There have been many bicycle helmet studies undertaken worldwide. Edinburgh University's Professor Aziz Sheikh and colleagues from the Health Commission and Imperial College London have read four of them, and, in a top medical journal, are arguing Eric Martlew's kid-lid bill didn't go far enough, all cyclists should be forced to wear cycle helmets. Professor Sheikh's views have been picked up by the Press Association and syndicated helmet stories are starting to appear all over the mainstream media.

Helmet compulsion for all cyclists, not just kids, argues regurgitating Prof

In a report in the June edition of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (2004;97:262-265), Professor Sheikh says both adults and children should be forced to wear helmets when cycling.

PDF of the report here:…/SheikhHelmetReport.pdf

Did Professor Sheikh and colleagues conduct extensive new research on the effectiveness of helmets? No, they read the existing research papers, including two of their own…

Critical parts of the cited studies are famously flawed, say anti-compulsion campaigners, yet, still, the same old statistics are wheeled out.

"The consensus is [helmets] reduce anything up to 88 percent of serious head injuries if they are used," Professor Sheikh is reported as saying.

This is a well-worn statistic, and one that brings a wry smile to those familiar with helmet studies. The 88 percent figure comes from Thompson RS, Rivara, Thompson DC, The New England Journal of Medicine Vol 320:21 pp1361-7, 1989.

This study has many methodological flaws, argues cycle safety expert John Franklin.

Rivara and Thompson acknowledge two sources of uncertainty: statistical error due to their fairly small sample, and bias in the sample: "We cannot completely rule out the possibility that more cautious cyclists may have chosen to wear helmets and also had less severe accidents."

A critique of the study can be found here:…/seattle.html

In 1993, Mayer Hillman produced his landmark study Cycle helmets: the case for an against. In this, he said mandatory helmets would reinforce public perceptions that cycling is dangerous and encourage the view that cyclists are responsible for their own injury. Life years gained through cycling outweigh life years lost in cycling fatalities by a factor of 20:1, he said.

Encouraging helmets leads to fewer people cycling and a net health loss. This was the position later adopted by the British Medical Association.

Despite, in 2003, conducting its own, extensive review of the existing helmet studies, the UK’s Department for Transport is not in favour of helmet compulsion, for either children or adults.

The DfT’s report can be found here:…/dft_rdsafety_507998.hcsp

A critique of this report by John Franklin can be downloaded here…/helmets.html

Professor Sheikh’s helmet article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine is not the first time he has promoted helmet use for all. He also co-authored articles in the BMJ in 2000 and in Injury Prevention in 2003. Sheikh uses his two previous studies in his latest report, along with two other studies.

John Franklin wonders why Professor Sheikh mentions only a very few helmet studies, not something that an independently-minded researcher would do:

"As people who have followed the debate about cycle helmets, the authors must be aware of the serious criticisms that have been made against all of these papers, much of it published in the medical press.

"However, they make no reference to such criticism and do not seek to address the issues that have been raised. Instead, they infer incorrectly that opposition to cycle helmet compulsion is based only on grounds relating to civil liberties, whereas in recent years it has been increasingly on matters of evidence and fact."

For a full critique of Sheikh and Cook’s latest study, see

On 18th June, the roads minister, David Jamieson, could make an official statement on the DfT’s position of cycle helmet compulsion. To date, the DfT has always said helmet use in the UK is too low to force through mandation and this position could be expanded upon whether or not Eric Martlew’s back-of-the-queue private members’ Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill gets any airtime, which it won’t.

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