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Which? stirs the helmet debate with product test

The consumer watchdog tackles a sensitive area for cyclists

The consumer magazine Which? have tested cycle helmets in their July issue, and at the same time launched a Which? Conversation (that's a blog post to you and I ) debating whether or not EU law mandating helmets for the under-13s should be enacted here in the UK.

Regular'ers will know that's a hot topic in these parts, with those believing in personal resposibility and free choice noisily battling it out with those who think helmet-wearing saves lives and serious injury.

Which? set their stall out firmly with the following words:

There have been plenty of reports to support the use of cycle helmets spanning the last two decades. But an international review of the evidence gathered by the UK Department for Transport in 2009 concluded there was no reliable evidence that helmets resulted in a lower risk of head injury for cyclists.

While not mandatory, we think bike helmets are worth wearing when in the saddle – if you buy a good one. However, our testing found a few helmets that seriously underperformed.

For example, we awarded the Met Camaleonte Executive adult bike helmet our Don’t Buy status, having failed to meet the European Standard in our tests. We’ve even asked Met to recall the helmet. But do you think it’s better to wear a low-quality helmet than to not wear one at all?

The publication included a poll for readers, asking whether cyclists should be made to wear helmets by law, and the results were very interesting.

69 per cent (375 votes) said "No - cyclists shouldn't be legally required to wear helmets", while just a third of that number, 23% per cent, or 126 people said yes. Four per cent thought only children should have to wear helmets, and the same number weren't sure.

The comments below also gave rise to a number of interesting points.

The user Robwiz said: "For mountain biking and road and track competitions a helmet is essential. Just as a helmet is worn in motor sport. However, for everyday cyclists a helmet is an irrelevance. Cycle helmets are designed to absorb the impact of a rider falling off a back onto the ground – an accident which hardly ever happens in the real world. The most common collision mode is a motorised vehicle turning across the path of a cyclist, who is riding straight on a major road at a junction with a minor road.

"If you look at accident statistics, there are more UK fatalities from drowning and falling down stairs. Should it be compulsory to wear a helmet when going up or down stairs? Or to wear a life jacket when walking along a canal or river path?"

Other users invoked the seatbelt law for cars in the UK.

Wavechange said: "It is interesting to read the comments that fewer people would cycle if there was a requirement to wear helmets. I cannot remember if people gave up driving and motorcycling when seatbelts and motorcycle helmets became compulsory."

Another user cited the helmet laws in Australia and New Zealand.

John Irwin wrote: "So in light of no compelling evidence that wearing helmets results in a lower risk of head injury for cyclists why go ahead with it? In the countries which have implemented similar legislation (Australia & New Zealand) the result has been a significant drop in the numbers of people cycling."

The Which? helmet test sounds like it will make for revealing reading - Which? have the resources to actually test helmets to the standards they claim to meet, something most specialist publications aren't able to do. As for the Which? helmet debate… from all at to whoever from Which? has to moderate it, a hearty 'Good luck!'


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