James Daley: The Cycling Column

The jury's still out on this 'piece of polystyrene'
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Indy Lifestyle Online

When I'm not writing about cycling, I spend most my time penning articles about money: elderly people being robbed of their pensions, banks ripping off consumers, insurers refusing to pay up - all in a day's work. Yet while I receive the odd e-mail or two when I write about these contentious topics, it's as nothing compared to the volume of mail that arrived over the past week, after I dared to suggest cycle helmets should be compulsory for children.

I have to admit to being a little baffled as to how people can get quite so excited about this. OK, so there are indeed a large number of studies that "prove" cycle helmets make little difference to cyclists' safety; just as there is an equally large body of evidence "proving" the opposite. But whichever paper you favour, it's hard to find anyone who won't concede helmets can make a difference occasionally.

Although the majority of letters I received this week pointed to studies proving the inefficiency of helmets, none of these had the resonance of the two I received from a doctor and a surgeon. Both regularly treat children for cycling-related head injuries, and insist their patients could have scraped by with much less-severe injuries had they been wearing a helmet.

Two years ago, the respected British Medical Association changed its policy to become a full supporter of mandatory helmet use for both adults and children. And when it comes to children at least, I agree. It seems to me from reading a number of different papers, that at worst helmets have no effect on safety and, at best, they considerably reduce the chances of suffering serious brain damage.

As I wrote last week, I don't in fact support mandatory helmet laws for adults. But I would like to see a society where more adults are at least aware of the potential benefits of helmets, and where those who choose not to wear them do so because they are well-informed, rather than because they are followers of fashion.

I listen to my iPod as I cycle around London - something my friends and family give me a hard time over. And I'm sure I'd be naïve to suggest it does not increase my risk of being involved in an accident. Nevertheless, I make a conscious decision to ride this way, and would surely resent anyone trying to stop me - just as I can understand how the anti-helmet bunch would resist being forced to wear a "piece of polystyrene" on their heads.

So I'm not completely without sympathy for this movement. But there is clearly more of a debate to be had. So for those of you who still get more excited about helmets than OAPs losing their pensions, take a look at these two links: www.cyclehelmets.org and www.bma.org.uk/ap.nsf/Content/cyclehelmetslegis.

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