James Daley: The Cycling Column

Mind your head and get a helmet on
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I'm constantly amazed by the number of cyclists in Britain who still don't bother to wear a helmet, especially those who are regularly braving dangerous inner-city roads. There's no end of independent research which, not surprisingly, shows that wearing a cycle helmet reduces your chance of being seriously injured in an accident considerably.

According to a study from the US, you're 65 per cent less likely to suffer brain damage and almost 75 per cent less likely to sustain a serious brain injury if you wear a helmet. That's more than compelling enough evidence to convince me.

Although similar statistics relating to car crashes led to seat belts being made mandatory across most of the world, the British government continues to remain relatively indifferent when it comes to cycling safety.

Perhaps this would make some sense if there was any kind of compelling evidence against trying to increase helmet use. But there really isn't. The argument that the anti-helmet lobby has been relying on for decades, is that making cycle helmets mandatory would discourage people from taking to their bikes - a claim that simply isn't borne out by the statistics.

Although the number of people taking to their bikes in the Australian state of Victoria did indeed fall by as much as 40 per cent in the year after compulsory helmet use was enforced, this trend was soon reversed over the following years. Meanwhile, the number of cyclists seriously injured fell dramatically.

Another more recent, and equally flimsy argument, against making cycle helmets mandatory, is that cars tend to give cyclists less room if they see they are wearing a helmet. What a ridiculous assertion. Are policemen who wear body armour more likely to get shot? And even if they are, does that mean they should stop wearing it?

Britain is quickly moving into the minority by maintaining its nonchalant stance over cycle helmets. Australia, New Zealand, Spain and some 20 states in the US have already made helmets compulsory for all. While Canada, Iceland and the Czech Republic all force children to wear helmets.

This would seem a sensible starting point for the UK. More than half of all cycling accidents in Britain involve children, and the majority of these occur off-road, where cycle lanes, car speed limits and driver education (the current favoured policies for reducing cycling accidents) are all redundant.

Although my disinclination towards the nanny state means I'm not sure I could support a move to make cycle helmets compulsory for all, a move to compel children to wear them - who are not necessarily old enough to know better - would at least ensure that every Briton grew up understanding the benefits of helmet use.

For too many, it still comes down to a matter of fashion or merely apathy. Surely many would change their minds if the Government invested in one of its shock advertising campaigns, such as the drink-drive adverts that have proved so successful.

A move to increase helmet standards is also overdue. Although cycle helmets must pass basic British safety standards before they can hit the shelves, many still fall well below the more stringent standards that are imposed in the US.

An academic paper published in the Journal of Sports Sciences last month revealed that several helmet makers have added air vents to their helmets which, in fact, provide no extra ventilation, but have rendered them less robust.

For some reason, cycle helmet use still seems to be a relatively emotive subject in the UK, but it would be nice to at least see the Government engaging in the debate.

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