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Cyclists should be free to choose whether to wear helmet, says transport minister

Robert Goodwill admits he doesn't wear one in London - but does when cycling "furiously" in Yorkshire...

Robert Goodwill, whose responsibilities as transport minister include cycling, says cyclists should be free to decide whether or not to wear a helmet.

The MP for Scarborough told a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that he does wear a helmet when riding his bike in Yorkshire, he chooses not to when cycling in London.

Quoted on, he acknowledged that evidence from jurisdictions where use of cycle helmets had been made mandatory was that it deterred people from riding bikes:

"It was interesting in Australia they introduced compulsory helmets and cycling went down,” he said.

"The health benefits of cycling in terms of heart disease and obesity and everything else far outweigh the number of people killed and injured using cycles.

"Certainly my children were always encouraged to use helmets, once they reached the age of 18 they could make their own decision.”

- Minister rejects call for helmets to be made compulsory for some cyclists in Netherlands

Mr Goodwill said his preference for whether or not to wear a helmet depended on the type of journey he was undertaking.

With a nod to the wording of 19th Century legislation occasionally used to prosecute reckless cyclists, he said: “I don't cycle furiously in London.

“I do try and cycle furiously on the North Yorkshire roads or indeed in the Dalby Forest off-road sections there and the chances of me falling off are certainly much greater.

"But it's up to everyone's choice really, I tend to make fairly short journeys in London, I don't go particularly fast, and I take that view.”

He added that requiring cyclists to wear helmets could have a knock-on effect on initiatives such as public cycle hire schemes.

"To make helmets compulsory would make systems such as the Boris bike system very difficult to deliver,” he explained.

While the Highway Code recommends that cyclists should wear protective headgear, its use is not mandatory in the UK.

"Certainly I would recommend people to consider their welfare and their safety,” said Mr Goodwill.

“I tend not to wear a cycle helmet in London but I do wear a cycle helmet always in Yorkshire.

"I've never fallen off in London, I fall off all the time in Yorkshire I have to say on greasy, slippery roads,” he added.

This week, Mr Goodwill is due to travel to Copenhagen – a city with some of the highest levels of bike riding worldwide, and one where cycle helmets among everyday riders are virtually absent – to see Danish cycling infrastructure first hand.

– Robert Goodwill and Chris Boardman head to Copenhagen to discuss Danish cycling infrastructure (+ video)

He is undertaking the trip at the invitation of British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman, who last year told that the issue of cycle helmets was a distraction from other issues that would improve the safety of cyclists.

He added that the debate over whether or not they should be compulsory was something that “massively puts people off” riding bikes.

– Chris Boardman: "Helmets not even in top 10 of things that keep cycling safe"

Simon joined 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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