Boris Johnson may not be the height of cool, but he has divided opinion on a controversial subject that has been contested keenly for years. The Mayor of London is regularly photographed in the nation’s capital, happily riding his bike to Whitehall, seemingly oblivious to the attention he receives for preserving his unkempt blond hair under a simple contraption that could one day safe his life. The device is cheap, can be bought worldwide, and is hardly revolutionary. That device is the humble cycle helmet.
But why the difference of opinion? Surely in the 21st century people can make up their own minds as to whether to wear one. The key fact is this: wearing a bicycle helmet in the UK is not compulsory. Whilst a seat belt is regarded as a safety necessity in a vehicle, the British public can cycle on busy roads with absolutely no protection.
In recent years, surveys suggest that the wearing of a bicycle helmet by the adult population in the UK has increased. By contrast, the figures reveal a constant for children: for the self-conscious youth, fashion may be more important than wellbeing.
There is no doubt that helmets offer the best chances for survival to the cyclist. However, a poll undertaken two years ago by the British Medical Journal tells a different story. From nearly 1,500 respondents – over half being doctors – 68% deemed bicycle helmets should not be mandatory for the UK’s adult cyclists.
On average, 40% of all bicycle hospital admissions are head-related. Helmets are alleged to reduce head injuries by 85%. These are basic statistics, and are not surprising. But here is the twist in the tale: why, when the use of helmets is increasing, are the death rates for UK cyclists increasing?
A solid starting point for this inconsistency is the huge increase of bicycles on the roads. Cycling is now more popular than ever, thanks in no small part to the success of the two-wheeled Olympians. The recently-crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Bradley Wiggins, has publically stated that, whilst safety is paramount, the wearing of helmets should remain optional.
The main argument for the non-compulsory wearing of helmets is that the statistics are flawed and inaccurate. Shouldn’t motorists wear helmets if the number of deaths on the road is increasing? Why single out cyclists? Others claim that mandatory helmets may reduce the levels of exercise, and so will affect the nation’s health.
No one will argue freedom of choice is a bad thing. But when it comes to personal safety, is there a price too high? www.NoWinNoFee.com has revealed that compensation paid out by insurers will be lowered – in some cases drastically – to cyclists who make claims when involved in an accident without wearing a helmet. The insurers’ argument is that the cyclist has not made the desired effort to protect themselves, putting them at a greater risk. In a litigious society, this alone could be the reason to wear a helmet.