Compulsory helmet wearing will prevent injuries to cyclists: TRL

12.00 | 23 July 2014 | | 16 comments

New legislation requiring the wearing of cycle helmets in Jersey “will prevent head and brain injuries”, according to a new report by TRL.

Earlier this month, Jersey became the first jurisdiction in the UK to introduce a law requiring children under 14 years of age to wear helmets while cycling.

Before the vote, TRL was commissioned to provide an independent evidence review of literature relating to the proposed legislation, and to assess its likely effects on cyclist injuries and cycling activity.

TRL concluded that legislation requiring the wearing of cycle helmets in Jersey “will prevent head and brain injuries, especially in the most common collisions that do not involve motor vehicles, often simple falls or tumbles over the handlebars”.

TRL says that cycle helmet legislation “leads to reductions in injuries in all ages of cyclists, although helmets are particularly effective for children”. TRL goes on to say that “the plausible mechanism by which this benefit occurs is that legislation tends to lead to increased wearing rates”.

Richard Cuerden, technical director for vehicle safety at TRL and an author of the report, said: “There is no doubt that cycle helmets are effective in a crash, although some anti-helmet advocates still argue the opposite.

“The other arguments frequently made against them include, they put people off cycling and this results in a net health disbenefit; some even argue that helmet wearing increases the risk of an accident.

“These are extremely serious claims and the literature surrounding these issues was considered very carefully.”

TRL found that current evidence “does not support the assertion that cycle helmet legislation leads to large reductions in cycling participation that outweigh any potential injury reduction benefits through a corresponding reduction in health benefits”. It adds that any reductions in cycling activity “are likely to be small and short term”.

Richard Cuerden added: “Firstly, it is not true to state that the accident rate has been proven to be higher for helmet wearers per km of travel – this is simply not an accepted fact.

“The very large reductions in cycling activity cited by opponents of cycle helmet legislation are based on early analyses of observations of cycling rates in Australia in the 1990s, which subsequently have been shown to be statistically flawed.

“It is also important to remind ourselves that cycle helmet designs were very different in the early 1990s to those currently available, in terms of materials, ventilation, coverage, comfort and even styling.”

TRL says its report raises important questions for the rest of the UK, including “how can cycle helmet wearing rates be increased to help reduce head and brain injuries suffered across all regions of the British Isles?”.

TRL says “the lack of information regarding the size and nature of the cyclist casualty problem” is a challenge….”because the vast majority of single vehicle cycle accidents that result in hospitalisation are not reported to the police and there is limited hospital data available on the injuries sustained”.

TRL recommends that more work is required in this area to “better quantify and describe the characteristics of injuries sustained by cyclists, with and without helmets”.

Richard Cuerden concluded: “Cycle helmets are effective, but it is equally important to actively identify and improve other casualty reduction measures including road design – especially at junctions, cyclist conspicuity, cyclist and other road users training and behaviour, enforcement, the crashworthiness of other vehicles and new accident avoidance technologies.

 “I believe it is clear that cycle helmets are an integral part of a safe system approach, which in my opinion should seek to promote and increase the rate of cycling whilst setting stretching casualty reduction targets, ultimately striving towards zero deaths and serious injuries.”

The report can be found on the TRL website.



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    I share the concerns of David S. that the assertion on the effectiveness of helmet legistlation from the TRL press release, quoted in paragraph four above, is not supported by information in the actual TRL report.

    I am also concerned that the main conclusions of the report rely on recent Australian academic papers from one institution that have reprocessed data to reach conclusions directly contradicting those of the scientists who collected and analysed the data. At the very least this ‘new’ research should be treated with extreme caution.

    Charlie L
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    At the risk of upsetting fellow road users….

    The public spaces that exist between shops and houses are just that. The degree of licensing and control that we, as a society, exert over the public using different forms of transport is in proportion to the risk they pose to others. Pedestrians pose the lowest risk, whilst cyclist only a little more.

    It is motorised vehicles which have a mass and velocity well above these two categories which pose the highest risk to others. And that is why a motor powered transport mode requires training, licensing, and insurance to cover the risk to others. Moving under one’s own power down a street is a right exercised for generations. It is one of the measures of a free society.

    Rod King, 20’s Plenty for Us
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    At the risk of upsetting fellow road users…
    There are several forms of transport that one can use on the road without any training, at any age, without a licence, without any safety equipment and knowledge of the highway code. Cycling is just one of them – perhaps it’s time to make awareness training/licensing and the relative safety equipment compulsory for ALL road sharers.

    Malc, Shropshire
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    I’m an occasional cyclist and don’t wear a helmet, however if they came with a mirror attached and ear defenders to block out the insufferable traffic noise, I would!

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
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    Please read the full TRL report and not just the press release. The actual report does NOT say ‘legislation requiring the wearing of cycle helmets in Jersey “will prevent head and brain injuries”’. The report says it ‘can be expected to have a beneficial effect on the injury rates of those impacted by the legislation, especially in collisions that do not involve motor vehicles’.

    As Tim says “Jersey’s traffic safety priorities may be different”. “In 2013, there were 3 fatalities, 60 serious and 309 slightly injured casualties as a result of road traffic collisions; … of which 51 were cyclists”. Of those 51, 2 were children who would be banned from cycling without a helmet under the legislation. Both were slightly injured: the report doesn’t say if these were head injuries, or if they were wearing helmets.

