Tory MP accuses DfT of "burying" cycle helmet report

DfT denies accusations and says no plans to make helmets compulsory for adults or kids

by Simon_MacMichael   March 18, 2010  

White cycle helmet

A Conservative MP has claimed that the Department for Transport (DfT) has “buried” research that he says proves that wearing cycle helmets would save the life of up to one in seven cyclists involved in a fatal accident.

Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough, has called on the DfT to publicise the research which it commissioned last year from the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).
In fact, the report did receive widespread publicity after it was published, not least here on road.cc, when we covered cyclists’ organization CTC’s response to it last December.

Nevertheless, Mr Bone, who advocates compulsory helmet wearing for cyclists under the age of 14, told the Standard: “I am disgusted with the Government's attitude on this. If somebody said 16 per cent of people who died in road accidents could be saved, you would bite their hand off” – an interesting, if perhaps unfortunate, analogy – adding, “the savings to the NHS alone would be enormous.”

“But,” he continued, “there has been no press conference, no press release. I believe individuals can make up their own minds whether they want to kill themselves. Youngsters can't, however, and we have to do it for them.”

A DfT spokeswoman told the newspaper: “We encourage cyclists — especially children — to wear helmets when cycling.

“However, taking into account the practicalities of enforcing such an offence as well as the possible impact on levels of cycling and the potential loss of wider health benefits, we are not persuaded that making helmets mandatory is the right option,” she added.

The MP raised the issue of the report earlier this month in a parliamentary question addressed to the Minister of State at the DfT in which he asked the department to respond to a number of points including whether it would give a press conference to publicise the report’s findings.

He also called on the DfT to make helmet wearing compulsory for children aged 14 and under, and asked for an estimate of the number of fatalities that could be avoided and number of serious injuries could be prevented if cycle helmets were made compulsory for children.

Paul Clark, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the DfT, told Mr Bone that the department had no plans to hold a press conference, saying that this wasn’t normal practice given the number of reports it publishes each year, adding that pre-publication copies of the report had been sent to “a wide range of road safety, health, and cycling interest groups” and that on the day of publication itself, an email link to the report had been sent to “a wider group of stakeholders.”

Although Mr Clark acknowledged that the TRL's research supported the findings of previous research which showed that wearing helmets could help provide protection to cyclists in the event of an accident, and encouraged their use, he added that the DfT had no plans to make them compulsory, whether for children or adults.

He added that TRL’s research showed that between 10% and 16% of fatalities analysed could have been prevented had the rider been wearing a helmet, and that 12 cyclists aged 15 or under had been killed in Britain during 2008, although there was no information about how many of those had died from head injuries, nor how many were wearing cycle helmets.

You can read Mr Bone’s full question, and Mr Clark’s complete response to it, here.

20 user comments

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so 12 cyclists under teh age of 15 died in 2008, the governments own figures would assuming that no helmets were worn, they don't know! maybe 1 or 2 would have survived if they had been wearing a helmet.

Is it really worth making helmets compulsary on those figures, would it not make more sense to enforce the laws we have such as dangerous driving, mobile phones, speeding etc? and teaching cyclists under the age of 15 about how to ride on the road?

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1178 posts]
19th March 2010 - 0:50

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On my commute (by motorbike) to work yesterday I spotted a Vauxhall Vectra being driven very erratically. The car had a flat rear tyre and a broken tail-light, faults I could see, and the driver was tailgating the black cab in front and wanting to overtake but was unable to do so. I kept my distance behind and watched. The cab driver did the sensible thing and slowed down because the Vauxhall was tailgating and the Vauxhall kept veering from side to side in an attempt to overtake despite there being no space. When it was safe I overtook and got away from the nutter in the Vauxhall who drove as if he were a junkie needing a hit and desperate to get to his dealer. Further on I overtook a car with a driver puffing away at a joint and two other drivers talking into cellphones. On my way home I had to brake sharply as I came up to a junction because a woman in an Audi estate in the lane next to me veered without warning into my lane in front of me. She then ran a red light to make it across the junction - I waited at the lights. My commute is just 15 miles but I see a lot of drivers breaking the rules, and some in ways that cause immediate danger to everyone around them. Taking morons like these off the roads would surely be a greater benefit to road safety than bothering with enforcing the use of cycle helmets. Idiots like the ones I describe make the road hazardous for every road user, not just cyclists. But we have a system of enforcement based on monitoring speed rather than aving traffic cops monitoring road users. Speed cameras cannot detect vehicles driving too close or people who are driving in unroadworthy vehicles that are possibly uninsured and who may be under the influence of drugs. I think the Tory MP needs to take a reality check and see what the real safety issues are on the roads. A pro-active approach to road safety that tackles bad driving and dangerous drivers before they cause accidents would be more effective than a reactive approach of forcing every cyclist to wear cycle helmets.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2239 posts]
19th March 2010 - 9:19

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I'm with OldRidgeback on this - much more solid enforcement on the road, a zero tolerance approach if you like. Those forces that are more active in traffic policing have always maintained that traffic violations and more serious crime are virtually inextricable with huge numbers of criminals being apprehended for more serious crimes by virtue of traffic enforcement. This does away with the 'you should be catching real criminals' knee-jerk reaction.

