OPINION: cycle helmets should be mandatory, particularly for children

11.09 | 9 October 2023 | | 9 comments

Mark Pawsey MP (left) with Oliver Dibsdale and Trudy Harrison MP

In this latest opinion piece, Mark Pawsey, MP for Rugby, outlines why he is pushing for a change in law to mandate the use of cycle helmets.


Some years ago, I went on holiday with my family. We rented bikes, and when the person serving us offered me a helmet, I initially declined. He then looked me in the eye and asked, “Just how many brains do you have, sir?”

I took the hint, and the helmet, but there is not always someone on hand to offer such advice and ensure a helmet is worn. And as anybody who has children will know, children do not always take that advice.

I thought little more about this until I met my constituent, Oliver Dibsdale, in February 2022. Oliver explained that in November 2015, when he was fifteen years old, he was cycling along Hillmorton High Street in Rugby when his foot slipped off the pedal and he fell. He hit his head on the kerb and was left with a serious brain injury. He spent four weeks in critical care and a further 15 weeks at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and the Central England Rehabilitation Unit in Leamington Spa. This event has changed Oliver’s life- so much so, that his explanation had to be aided by voice technology because the brain injury he sustained has made it difficult for him to speak. Six years after his accident, he remains in a wheelchair and is likely to do so for the rest of his life; he has lost the use of his left arm; and he has missed so much that his peers have experienced.

Before I met Oliver, I took the view that a helmet was a matter of personal choice, and that any legal requirement to wear a helmet would be difficult to enforce. Oliver told me that he usually wore a helmet when cycling and that he bitterly regrets his decision on that occasion to ride without one. He spoke to me in a very moving way about the impact his injury has had on his family and the guilt he feels for the amount of time they have had to spend caring for him. He very much wants to help other families to avoid this fate.

After my meeting with Oliver, I wrote on his behalf to the Department for Transport several times, and then arranged for Oliver to meet Trudy Harrison MP, then Minister for Transport. Oliver was very pleased to have the opportunity to make his case in Westminster to the Minister. We had an excellent discussion but, to Oliver’s disappointment, the Government’s position remained unchanged—that the wearing of helmets should be a matter of choice, not compulsory.

Oliver continued to disagree, and drew my attention to a number of arguments which I have found persuasive. Oliver points out that it is illegal to drive a car without a seatbelt and that it is compulsory to wear a helmet on a motorcycle. To this, those who oppose mandatory wearing of cycle helmets respond that there is a health benefit from using a bicycle, and that there should not be any discouragement of cycling. Oliver replies to this that, if people wish to exercise, there are many ways of doing so that present less risk; he points out that people can walk, run, take up a sport or go to the gym.

Another argument cited by opponents to mandatory wearing of cycle helmets is that legislation would be difficult to enforce. While it would certainly create an additional burden on the police, it does not strike me as particularly difficult to enforce compared with other offences: it is easier to spot a cyclist without a helmet than to spot a driver using a mobile phone, or a car passenger without a seatbelt. No one now suggests that wearing seatbelts should be a matter of individual choice on the basis of difficulty in enforcing the relevant legislation. The House of Commons Library notes that pedal cyclists are 23 times more likely to be a casualty than a motorist, and are also more likely to die on the road. If mandatory safety measures are acceptable for car drivers, they should also be acceptable for cyclists.

To further make Oliver’s case, I brought forward a ‘Ten Minute Rule Bill’ to require a person riding a bicycle on the public highway to wear a safety helmet. Ten Minute Rule Bills are a type of Private Members’ Bill that are introduced in the House of Commons, which allows a backbench MP to make his or her case for a new Bill in a speech lasting up to ten minutes. Although these rarely pass into law, they are a helpful way of raising the profile of an issue. 

I continue to believe that helmets should be mandatory, particularly for children. Following my Ten Minute Rule Bill, Headway, who are supportive of my call for mandatory helmets for cyclists, have asked me to become a ‘Headway Parliamentary Champion’. I will continue to call for a change in the law, and I would encourage all readers who share my view to make the case to their own Member of Parliament.


