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The great Cycle Helmet debate: safety vs. scare culture

Posted by Chris Forecast on 29-Jan-2016 18:48:44




“Wearing a cycle helmet leads to more risk-taking"

This is the latest headline in the grand helmet debate of 2015/6, so with it being such a controversial issue, grabbing headlines and causing countless arguments within the cycling world, we thought we’d summarise some of the debate and justify our stance on the issue



The research  

Last week the University of Bath announced the results of its latest research, reporting that people wearing cycle helmets are more likely to take risks and be sensation-seekers than those wearing baseball caps. This is the latest piece of research to be released that adds to the helmet debate and shows just how far people are going to justify their decision.


The law

Currently there is no British law to compel cyclists, of any age, to wear helmets when cycling, even though the Highway Code suggests that cyclists should wear a cycle helmet “which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened.”


The public eye

As cycling increases in popularity in the UK, so to does the debate over whether wearing a helmet should become compulsory. The debate spilled over into the public eye towards the end of last year when Chris Boardman, former Olympian and The British Cycling policy advisor, appeared on BBC breakfast filming a cycling safety video whilst not wearing a helmet.

Essentially his argument for not wearing a helmet is because he feels they are not one of the top 10 safety issues when cycling on the roads, and, somewhat controverisally, that campaigning for helmet use is detracting from the broader issue of cycle safety in the UK. His view is that creating a cure is better fostering a prevention mentality.


Scare culture

The other issue with constant campaigns for helmet use is that it creates a scare culture. If someone is thinking of taking up cycling and all they hear about in the press is helmet safety, then their perception is that cycling is inherently dangerous and this will put them off embarking on the sport before they've even begun. However, in reality you can ride a thousand times round the world for each cycling death (in short, you are statistically safer cycling than gardening!).

Boardman’s views are quite right and can been seen in action in one of our euro cycle destinations, Holland. The Dutch have created a cycle culture where just 0.8% of cyclists wear helmets yet have the lowest rate of cycling head injury… but how? It is thanks to their segregated cycling infrastructure. Holland has 29,000km of cycle paths and 4,700km of their roads have special cycling lanes. As a result of this 30% of journeys in the Holland are made by bike and 50% of children’s journeys to school. Safer and healthier...


The biggest risk

Unfortunately until the rest of the world catches up with Holland we are left cycling roads with traffic on incomplete cycle paths. We plan our cycle challenges with great care, and always aim to route them on quiet roads, however as long as there are other people on the roads, there is still a risk. We have therefore created a blanket policy for helmet use on Discover Adventure trips of, No helmet = No ride.


And in conclusion? 

Although a cycle helmet won't protect you in every incident of ground impact, by the time a cyclist's head actually hits the ground they will be decelerating and, even if they were cycling at 30 miles an hour, the impact would be at no more than 10-15 miles an hour. However, if you gave anyone the choice of hitting their head against tarmac with or without a helmet they would choose the helmet every time!

Wearing a helmet is simple and cheap. It's a minor inconvenience that at worst might be uncomfortable on a hot day, but at best might save your life.

And as for helmets leading to more risk-taking behaviour… well I’ve written this article whilst wearing one and I haven’t once tried to jump out of the window or race my chair down the office… yet.

Want to weigh in on the debate? Comment below


Topics: The Kit List