.
In August 2009 the UK Government acknowledged that it is sensible for cyclists, and especially children, to protect themselves by wearing a cycle helmet and that overall there is evidence that bicycle helmets can be effective at reducing the incidence and severity of head, brain and upper facial injuries, and that they can be effective in reducing injury for users of all ages, though particularly for children. The government asserted that there is however some evidence that compulsory helmet wearing may discourage some people from cycling, leading to decreased bicycle use.
During the 2nd week of the Olympics the debate about bicycle helmets was aired thanks to Tour de France and Gold Medal cyclist Bradley Wiggins. He reacted to news of a cyclist being killed by a bus near the Olympic Park. The tragedy occurred within hours of Wiggins' time trial Gold, and when Wiggins was asked at a press conference following his victory about cycling safety, he said he believed cyclists would be offered better protection if it was illegal to ride without one, "because ultimately, if you get knocked off and you ain't got a helmet on, then how can you kind of argue".
Wiggins later took to twitter to clarify his remarks, tweeting: "Just to confirm I haven't called for helmets to be made the law as reports suggest. I suggested it may be the way to go to give cyclists more protection legally I[sic] involved In an accident. I wasn't on me soap box CALLING, was asked what I thought".
The cyclist killed near the Olympic Park was apparently the 10th death involving bikes in the capital this year but we have no idea whetehr his injuries would have been prevented or lessened by wearing a helmet.
The London mayor, Boris Johnson, responded to the comments by saying that the wearing of helmets is a matter of choice for cyclists and there were no plans to provide helmets for the capital's fleet of "Boris bikes".
Dr Andy Eynon, director of major trauma at Southampton General Hospital, said in an interview with the Southern Daily Echo on 15th August that cycle helmets offered vital protection to the brain.
He said: “You would not consider carrying your laptop outside without putting it inside a case. It costs society about £25,000 for an individual to be transferred to Southampton, operated on, treated in our intensive care unit and then cared for on our wards – and that is before taking into account rehabilitation costs and loss of income. If every cyclist wore a helmet, the number killed or seriously injured each year would be greatly reduced.
“Actions such as not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle, not wearing a seatbelt, driving while using a mobile phone and even smoking in public are now seen as being socially irresponsible.
“It is time that not wearing a helmet while cycling is seen in the same light. Cycle helmets save lives and must be made compulsory.”
Dr Eynon, who advised on and advocated the introduction of a compulsory cycle helmet law for under 18s in Jersey in 2010, treats people from across the region who have serious head and spinal injuries following cycle accidents.
He said: “I see firsthand the effects such injuries have on patients and their families.
“The vast majority of the patients here are not speeding motorcyclists – they are normal individuals who were doing normal day-to-day activities when they were injured, so it makes sense that we protect ourselves as best we can from the risk of sustaining a life-changing brain injury.”
Figures have been revealed which show that more cyclists were hurt on Hampshire’s roads last year than anywhere outside London – 816 in 2011, an 18 per cent rise on the year before.
Sue Bowler, Brain Injury Lawyer at Coffin Mew says “I agree wholeheartedly with Dr Eynon’s comments. My work brings me into close contact with cyclists who have suffered serious brain injuries. Lessening the devastation that they and their families suffer can only be a good thing. The rising number of bicycle accidents in Hampshire is worrying and demonstrates the need to wear a bicycle helmet in order to be properly protected”.