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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK
MPs' lobby: Cycle helmets for the young
Photo of Eric Martlew MP
Eric Martlew thinks young cyclists should wear helmets, do you?
Government figures show child cyclists are three times more likely to die on UK roads than adult cyclists.

The Labour MP for Carlisle, Eric Martlew, wants to make it compulsory for all cyclists under 16 to wear helmets.

Supporters of the bill include the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust and Formula One driver David Coulthard, but opponents say the measure will deter children from taking up cycling and may contribute to increases in obesity.

What the Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill will do
Increase the safety of cycling for under-16s by making it mandatory to wear a helmet
Responds to research and guidance of the Department of Transport and relevant charities indicating that helmets reduce the incidence and severity of head injuries
Help meet government targets to reduce the numbers of children killed on the roads by 50% by 2010
Would you let your children ride on their bikes without head protection? Do you think the law should intervene? Or will the need for a helmet put children off a healthy, outdoor activity?

We've put your questions to Eric Martlew MP. The interview appears below, or you can watch it on BBC Parliament on Thursday 22 April at 2245 BST.

The following comments reflect the balance of the opinions we have received:

I wear a helmet because - whatever the arguments may be - I think it is probably safer. I would like my children to do so also (for the same reason), but they refuse, because it is uncool and their friends would laugh at them. If it were a legal requirement we would have more force for our argument.
Alistair Edwards, York

One of my sons possibly owes his life to a cycle helmet
Andrew, Durham
My family and I always wear cycle helmets when riding bikes and tandems, and would feel vulnerable without them. One of my sons possibly owes his life to a cycle helmet which protected his head when involved in a nasty crash from his mountain bike. For us it is the norm and no more unusual than seal belts in the car. However the proposed law to make helmet wearing compulsory seems both unfair and unnecessary. Why single out children to wear helmets? Surely if more adults wore helmets children would accept it as the norm. I am pleased that competitive cyclists now generally wear helmets, and I'm sure this will rub off on all the budding 'yellow jerseys' out there. Maybe making safety training and advice compulsory to those selling bikes would be a better way of raising safety awareness amongst cyclists?
Andrew Charles, Durham

According to a TRL survey only 6.5% of young people on urban local roads are wearing helmets. Trying to enforce this law from such a low level of use would be a nightmare. By all means let's have advice and guidance on wearing helmets but let's not legislate - it will only reduce the number of people cycling and do nothing to address the health timebomb that childhood obesity represents.
Kennedy Fraser, Lenzie, Scotland

I think that compulsory cycle helmets for children are an infringement of their rights and freedoms. The problem is clearly incompetent drivers. Driving should be treated as a privilege not a right. The only way of making cycling safer is to introduce immediate suspension of a driving licence when a pedestrian or cyclist is involved in a motor accident.
David Emeny, Oxford

Parents and older children should be trusted to make decisions like this for themselves. This is a bad case of the nanny state. I closely follow the debate about wearing cycle helmets. The case for wearing them is not proven and no-one should be forced to do so.
Gary Parker, Sheffield

All it will do is to dissuade youngsters from starting to ride a bike
Mike, Cambridge
While I think it's sensible that cyclists wear a helmet, legislation is not the answer. All it will do is dissuade youngsters from starting to ride a bike. I think it's symptomatic of British business that this initiative is driven by a helmet manufacture, and that the statistics the BHIT use are wrong.
Mike Law, Cambridge

We cannot wrap our children in cotton wool. This is trying to fix something that is not broken. Let children be children and worry about more important things!
Tony, Cayman Islands

Compulsory helmet laws have been tried in several countries. The result is always fewer people cycling and an unchanged or higher rate of head injury. No one wears a helmet in the Netherlands, but a much higher proportion of people cycle with a much lower death rate. In the USA fewer people cycle with a much higher death rate.
Mike Sales, Bangor

Any cyclist should wear a helmet,as they share the roads with other vehicles. Even in parks, any parent who cares for their child by purchasing a bike surely doesn't wish to compromise their safety?
Kevin Lim, Singapore

A laudable but ultimately pointless exercise. Existing legislation with respect to cyclists (e.g. lights, riding on pavements) is not enforced, rendering it useless. This would not be enforced either, and thus will just be a waste of politicians' time.
Kevin Bennett, Newton Abbot

