Minister in hot water for helmet snub

13.57 | 11 April 2011 | | 5 comments

Norman Baker, the transport minister, has been criticised by Brake, the road safety charity, for declaring his decision to not wear a cycle helmet as his ‘libertarian right’ (Guardian).

The Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, and life-long bike enthusiast, said it is his ‘libertarian right’ to put himself at risk on the roads by not wearing a helmet, prompting claims from some quarters that he is unfit for the job.

Mr Baker said: "I don’t wear a helmet when I cycle. The first reason is that I don’t want to. I don’t want to wear something on my head. For me the joy of cycling is to have the wind in your hair, such as I have left. It’s free, it’s unencumbered; I don’t want to be loaded down.

"It is a libertarian argument. The responsibility is only towards myself. It’s not like drinking and driving where you can damage other people. You do no harm. I’m not encouraging people not to do this; I’m just saying I make a decision not to."

He also cited evidence that drivers take more care around hatless bikers than they do with those wearing helmets, saying: "Wear a helmet and drivers feel they can drive closer than they can. I don’t think the safety case for helmets is clear-cut."

According to the Guardian, Mr Baker insisted that he supported the government line on road safety for cyclists and that the inconsistency of his own choice was not relevant.

But Joel Hickman, spokesman for the road safety charity Brake, said: "Ministers should practise what they preach and when a minister directly responsible for cycling safety refuses to wear a cycle helmet, we then have to look at their suitability for the role."

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

Photograph: Marcus Ahmad/Department for Transport.


Comment on this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Report a reader comment

Order by Latest first | Oldest first | Highest rated | Lowest rated

    Peter. Love the Biblical references but you render them irrelevant in your opening sentence. “Capable of carrying out his duties”; does not wearing a cycle helmet render him incapable? Churchill did a fine job despite being sozzled some of the time. Would you have sacked him?

    Roy Buchanan, Sutton
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    As an elected member of parliament he has a responsibility to his constituents and the country to ensure he is capable of carry out his duties. He is required to use his brain to think, argue and vote for the people who put him there. Matthew 7 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
    Christ directs us to the proper way of forming an opinion of ethers, and of reproving and correcting them. By first amending our own faults, or casting the beam out of our eye, we can “consistently” advance to correct the faults of others. There will then be no hypocrisy in our conduct. Can’t do that with a marshmallow for a brain!

    Peter Wilson, Westminster
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)


    I too started motorcycling when I could get away with a cloth cap turned backwards. I hired a motorbike in Turkey for a week and it did not come with a helmet. When my boys were too young to ride motorbikes, we went cycling as a family in the Dales, the Yorkshire Moors, the Cotswolds and twice spent a fortnight in France cycle touring in the days before the cycle helmet paranoia became fashionable. No one wore cycle helmets not even Tour de France riders.

    If we go down the road of considering the cost to the NHS should we be injured, where do we stop with that philosophy? Ask rugby players, mountaineers, skiers, gardening enthusiasts, DIY fanatics, joggers, people who do their own window cleaning, I have even heard that those who go fishing get injured at a relatively high rate although I can’t imagine how. A colleague of mine who was a race-walker had to have both hips replaced before he was 40. How much did that cost the NHS? Should he never have taken up this sport?.

    We cannot do anything these days without wearing a hi-viz vest. It would not surprise me if some people wore them in bed just in case they have to get up in the night to go to bathroom in the dark. If society carries on like this you will soon have to wear a suit of armour to go to the corner shop for a newspaper. Where will this end?

    Remember, whilst you don’t have the right to put others at risk, you can can risk your own life if you want to. However, if you do so you will incur the wrath of those like to sit back and wallow, smugly, in an “over-bearing attitude of self righteousness.”

    Let’s prove the Continentals wrong shall we?

    Roy Buchanan, Sutton
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    I also like the wind in my hair when I ride and if I come off as long as I don’t hit anyone else the only person I hurt is me. I do not get a choice, however, because I ride a motorcycle and wearing a helmet is the law. (I am old enough to remember when I did not have to wear a motorcycle helmet by the way) Being in the position of transport minister setting a good example is vital. Would it be ok for him to not wear a seat belt because he does not want to, of course not, although the argument is the same if he were to crash and not involve anyone else he would only hurt himself. This does not hold water, has he forgotten the cost to the health service should he be injured. Serious head injuries can be sustained at relatively low speed depending on what you hit your head on. Lets ask the question, should cycle helmets be made a legal requirement? I for one think yes. Cyclists are not a special case in my view. Now that has opened a can of worms hasn’t it.

    Alan Collins, Luton
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Oh dear; here we go again. Why do so many people in road safety love witch-hunting. They should have been born during the medieval period. OK; it is a point, setting an example and all that, but to suggest the Minister is unsuitable to hold his post just because he doesn’t want to wear a cycle helmet, come on, a sense of perspective please. Would you have sacked Churchill for smoking cigars and drinking too much whisky?

    During an after dinner conversation in a Paris restaurant, the topic among the European guests turned to national characteristics. We made the usual comments about the typical French or the typical German but guess what they agreed was typical about the English? An over-bearing attitude of self-righteousness. I was delighted to admit that I am a Scot. Hoch aye the noo!

    Roy Buchanan, Sutton
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.