Thursday, 16 April 2009


This morning I walked through the streets of The Hague, off to give evidence to a parliamentary select committee about carbon capture and storage technology.

It was a glorious spring morning, and thousands of cyclists were negotiating their way around the cars and avoiding the trams. Not one was wearing a helmet.

I have heard of studies that suggest that far from saving lives, being expected to wear cycling helmets simply discourages people from cycling at all.

They cycle a lot more in Holland than we do here, and the Dutch are equally conscious of health and safety issues. If they are doing what is right, from where has the helmet police gained their influence?


Richard Keatinge said...

The evidence is pretty solid that the Dutch are doing the right thing. Like the Danes, they have successfully moved from car-domination to mixed road usage - the Fietserbond has English-language documents on how todo it, and is a way of seeing it for yourself.

The figures don't show that helmets work - helmet laws have stopped a lot of people cycling and have done nothing for head injury rates, see Robinson DL. No clear evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of helmets. BMJ 2006;332: 722-5. It appears that helmets break easily, but don't absorb the impact, see the engineers quoted at A broken helmet has simply failed. At my moderately advanced age it's far too dangerous not to cycle - regular cycling, Danish style, not too far, not too fast, nearly halves the death rate, see All-Cause Mortality Associated With Physical Activity During Leisure Time, Work, Sports, and Cycling to Work. Andersen et al, Arch Intern Med. 2000;160:1621-1628. Helmets have also strangled a few young children who were wearing helmets while playing off their bicycles.

Where do the helmet police get their power from? Good question. In the main, I suggest, they get it from the perception that cycling is dangerous (actually no more than other ways of using the roads, see It's tempting to blame Safekids and their subsidy from the lead helmet manufacturer (bicycle helmet on Wikipedia has references), and someone is certainly supporting a lot of helmet give-away campaigns at the moment, but I doubt if they could get far without a powerful and widespread perception of danger.

SPL said...

I really enjoyed this post! I had a bike accident recently and received a host of backhanded comments from the hospital staff about not wearing a helmet. Nothing worse than unwanted paternalism.