It is understandable for Bradley Wiggins to enter the debate on cycling helmets given the awful coincidence of a cyclist being killed by an Olympic bus on the day he won his gold medal, but he is quite wrong in demanding they should be made compulsory. This would not only be a deterrent to cycling but also points the blame at the victims of these accidents, rather than those responsible.
We do not know the precise circumstances in this tragedy, but the very fact that the driver has been arrested suggests that the cyclist was not to blame. Whether he would have been helped by a helmet – or indeed whether he was wearing one – is not known. However, it is known that the wearing of a helmet both encourages drivers to behave differently – and more dangerously – towards cyclists and that it may well make the cyclists ride less carefully. I certainly experience a bit of that myself when I have worn a helmet as it seems to make me more care free.
Moreover, evidence from parts of Australia where helmet wearing was made compulsory (see http://www.cycle-helmets.com/ ) shows very clearly a sharp reduction in cycling and no reduction in hospital admissions. I took a long time for cycling levels to start rising again.The message that making helmet wearing compulsory sends out is that cycling is dangerous. But it’s not. London has around 300,000 cycle journeys per day, which is more than 100m per year. There were 16 deaths last year which means one for around every 6m journeys. Few cyclists wear helmets in successful cycling countries, such as Holland and Denmark because the risks are low. Drawing attention to helmets is the wrong focus. It is the streets that need to be made safer for cyclists.
In fact, making car drivers wear helmets would save far more lives as some 50 per cent of car occupant deaths are the result of head injuries. One researcher suggests that drivers should wear a headband with a hard shell, but this idea is rarely discussed, let alone considered. Cyclists, the victims, seemed to be blamed for their misfortunes in a way that car drivers – who have ‘accidents’ – never are.
Of course if cyclists want to wear helmets that is up to them and children should be encouraged to wear them as they are particularly vulnerable but it must remain a matter of choice for adults. Our wonderful sporting hero needs to understand that racing round France at 50 kph is not the same as casual cycle riding in London’s back streets.