 

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    I think in the current climate of the car owner yet again getting battered by increase costs and the law now giving the bike and pedestrian right of way on our roads that we have to pay tax and insurance for and a added insurance tax from the government it would be more use to enforce all bike owners other than under 15 to have by law a minimum of 3rd party Road insurance as when they which they do hit cars we have no claims on the cyclist for damages or anyone of the public hit by one to also if a cycle track is there they should have to use it not the road and get fined if they don’t or no insurance and bring in the helmet law I am saying this because of all the illegal e bikes and scooters there is now on the road


    Al, Mold
    Agree (4) | Disagree (3)
    +1

    It should still be your own choice.to wear any safety gear or not on a bicycle .you can’t eliminate. All accidents by just safety gear helmets and what not .give riders knowledge on riding on the road and keeping there bike in good nick brakes tires .that would be more productive. Or isit just another fine .thats doesn’t help anyone but puts money in the governments hands


    Timothy o’rourke, Doncaster
    Agree (1) | Disagree (1)
    0

    A few people showing their true colours in the comments to this story. This is meant to be a road safety discussion not a platform for party political views.


    Tim, East Yorkshire
    Agree (6) | Disagree (0)
    +6

    Perhaps if Mr Pawsey had bothered to do the most basic research instead of relying on anecdotal evidence from a constituent, he might have the faintest idea what he’s talking about, but he’s tory, so facts aren’t going to be high on his agenda.

    Nowhere with a helmet law can show any reduction in risk to cyclists, only fewer cyclists, who lose the incredible health benefits, get sicker quicker, suffer from chronic illness and are a burden on the NHS. The population effects of a helmet law are a public health disaster, with no benefits and massive physical and financial costs.

    Mr Pawsey seems rather more interested in using the unfortunate lad for photo-ops than in making cycling safer, and to propose a new law without doing the most is utterly appalling, but he’s a tory. He could do worse than look at the national cycling organisation’s information about cycle helmets https://www.cyclinguk.org/briefing/cycle-helmets

    If he was really interested in the safety of cyclists he’d actually find out what makes them safe and do that, and instantly drop his misinformed, futile and absurd campaign for helmets.


    Richard Burton, Lydney
    Agree (18) | Disagree (5)
    +13

    The number of head injuries amongst drivers is significantly higher than that of cyclists, despite protection offered by seatbelts and airbags. Logically, anyone in a business of safety and saving lives should be discussing mandatory helmets for drivers of motorised vehicles.


    Bart, Basingstoke
    Agree (20) | Disagree (3)
    +17

    I have nearly 30 years experience as highway engineer with the last 5 years being a specialist in active travel design and I am a fellow of three engineering institutions. I have studied the Dutch and Swedish approached to road safety.

    I have visited both places, but the Netherlands especially where I have cycled extensively between cities looking at how their “Sustainable Safety” approach works and how it keeps people safe at the population level.

    With that as a backdrop, I am here to tell you that all mandatory helmets will do is stop new people cycling in the UK and as found in Australia and New Zealand, it will reduce the existing number of cyclists. The actual thing we need to do in the UK is copy the Dutch approach and orgs such as RSGB need to stop this nonsense on helmets, even if it is framed as “debate” – there is no debate at the population level.


    Mark Philpotts, London
    Agree (49) | Disagree (7)
    +42

    Perhaps if he spoke with all the other victims of cars being driven into them, he might be moved to change the law so that the dangerous drivers are properly punished and other drivers are more incentivised to drive safely thereby potentially reducing the number of victims. Drivers being let off with ‘sun in my eyes, momentary laps of concentration, full of remorse etc.’ Every day of the week multiple cyclists and pedestrians are left with life changing injuries due to a drivers. Not just head injuries, but smashed or ripped off limbs. How would a helmet protect them having their arms ripped off or their legs turned to pulp by a car? These drivers often then get a pathetically small fine, and allowed to continue using their 2 ton weapons. It seems when the victim is a cyclist, they are considered to be only slightly more of a concern than animal roadkill when the driver is brought before a court.


    Rob, BCP
    Agree (44) | Disagree (3)
    +41

    Never trust a Tory. Once again they display how ignorant they are.


    Loz, Norwich
    Agree (28) | Disagree (9)
    +19

    Very concerned we are looking at anecdotes rather than population level evidence. That from Australia and New Zealand showed that making helmets compulsory for whatever reason reduced the number of cyclists and probably increased the rate of head injury per cycling hour, as drivers were less used to cyclists, as Mr Boardman has said compulsory helmets are not even in the top 10 of making cycling safer, better driver training and enforcement of driving standards would be a far better improvement


    Time Vans, Harrogate
    Agree (72) | Disagree (2)
    +70

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