Perhaps. That's when Eric Martlew's private member's bill, 'protective headgear for young cyclists', gets its second reading. Many MPs support Martlew's bill. Any measure that says it aims to save children's lives is a vote winner. But will a kid lid law, in fact, lead children to ditch their bikes, leading to the unintended consequence of more deaths via obesity-related illnesses? MPs need to be better informed. To date, they seem to have absorbed only BHIT's argument. Time to write to your MP...

APRIL 23rd: Could this be a black day for British cycling?

I’ve posted below a letter I’ve emailed and faxed to my local MP but any letter you write should be in your own words. Cut-and-pasted emails and faxes do letter-writing campaigns no good at all.

But there are key points that bear repeating over and over. Mention the British Medical Association’s opposition to helmet compulsion. State how the law will be unworkable in practice and is poorly drafted. Play the obesity card: a lid law will lead to fat kids.

Emotive? You bet.

Eric Martlew’s bill –…/04021.1-i.html – needs to be blocked. MPs need to be made aware of the consequences of their actions on this seemingly simple issue.

To fax your MP, type in your postcode at

To email your MP, or book in-person surgery time, find contact details at…/alcm.cfm

If you live in Carlisle, and hold an opinion contrary to that of Eric Martlew MP, get ready to be branded a ‘cycling fascist’, see story below.


Dear Mr Cousins

I am the editor of the UK trade magazine for bicycles, and one of your constituents.

Eric Martlew’s bill on ‘protective headgear for young cyclists’ gets its second reading on April 23rd and, should it pass, cycling in Britain will be put back by 5-10 years. The UK cycle industry will be adversely impacted by a severe drop in the levels of cycling, and quality helmet sales will suffer thanks to a flood of cheap helmets from China, sold by supermarkets with no specialist advice or fitting on offer.

I am pro-helmet and wear mine every day when cycling. My three children also wear their helmets.

But, like organisations such as the British Medical Council and the government-appointed National Cycle Strategy Board, I am anti-compulsion.

As it is drafted, Mr Martlew’s bill will make criminals of bike shop owners who allow children under 16 to cycle away from their shops. Dr Kim Howells has gone on record saying any helmet law would be unworkable in practice. Unfortunately, many MPs will see Mr Martlew’s well-meaning bill as a ‘safety for children’ issue and vote for it without being aware of the bigger picture consequences.

If Mr Martlew – and his bill’s sponsor, the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust – truly wanted to save children’s lives they would lobby for children to wear helmets for all activities. More lives would be saved if children were made to wear helmets when in cars. Cycling is a safe, fun activity for children and a helmet law would discourage children – and their parents – from taking up cycling.

Let’s get kids active and out there cycling. Obesity is a proven HUGE killer, the safety benefits of helmets are obvious for low-speed crashes on to curbs from 1m but unproven for anything beyond this. However, many helmet campaigners seem to think helmets will be a panacea for all cycle-related head trauma.

Unfortunately, motorists think so too and speed up to pass helmet-clad cyclists because they are seen to be ‘protected’ and ‘serious cyclists’. (Source: TRL 549, Drivers’ perceptions of cyclists). Motorists pass such ‘serious’ cyclists much closer than they would have done otherwise.

BHIT says it only wants a helmet law for children but is this true? I was at a BHIT dinner where David Coulthard, BHIT’s patron, stated publically that the charity wanted to force ALL cyclists to wear helmets.

In the Netherlands, helmet wearing is almost unknown, yet there is no epidemic of cycle-related head injuries.

Forcing people to wear helmets will lead to a huge drop in levels of cycling in this country. Can you really imagine fair-weather, now-and-again, take-it-or-leave-it cyclists rushing out to buy helmets? Or is it more likely they’ll decide to walk or drive the one mile to the newsagents rather than wear helmets?

A seatbelt law was swallowed – and is observed – because the great majority of British adults are motorists. Most people feel they have to drive, so comply with the law. Cycling’s not like that. It’s a delicate flower, easily crushed.

Children should be encouraged to wear cycle helmets, but forcing them to do so will backfire.

Prior to helmet compulsion in Victoria, Australia, the state ran a ten year campaign to encourage helmet use. A ‘critical mass’ of helmet wearers was the result and compulsion was not so much of a shock (cycle use fell, of course). Instead of voting for Mr Martlew’s bill, MPs should be pushing for a similar, long-term helmet campaign here.

Please bear in mind some or all of these arguments when deciding whether to give Mr Martlew’s bill your support.


A British Medical Journal editorial from 1999: No to compulsion…/a

London Cycle Campaign’s policy on cycle helmets:…/helmet_policy.html


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