    David S.
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    It can hardly be insignificant that many adult cyclists given the choice choose to wear a helmet when cycling. Personally I think this falls into the category of “strongly advised” rather than “mandatory”. I speak as someone who has fallen off bikes over 40 years with and without a helmet, with only a broken arm resulting, but I still routinely wear one.

    It is interesting to contemplate how Jersey will police this law – I assume there will be a penalty, but then that would be for the parent to pay. What if they were not present and had done all in their power to get their child to wear a helmet? Or didn’t know their child had borrowed a friend’s bike? Do we see parents going to prison for non-payment, then confiscating bikes in order to avoid being fined? And how much police resource will be dedicated to this?

    At the risk of stereotyping both I feel that Jersey’s traffic safety priorities may be different from the West Midlands’ and I can’t see this coming to mainland Britain any time soon.

    Tim Philpot, Wolverhampton
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    If the incident was deliberate as you say then it was not an accident! The helmet debate will go on and on. “They are only tested at x speed of impact. They don’t stop body crush under HGVs. Compulsion by law will reduce the number of cyclists etc etc”.
    The last 2 paragraphs say it all. They are one part of reducing injuries and not necessarily for all types of crash.

    Peter London
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    To paraphrase Wayne Barlow’s point:
    “Imagine if it were possible to pause a car crash as it was happening and give the driver and passengers the opportunity to wear a helmet or not. I suspect 100‰ would say ‘yes’.

    “Those who argue comfort and weight make helmet wearing inconvenient deserve a Darwin Award.”

    57% of traumatic brain injury nationwide occurs in road incidents (National Traumatic Brain Injury Study, 2000), primarily inside motor vehicles. Why no driving helmets?


    “Imagine if it were possible to pause a crash as it was happening and give the pedestrian the opportunity to wear a helmet or not. I suspect 100‰ would say ‘yes’.
    “Those who argue comfort and weight make helmet wearing inconvenient deserve a Darwin Award.”

    The per-mile fatality rate for pedestrians in road traffic collisions exceeds that of cyclists by nearly 20% (DfT Road Casualties Annual Report, 2011) and that’s combined with three times as many miles being walked as cycled (National Transport Survey 2012). Why no walking helmets?

    Of these three transport modes, cycling is the second-lowest risk and has *by far* the smallest contribution to overall public health issues pertaining to head/brain injuries. And that’s before we touch on the issues of victim-blaming when DfT data shows cyclists to be entirely without fault in up to 75% of collisions involving a bicycle and a motor vehicle.

    Alessandro di Polpetto
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    It’s like Tesco’s – every little helps!

    The article is talking about children and for those of us working with children a little is actualy quite a lot. However as an adult I defend your choice to choose as to whether you wear a helmet. But it is worth remembering recently we saw in the UK the biggest helmet wearing promotion in the world. It’s called the Tour de France – presumably just like Tesco’s, for the tour every little helps?

    Gareth, Surrey
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    Why single out cyclists? Why not pedestrians as well? Here’s data from Dept of Health on serious head injuries: in 2002/3
    Cyclists: 385 – 550
    Pedestrians: 4,564

    And while we’re at it, the highest numbers of head injuries occur to occupants of motor vehicles, so why not compulsory helmet laws for drivers and passengers?

    Also, Australia is not the only example where compulsory helmet laws did more harm than good. In New Zealand, cycling rates went down but cyclist KSIs per kilometre cycled went up – a double whammy. Finally, Netherlands has lowest rates of helmet use AND lowest rates of head injuries to cyclists. Denmark is not far behind. Both have invested heavily in cycling infrastructure. The answer is safe infrastructure, not compulsory helmet wearing.

    Andy Isitt, London
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    Imagine if it were possible to pause a crash as it was happening and give the cyclist the opportunity to wear a helmet or not. I suspect 100‰ would say ‘yes’.

    Those who argue comfort and weight make helmet wearing inconvenient deserve a Darwin Award.

    Wayne Barlow
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    Helmets and in fact any protective gear will only protect the rider against simple falls (trips) and slides. They have never been able to protect against higher energy collisions so that fact has to be made abundantly clear.

    Having said that, around a third of all traumatic brain injuries are caused as a result of falls whereas less than 20% are caused by road accidents. The road accident injuries are much more likely to end in death especially if the injury was caused by a collision.

    Put simply, if you just fall off your bike a helmet might do some good, but if you get hit by a car it will be about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. A helmet might save you from your own ineptitude, but it certainly won’t save you from the ineptitude of others.

    Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon
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    Have TRL researched the efficacy of helmet use amongst drivers?

    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    I feel less secure riding with a helmet because it cuts off a percentage of my peripheral vision and makes noise and reflects sounds and the ability to hear what is going on around me helps me feel more secure riding. I’ve had 1 accident in 30 years of riding and was knocked off deliberately. A helmet was irrelevant in my particular crash. I think the first things to deal with are aggressive and unobservant drivers. SMS-ing while driving especially.

    Matt Elliott, France
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    What a straw man it is to claim that only “1990s” data supports the case that cycling levels are lower in Australia because of helmet legislation. Why are you ignoring or discounting, for instance, the 2011 paper “The possible effect on frequency of cycling if mandatory bicycle helmet legislation was repealed in Sydney, Australia: a cross sectional survey”, published in the peer-reviewed Health Promotion Journal of Australia? That paper concluded that removing legislation would result in a cycling increase significant enough to meet Sydney’s civic targets.

    Jon Hall
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    Have TRL researched the efficacy of helmet use amongst pedestrians?

    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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