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Wednesday, July 8, 1998 Published at 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK

Health: Latest News

Cycle helmets for all?

Doctors are calling for the compulsory use of cycle helmets

Two-thirds of head injuries caused by bicycle accidents could be prevented if cyclists wore helmets, doctors have revealed.

Representatives at the British Medical Association's annual meeting in Cardiff were in agreement that all cyclists should wear helmets.

But they stopped short of calling for legislation to make the wearing of helmets compulsory, and instead have agreed to study the issue further after warnings that a heavy handed approach would deter people from cycling at all.

Dr Geoff Horton from Argyll said the introduction of a law on wearing cycle helmets in Australia had reduced head injuries by 63%. Accidents involving unconsciousness were down 86%.

He said: "If you fall or are pushed off a bike, one of the heaviest parts of the body - the head - is likely to hit the ground first. Why do we have regulations for cars and motor cycles, but not for pedal cycles?" he asked.

His call came on the day the government unveiled a new advertisement to encourage people to belt up in the rear seat of cars.


However, not all doctors agreed with his point of view. Dr Stephen Watkins, head of the BMA's public health committee, warned that, since compulsion had been introduced in Australia in 1991, the number of people cycling had fallen considerably.

"Helmets seem to be a barrier to people making a very desirable shift in lifestyle and, on balance, that could be harmful to health."

Professor Jack Howell, chairman of the BMA's board of science, said it was unequivocal BMA policy that cycle helmets should be worn at all times, but the implications of making helmets legally compulsory needed further investigation.

He said a balance had to be struck and it was important that people were not deterred from taking up the habit.


Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of the BMA research group, said there were several possible reasons why helmets discouraged people from cycling. For example, they were expensive and children needed regular replacements.

[ image: Cycle helmets could discourage people from cycling]
Cycle helmets could discourage people from cycling
BMA policy is currently to oppose the compulsory wearing of helmets because it might discourage people from cycling.

The European Cyclists' Federation, which has 250,000 members in 17 countries, is also against the compulsory use of helmets.

It says helmets can reduce some cycling injuries and deaths, but it claims their safety record "is often exaggerated".

Its members want safety campaigns to be aimed more at educating cyclists and motorists about the risks of accidents, improving equipment and traffic circulation.

They say: "A law requesting cyclists always wear helmets would be totally in contrast to the nature of the bicycle as a simple and convenient form of transport."

Cycling is one of the elements of the government's forthcoming transport White Paper.

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