Cycle body prompts helmet row

Opinion is divided over how much helmets protect cyclists
Opinion is divided over how much helmets protect cyclists
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A LEADING Edinburgh cycling group has sparked controversy by saying cyclists should not be forced to wear helmets – and has even pledged to refuse to publicise events which make them compulsory.

Spokes, which is based in the Capital and has been campaigning for 25 years for better conditions for cyclists, claims that on occasions helmets can do more harm than good.

Ian Maxwell, an active member of the charity, said that cyclists may take less care when kitted out with helmets, and said they can cause as well as prevent injuries. He said a move to make them compulsory could force bikes off the road.

Mr Maxwell, who does wear a helmet himself, said: “We are concerned that some sponsored rides are making it compulsory for riders to wear helmets. We are not saying they should or shouldn’t be worn but that people should be able to make up their own minds.

“The point we want to make is that in terms of cycle safety, it is more important to have cyclists and other road users paying attention to each other. Often helmets are seen as safety aids in themselves.”

He said evidence from other countries suggests that where helmets are made compulsory, the number of cyclists on the road drops. Mr Maxwell added: “If you go the Netherlands, there are far higher levels of cycling and very few wear helmets. Their accident rates are lower than ours.

“There are accidents when because of a helmet the head has moved in a way it wouldn’t have done without a helmet. Of children who were admitted to hospital after a cycling accident, eight per cent had head injuries and of those a quarter would have been prevented by a helmet.

“If they really want to increase safety pedestrians should wear helmets as well. They get head injuries because of road accidents.

“We’re not anti-helmets, we’re anti-compulsion.”

Spokes says it has spoken out about the issue because new powers devolved to the Scottish Government meant it could pass a law making the wearing of helmets compulsory, and because there had been an increase in events where participants had to wear helmets. Among the events that will no longer be promoted by Spokes include the Trossachs Ton and Tour de Forth.

David Graham, head of fundraising for Action Medical Research, which organises the Trossachs Ton and more than 20 other cycling events in the UK annually, said “We believe that wearing cycle helmets is likely to give a level of protection that riders wouldn’t otherwise have.”

SAFETY FIRST

IT is recognised that helmets do not guarantee protection for the wearer, nor prevent accidents from happening in the first place, but RoSPA does recommend that all cyclists wear a cycle helmet that meets a recognised safety standard.

Cycle helmets, when correctly worn, are effective in reducing the risk of receiving major head or brain injuries in an accident. Cycling helmets are not a legal requirement, but wearing one is one of the things that you can do to make yourself safer.

A cycle helmet cushions the head in a fall, providing a last line of defence between your head and the ground. It reduces the force of an impact before it reaches your head and brain. The hard outer shell spreads the force of a blow over a wider area.

Should compulsory cycle helmet legislation be considered, it should be based on evidence that helmets are effective in reducing casualties, and that voluntary use is sufficiently high for enforcement of the law to be practical.