My kids think cycling fun and have respect for the law. If cycle helmets become compulsory one or both of these will change.
Tony Robinson, Cambridge

Mr Martlew, the Australian experience of helmet compulsion, in which accident rates per mile went up, and cyclist numbers dropped, was a failure. What makes you think the UK will be any different?
Andy Gates, Exeter

Don't criminalise kids in the countryside because our cities are so dangerous to cycle in. Besides, are parents really going to follow their kids around making sure they haven't taken their helmet off, or are they instead going to stop them going out cycling on their own so they can be sure? I race mountain bikes and always wear a helmet, and it's saved my life several times, but please, let's not have another law trying to force common sense on us and in the process inhibiting our personal freedom.
Simon Raistrick, London

We created a cycle club four years ago. When the club started hardly anyone used helmets. Now most do. If helmets had been compulsory I suspect the club would never have existed and all those health and leisure benefits would have been lost. As it is, most members and all the children use helmets in any case.
James Brook, Ripon, North Yorkshire

One of the principal sponsors of the BHIT is a helmet manufacturer
Tom, N Ireland
Is Mr Martlew aware that one of the principal sponsors of the BHIT is a helmet manufacturer? Why is he promoting the interests of helmet manufacturers and wholesalers above the interests of cyclists, young and old? Looking at his photo, Eric could do with weight loss and more exercise! What is he doing about his own personal integrated daily activity? Does cycling short journeys instead of taking the car feature in his regime?
Tom McClelland, Crumlin, N Ireland

There are too many fat children as it is. I rode my bike to school from the age of eight or nine. What a wonderful sense of freedom it gave me. The sort of feeling too many children now are denied by an over protective society. I'm thirty-five so hardly over the hill. Get kids outside and away from the telly and mummy let them grow and learn for themselves. The odd bump and bang is all part of the process. The odd tragic death should not mean moronic laws to shackle the rest of us. So yes, I am against this nonsense.
John Frankiss, Aberdeen

A terrible idea based on flawed statistics. Evidence from other countries where this has already been tried shows the overall effect is to reduce the number of child cyclists dramatically thereby increasing the problem of juvenile obesity. However, of those cyclists who remain, head injury rates do not improve. Why should the UK be any different?
Tim Steele, Cambridge

Maybe it would be better to enforce the existing regulations on using lights. It's not unusual to see cyclists at night without lights and that must be far more dangerous than cycling without a helmet!
JMW, Reading

If your looking to make helmet wearing compulsory, first look at which group of road users suffer from the most and severest head injuries. A helmet may help in some cases but cannot prevent the brain from being shaken around in the skull, like a pea in a can, and this is what causes the most severe brain damage. Who will be next? The pedestrian, in case they trip over, or get hit by vehicle. Please look to the cause of the problem, not to ineffective sticking plasters which only ease the conscience and gives licence to motorists to carry on the carnage on our roads.
Eddie, Southampton

It's what's in your head that matters, not what's on your head!
George Riches, Coventry

Risks ... should be minimised by much stricter controls on traffic speeds
Patrick, Hampshire
I would encourage children to wear a cycle helmet but making it a legal requirement is just silly. How could such a law be enforced? Would anyone over 16 cycling without a helmet be required to have proof of their age? We need more people out on their bikes regularly. Anything that discourages this, especially among children and teenagers will just add to the 'epidemic of obesity'. Risks to children cycling on the road should be minimised by much stricter controls on traffic speeds in residential areas and near schools.
Patrick Pavey, Romsey, Hampshire

The life expectancy of a regular cyclist is several years longer than the life expectancy of a non-cyclist, yet this country seems to be obsessed with labelling cycling as a dangerous activity. This is why the British Medical Association is against this law. If people are put off cycling by it, it will cost many more lives than it saves.
Jon Marshall, London

It should be law that every car and lorry driver ensures their vehicle is totally covered in 1 metre thick super spongy foam. Motorists are the ones with the lethal weapon - why should kids be targeted when they're just trying to enjoy their youth? It's a ridiculous idea for an unenforceable law which will just stop children getting exercise and fresh air.
Toby, London

