All calls for it to be compulsory for cyclists to wear a helmet carry certain assumptions: that cycling is inherently dangerous, which it isn’t; that cyclists carry the burden of responsibility for their safety, when actually motorists and road planners should be playing a far bigger part; that helmets decrease the likelihood of a cyclist being knocked off their bike, when there is evidence that the opposite is the case; that head injuries are what cyclists in accidents primarily suffer, when in fact they are much more likely to suffer injuries to their limbs and bodies.
Of two other things we can be certain: that if helmets were to be made compulsory, then the huge and entirely welcome take-up in cycling that Britain has seen in the past few years would come to an instant halt; and that if the police were expected to book every cyclist who rode helmet-less, then the legal system would likely collapse under the strain.
The latest high-profile figure to call for compulsory helmet use is the Olympic cycling champion Laura Trott, whose criticisms of cyclists – “they weave in and out of buses and wonder why they get hit” – will go down well in certain quarters, especially among motorists. Many cyclists do conduct themselves appallingly, jumping red lights and riding on the pavement. And if you ride like a maniac then, yes, you are almost certainly better off wearing a helmet (and you should be punished for your transgressions). But that must remain a free choice.
Every cycling death is a tragedy that could have been avoided, and the pro-helmet lobby will point to statistics such as the 107 cycling fatalities in 2011. But how many pedestrians were killed during the same period? The answer is 423. Should we therefore legally oblige people to don protective clothing every time they cross the road on foot?
There is risk in everything. And there is also such a thing as personal responsibility. These are self-evident truths that simply can’t be legislated out of existence.