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Boris Johnson says he won't make helmets compulsory on cycle hire scheme

Mayor of London tells Jonathan Ross mandatory helmets in Australia affected levels of hire

Mayor of London Boris Johnson says he will not make it compulsory for people using the city’s cycle hire scheme to wear helmets – because he doesn’t want to deter them from riding the bikes.

His predecessor as mayor, Ken Livingstone, who gave the go-ahead to the scheme prior to leaving office in 2008 said three years ago that he had planned to make helmets compulsory for those hiring bikes.

However, evidence from Australia, where cyclists have to wear a helmet by law, suggests that compulsion affects use of cycle hire schemes.

That  point was brought up by Mr Johnson during his appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show on ITV1 last night.

He said: "They tried making the helmets mandatory in Australia and people just stopped taking the bikes.

"I think the health benefits of encouraging cycling outweigh, in my view, the risk and actually the medical evidence is mixed on this,” he went on.

The mayor added: "Tragically when you look at the people who have accidents in London we obviously have a small number of fatalities and quite a large number of minor accidents and most of them have nothing to do with the helmet and the fatalities almost never.

“So I hesitate to say this … but the reality is we are not going to make wearing helmets on the hard bikes mandatory because it would discourage cycling and I want to encourage cycling.”

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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23 comments

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truffy | 9 years ago
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@zanf: some people will always see the glass as half-empty. So be it.

I think this is a common-sense decision from Boris. Free choice, and accepting that enforcement would deter both committed and casual cyclists.

That said, I choose to minimise risk and wear a helmet. But that's just my choice!

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Ordinary Cyclin... | 9 years ago
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Life is about choices. I choose to protect my head by wearing a helmet. I personally think the benefits of wearing a helmet outweigh the risks and I consider my skull an important part of my body that deserves some respect.

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congokid | 9 years ago
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It's disappointing that though Boris seems to be aware of the overweening faith some people place in bike helmets, he didn't seem sure of the situation in Australia. Surely he must communicate at least some of the time with Gilligan?

They tried making the helmets mandatory in Australia"

They didn't just try - they succeeded, back in the early '90s.

and people just stopped taking the bikes.

He made it sound like people 'were' taking the bikes beforehand. But Australia's bike share schemes weren't launched until 2010 by which time, after 20 years of propaganda and fines, bike helmets had become regarded by almost everyone there as essential. Since their launch the bike hire schemes have never been a roaring success and the opinion is that (infrastructure apart), that's down to the mandatory helmet laws.

I think the health benefits of encouraging cycling outweigh, in my view, the risk and actually the medical evidence is mixed on this

I wish he'd had the confidence in his beliefs to be more convincing about that without almost contradicting himself. Even if the medical evidence is 'mixed', the medical profession in the UK is very much behind the view that regular cycling has many overall benefits both at the individual and population level.

I suppose it was one argument Boris didn't want to have on a popular chat show, especially with grade A numpty James Corden ('I don't use Barclay's hire bikes because I want to wear a helmet').

I'm sure Chris Boardman wouldn't have made the same mistake but been more convincing and forceful in his assertions.

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SB76 | 9 years ago
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PR ploy or not, he's made a statement that in this case makes sense. In supporting it, doesnt not mean you agree with his political views, just his comments helmets.

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Matt eaton | 9 years ago
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This appears to be a well-ballanced decision from Boris but, actually, how could such a helmet rule possibly be enforced?

There's no legal requirement to wear a lid, so what grounds would the police have to stop a bare-headed hire-bike rider? And would they have the inclination to in the first place? I doubt it.

We would effectivly be talking about a breach of the Ts&Cs of a hire contract i.e. not a police matter anyway. I guess they would have to use private enforement officers of some sort. Even if they wanted to do such a thing it just wouldn't be cost-effective.

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jollygoodvelo | 9 years ago
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Oh goody, another helmet debate. Well done Boris for speaking some sense. They shouldn't be compulsory.

Now, please, everyone make your own educated choices: I will choose to wear one.

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jmaccelari | 9 years ago
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I always wear a helmet. Period.

