A debate took place on Channel 4 News at Noon today about cycle helmets after accident and emergency doctors demanded that the government make it illegal for under-16s to cycle without a helmet.
The Association of Paediatric Emergency Medicine voted this morning for a change in the law to help reduce the number of children who suffer serious brain injuries.
Currently, cyclists are not obliged to wear helmets by law, even though doctors claim they reduce direct skull impact. The programme said that studies suggest that helmets reduce head injury by 85%, brain injury by 88% and severe brain injury by 75%.
Dr Ian Maconochie, of the Association of Paediatric Emergency Medicine, said: “The evidence is significant in terms of reducing direct brain injury at low impact velocity. The debate we had was extensive but the medical fraternity voted thee to one in favour of having mandatory cycle helmet wearing.”
Dr Maconochie also went on to say: “It's estimated there are 90,000 accidents on the road every year in the UK involving bicycles and 100,000 off the road, 53% of which involve children. In terms of traumatic brain injury about 52,000 children have suffered significant brain injury which requires additional support from the state so there are elements of how it affects society and individuals.”
On the other side of the argument the CTC are strongly opposed in a statement to road.cc the organisation said: "CTC is strongly opposed to making cycle helmets compulsory for children. Five years ago, together with the cycle industry and others, we lobbied hard to block a Private Member's Bill seeking just such legislation. We will do our hardest to prevent any future attempt to force kids to wear helmets.
We dispute much of the evidence put forward to support this motion - please see www.cyclehelmets.org for a rebuttal.
Chris Peck from the CTC was also on the programme and said that when it was introduced in Australia there was a decrease in cycling, and there was an obesity epidemic that cycling can help combat.
He said: “We believe children should not have to wear helmets. Our position is that parents should have a choice if their children want to wear a helmet. We also want parents to be aware that the element of risk compensation, where children and adults choose to where a safety aid they will take more risks.
“If you look at countries in Europe where cycling is huge – in Holland 27% of trips are made by bike and you would not see a helmet on cyclists, not even kids. And in Copenhagen 55% of people cycle to work and you see very few helmets there. In fact there are a lot of advocates in Holland and Denmark who really strongly object to them. A recent helmet law was defeated in the Danish parliament.
Speaking to road.cc afterwards he added these points to the ones made in the C4 interview: Children injured falling from their bikes result in 4,800 days in hospital each year. By contrast ordinary slips and falls when walking or running result in over 18,000 bed days. Including falls from trees, falls when skating, and other falling injuries, that figure rises to 45,000, almost 10 times the level from cycling. If they want to force kids to wear helmets when cycling, what are they going to do for all those other times when they may hit their head?
Such a law would be currently unenforceable. The law would have to lay responsibility for children wearing helmets on their parents or guardians. This would therefore mean that those individuals would need to accompany their children at all times, or bear responsibility for their child's decision to remove their helmet when away from the parent. Neither of these solutions is practical.
Helmets unnecessarily portray cycling as dangerous, reconfirming in the minds of many that cycling is 'too dangerous' to contemplate. Meanwhile the population becomes less and less fit with all the accompanying health impacts that causes.