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Should Cycling Helmets be Compulsory?

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cycling in the UK is a hot topic following recent British cycling success stories. After the British team won a host of medals in Beijing four years ago, team Sky kept up the pace on the road, Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France and the British Olympic team romped home with another stash of medals at the 2012 Olympics.
Away from the professional scene, London has seen the introduction of the ‘Boris bike’ and cycling is currently enjoying increased popularity throughout the country for leisure and commuting. There are plenty of positives - higher levels of exercise and reduced traffic pollution being the most obvious.
Safety remains a concern though and an accident during the Olympics followed by impromptu remarks from Bradley Wiggins sparked renewed debate over compulsory helmet wearing.
The Current Law
Although current legislation does not actually require helmets to be worn, the Highway Code does contain the following clothing recommendations for cyclists:
  • Wear a cycling helmet which conforms to current regulations that is correctly sized and securely fastened
  • Wear appropriate clothes for cycling – avoid clothes which may get tangled in the chain or obscure lights
  • Wear light coloured or fluorescent clothing which allows others to see you in daylight and poor light
  • Wear reflective clothing and accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark
Although these are only recommendations and do not carry legal sanctions for non-compliance, there may be legal consequences from not following them. When courts make common law decisions about liability in personal injury cases there may be scope for arguments of contributory negligence if recommendations have not been followed. Similar issues occurred in the early days of car seatbelts before wearing them became compulsory.
Arguments Against Compulsory Helmet Laws
Despite the apparent safety advantages of wearing a safety helmet whilst cycling there is a significant weight of opinion that rejects the notion of compulsory helmet laws. Reasons run from disputes about the actual level of protection provided by helmets to the negative impact on overall cycling participation.
In legal terms the anti-helmet lobby have also challenged the potential of the contributory negligence argument. The safety standard for helmets only requires that they provide protection from fatal head injury if a cyclist falls against a flat surface at no more than 15 mph. Helmets also provide little protection for injuries such as rotational injuries. Therefore accidents beyond the design parameters of the helmet or injuries caused by other factors are unlikely to offer much credence to the contributory negligence argument.
If you would like further information or wish to discuss a potential or current claim following a cycling accident, we have experienced lawyers who can help you. Please contact Sarah Vincent by email or by telephone 020 7611 4848.