When Boris Johnson was elected as the new London Mayor last week everyone knew that it would not be long before he did something silly and got plastered all over the newspapers; who love to portray him as a buffoon. But who would have thought that the press criticising him for not wearing a helmet while cycling would cause more debate than him going through red traffic lights.
Almost all the comments on the BBC website about this story were of how not wearing a helmet was not against the law and the press should back off.
As a non-helmet wearing cyclist, I did a bit of research and found a number of articles which pointed out that when Canada and Australia introduced legislation making all cyclists wear helmets the number of cyclist significantly dropped. I guess anyone aged between 15-20 would rather walk then look like a geek!
I also found a report which argued that wearing a helmet actually made cyclists feel over confident and hence take risks they would not normally take and therefore made cycling with a helmet more dangerous. Here is a small extract from the article:
Wearing a helmet only marginally reduces the extent of head injury following collision with a motor vehicle. Thus, cyclists who wear a helmet do so with an inflated idea of its protective properties. Indeed, this illusion is encouraged by road safety campaigners and helmet manufacturers who set out to persuade cyclists that they will be safer with a helmet, using all the techniques of modern advertising. Cyclists are not warned of the limited benefit provided by a helmet in an accident with a motor vehicle.
An appropriate solution to the problem of serious accidents to cyclists requires an understanding of the circumstances in which accidents occur. Cyclists rarely ride into motor vehicles. It is motor vehicles driven without sufficient care which are the source of most of the danger and which pose the threat to the life and limb of cyclists. Calling on cyclists to increase their safety by wearing a helmet shifts responsibility away from the drivers, the agents of accidents, on to cyclists who are nearly always the victims. Were cycle helmets to be made compulsory, it would reinforce public perceptions of the bicycle as a dangerous form of transport and encourage the view that cyclists are responsible for their own injury.
My view is this; if you don’t want to wear a helmet, don’t, if you fall off your bike and land on your head it will hurt more than if you were wearing a helmet, but that’s your choice. But if you do choose to wear a helmet, don’t expect it to make a big difference to your injuries if you get hit by a car!
We definitely don’t need any laws telling us we all have to wear a helmet to ride a bicycle and I can guarantee the journalist who wrote the story about Boris not wearing a helmet doesn’t cycle to work.