The big bike helmet debate – readers reject change in law

10.28 | 16 October 2023 | | 35 comments

It would be fair to say our latest reader survey, on whether cycle helmets should become compulsory, elicited a strong response.

The survey followed an opinion piece from Mark Pawsey, in which the MP for Rugby outlines why he is pushing for a change in law to mandate the use of cycle helmets.

It received a staggering 1,102 votes, as well as causing strong debate on social media.

The results of the survey are pretty overwhelming. Some 85% of respondents rejected the idea of mandatory cycle helmets, with 14% in favour. Just 1% were not sure.

Those in favour of the move say cycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury in the event of a collision.

There is evidence to support this.

A University College Dublin (UCD) study, published in 2015, showed cycle helmets offer ‘effective protection at low speeds of less than 50km/h (31 mph)’.

It also concluded cycle helmets offer protection against secondary impacts against the ground after the initial collision.

However, the same study found that helmets become less protective the faster cars are travelling – concluding they are of ‘minimal’ use in crashes with cars travelling at more than 50km/h (31 mph).

And the evidence is not conclusive.

Some studies suggest helmets can contribute towards greater injury in the event of a collision.

Meanwhile, a Dutch study found that 13.3% of cyclists hospitalised in the Netherlands were wearing helmets, despite it being estimated that less than 1% of the county’s cyclists wear helmets.

But when it comes to whether cycle helmets should be mandatory or not, those who oppose the move say the most important factor is the impact on the number of people cycling.

This is because of the safety in numbers effect, the idea that the more people there are cycling, the lower their risk.

Evidence from Australia and New Zealand, where helmets are mandatory, suggests that large numbers of people are deterred from cycling by helmet legislation.

In the year following the introduction of legislation for compulsory helmets in New South Wales (Australia) there was a 36% reduction in cycling levels.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that a total of 136,000 adults and children in New Zealand – nearly 4% of the total population – stopped cycling immediately after the introduction of cycle helmet legislation in 1994.

Looking at it from the other end of the stick, countries with the highest levels of cycling, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, record the lowest levels of helmet use in the world.

Instead, these countries are heralded for delivering well-connected and high quality dedicated infrastructure, public awareness and understanding of cycling, and a culture where most people cycle regularly.

As the charity Sustrans puts it: “We know cycling has many health, social and environmental benefits. If we are to make the most of these benefits, we need to increase, and, therefore, normalise cycling.

“This means putting solutions that are based on the evidence and the experiences of most cycling-friendly countries and cities into practice.”



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

    It would be a lot safer to introduce a speed limit for bicycles as they are currently not limited by law and helmets should be worn even though they only protect your head but your head is quite an important part of you

    alun davies, bridgend
    Agree (3) | Disagree (102)

    If a law is passed making it compulsory to wear helmets when cycling then the government will say they’ve done their bit and forget the matter, when what’s needed is dedicated infrastructure to make cycling and other greener transport safer, rather than painting lines on the road which do nothing to protect anybody.

    Andrew Knowles, Manchester
    Agree (82) | Disagree (1)

    If the evidence fully supported helmets making cycling safer, I’d agree with making them compulsory. However, this one study I heard about a while back made me reconsider –

    As with a lot of stuff in life, things aren’t always as simple as they first appear. Having read the article and how the introduction of helmet laws in Australia and New Zealand caused the number of cyclists to drop, I think this law would be counter productive and a complete waste of time and resource.

    Lead balloon, Exeter
    Agree (50) | Disagree (3)

    I always wear a helmet.its a personal choice. However Pedestrians are actually more at risk of death or serious injury per Km travelled than cyclists. Yet there are no calls for pedestrians to wear helmets!

    John Mills, Kidderminster
    Agree (59) | Disagree (3)

    How about cyclist having some sort of insurance for when the pile drive into pedestrians walking on pavements and correctly using road crossings?

    Too many times they have no lights on their cycles and no hi vis so we can’t see them
    Rogue cyclist seem to be able to go through street lights on red, jump from cycle lanes to pavement at speed without a care for pedestrians, no warning given as they come upon you just a curse because you didn’t move.

    Cycle helmets, lights, hi vis, insurance, bell or some means to warn people of their presence, number marking on bikes or on their clothing to identify them in case of an accident when they pedal off.

    AmS, Manchester
    Agree (17) | Disagree (121)

    Helmets save knocked of my bike by a van back in June and the police officer mentioned (and I totally agree with him) that if I wasn’t wearing my helmet, I could of ended up with brain damage or worse.cctv shows my head hitting the road after being hit by the vehicle.2

    Will, Cowdenbeath
    Agree (15) | Disagree (3)

    They should make it law for people riding electric bikes and scooters on the road to wear some form of protective headgear. As for other cyclists, I think it should be a matter of personal choice.

    Steven Sheppard, Doncaster
    Agree (21) | Disagree (21)

    Honestly, ppl need to decide for themselves.

    Helmet or no helmet. The Goverment needs to take a step back and stay out of this matter.

    Everytime that the Government gets involved in something it creates mass hysteria and turns into a mess.

    We are not children anymore, we do not need to be told what,to do how to do it,and when to do it.

