Wednesday, July 22, 1998 Published at 00:10 GMT 01:10 UK
Take the hard way, cyclists urged
Campaigners say 70% of deaths in bike accidents are due to head injuries
Many of the 1,000 children a year who die or are seriously injured in cycling accidents could be saved if they wore a helmet, according to a new national charity.
The Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust (BHIT), which is launched on Wednesday in the presence of the Public Health Minister Tessa Jowell, says about 70% of deaths in cycling accidents are a result of head injuries.
It estimates that wearing helmets reduces the risk of severe head injuries by 85% and the risk of brain injury by 90%.
The charity, which is supported by the World Health Organisation, has developed from a local Berkshire organisation set up by nurse Angie Lee.
A paediatric trauma nurse, she formed Helmet Your Head in Reading in 1992 after being involved with two teenagers who had cycle accidents.
One, 13-year-old Philip Tribe, died in her arms eight months after a bike accident. The other, 14-year-old Darren Sharp, suffered permanent brain damage. Neither was wearing a helmet.
Helmet Your Head says it has increased the number of children who wear helmets in the Reading area from 23% to 69% in five years and to have reduced treatment for head injuries by 45%, saving £3.5m in care bills.
"The same thing is happening every day all around the country - it's a terrible waste of young lives.
"The most galling thing is that most of these tragedies can be avoided. We've shown locally that you can get children to wear helmets."
BHIT aims to boost helmet-wearing among children from the current 18% to 40% in two years.
It says the main reason children do not wear helmets is that they do not want to "look like a nerd". However, it says 60% want wearing helmets to be made compulsory.
BHIT is also campaigning for helmets to be made compulsory for under-16s. The British Medical Association recently voted in favour of compulsion, but stopped short of calling for a change in current legislation.
Cyclists' groups are not so convinced. The European Cyclists' Federation says claims about the effectiveness of cycle helmets are exaggerated.
It believes other factors, such as more cycle lanes and driver awareness of cyclists, are more important in ensuring cyclists' safety.