Death of actress reignites media helmet debate

CTC repeats view that cycling helmets should not be compulsory

by Rebecca McIlhone   March 19, 2009  

White cycle helmet

The tragic death of actress Natasha Richardson from a head injury sustained while skiing has reignited the contentious issue of helmet use in skiing, cycling and sport in general.

The 45-year-old actress, the wife of Liam Neeson, was not wearing a helmet when she had her accident during a skiing lesson on a beginner slope in Qebec, Canada. Although the accident initially seemed innocuous, her condition quickly deteriorated and she later died in a New York hospital.

During a discussion on Radio 5 Live today Peter McCabe, chief executive of Headway, the brain injury association, widened the debate from skiing to other sports, including cycling, telling host Nicky Campbell: “I cycle regularly. I would never cycle without a helmet. If I were a skier, if my children were going off skiing I’d beg them to wear a helmet and that’s because I know just how easy it is to damage that most precious part of you". You can listen to the discussion clip here.

The arguments for and against wearing a helmet are well documented. As reported by road.cc, the debate was given a new angle recently when a High Court judge ruled that cyclists could be open to “contributory negligence” claims in cases where a helmet would have made a difference to their injuries.

The comments were made in the case of Smith v Finch, the full judgement of which the CTC has helpfully reproduced here.

The CTC stands by its long-held view that helmet use should remain a decision for the individual, quoting the following points:

• Cycling is no more risky than lots of other routine activities. You are more likely to be killed in a mile of walking than a mile of cycling.

• Cycling is more likely to do you good than harm and studies from Australia and New Zealand show that enforcing the wearing of helmets leads to a drop in cycling levels.

A statement posted today on its website concludes: “We don’t want anything to put people off cycling – not just because it’s healthy, but also because there is clear evidence that the more people who cycle, the safer it gets for each individual cyclist.

“We recognise that some people choose to wear a helmet for their own personal reasons, and we will always support a person’s right to make that choice.”

For a full appraisal of the information and research surrounding cycling helmets follow this link to the Helmets page of the CTC website.