Should cyclists be forced to wear helmets? It’s a subject guaranteed to start an argument.
Have you got a helmet on? No! I don’t have to wear a helmet!
Everyone has an opinion. The problem is, they’re normally not based on evidence.
Let’s start with something straightforward. I don’t have a problem with bike helmets. In fact, when I ride a bike, I usually wear one.
And if I fall off my bike and my helmet is properly fitted and I hit something at low speed,
the evidence shows it’s probably going to help me.
So making cyclists wear helmets is a good thing, right? Well, here’s where it starts to get complicated.
Let’s hear first from a doctor who has to deal with head injuries.
I’ve seen patients sustain devastating skull fractures, brain injuries, indeed unsurvivable brain injuries
as a consequence of the head striking the ground.
Last year when I was cycling across America, a truck’s wing mirror smashed into the back of my head at 70 mph,
knocking me off my bike and onto the road.
But I was lucky. I was wearing a helmet. If I hadn’t been, I’d be dead.
I honestly believe that cycle helmet legislation would significantly reduce the proportion of cyclists that are currently killed on our roads.
So it’s pretty clear: helmets can save lives. But let’s hear from another doctor –
one who looks at health not just for individuals but across whole populations.
There are very good indications that forcing people to wear bike helmets makes cycling less appealing to people
and probably reduces the amount of cycling that takes place.
And there’s an overwhelming body of evidence that the health benefits of cycling vastly, vastly outweigh the health risks.
Also, cycling isn’t as dangerous as people think. Here in Britain there is one death for about every 30 million miles cycled.
That’s around 100 cyclists killed every year. In fact, it’s about as safe as walking.
But in that same year, well over 85,000 people die early
because of illness caused by inactive living, mainly things like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
And these are precisely the sort of conditions that cycling can play a really, really big role in preventing.
Cycling is one of the best ways that we can help fight that.
I mean cycling, as part of transport, as part of everyday life, means that people get a moderate workout regularly.
It’s not something that you have to go to the gym to do. They can do it on their way to work, on their way to the shops and so on.
So enforcing the wearing of cycle helmets, even if it were the case that it made cycling safer,
would still lead to an overall cost in public health terms.
And something else happens when cyclists put on a helmet, something that seems hardwired into our nature.
Scientists call it "risk compensation". Basically, that means if you have more protection, you tend to take more risks.