G-bitch's picture

posted by G-bitch [310 posts]
19th March 2010 - 10:42

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Have to agree with OldRidgeback's comments, we need enforcement of the current rules. How many traffic Police patrols do you see during rush hour traffic? How many manned speed traps? I've seen none in 10 years driving round the Edinburgh bypass. The only time you see the Police is when they are dealing with the inevitable collision.

posted by iscott66 [68 posts]
19th March 2010 - 10:45

2 Likes

Agree with OldRidgeback

Furthermore, the grandstanding Tory MP says "Youngsters can't, however, (make up their own minds) and we have to do it for them.”

Well, duh! That's what parents do and we don't need any legislation for that, thanks. My 10-year-old rides 3 miles to school and has to wear a helmet - he even quite likes it as I think he associates it with looking like a "proper" cyclist. However, the one day he forgot to wear it on the way home he never made it past the school gates as he was collared by his teacher and several parents who all said the customary "Boy......"

However, what I really resent is:

"I believe individuals can make up their own minds whether they want to kill themselves"

What! I know there are cyclists who endanger their own lives by cycling into trees for fun but, honestly, they do wear helmets and even if they don't the various race sanctioning bodies pretty much agree on "no helmet - no ride" as rule no.1 on every rule sheet. No, what kills most cyclists unfortunately is cars, vans and lorries driving into them, even the ones wearing helmets. If our MPs paid a bit more attention to that issue we'd all be safer but it's not exactly a vote winner, is it?

NickInBath's picture

posted by NickInBath [41 posts]
19th March 2010 - 10:53

3 Likes

The only people a helmet law will protect is car drivers.
Force cyclists to wear a helmet and it reduces the risk to drivers of facing a death by dangerous driving charge if they hit a cyclist.
It WON'T force a change in attitude by drivers towards other road users. It won't somehow improve driving standards. It won't bring about a psychic change among the arseholes of the type Old Ridgeback witnessed on his ride to work, miraculously and instantaneously turning them into law-abiding citizens.
It's not going to happen, period.

Helmet law or no helmet law, the issue of safety is not in the hands of the cyclist; the behaviour of others is something they cannot control or influence. A change in attitude by those responsible for legislation and the sentencing of offenders is needed.
Introduce more effective deterrents such as the measures being taken against car tax dodgers.
Hand out real, lengthy, punitive, lifestyle and liberty-removing prison sentences for those causing injury or death through either driving erratically, without due care and attention, without consideration for others, or those driving while under the influence of drink or drugs (both illegal and prescribed).
These would be far more effective in removing the real cause of danger from our roads, not another law which further places the onus of responsibility on the cyclist and not the driver.

neilwheel's picture

posted by neilwheel [130 posts]
19th March 2010 - 12:54

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I agree. I raised this with my senior road safety colleague (who was a police officer and response driver for 30+ years) and was advised "well, what can we do?...we can do a leaflet"

The polcie simply do not care, they almost see cyclists as an accepted ill in society, that if we do get hit, run down, run off the road then we, somehow, have done something to deserve it.

My argument is that if a driver drives off the road, or cuts accross a corner, or hits a child while on the phone/on drugs etc then they get nailed for it and rightly so...why are we a different type of victim?

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1081 posts]
19th March 2010 - 13:05

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I do, however, think that it is sensible for kids to wear helmets because the likelihood is that they will be going at a speed at which a helmet can offer protection.

Also, it can be argued that skulls etc are not developed to the same level as that of a 20+ year old.

Making it compulsary to wear a helmet for everyone wouldnt prevent accidents, it may in fact increase those figures. I fear that the police would be all to willing to enforce the law to wear them though, what with a £60 fine being the likely penalty.

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1081 posts]
19th March 2010 - 13:07

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It's not clear how reliable the statistics are, but lets say for arguments sake that they are correct - would it not be better to argue for both better enforcement of the rules against motorists as well as compulsory helmet laws? That way, the safety is increased from both directions.

