Results of a poll carried out by road safety charity IAM suggest that one in ten cyclists would give up riding their bikes if the wearing of cycle helmets were made compulsory. A further three in ten claim that they would carry on riding without wearing a helmet. The issue is a topical one, and was the subject of a private member’s bill introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this year.
Given that the remaining six in ten say they already wear a helmet, the findings appear to back up claims from organisations such as Sustrans and CTC that the negative effects of compulsion such as people stopping riding, or not even taking up cycling in the first place, outweigh any potential benefits in terms of reduction in head injuries.
That latter point is itself a perennial bone of contention, of course, as borne out by the IAM’s survey, which found similar proportions of people claiming that helmets only offered limited protection from head injury, or are of little use in the event of a crash as those who asserted that they do save lives, or protect from serious injury. A significant percentage of repondents also hit the "other please specify" option for this question a further indication of how complicated feelings can be on the issue.
Twenty per cent of those polled thought that cycling helmets should be made compulsory for everybody but a clear majority thought it should remain a matter of personal choice. However, things weren't quite so clear cut when it came to children a helmet compulsion for kids got the most votes, but only just and not a majority. Oddly, in the other question on helmet compulsion, compulsory kids lids got less votes than compulsory helmets for everyone.
When asked to rank the three most important cycle safety measures those surveyed said conspicuous clothing and cycle lights were more important when it came to ensuring safety of cyclists on the road. Visible road position was judged the second most important aid to cycle safety while "Training" was viewed as the third most important safety measure - we're guessing by this it meant cycle training, but it could also have been interpreted as cycle awareness training – given that the poll was being conducted by a motoring organisation. A fact that was possibly underlined by the number of people that answered "other please specify" in response to this question.
Well over half the respondents said that they cycled and the second most significan proportion were in the "someone close to me cycles" category, with non-cyclists making up by far the smallest number of those taking part.
IAM cycling manager Duncan Pickering commented: “One in ten cyclists being prepared to give up cycling shows how controversial compulsory helmets would be. But generally people are not anti-helmet – they see it as an issue of choice.
“Ultimately fewer than ten per cent voted that they didn’t think wearing a cycle helmet was beneficial at all, so if cyclists feel safer wearing one it makes sense to do so. But cyclists can improve their safety and confidence a lot by taking training. Many accidents
involving cyclists could be prevented by cyclists positioning themselves more defensively in relation to larger vehicles.”
The poll attracted more than 4,000 votes – interestingly, out of 15 recent polls listed on the IAM website, the two cycling-specific ones feature among the five top ones in terms of response rate. You can see the full results on by going to the polls page on the IAM website and clicking on the wearing of compulsory cycle helmets poll. IAM polls are always and interesting snapshot into the views and opinions of road users on significant topics, but as we have said before the results are based on a self-selecting sample so fall in to the category of interesting talking point rather than peer reviewed statistical data.
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.