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Row brews in Cambridge as Police and Crime Commissioner and MP go head to head over cycle helmet laws

PCC Sir Graham Bright says doctor son has made him aware of head injuries, but MP Julian Huppert says risks of people not riding at all are too high

The MP for Cambridge and the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner have become embroiled in a war of words after the PCC called for a change in the law to make cycle helmets mandatory.

Sir Graham Bright, whose son is a doctor, says that the injuries he has heard about second-hand have convinced him that riding without a helmet should be criminalised.

But Julian Huppert MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling, who says he does not wear a helmet, has responded saying the risk of putting people off cycling by legislating for helmets is too high.

Sir Graham, elected last November, told the Cambridge News: “I do think that wearing a cycle helmet should be compulsory. The damage that can be done if a cyclist hits their head on a kerb can be terrible.

“My son has worked as an accident and emergency doctor and has seen the consequences of head injuries. When you think about it in those terms it seems obvious that a helmet should be worn.

“I certainly wear one when I am riding my bike. It should be safety first all the time.”

Dr Huppert, a Liberal Democrat, responded saying: “It should be up to individual people whether or not to wear a cycling helmet and should not be dictated by law.

“Countries that have introduced compulsory helmet laws have found that it significantly reduced the number of people cycling, and made it less safe for them to do so.

“By reducing the amount of exercise that people have, compulsory helmets increase the number of early deaths, that could be avoided.

“Cycling is healthy, affordable and fun and it eases traffic congestion and reduces pollution.

“We want to encourage more people to cycle and walk and that is why I have been working hard in government and through the Get Britain Cycling inquiry to make it easier and safer for them to do so.

“Sir Graham’s approach would worsen people’s health and increase congestion on our roads – hardly a good idea.”

It’s not the first time Sir Graham has involved himself in cycling policy. In September he slammed a proposal to make motorists liable in the first instance for any crash that involves cyclists.

Sir Graham said the plans – aimed at ensuring one in ten journeys are made by bicycle by 2025 and which were adopted as policy by Liberal Democrat members  at their party conference in Glasgow – are “nonsense”.

We reported his comments at the time, saying: “The proposal is nonsense. Whenever there’s an accident someone’s at fault but it’s not always the motorist – far from it.

“You’ve only got to drive through Cambridge to realise that you’ve got to be doubly alert if you’re driving.

“And if there was an accident it could happen by someone coming straight out in front of you. So that is in my opinion a very silly thing to float.”

Just last week we reported how paediatricians in Canada are putting pressure on the government to legislate for mandatory cycle helmets, saying that forcing adults to wear them could protect children who copy their behaviour.

Currently only currently only four of thirteen Canadian provinces and territories have full helmet legislation, but the Canadian Paediatric Society is calling for them to be made mandatory for all ages.

Earlier this year, we reported a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) saying that the introduction of compulsory helmet laws in parts of Canada only appears to have had a “minimal” effect on reducing hospital admissions for cyclists suffering from head injuries.

The authors, led by Jessica Dennis, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, say that the rate of admissions to hospitals among cyclists was already falling before compulsory helmet laws were introduced in certain provinces, and that “the rate of decline was not appreciably altered on introduction of legislation.”

They added: “While helmets reduce the risk of head injuries and we encourage their use, in the Canadian context of existing safety campaigns, improvements to the cycling infrastructure, and the passive uptake of helmets, the incremental contribution of provincial helmet legislation to reduce hospital admissions for head injuries seems to have been minimal.”

In all, hospital admissions data for 66,716 cycling related injuries in Canada between 1994 and 2008 were studied. Between 1994 and 2003, the rate of head injuries among young people fell by 54.0 per cent in provinces that have helmet legislation, compared to 33.1 per cent in those without such laws.

Among adults, in provinces where helmets are required by law, the rate fell by 26.0 per cent, but stayed constant in provinces that have no compulsory helmet legislation.

However, the authors say, “After taking baseline trends into consideration… we were unable to detect an independent effect of legislation on the rate of hospital admissions for cycling related head injuries.”

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