Have you noticed how many people wear cycle helmets in Darlington? Young kids, of course, a fair number of "sports cyclists" trying to reach the urban speed limit, and most officers involved in Local Motion.
Given the present climate of danger for cyclists, this is not surprising, and for children especially extremely sensible. However, taking this a step further and advocating compulsory helmets is a major mistake that many non-cyclists advocate. Look at the facts:
- cycle helmets can only protect adequately in a simple sub-14mph fall, and are almost useless in a collision with a vehicle travelling at speed. Consequently helmet wearing has very little if any impact on the level of genuinely serious injury and fatalities.
- compulsory helmet wearing allows legislators to move their focus from the real problem (speeding and badly driven vehicles) onto secondary factors such as helmets.
- compulsory helmets lead to a reduction in the level of cycling, and so an increase in coronary related deaths at a level at least 10 times larger than the number of lives supposedly saved by compulsory helmet wearing. See "How helmet promotion affects cycle use".
- studies have shown that the most important factor affecting the numbers of cycle accidents is the level of cycle use. Those countries where cycling is most common - Denmark and the Netherlands - have the lowest number of cycling fatalities per kilometre cycled. Moreover, they also have the lowest level of cycle helmet use - just 0.1% in the Netherlands, compared to the UK's 22% in 1996. See "Cycle use, risk of fatality and helmet use in Europe and USA" for more details of the research.
'Today we all stand at a crossroads between a US-style car culture and a sustainable European multi modal system. The decisions we take now and the levels of investment that we attach to them will determine where we end up' - UK Commission for Integrated Transport