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Saturday, July 30, 2011

BMJ: Don’t require mandatory bicycle helmets

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8669773/Bicycle-helmets-should-not-be-compulsory-say-doctors.html

A summary of survey results in the British Medical Journal:

More than two thirds of the respected journal's readers said they opposed compulsory helmets for adults.

One respondent in the poll of 1,427 people said: "It gives out the message that cycling is dangerous, which it is not. The evidence that cycling helmets work to reduce injury is not conclusive.

"What has, however, been shown is that laws that make wearing helmets compulsory decrease cycling activity. Cycling is a healthy activity and cyclists live longer on average than non-cyclists."

Another added: "Since nowhere with a helmet law can show any reduction in risk to cyclists, only a reduction in cyclists, why would anyone want to bring in a law for something which is clearly not effective at reducing the risk to cyclists?"

As a cyclist who always wears a helmet but strongly opposes mandatory helmet laws, I have occasionally been accused of inconsistency.  There is no inconsistency.

  • Helmets seem like a good thing, and can be particularly helpful in avoiding low-hanging tree limbs or falls at low speeds.
  • But mandatory helmet laws have been shown to reduce the incidence of cycling substantially. This is unhealthier for those are aren’t cycling (unless they get some other exercise) and more dangerous for me. The more cyclists there are on the road, the safer cycling is – because drivers start to expect cyclists to be there. The best defense against getting killed by a truck isn’t a magic hat, but avoiding being in some place where the trucker isn’t expecting you.
  • This point of view is strongly supported by the evidence from Australia, which is referred to at the link above.
  • If mandatory helmet laws can’t be shown to be helpful to cyclists, they are just one more example of unnecessary government interference.