Half the population of Denmark, the country that has some of the highest levels of cycling worldwide, think that it should be compulsory for people to wear a helmet when riding a bike, reports a new poll.
Opponents of mandatory helmet laws often point out that in countries with high levels of cycling such as the Netherlands and Denmark, everyday riders are seldom seen sporting a helmet.
But according to a survey carried out by Analyse Danmark on behalf of Avisen.dk, 49 per cent of the 1,040 people polled in what is said to be a representative sample of the country’s population say that cyclists should be required by law to wear one.
A further 23 per cent said that they should be compulsory just for children and adolescents, while the remaining 28 per cent said helmets should not be mandatory at all.
While the Danish government and the country’s road safety council and national cyclists’ federation all oppose compulsion, traffic researcher Harry Lahrmann of Aalborg University is in favour.
He told Avisen.dk: “We’ve long become used to wearing a seatbelt when getting into a car, and with a little getting used to it, using a helmet would likewise become part of the cycling routine.”
Klaus Bondam, director of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation said: “We strongly recommend that you wear a helmet. But we don’t think it makes sense to make it mandatory to wear one.”
However, he added that the organisation’s own campaigning efforts were leading to an increase in the use of cycle helmets in Denmark, including among children – although a challenge remains in converting teenagers.
“But at a time when fewer and fewer children and youths are riding to school, we do not recommend making it mandatory to use helmets. At worst it will get more people to give up cycling.”
Villum Christensen, an MP for the Liberal Alliance party which forms part of Denmark’s ruling coalition and who is its spokesman for road safety, told Avisen.dk: “Citizens should have free choice over whether or not to use a helmet.”
He added: “We are not in favour of legislating every time there is a problem.”
In 2009, a bid to make it compulsory for children aged under 12 in Denmark to wear a helmet when riding a bike was defeated in the Danish Parliament.
Nevertheless, as elsewhere, the issue remains a divisive one, as explained in this blog post by Mikael Colville-Andersen, CEO of the Copenhagenize Design Co., after he took part in a panel discussion for the country’s national radio station in January.
In 2014, British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman told road.cc: "I think the helmet issue is a massive red herring. It’s not even in the top 10 of things you need to do to keep cycling safe or more widely, save the most lives.
“It’s a bit like saying ‘people are sniping at you going down this street, so put some body armour on.
“Once you see somebody wearing body armour, even if there’s no shooting," he added, "you think ‘Christ I’m not going down there if they’re wearing body armour to go down that street.’
"It scares people off.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.