In Scotland in 2002 there were 14 children killed in road accidents. 12 were pedestrians and two were car passengers. No child cyclists were killed. It would appear this bill would be more effective if it required pedestrians or car passengers to wear helmets. This bill will reduce overall life expectancy by discouraging children from adopting an active lifestyle. Cycling is not a dangerous activity.
I Cullen, East Dumbartonshire

Yes, let's put more people off cycling by making it appear much more dangerous than it actually is. Why not improve training for drivers and riders - particularly children? Oh yes, that's not a simple as a stupid helmet law.
Mat Leicester, Leicester

The word 'mandatory' is listed as meaning "obligatory, compulsory in North America (USA, Canada)". Is this bill really intended for those nations and not the UK?
John, Cheltenham

The proposal is illiberal and attacks the victims rather than the perpetrators of harm on the roads. Road safety should address those who engage in activities that are intrinsically dangerous to others rather than criminalizing those at risk of harm. There is little to demonstrate that the wearing of helmets by cyclists makes the roads safer for cyclists. It merely insulates those to blame from the consequences of their activities.
Laurence Target, London

I think cycle helmets should be compulsory for anyone
Ian, UK
I think cycle helmets should be compulsory for anyone (child or adult) who rides a bicycle. It's not "the nanny state", but a means of ensuring the safety of cyclists. You don't have to be knocked off a bike by a motorist. People can fall off a bike for any number of reasons, on the road or the pavement, and hit their heads. This can sometimes have tragic consequences. If people can't or won't make an informed choice for themselves or their children to wear cycle helmets, I think the government is right to make them do it by law. It should certainly be made law for children under 16 to wear a cycle helmet.
Ian, UK

Why does every other country's experience of mandatory helmet laws show they don't increase cyclist safety?
Clive George, Settle, Yorkshire

Do your sums: 46,000 people a year die early because of lack of exercise, but the number of children who would be saved by this law is infinitesimal. Why is it that when a similar law was introduced in Alberta, the death and injury rate to child cyclists doubled? And should you really be led by a single issue lobby group (BHIT), obsessed with forcing helmet-wearing on the general public, when their previous claims were fiction and exaggeration, and there is no reliable evidence to show that helmets actually make any difference whatsoever?
Richard Burton, Bristol

Where cycle helmet use has become mandatory, cycle use has diminished but accident rates per mile have increased.
Alan Batchelor, Birmingham

I have just returned from a camping trip with my kids. Every evening they had a great time on the campsite with other kids riding bikes around on the grass. I imagine campsites, parks and maybe even some privately owned cycle tracks will ban kids from cycling if this law is introduced as they will not be able to enforce helmet wearing and will be worried about being sued. Great law Eric! How about compulsory eye goggles for fishermen? All those rods and hooks could have your eye out after all. Why stop there, most accidents occur in the home so maybe it would be safer to insist on donning full protective gear before crossing the threshold!
Adrian Lord, Birmingham

Don't blame the victims. How about reducing vehicle speeds and removing the source of the danger. Also invest in more cycle training for children. The more skilled they are, the better they can look after themselves.
Gordon Maclay, Harrogate

the enormous dent would have been in his skull had he not been wearing the helmet
Gemma, London
After seeing my friend's cycle helmet after an accident I realised it probably saved his life. He went head first into a fence and the enormous dent would have been in his skull had he not been wearing the helmet. It should be compulsory for all cyclists to wear helmets when cycling on the roads. They might not be the height of fashion but I'm sure any parent out there would rather their child was safe. It is all very well blaming incompetent drivers but my friend's accident was due to a problem with his bike. I think slowly young people's attitudes are changing as more and more children grow up wearing cycle helmets from an early age.
Gemma, London

The government should provide advice to parents and children, but not impose silly regulations that are impractical to enforce. Any new law would also be ignoring the tendency of people to take more risks when they feel safer.
Justin Seabrook, Brighton

Here in the Low Countries hardly anyone wears a helmet but despite this, cyclist injury rates are dramatically less than in the UK. Would you agree that the real way forward for road safety is to increase cycling rates in line with Holland and Belgium?
Daisy Dawes, Bruges Belgium

