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Last Updated: Monday, 22 March, 2004, 16:34 GMT
Race ace backs cycle helmet law
By Jackie Storer
BBC News Online politics staff

McLaren driver David Coulthard
Coulthard wouldn't ride his bike without a helmet
Formula One ace David Coulthard raced from the Malaysian Grand Prix to back a campaign to make helmets compulsory for young cyclists.

The motor racing star, who came sixth in Sunday's race for McLaren, said he hoped children would be encouraged to don a helmet by the fact he wears one.

"I wouldn't go on my bike without a helmet," said keen cyclist Coulthard.

MP Eric Martlew's Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill was launched in the Commons on 22 March.

Risks

The bill would make wearing cycle helmets on roads and in public places compulsory for the under-16s.

According to the Transport Research Laboratory, child cyclists account for only 6.6% of the total number of cyclists on the road.

Department of Transport statistics show that of 133 cyclist deaths on the road in 2002, 28 involved children.

It's as sensible as putting your seat belt on when you get into a car
David Coulthard
On wearing a helmet

However, the bill is opposed by a number of cycling groups who claim making helmets compulsory could lead to reduced cycle use and would undermine the health benefits of the sport.

At a press launch to promote the bill in Westminster, Mr Coulthard, patron of the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust, said the wearing of cycle helmets was hampered by whether children think they look cool.

He said as a well-paid F1 driver, who regularly reaches speeds of 200mph, he and his colleagues take every care to protect themselves.

Coulthard also has a company selling Facesaver cycle helmets, designed by one of the McLaren engineers.

"I personally wear a helmet because I am well aware of the risks and how vulnerable the head is - children are not aware of these risks and it's our responsibility to protect them," he said.

"I would encourage all children to wear a cycling helmet for their own safety.

'Cool' issue

He told BBC News Online that in Melbourne , where he raced earlier this month, wearing a helmet is compulsory for all ages.

"You buy a bike - you get a helmet," he said.

"The whole cool issue has clearly come out - if we cast our minds back to when we were at school, we know we wanted to be part of the group.

McLaren driver David Coulthard
Coulthard says cycle helmets save lives
"I think my helmet is really cool - I've got my own design on it.

"Once it is mandatory, and in my lifetime it will be, people will personalise helmets in the same way they choose the trainers they wear or the style of clothes they wear.

"It's as sensible as putting your seat belt on when you get into a car."

But he added: "It is ludicrous in this day and age that we are having to lobby for support."

Labour's Mr Martlew, who was involved in a serious road accident as a child, said he hoped the measure would receive government backing.

"Children have to wear riding hats when they're on a horse, so the next stage is to make sure they wear helmets while cycling as well," he said.

Brain damage

The bill also has the support of Carlie Annetts, whose 12-year-old son Troy died after his bicycle hit a car on his way home in 2002.

"I have nothing more to gain from it - my son's dead, my other children won't ride a bike without helmets - but hopefully it will help save another youngster's life," said Ms Annetts, from Andover, Hampshire.

It would dramatically reduce the number of cyclists and be the worst possible step to take when we are also concerned about the desperate health problems arising from obesity
Philip Darnton
National Cycling Strategy Board

The mother-of-four had been told by a paramedic she need not be concerned after his accident - hours later he was dead.

"A cycle helmet would have made every difference because he just got a small knock on the face - even the doctors didn't think there was anything wrong initially," said Ms Annetts.

"Unfortunately his brain started swelling and he ended up brain dead."

Increase obesity?

Research by the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust shows that head injuries account for over 50% of all child cycling injuries treated in hospital - and youngsters are four times more at risk on the roads than adult cyclists.

Dr Andrew Curran, a leading child neurologist at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, said: "The simple message is if you don't wear a helmet, you run the risk of doing your brain real damage.

"We can't fix your brain once it's broken. We can't make nerve cells grow again and wearing a cycle helmet reduces the risk by 80%."

But Philip Darnton, acting chair of the National Cycling Strategy Board, said while he was not opposed to helmet wearing, his group was against compulsion.

"It would dramatically reduce the number of cyclists and, as such, be the worst possible step to take when we are also concerned about the desperate health problems arising from obesity," he said.

Roger Geffen, from the national cyclists' organisation CTC, disagreed with the statistics used by the pro-helmet campaigners and said it was more important to encourage people to cycle at school age "than to insist they wear a helmet when doing so".




SEE ALSO:
Olympic star backs MP cycle Bill
21 Mar 04  |  Cumbria
Inventor looks back on road safety
02 Dec 02  |  England
Cycle helmets 'do work'
27 Oct 00  |  Health


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