    This country relies on the Government for everything. When last did anybody take a stand and say, we need to think for ourselves.

    If you want to wear a helmet then wear it. If you don’t then leave the ruddy thing at home.

    Noel Russouw, Swansea
    Agree (74) | Disagree (5)

    This subject has introduced some new contributors I notice.. plus a very large number of those agreeing or disgareeing. All very welcome, but where are they when other, arguably more relevant, road safety related subjects come up on this news feed, such as preventing collisions in the first place for example?

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (23) | Disagree (0)

    As the report states if you have read the article fully less than one per cent of people riding a bike in the Netherlands and Denmark wear a helmet , I have not been to Denmark but I have to The Netherlands and also Neighbouring Flanders area of Belgium in both there is no need to wear a helmet a ls in both countries you step out of your house/hotel or where ever and you just about step from the front door straight onto being able to join a bike path , in towns and cities you can ride down the opposite way to traffic on one way streets , Germany is catching up with these countries too in their provisions for other road users other than BMW ,Merc and Audi drivers .

    Michael Ward, Doncaster
    Agree (22) | Disagree (1)

    Fell off my bike whilst helmet..six stitches in my head..normally wear one.

    Philip Nicholson, Riddings
    Agree (10) | Disagree (0)

    Cyclists are the most selfish people on the road

    Pete, Yorkshire
    Agree (41) | Disagree (209)

    If us motorcyclists have to wear helmets by law I don’t see why other two wheel users shouldn’t. After all we had and went through the exact same “consultation”/ argument and those opposing compulsory helmets lost. No big deal as it’s simply a good idea, I always wear a helmet and leathers with armour every time I go on my m/cycle as does everyone I know whether on or off road. Then again let’s just let Darwinism weed out the stupid and reckless bicyclists if that’s what they want but they have to take the blame for their own stupidity.

    Jonny Bravo, Wherever
    Agree (55) | Disagree (173)

    I would not be alive now had I not been wearing a good quality helmet. The accident was not my fault but caused by pedestrian negligence.

    Gillian Marlow, AMLWCH
    Agree (45) | Disagree (14)

    If a cyclist crashes and breaks an arm or leg etc they will be hospitalised, helmet or not. Who comes up with these so called statistics. The comparison needs to be made regarding head injuries only, with and without helmets. Any accident involving a motor vehicle and cyclist nearly always ends up with the vehicle’s driver being blamed, regardless of the cyclist being at fault or not. It’s a lot easier for the justice system to deal with such matters in this way as vehicles are usually covered by insurance. I think that cyclists should have insurance cover too as they can be just as foolish and idiotic as some drivers.

    Sean dawkins, Rolleston
    Agree (78) | Disagree (167)

    The result of the poll is conclusive so can you confirm that in future you will not be publishing articles about helmets and high-vis, and will you delete the opinion piece from the MP. To be honest you should have known better.

    Callum, Stockton-on-Tees
    Agree (73) | Disagree (43)

    This comment in your report makes no sense:
    “Some studies suggest helmets can contribute towards greater injury in the event of a collision.”

    The link that you provide to show evidence fir this assertion takes me to a review of a meta analysis which concludes that the reasoning fir tve Australian mandatory helmet law is based on incorrect assumptions about the main cause of brain injury…..NOTHING to do with helmets contributing towards greater injury in the event of a collision!

    Please ammend your report or show the evidence for this assertion.

    Karen Newman, Laide
    Agree (71) | Disagree (4)

    You would be better doing something more useful with your time like make it mandatory that people have to take there road theory test then wear a hi vis jacket with a number on same as the number on the back of the bike and if on the road insurance all this is more important

    Alan, Wakefield
    Agree (41) | Disagree (145)

    On a recent trip to the Netherlands I noticed that hardly anybody was wearing a helmet. They aren’t necessary
    What is necessary is infrastructure that prevents drivers from hitting cyclists, and better awareness from drivers so that they know to actually look for cyclists. On far too many times I’ve nearly been hit by a car only to hear ‘sorry didn’t see you mate’, when I’m wearing high Vis clothing and lights in daytime.

    The best way to achieve this is for more drivers to start cycling, so that they understand the potential dangers better and drive accordingly. A mandatory helmet law would put more drivers off cycling, and so make cycling more dangerous.

    I wear a helmet btw, but just because I ride fast.

    Ben Synnock, Southampton
    Agree (91) | Disagree (15)

    Wearing cycle helmets became mandatory in New Zealand in 1994, that’s almost 30 years ago. Growing up wearing one has never been an issue for my family. It frustrates me that many cyclists ride like idiots and don’t wear helmets. Research shows wearing a helmet reduces the risk of death by half and reduces head & facial injuries.
    Oh well cyclists choice but I will continue to wear one. Perhaps there should be an NHS cyclist levy on injuries when not doing something to mitigate their risk.

    Agree (32) | Disagree (132)

    If cyclists do not want mandatory wearing of helmets could they then ensure that they read and obey the Highway code in relation to stopping at red traffic lights, pedestrian crossings,giving way where required at roundabouts and junctions and correctly using one way streets this should help lessen the number of cyclist involved in accidents. Take a theory test before bike purchase ?

