In a submission ahead of the publication of the UK government's Public Health White Paper - due within the next few days and which contains many favourable plugs for cycling - the British Medical Association argues for a raft of health measures, including cycle helmet compulsion. This is a massive about-face: since 1999, the BMA has argued that the health benefits of cycling outweigh all of the (comparatively low) risks. The BMA still does, but now argues the case for cycle helmet compulsion. And not just for children. Odd, but the BMA does not argue for helmet wearing by motorists yet, according to an Australian study, such a measure would prevent three times more head injuries than airbags.

All child and adult cyclists should be forced to don lids, argues BMA

The BMA has called on Health Secretary John Reid to deliver tough action to protect the nation’s health, as he finalises the White Paper on Public Health for England.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of Science and Ethics at the BMA, said: "Obesity, sexual transmitted infections, alcohol abuse and smoking-related illness are all soaring. The Government must act now to turn around the UK’s declining standards of health, and safeguard the well being of future generations."

On exercise, the BMA calls for playing fields and recreational facilities to be preserved and developed, and schools should be required to incorporate physical exercise for a minimum of 2-3 hours per week.

"Lack of exercise is also contributing to rising levels of obesity and other health problems. Safe cycling networks should be encouraged, and the Government should legislate for the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets."

After pressure from lobby groups – including ‘Be-Hit’, the Reading-based Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust – the BMA has now rejected much of its own 1999 report.

The doctors’ organisation champions the use of helmets despite agreeing that "even in the current hostile traffic environment, the benefits gained from regular cycling are likely to outweigh the loss of life through accidents for regular cyclists."

The BMA argues for lots of sensible measures ("the creation of a safer cycling environment; reductions in vehicle speeds and traffic volume in urban areas; cycling proficiency education, as part of the curriculum for all school children…") but all of this is subsumed by the belief that polystyrene prophylactics designed for low-speed crashes from a height of 1m will be major life savers if only their use was enforced.

"Recent evidence has indicated that the introduction of compulsory legislation does not have a significant negative effect on cycling levels," claimed a BMA position paper, neglecting to cite a source for the "recent evidence" even though the rest of the position paper is littered with footnote sourcing.

"In light of this evidence, the Board of the Directorate of Professional Activities of the BMA agreed that the BMA support the introduction of legislation making the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory for both children and adults."



The full text of the BMA’s helmet compulsion about-face can be found here:…/cyclehelmetslegis


An Australian study into car-padding – Prevention of Head Injuries to Car Occupants: An Investigation of Interior – concludes that "protective headwear, similar to a soft shell pedal cycle helmet, is estimated to be much more effective than padding the car in preventing cases of fatal brain injury and in improving the outcome in cases of severe brain injury." The report presented findings from a two-year study on head and brain injuries among car occupants. It was jointly conducted by the NHMRC Road Accident Research Unit (University of Adelaide) and the Monash University Accident Research Centre.

Here’s an abstract of the study:…/cr160ex.cfm


Dr Mayer Hillman has long argued helmet compulsion is "victim blaming."

"By wearing helmets, cyclists are at best only marginally reducing their chances of being fatally or seriously injured in a collision with a motor vehicle which is the predominant cause of these injuries. Even the most expensive ones provide little protection in these circumstances.

"People are discouraged from cycling if their perception is heightened that it is a ‘dangerous’ form of travel and that it is only safe to do so if a helmet is worn. The result of this is that the considerable latent demand for cycling – an ideal mode for the majority of the population for most of their journeys – continues to be suppressed. As cycling is also a convenient and routine way of maintaining fitness, a significant route to public health is prejudiced.

"The primary means of reducing serious head injury among cyclists is to create an environment in which accidents are less likely to occur. Such a strategy based on tackling the source of accidents in which cyclists are involved has far greater scope for reducing head injuries than the questionable benefits of promoting helmet wearing among cyclists."


The National Cycling Strategy Board made an anti-compulsion statement in January 2004:

"Campaigns seeking to present cycling as an inevitably dangerous or hazardous activity, or which suggest that helmet wearing should be made compulsory, risk prejudicing the delivery of those very benefits to health and environment which cycling can deliver: they also serve to confuse the general public about the wider social and economic advantages of cycling."…/t-328.html

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