In a recent discussion in parliament, Eric Martlew, the cycle helmet compulsion MP, managed to get the transport secretary to reveal he wants all cyclists to wear helmets. But Alistair Darling told the MP for Carlisle that he would have to add amendments to the Road Safety Bill because there was "unanimity about what we ought to do."

Darling hankers after helmets but DfT stays on fence

Martlew brought up his favourite subject during the second reading of the government’s Road Safety Bill.

The Carlisle MP said: "I realise that later this year the Government will introduce new laws on booster seats in the back of motor vehicles, but why are there no proposals to make it compulsory for children to wear helmets when cycling? Why does the Department for Transport always turn its face against that sensible proposal?"

Alistair Darling – like Martlew, not a cyclist – replied:

"My hon. Friend’s first point is quite right. We are introducing new rules so that children under six have to travel in car booster seats and children between six and 11—up to the age of 12—have to be on a booster cushion. That is important.

"As for cycle helmets, my hon. Friend knows from the last time he introduced a private Member’s Bill that there are strongly held views on both sides of the argument. I accept that, although my preference is that people should wear helmets; the more we do to protect people against injury, the better.

"However, there is no provision in the Bill because there is by no means unanimity about what we ought to do. I have not the slightest doubt that my hon. Friend, and others, will return to the matter, and it is of course open to him to raise it in the various proceedings of the House."

In a style that is typical of (a) sloppy journalism and (b) skewed representation of statistics, Martlew’s local newspaper finished a report on Darling’s "support" of Martlew by saying:

"In Britain, around 50 child cyclists were killed or seriously injured during each month of 2003."

12 times fifty equals 600. It’s the "seriously injured" bit that skews the stat. 600 deaths sounds a lot better to compulsion campaigners and lazy journalists than 16…

Even one death is a death too many? If such logic was continued, all motorists should be forced to wear fire-proof suits, full body armour and F1 head-protection. At the very least pedestrians should be forced to wear helmets because many more pedestrians are killed on the roads each year than cyclists. But then logic rarely comes into the ‘cycle helmet compulsion’ debate.


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