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For all the benefits of cycling, as with most things, there is another side – there are risks. One of the most common injuries, particularly when looking at more serious incidents, is head injuries. Which explains why ‘the helmet debate’  – ‘should cyclists wear a bike helmet?’ – is such a hot topic.

But why is there a debate? Why don’t all cyclists wear a piece of equipment designed to improve their safety? In truth, there are many individual factors; from cost to vanity. But idiosyncrasies aside, it’s still not straightforward. It’s a contentious point that divides the cycling community. Well, it might surprise you to know that most people actually overestimate the risks of cycling. Statistics show that 61% of adults aged over 18 feel that “it is too dangerous for me to cycle on the roads” despite some studies finding that the risks of cycling were similar to other modes of transport, and in 17-20 year olds, safer than driving.

The Argument for Bike Helmets

Those who advocate for the use of helmets will refer to various studies which demonstrate the protection offered, such as the meta-analysis (consideration of a number of studies to identify overall trends) published in 2016, which showed that based on data from 64,000 injured cyclists the risk of head injury reduced by 51%, severe head injury by 69%, facial injury by 33% and fatal injury by 65%.

Despite the seemingly logical conclusion, that ‘wearing protection, offers protection’, there is an evidence-backed logical ‘other side’ to the argument.

The Argument Against Bike Helmets

Arguably, the most prominent proponents for the ‘other side’ of the argument are Cycling UK and Chris Boardman. Their stances focus largely on health in a wider sense – that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks, and according to one estimate, the benefits outweigh the risks by 20:1. They say that mandatory helmet use would prevent people from cycling, as documented by a study in Australia after a mandatory helmet law was introduced in Melbourne – they argue that this is more detrimental to health as a whole, since the risk of injury is relatively low.

Some proponents use the same data to argue that there is safety in numbers. Therefore, anything which reduces the number of riders on the road negatively impacts the safety of the cyclists who remain.

Although neither of the advocates named above appear to strongly argue that helmets are not effective at the task they were designed to accomplish, with Cycling UK concluding that “it is possible that helmets might perhaps provide some limited protection in the event of certain types of impact occurring (e.g. minor falls)…” there is some evidence which suggests that drivers might be less generous with the amount of room they provide when passing, if you are wearing a helmet, in turn increasing the risk of collision and therefore injury; there is also evidence that wearing a helmet can lead to increased risk taking on the part of the person wearing the helmet. So you could argue, that wearing a helmet is less safe.

What does the Law say about Bike Helmets?

With the scientific jury out, as to whether you should wear a helmet, or not, what does the law say?

There is no mandatory requirement for cyclists to wear helmets in England or Wales; unlike their two wheeled counterparts – motorcyclists – who have been obliged to wear protective headgear since the introduction of the Motor Cycles (Wearing of Helmets) Regulations 1973. It’s worth noting that this legislation was described by some as a ‘gross infringement of personal liberty’ when it was debated in the House of Commons, at the time.

Despite this, The Highway Code does recommend that ‘you should wear a cycle helmet that conforms to current regulation, is the correct size and securely fastened’ (rule 59). “Should” being the key word – advisory, rather than mandatory.

What Impact do Bike Helmets Make in a Personal Injury Claim?

You can still claim compensation if you have been injured and were not wearing a helmet.

A Defendant might argue that you wouldn’t have been injured as badly if you were wearing a helmet. But to succeed, the Defendant would have to prove it – possibly with expert evidence. Nevertheless, if their argument succeeded, your compensation could be reduced, so it is worth being aware of.

This type of reduction is known as ‘contributory negligence’. There is no set rule for what should happen when a cyclist is injured whilst not wearing a helmet. Unlike motorists, who face a 25% reduction of their compensation for not wearing a seatbelt.

In the high court case of Smith v Finch (2009) the judge agreed with the concept that contributory negligence should apply to cyclists not wearing helmets. However he didn’t think there was enough evidence to show that the lack of a helmet caused or contributed to the brain injury in that case. This illustrates how the impact of wearing a helmet differs from case-to-case and will depend on the precise circumstances. To have an impact on your claim, there must be evidence to support that argument.

Cycling Accident Specialists

As you will have gathered, the issue of bike helmets is not straightforward. So if you’re involved in an accident, it pays to speak to an expert.

At Pryers, we ensure that our clients receive all of the compensation they deserve. We have an expert team of personal injury lawyers, who specialise in all types of road traffic accidents. Email or call us today to see if you can make a claim.

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