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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 June, 2004, 00:25 GMT 01:25 UK
Call for mandatory cycle helmets
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Helmet laws should be for all ages, say researchers
The law should be changed so all cyclists have to wear helmets, UK researchers say.

Edinburgh University experts argue that advertising campaigns promoting cycle helmets are not working.

They say that, ideally, both adults and children should be made to wear helmets when cycling.

At the very least, under 16s should have to wear helmets, they say in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Edinburgh University's Professor Sheikh, along with colleagues from the Health Commission and Imperial College London, looked at the arguments for and against helmet legislation.

On balance, we do think the legislation should be pushed forward
Professor Aziz Sheikh from the University of Edinburgh

They found the evidence for the effectiveness of cycle helmets was strong.

Evidence shows helmets offer substantial protection against head injury and there is a strong association between increasing helmet use and declining injury rates.

He told BBC News Online evidence from the US "seemed to point very clearly" to the benefits of wearing cycle helmets.

He added that, while evidence from New Zealand and Australia pointed in the same direction, there was some suggestion the fall in head injury rates could have been caused by a decline in the numbers who cycled.

But he said, overall, evidence suggested making cycle helmets compulsory was beneficial.

"The consensus is that they reduce anything up to 88% of serious head injuries if they are used," said Professor Sheikh, from the Division of Community Health Sciences.

"In an ideal world I would like to see a massive uptake of cycle helmets among children and adults in Britain voluntarily but we know that voluntary measures have had little impact," he said.

Only one in five regular cyclists uses a helmet, he said.

Ethical debate

Opponents argue that making helmets mandatory for cyclists removes individual choice, infringing on civil liberties.

They also worry that cyclists will be so put off they will stop using this healthy mode of transport.

Cycling groups claim making it illegal for under 16s to cycle without a helmet is likely to exacerbate the problem of obesity.

And the British Medical Association says it is in favour of cycle helmets - but says compulsion could mean people abandon cycling and exercise in general because of issues such as the cost of new equipment.

However Professor Sheikh's team argue that there are good grounds for compulsory cycle helmets.

There's a perception by some people it's not cool. We need to get over that
Department for Transport spokesman

Bicycle helmet laws in other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, have reduced cycling-related head injuries and fatalities with good uptake, they say.

Also, any decline in popularity of cycling after legislation tends to be short term.

"There may be a temporary knock-on effect in Britain but in the long term I don't think it will have any sustainable impact, just like motorcycle helmets," said Professor Sheikh.

He believes most people would accept the legislation.

One rule for all

A Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill was introduced to parliament this year. This would make it mandatory for all children under the age of 16 to wear helmets when cycling.

The bill is due for a second reading in the House of Commons on 18 June.

Professor Sheikh said this was a step in the right direction, but not enough.

"Really it should be introduced across the board, otherwise we are sending out quite mixed signals," he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said public support was needed before such a law could be passed.

"At the moment, the wearing rates are relatively low. In order to make something mandatory, you need to have a certain level of compliance.

"We are keen to see as many people as possible wearing helmets. We encourage people to wear cycle helmets. But what we do not want to see is people discouraged from cycling because they do not want to wear one.

"There's a perception by some people it's not cool. We need to get over that," he said.

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