Helmets For The Cyclist Controversy

T. Vijayendra

Across the cyclist world the helmets controversy has raged for years. Some are for the helmet in a fierce way and consider those not wearing it as those who want to commit suicide. On other hand, the Bicycle mayor of Copenhagen in a hilarious Ted Talk made fun of helmets and demonstrated that it is a propaganda by the motorists to instil fear amongst cyclists and discourage the use of cycle itself!

TEDxCopenhagen - Mikael Colville-Andersen - Why We Shouldn't Bike with a Helmet

European Cycle Federation (ECF) has issued a balanced and wise pamphlet on the issue. It should be circulated widely and would help the cyclist to take an informed decision whether to use the helmet or not.

ECF position on helmets

  • ECF are not against individuals choosing to wear helmets, however we are against mandatory helmet laws and shock-horror helmet promotions. We do this via support to our members, and also by becoming active members in a wide range of trans-national forums.
  • ECF opposes mandatory helmet laws because:
  • They discourage cycling by portraying it as abnormally dangerous-you are less likely to be killed in a mile of cycling than a mile of walking  (Wardlaw 2002).
  • A well respected literature review states ‘When the risk of injury to head, face or neck is viewed as a whole, bicycle helmets do provide a small protective effect. This effect is evident only in older studies. New studies, summarised by a random-effects model of analysis, indicate no net protective effect.’ (Elvik 2011)
  • Injured cyclists are less likely to have head injuries than injured pedestrians or car occupants (ONISR 2005).
  • They portray bicycle helmets as offering far more protection than they do. Bicycle helmets are only designed to withstand minor knocks and bumps, not being hit by motor vehicles; see more here On Bicycle Helmet Standards.
  • Countries that have penalised people for normal cycling (without helmets), have failed to reduce head injury rates despite increased helmet wearing rates. See an ECF fact sheet on the case of Australia and its helmet laws Australia and cycle helmet laws
  • The health benefits of cycling far outweigh the injury risks (de Hartog et al, 2010)
  • Reduced cycling reduces health and environmental benefits.
  • Reduced cycling reduces Safety in Numbers, thus increasing the risk of injury to remaining cyclists (Jacobsen PL, 2003)

You can find a draft of ECF’s position on helmets here: Helmet factsheet

An ECF brochure for printing
It is a two page pdf document and copies can be circulated.

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Aug 20, 2020

T. Vijayendra

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