    David Smith, Yateley
    Agree (62) | Disagree (141)

    As a keen cyclist since the late 80s I have been a helmet wearer since 1990. Never ride a bike without one. Do I think they offer significant protection. No. They only offer superficial protection at best. If you want to protect people from danger then deal with the biggest cause, reckless, dangerous and distracted drivers.

    Squdgy, Swanley
    Agree (125) | Disagree (24)

    I remember a similar debate in the 1960s where riders were overwhelmingly against introduction of mandatory helmets for motorcyclists

    Philip Egley, Worksop
    Agree (18) | Disagree (4)

    There was some argument to protect people from injury, inorder to reduce calls & cost on the National Health Service. Now though there is a growing frustration with how the NHS isn’t working, problem with strands back to Brown’s GP contracts deal, Andrew Lansley’s GP reorganisations, and the overgrowth of executives/administrators.

    Dav Geaves, Ipswich
    Agree (19) | Disagree (2)

    The countries who have the largest number of cyclists also have the infrastructure available to enable safer riding. The UK does not have that luxury. I have been knocked off my bike on numerous occasions and I will be the first to admit that without the helmet I was wearing I probably would not be writing this now. It’s a no brainer! (Pardon the pun)

    Nigel Johnson, Lincoln
    Agree (39) | Disagree (5)

    I agree with the benefits of wearing a helmet and wear one myself.

    However, I am not convinced of the merits of penalising anybody not wearing one because that will only deter people from cycling – as already noted.

    A further factor not so far mentioned is that the lack of a helmet would inevitably become the focus of any altercations with belligerent drivers or the involvement of the police – even if the use of a helmet is irrelevant to the particular situation. Such a result would only give commentators another ‘rod’ to ‘beat’ cyclists with.

    James Duffy, Sheffield
    Agree (67) | Disagree (7)

    Personally I always wear a cycling helmet; I’ve been knocked off by cars 3 times in recent years and fallen off too, always banging my helmet on the ground or a vehicle (thankfully); helmets are a good idea. I dislike the idea of mandatory helmets though; the police have enough to do and I think its silly for any legislature to write unenforceable laws. Truth is, we wouldn’t need helmets, cycle lanes and/or 1.5 metre passing gaps if we had better and more sensible drivers!

    Stephen Carey, Ramsgate
    Agree (97) | Disagree (11)

    I have found that not wearing a helmet on my A road commute has drastically reduced the number of close passes. Given findings about effectiveness of helmets at A road speeds, this translates to much lower risk. By the logic of legally enforcing safety helmets should obviously be banned, although I dont think this is a good route in a democratic country. Let people wear helmets if they really want to 🙂

    alan spey, Bristol
    Agree (39) | Disagree (3)

    Compulsory or not, I always wear one since my brother was knocked off his bike by a careless driver and suffered brain damage, and despite the driver being charged by the police, our solicitor informed us that the onus would be on him to get expert witness testimony that the speed of the car meant a helmet wouldn’t have reduced the injury, otherwise a judge would likely rule 25% contributory negligence for not wearing one and reduce the insurance payout accordingly. This was in Scotland, might be different elsewhere in the UK?

    Ciaran Tracey, Newcastle
    Agree (9) | Disagree (1)

    I know 2 people who probably would’ve had serious of not fatal head injuries if they weren’t wearing a helmet. Both were nowhere near cars. On cycle tracks!! It’s beyond me how anyone would not wear a helmet and not want it to be the law to wear one

    Simon Quick, Chester
    Agree (23) | Disagree (47)

    Fine, don’t wear a helmet and let Darwinism take care of whether or not you were right,
    Thing is once you buy a helmet, wearing it to go for a ride is no more inconvenient than putting on a warm jacket when you go out in the cold etc , don’t get why people have a problem with this, but hey each to their own right.

    Carl, Warrington
    Agree (27) | Disagree (54)

    Maybe allow insurance companies to factor in whether a helmet was worn when determining compensation for head injuries. I.e. if the cyclist was unwilling to take such a rudimentary measure to reduce the consequence of a head injury he bears some responsibility for the outcome.

    Harry Fettes, Ellon
    Agree (75) | Disagree (166)

    I had an accident wearing a Bell helmet which split and I walked away with no ill effects except cuts and grazes!

    Brian Gooch, Northolt
    Agree (46) | Disagree (7)

    I work in a bike industry for over 25 years I have quite a few friends including myself who helmets saved life. I’m not even going to count the amount of my customers who’s helmets saved them from very serious injuries including my boss last week.
    So yes helmets should be mandatory, but then again I see a problem with execution of such a law in London for example where there are hire bikes. We won’t be able to ask every tourist to come here with a helmet.

    Mario The Destroyer, London
    Agree (73) | Disagree (124)

    I wear full face mtb helmet and its saved me from head damage 2 times now on roads. Silly little pastie helmet doesn’t completely protect your face and have seen reports that support this resulting in serious damage to brain when worn and cyclists had accidents

    Micha Bridge, Gravesham
    Agree (58) | Disagree (28)

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