From another angle, is there any evidence that making motorcycle helmets compulsory reduced motorcycle usage? Its an interesting one - I would guess (and I am only guessing) that there was an initial period where usage declined until people saw helmet wearing as the norm, and then it got back to normal. I'd expect the same with compulsory cycle helmets.

posted by step-hent [694 posts]
19th March 2010 - 13:26

6 Likes

Step-hent - you need to take a look at the thread referring to the report when it was released. The figures in the report are questionable at best, so why suggest introducing a helmet law based on flawed data? And there is another report saying that drivers tend to drive closer to cyclists who wear helmets. Tackle the problem at source instead and prevent the accidents in the first place, which will be of benefit for all law abiding road users. I pay more for my motorcycle and car insurance because of all those uninsured drivers and I resent that. A high percentage of the drivers with unroadworthy vehicles and no insurance do have links to criminal activity and abuse of class A drugs and are involved in a high percentage of road accidents.

I cycled into the centre of London and back again today - missed the rush hour both ways luckily. On the way back I was engulfed in smoke from an ancient coach with a knackered engine that was burning oil. There was a police car there so at the next set of lights I tapped on the window of the cop car and pointed out the coach saying that there was no way it would pass an emissions test which meant it was unroadworthy and that it was questionable whether it had a valid MOT. The cops sort of grunted and didn't sound interested in pulling it over. I certainly didn't see it by the roadside with the cop car in front. The cops need to take crappy old vehicles more seriously and if they seem some old clunker with flat tyres that's belching out burning oil, they need to pull these over because I bet that in many cases, the vehicles are breaking not one but several laws.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2239 posts]
19th March 2010 - 18:52

3 Likes

wow so much anti-change on behalf of us cyclists. Would it not be better to be safer? I commute most days ride weekends and when pushed even manage the odd race. In the last 3 years I have seen 2 instances when a helmet saved some one I was with for sure and experience one myself. Why if we want everything around us to be done do we not want to do anything for ourselves. We only help fuel the anti-cycling bodies with this no the change attitude.
Cars and now buses have seat,belts. Motorcyclists have helmets - we all have to adapted as road conditions change with time. Unfortunately my experience of anti-helmet attitudes is from the older generation - younger guys on the whole seem to be wearing them - even the trials riders in city centers and BMX'ers down the parks. Why do the grumpy old men at the CTC not get behind some thing that could save lives!!! Why is safety some one else's responsibility?

posted by rustyrider [5 posts]
23rd March 2010 - 8:52

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Quote:
In the last 3 years I have seen 2 instances when a helmet saved some one I was with for sure and experience one myself

presumably to prove it you repeated the accidents without helmets and you all died? if not, how do you know?

it's not about fear of change. it's not about adapting to road conditions. it's about whether cycle helmets will save more lives through reducing head injuries than their compulsion will claim through decreased cycling and increased obesity and related health problems. right now i'd say there's more evidence that it'll do harm than good.

Quote:
Why is safety some one else's responsibility?

because most cyclists die when a vehicle drives into them, that's why. we're not just falling off and dying.

cactuscat's picture

posted by cactuscat [303 posts]
23rd March 2010 - 9:37

6 Likes

Quote:
right now i'd say there's more evidence that it'll do harm than good

What evidence is this then? Austrailia has a helmet compulsion law and cycling has continued to grow there!

because most cyclists die when a vehicle drives into them, that's why. we're not just falling off and dying

Do they? again where do you get your figures
http://www.iihs.org/research/fatality_facts_2008/bicycles.html
see link - does that mean in 2008 only 728ish cyclists had accidents with cars!!! I doubt this.
There is no reason to resist helmets, mountainbikers know this as do other disiplins within cycling. Its just scare mongering that helmets will stop people riding?

posted by rustyrider [5 posts]
23rd March 2010 - 18:06

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When helmets were made compulsory in New Zealand cycling dropped by between 19% and 26%, depending on how you collate the figures. Helmet compulsion had no statistically significant effect on the number of cycling casualties, nor the rate of head injuries among them.

here's some stuff about that:
http://www.cycle-helmets.com/zealand_helmets.html

here's some other anti-compulsion stuff:
http://www.ctc.org.uk/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabID=4641

your link only talks about cyclists killed by cars, so i'm not sure what your point is. how many other cyclists died? i don't know. i do know that one study in NYC found that 90% of pedestrian and cyclist deaths were the direct fault of drivers:

http://www.cars-suck.org/news/kbarelease.html

and that in texas one specific type of car collision accounts for half of cycling deaths on its own:

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/About_half_of_cycling_deaths...

cactuscat's picture

posted by cactuscat [303 posts]
23rd March 2010 - 18:33

5 Likes

rustyrider wrote:
What evidence is this then? Austrailia has a helmet compulsion law and cycling has continued to grow there!