However, I can only agree with Boris in this case (no matter what his chequered past is, as zanf has highlighted, but let's not stray off topic as he has done so expertly).

I don't think that helmets will work for the average Boris-biker. The usual injuries seem to be crushed under an HGV where a helmet won't help. In my (inexpert) opinion a helmet law will only make the streets more dangerous. The only way to make cycling safer is to instill a cycling culture and get people out there on bikes.

Any obstacle to getting people onto bikes must be avoided.

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severs1966 | 9 years ago
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If they had decided the opposite, how would they have enforced the rule? What's to stop people hiring the bikes and dressing just exactly however they please?

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Pjrob | 9 years ago
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Latest research is telling us they only ever made any difference to skull injuries and scalp lacerations. No significant difference to brain injury. The idea that they save you from brain injury was a mainstay of the pro-helmet camp. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00068-014-0453-0

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Coneyhallcycleworks | 9 years ago
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I have never understood why people who hold major sway in such things, in that they don't want helmets shoved upon cyclists, have to sound almost apologetic when saying the status quo will remain. They have the end-users best interests at heart, they have untold pieces of researching backing up their stance, and yet they have to speak, 'hesitatingly,' if they are being rebellious. Who are they scared of offending? Just a thought

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notfastenough | 9 years ago
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James Corden played the foil, suggesting that helmets should be compulsory, but I'm not sure whether he meant it or not, because he played into Boris' hands so well.

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antonio | 9 years ago
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What's going on, five (including me) for, and non against for Boris, up to now that is!

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zanf replied to antonio | 9 years ago
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antonio wrote:

What's going on, five (including me) for, and non against for Boris, up to now that is!

Because people have short memories and easily forget that this is the same guy who resisted physically segregated cycleways for his entire first term as mayor. The same guy who said that most cyclists killed or injured were responsible for it themselves, all the while quoting some bullshit figure he wouldn't substantiate, nor apologise for when shown to be erroneous. The same guy who ranted on about possibly outlawing wearing headphones while cycling after a cluster of 6 cyclist deaths in two weeks, despite no-none of those cyclists being shown to have been wearing headphones. The same guy who has done nothing to reduce pollution in the capital but quite a not to avoid doing anything about it.

The guy is a media savvy scumbag who knows how to play the crowd, and played the crowd he has.

Welcome to his PR campaign to be elected as MP for Uxbridge before ascending to leader of the Tory party, and you are all falling for it.

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oozaveared replied to zanf | 9 years ago
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zanf wrote:
antonio wrote:

What's going on, five (including me) for, and non against for Boris, up to now that is!

Because people have short memories and easily forget that this is the same guy who resisted physically segregated cycleways for his entire first term as mayor. The same guy who said that most cyclists killed or injured were responsible for it themselves, all the while quoting some bullshit figure he wouldn't substantiate, nor apologise for when shown to be erroneous. The same guy who ranted on about possibly outlawing wearing headphones while cycling after a cluster of 6 cyclist deaths in two weeks, despite no-none of those cyclists being shown to have been wearing headphones. The same guy who has done nothing to reduce pollution in the capital but quite a not to avoid doing anything about it.

The guy is a media savvy scumbag who knows how to play the crowd, and played the crowd he has.

Welcome to his PR campaign to be elected as MP for Uxbridge before ascending to leader of the Tory party, and you are all falling for it.

A bit naive this. I also have reservations about segregating cyclists. There's a whole debate about the philosophy of segregation in terms of access to roads. It works for some in some places but it's not an unalloyed good due to the fact that policy makers can easily put in some dodgy cycle path at the same time a denying cyclists access to the roads.

I get that you don't like Boris' overall politics but the fact is that he is a cyclist and cycles regularly in London. Having a different point of view about the efficacy of segregation is not really a right or a left wing position. But if it were that would make Boris the W. E. B. Du Bois in the debate and you the Booker T Washington character.

If you think like Booker T that cycle provision will be "different but equal" so long as we accept the primacy of motorised transport then you'll love all that segregation stuff. If like many of us you think cyclists rightfully belong on the roads and are deserving of respect by other road users then Mr DuBois is your man. That whole separate but equal thing didn't turn out to well.