Our children have always worn helmets when cycling - even in the back garden. After all, if they fall off they can hit their head wherever they are. Since the children started to cycle, both my husband and I have worn helmets, for safety and as an example. Our son is now 15 and it's not an issue at all - he just puts his helmet on when he cycles. I would make it law for all cyclists to wear helmets - the price of a helmet is a small price to pay for safety. A boy we know survived being knocked off his bike only because he was wearing a helmet. The doctors said he would have been dead otherwise. Make it law please, for all cyclists.
Angie Menary, Reigate, England

There was a similar outcry when it was made compulsory to wear a seat belt but look how many lives are saved due to that measure.
Sam, Cambridge

How many of these so-called cyclist injuries are head injuries? When I was a teenager most of the injuries I sustained were to arms and knees, so why not make total body armour compulsory?
Mark Harvey, Grays, Essex

Once again motorists are let off the hook! There is no evidence that helmets make cycling safer. In fact drivers often drive more aggressively because they perceive the cyclist has protection, just as accident rates increased after seat belt legislation was introduced. If the police bothered to catch and fine the sloppy, aggressive, homicidally dangerous drivers on our roads they would do a lot to stop cyclists getting hurt and killed.
P Walsh, London

How many of this age group would actually take notice of the law, and wear a helmet?
Paul Kirby, Northants
Quite a portion of children, especially around the ages of 11-16 have a very negative stance on the law, and go through a period of rebelliousness. Speaking as a teen myself, I wonder if creating a law, actually make a huge amount of difference to teenagers? I'm not trying to make teenagers look like we take part in illegal activities, but most have a firm distaste for the law. How many of this age group would actually take notice of the law, and wear a helmet? Would the police be able to enforce it? Would this make even worse Police-Teenager relationships? Also, do all people own safety helmets? Would people have to buy more equipment to be able to use their, already fairly expensive bikes?
Paul Kirby, Wellingborough, Northants

Such a law should only be applicable if cycling on roads. Cycling on a canal path, pavement etc should not be included. Rather than dealing with the effects of falling off the authorities should prevent accidents by filling in pot holes. Separating traffic and cycles should be the priority for the government (local and national) not enforcing helmet wearing.
David Vincent, Barnet, London

How much further is government going to encroach on individual liberty? They should certainly recommend all cyclists wear helmets, but not legislate to ensure it.
Stephen Plunkett, London

Young cyclists need to learn to ride without the distractions of headgear
Graham Neale, London
You are a self publicist, pandering to a lobby group with vested interests. How many miles a week do you cycle? Did you wear a helmet when you were learning to ride? Who will pay for the helmets? If my daughter loses, breaks, has her helmet stolen, should she walk home, use public transport, push the bike, or risk a fine? Who will pay her fine if she refuses to wear a helmet? When teaching children to swim, it is important that they spend time without floatation devices, so that they learn about their natural buoyancy; young cyclists need to learn to ride without the distractions of headgear. If you simply want to "reduce the numbers of children killed on the roads", why not simply make it illegal for children to cross roads? Most cycle accidents are the result of incompetent drivers. If compulsion is so popular, why not issue an edict making adults wear helmets - is it because they can't vote you out?
Graham Neale, London

I agree the helmet is a much needed and necessary item but running, jogging, dieting and a regular interest in safety is also a good habit to practise. Accidents are not foreseeable and we have come a long way to go in providing safety equipment for athletes. Perhaps this law will encourage the youth to make the right choice about wearing helmets and show them that we do care about their safety.
Andrew L. Lewis, New York

Isn't this just another example of the 'nanny state' in action? We can all think of laws which would improve safety. domestic dogs sometimes mutilate and even kill children, so why not just ban them? Isn't the real problem that MPs like yourself can't just give people the facts and trust us to be sensible, you have this compulsion to run our lives for us, and isn't that, in an allegedly free society, actually much more dangerous than any benefit which might arise from any particular law?
Alex Swanson, Milton Keynes

Public bills in Parliament 2003/2004 session
07 Jan 04  |  BBC Parliament
03 Dec 03  |  Politics
Eric Martlew
18 Oct 02  |  Politics
Committee special: security
14 Apr 04  |  BBC Parliament


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