Cycling dropped in Australia when helmet laws were introduced. The biggest fall was amongst schoolchildren, particularly girls. This age group doesn't want to wear dorky helmets, and it gets them out of the habit of cycling.

Cycling in areas such as Melbourne is currently on an upward trend, which is great. How much better would it be if helmets weren't compulsory?

Cycle helmets do prevent minor injuries. They're designed for impacts of about 12 mph. They won't prevent you being killed when you're hit by a car at 40 mph. Somewhere between these two extremes there must be accidents where a helmet will "save your life", but nobody knows how wide or narrow that band is.

Looking at the health of the population as a whole, the deterrent effects of cycle helmet compulsion outweigh health benefits from more exercise.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1356 posts]
23rd March 2010 - 19:44

2 Likes

Government surveys can be made to show what they want from the data, as per the studys within New Zealand and Western Australia where small scale date sampling was then scaled up, this can give a distorted view of how cycling use was identified
Example:
The Historic Trend
Bicycle sales in Australia averaged 795,000 per year for the four years 1998 - 2001. In the four years since they have averaged 1,133,000 per year and been over one million in each of those four years. By comparison car sales have never reached one million in a year. From the ABS import figures for bikes it can be shown that the market share for adult bikes has grown from around half of the market in 1998 to about two thirds in 2005.
data from
http://www.rcta.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&catid=&...

This would show that during these times of alledged delcine cycle sales have continued un affected then started to grow - most likley in areas not officially surveyed.

Cycle helmets are not design for a 40mph impact as very few people are hit by the car knocking them off in the head. they are designed to stop the resulting brain shake injuries associated with head trama when you hit the ground- if you consider this minor i think many neuro specialists would argue.

Surely by reducing/removing the chance of said injuries is a good thing and if more bikes are still sold then more people are cycling then the health benefits of the population continue

posted by rustyrider [5 posts]
24th March 2010 - 10:52

3 Likes

Rustyrider - I race BMX and wear a full face MX helmet when I'm at the track. It is an approved motorcycle helmet. I also ride a motorbike and wear a full-face helmet as this has been a legal requirement in the UK since 1976. But these helmets are considerably more protective than any bicycle helmet on the market. Bicycle helmets are designed to cope with low impacts only. And in any case, most accidents involving cyclists are not of the sort that the wearing of a helmet would improve safety.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2239 posts]
24th March 2010 - 13:27

4 Likes

rustyrider wrote:
Government surveys can be made to show what they want from the data, as per the studys within New Zealand and Western Australia where small scale date sampling was then scaled up, this can give a distorted view of how cycling use was identified
Example:
The Historic Trend
Bicycle sales in Australia averaged 795,000 per year for the four years 1998 - 2001. In the four years since they have averaged 1,133,000 per year and been over one million in each of those four years. By comparison car sales have never reached one million in a year. From the ABS import figures for bikes it can be shown that the market share for adult bikes has grown from around half of the market in 1998 to about two thirds in 2005.

Huh? Who's picking their data to prove a point now? What evidence do you have that bicycle sales are proportional to bicycle use? "Scaling up" a sample of data is what statistics are all about. You can't record all trips by all cyclists, so you need to sample. Of course, the devil is in the details, and you need the right sample etc... I believe that cycling went down, because the Government figures showed it did, and they certainly didn't want to prove that their helmet legislation had had a negative impact on cycle use.

rustyrider wrote:
Cycle helmets are not design for a 40mph impact as very few people are hit by the car knocking them off in the head. they are designed to stop the resulting brain shake injuries associated with head trama when you hit the ground- if you consider this minor i think many neuro specialists would argue.

Surely by reducing/removing the chance of said injuries is a good thing and if more bikes are still sold then more people are cycling then the health benefits of the population continue

Cycle helmets do not protect against brain shake injuries. They are made from expanded polystyrene which is very strong in compression, so they do not reduce the deceleration of your head. They do spread out the impact over a larger surface area, which reduces or eliminates local trauma.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1356 posts]
24th March 2010 - 15:57

2 Likes

Tell you what Rustyrider, take a 20mph spill from your bike with a cycle helmet on your head and point your head towards the ground. Then try the same with a motorcycle helmet on. I think you'll see the difference, presuming your brain hasn't suffered damage following the first impact. Most bicycle helmets are a waste of space.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2239 posts]
24th March 2010 - 23:27

0 Likes

Are there compaigns to get rid of the helmet law in Aussieland?

posted by Alankk [121 posts]
29th March 2010 - 15:20

3 Likes