I'm taking the progressive approach.

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zanf replied to oozaveared | 9 years ago
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oozaveared wrote:

I get that you don't like Boris' overall politics but the fact is that he is a cyclist and cycles regularly in London. Having a different point of view about the efficacy of segregation is not really a right or a left wing position. But if it were that would make Boris the W. E. B. Du Bois in the debate and you the Booker T Washington character.

You're seriously comparing segregated cycling provisions to emancipation from slavery?

Fuck me, talk about tenuous.

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felixcat replied to zanf | 9 years ago
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zanf wrote:

You're seriously comparing segregated cycling provisions to emancipation from slavery?

"Seperate but equal" was the unpleasant justification for Apartheid in South Africa. Of course the facilities for the non whites were anything but equal. Just as cycle facilities are a poor substitute for free use of the road. It might be another case if farcilities were not such an insult.
As for your invitation, no thanks.

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zanf replied to felixcat | 9 years ago
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felixcat wrote:
zanf wrote:

You're seriously comparing segregated cycling provisions to emancipation from slavery?

"Seperate but equal" was the unpleasant justification for Apartheid in South Africa. Of course the facilities for the non whites were anything but equal. Just as cycle facilities are a poor substitute for free use of the road. It might be another case if farcilities were not such an insult.

Yes, because The Netherlands and Denmark are just *full* of slavery like oppression and apartheid of cyclists.

felixcat wrote:

As for your invitation, no thanks.

The only invitation was for you to stop talking shite.

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BigglesMeister replied to zanf | 8 years ago
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zanf wrote:
antonio wrote:

What's going on, five (including me) for, and non against for Boris, up to now that is!

Because people have short memories and easily forget that this is the same guy who resisted physically segregated cycleways for his entire first term as mayor. The same guy who said that most cyclists killed or injured were responsible for it themselves, all the while quoting some bullshit figure he wouldn't substantiate, nor apologise for when shown to be erroneous. The same guy who ranted on about possibly outlawing wearing headphones while cycling after a cluster of 6 cyclist deaths in two weeks, despite no-none of those cyclists being shown to have been wearing headphones. The same guy who has done nothing to reduce pollution in the capital but quite a not to avoid doing anything about it.

The guy is a media savvy scumbag who knows how to play the crowd, and played the crowd he has.

Welcome to his PR campaign to be elected as MP for Uxbridge before ascending to leader of the Tory party, and you are all falling for it.

The segregated cycle paths where I live are unrideable due to the huge number of pedestrians (aka drivers on foot - using them to avoid paying for the park and ride) and dog walkers with their out of control super poopers. Don't even get me started on the 2 abreast morbidly obese formation push chair cycle path blockers.

Boris for president!!

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sfichele | 9 years ago
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Boris, WELL SAID!

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Markus | 9 years ago
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Well, this is rare news! A politician who doesn't assume that increased regulation is the answer to everything. I'd wish there would be some policy makers like that around where I live.

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Brooess | 9 years ago
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Well said Boris. One of the few public figures who's come out and said this...
We want to normalise cycling, not make it out to be some kind of extreme sport and the hire bikes have gone a long way to doing this... so we don't want to disincentivise people from using them

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ikhaj | 9 years ago
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Someone gets it at last!

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oozaveared replied to ikhaj | 9 years ago
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ikhaj wrote:

Someone gets it at last!

Boris has had it for a long time. Ken Livingston famously couldn't actually ride a bike so his opinions on cycle safety are somewhat limited. I am not particularly supportive of Boris's politics but he does ride a bike regularly in London. That doesn't mean I'll always agree with him on cycling issues indeed this we bsite is testament to the fact that cyclists hold a whole range of opinions and policy preferences, but it does mean that I have some respect for his opinion.

It baffles me how they will run a compulsory helmet thing anyway. Helmets are only very lited in their effectivness and that's when they are intact and fitted properly. And I'm not sure I want to wear a helmet that some sweaty bloke with psoriasis just left on the bike.

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