A family wearing cycle helmets whilst out on a ride on their bikes illustrating the cycle helmet debate

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The cycle helmet debate rages on!

Despite what some people may think, wearing a cycle helmet is a matter of personal choice. Michael Wangermann looks at the arguments for and against helmets, as well as what might happen to a personal injury claim if you are in an accident without a helmet.

With longer days and warmer weather, summer is a favourite time for people to dust off their bicycles, pump up their tyres, and meet up with their lycra clad friends to explore the British countryside on two wheels. 

Data shows that the period from May to September is when the majority of cycle accidents happen –  cyclists are one of the most vulnerable road users, and changes to the Highway Code earlier this year have been introduced in an attempt to make the roads safer for them.

One area however that has not changed is that there is no legal requirement to wear a cycle helmet – the Highway Code encourages the use of a cycle helmet – but it is not the law.  And this is an area where there is always a lot of debate about whether cycle helmets help, or actually could contribute to accidents.

The argument for helmets

Cyclists have little or no protection when struck by a motor vehicle, even at low speeds cyclists are likely to suffer serious fractures if involved in a road traffic collision.  All too often it is their head that will come into contact with the road, pavement or vehicle that collided with them, and statistics show that around three quarters of cyclists who are killed on the road will have had major head injuries. 

So surely we should be doing everything possible to protect our heads?  There is no doubt that at low speed, head injuries can be reduced or avoided by wearing a cycle helmet, and the vast majority of cyclists do take their own safety very seriously, wearing correctly fitted cycle helmets, reflective clothing and lights/reflectors on their bikes.  But there are some who do not, and it is often teenagers who think it is ‘uncool’ to wear a cycle helmet.

A family wearing cycle helmets whilst out on a ride on their bikes illustrating the cycle helmet debate
A family wearing cycle helmets whilst out on a ride on their bikes illustrating the cycle helmet debate.

The argument against helmets

Having met many cyclists who have suffered head injuries in cycling collisions, Major Trauma Group would always recommend wearing a cycle helmet.  However it is a matter of personal choice. 

Arguments against making helmets a legal requirement include:

  • Discouraging people to cycle and creating an image of a high-risk activity – cycling is a cheap, healthy and environmentally friendly form of transport – risks to cyclists should be reduced by improvements to infrastructure, signage, education and training – this has in part been addressed by the recent changes to the Highway Code but is there still more we can do?
  • Research by the University of Bath shows that car drivers pass on average, 8.5cm closer when overtaking cyclists wearing helmets as opposed to cyclists not wearing helmets – increasing the likelihood of a collision occurring. Do they create a false sense of security, that it is somehow safer to overtake them?
  • Are those wearing helmets more susceptible to injury due to the increase in head size caused by the size of the helmet, and muffled hearing meaning they are less aware of their surroundings and vehicles approaching from behind?

Of course whether a cycling helmet can reduce or prevent a head injury is determined on a case by case basis – there will be occasions where the wearing of a cycle helmet would have reduced or prevented a head injury, particularly low speed impacts, but equally there will be occasions where wearing a cycle helmet would not have prevented or reduced the injuries sustained.

Impact on personal injury claims

If someone does suffer a head injury in a cycling collision whilst not wearing a cycling helmet, and it is argued that the failure to wear a cycle helmet contributed to the severity of injuries, there is likely to be a reduction in the compensation they will receive, potentially by a significant amount.  This is known as contributory negligence, the principle of which is that if you suffer damage by the fault of another, but you are partly to blame for that damage, any compensation awarded will be reduced in proportion for your responsibility for the damages on a percentage basis. It is not unreasonable to expect this percentage to be in the region of 25%, which can have a serious impact if part of the award is to be used for rehabilitation and future care.

The choice of whether to wear a helmet or not is down to the individual, but is it worth the risk?  Only you can decide.

How Major Trauma Group can help?

If you have suffered serious injury in a cycling accident, our member law firms are available for a free, no obligation chat.  Call us – 0330 311 2578, email – hello@majortraumagroup.co.uk or speak to us on live chat via our website – available Monday to Friday from 9 am until 5pm.

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A family wearing cycle helmets whilst out on a ride on their bikes illustrating the cycle helmet debate
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Michael Wangermann

The cycle helmet debate rages on!

Despite what some people may think, wearing a cycle helmet is a matter of personal choice. Michael Wangermann looks at the arguments for and against helmets, as well as what might happen to a personal injury claim if you are in an accident without a helmet.

Read More »
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