A bill to make it an offence in Northern Ireland not to wear a helmet while cycling is due to be voted on in the Assembly later.It won't surprise readers of this blog that the issue of mandatory cycle helmet use is awash with astounding lies and policy-based evidence making from Liddites (those who advocate helmets, or 'lids', on spurious grounds), so it's deeply depressing that some in the UK are falling for the nonsense swallowed so readily by legislators in helmet-compulsory New Zealand and Australia primarily, as well as Canada, Denmark and Mexico who have also
The legislation has been proposed in a Private Member's Bill tabled by the SDLP's Pat Ramsey.
It proposes to fine anyone caught on a bike without a helmet £50.
Having said that, I was waiting for this since I knew some British political prick would take up the cause sooner or later, so I've read up in anticipation in the past couple of years. I'm sure we'll hear more on the subject, so let's have an introductory 'cycle helmet legislation 101', shall we?
Fortunately for us in the UK, there is now a large body of evidence - donated by the poor saps who currently suffer such a stupid law in other countries - which proves forced cycle helmet-wearing is a comprehensively terrible idea.
In short, they don't actually lead to any significant reduction in cyclist head injuries. Oh, a 13% reduction was claimed in Australia right enough, but considering cycle use plummeted by around a third after the law was implemented, the real result was an increase in risk. In New Zealand, the idea has been a similar disaster.
And this is what is so incredible about those who advocate such laws. We're harangued at every turn to be more healthy, more active, and to get out of our cars for the sake of Gaia, yet here they are promoting policies which have an incontrovertible record of scaring people away from riding bikes. New Zealand's experience was a fall of 22%, Denmark 30%, and in Canadian territories it varied from 28% to 60%.
From the above we can surmise that Boris Bikes - a scheme which recently celebrated its millionth hiring - would have been a non-starter if helmet laws applied here. The same idea has been spectacularly scuppered in Melbourne, Auckland and Mexico City.
But helmets must reduce injuries, I hear you say. Well, if they do, there isn't any evidence of it. The trends in New Zealand were unaffected, as they were in Australia. The helmet industry did very well out of it, though.
Of course, for anyone who understands human nature (any politicians who have got this far may as well go read Charlie and Lola or something 'cos this is going to fly way over your head) this isn't very surprising, seeing as it is easily explained by the concept of risk compensation.
In control trials prior to legislation, it was argued that those who wore helmets suffered fewer head injuries than those who didn't. Hardly a shock since anyone who willingly sticks a gaudy plastic pudding bowl on their head is going to be naturally more risk averse than someone who doesn't.
However, when those who are less worried by such things are encouraged and/or coerced into wearing a helmet which is promoted as a panacea for road safety, their attention to other risks reduces as a result. Why be so assiduous in checking the bike itself, for example, when the fail-safe insurance of a polystyrene-padded helmet is being worn?
Similarly, why should a driver care so much about a cyclist's welfare if they are already protected so comprehensively?
Bicyclists who wear protective helmets are more likely to be struck by passing vehicles, new research suggests.So what we have being debated in Northern Paddyland right now is a law which has no proven benefit, but huge proven negative effects by way of reduced cycling and unintended consequences. There are, however, fines to be harvested if it is passed though, so even if this vanguard is rebuffed I can't see cash-starved legislatures resisting for too long.
Drivers pass closer when overtaking cyclists wearing helmets than when overtaking bare-headed cyclists, increasing the risk of a collision, the research has found.
Dr Walker, who was struck by a bus and a truck in the course of the experiment, spent half the time wearing a cycle helmet and half the time bare-headed. He was wearing the helmet both times he was struck.
“This study shows that when drivers overtake a cyclist, the margin for error they leave is affected by the cyclist’s appearance,” said Dr Walker, from the University’s Department of Psychology.
“By leaving the cyclist less room, drivers reduce the safety margin that cyclists need to deal with obstacles in the road, such as drain covers and potholes, as well as the margin for error in their own judgements.
“We know helmets are useful in low-speed falls, and so definitely good for children, but whether they offer any real protection to somebody struck by a car is very controversial.
“Either way, this study suggests wearing a helmet might make a collision more likely in the first place.”
In short, it's a daft law which is why daft politicians will implement it.
As always, the best way of reducing harm from cycling is to allow people to think for themselves and promote personal responsibility. And, as always, it's the Dutch who are humiliating we risk-terrified Brits, as gloriously illustrated by this letter to the Guardian (not published, natch) from specialist risk academic, John Adams.
Two years ago I was invited to give a lecture in Amsterdam comparing Dutch and British attitudes to risk. I complimented my hosts on having a much better cycling accident record than the British, and went on to say that I had been in Amsterdam for two days and seen many thousands of cyclists but only half a dozen cycle helmets. A member of the audience responded by saying that I had been looking in the wrong place. He offered to show me the following morning a disciplined file of children on bicycles all wearing helmets and fluorescent jackets. They would, he added, be cycling to the British school.For shame.