Eric Martlew MP branded the Association of Cycle Traders as "cycling fascists" when he learned the bicycle dealer organisation was opposed to his helmet mandation bill for children. is pro-helmet but anti-compulsion. And it's important to note this is also the view of the not-at-all-lunatic-fringe British Medical Association.

MPs take note: it’s not ‘cycling fascism’ to be anti helmet compulsion

Eric Martlew’s badly drafted bill is a hot topic of discussion all over the world wide web. Mud is being slung from all corners of the world.

Statistics are being bandied about with gay abandon, confusing an already confused picture.

Time, then, for some clarity.

And you can’t get clearer than the following headline from an editor of the British Medical Journal, written in 1999:Cycle helmets should not be compulsory.

The BMJ writer, Douglas Carnall, was not editorialising out of thin air. His words were based on the findings of the British Medical Association’s Board of Education and Science.

This body had studied the pros and cons of helmet wearing and came to this conclusion: "Cyclists are advised to wear helmets but legislation to make them compulsory is likely to reduce the number of people choosing to cycle and would not be in the interests of health."

MPs minded to vote for Eric Martlew’s bill on April 23rd should therefore be aware that their actions on that day may have a negative impact on the nation’s health.

The BMA’s position on cycling is simple: the health benefits outweigh all the risks by a factor of 20:1.

Make all kids wear helmets (likely to be cheap, shoddy, ill-fitting and therefore useless) and a very high proportion of those children will cease to cycle.

Do MPs want to save children’s lives? If the answer is yes – and it clearly is – they should thank Eric Martlew for his well-meaning, but flawed, bill and ask him to withdraw it and replace it with a bill mandating a 20mph speed limit in all built-up areas. That would save thousands of lives.

Not convinced that helmet mandation is a bad idea? Here are some extracts from the famous BMJ editorial:

International evidence shows that the compulsory use of helmets results in a fall in the number of cyclists. The Australian state of Victoria made the use of helmets compulsory in 1990, and in the following year deaths and head injuries among cyclists fell between 37%and 51%. However, 40%fewer adults and 60%fewer children continued to cycle after the introduction of the laws.

{A] much greater number of lives would be saved if pedestrians and car occupants were encouraged to wear helmets.

In countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark pedestrians and cyclists form a much smaller proportion of those injured or killed on the road, though helmets are little used. Instead, these countries have concentrated on safety programmes to reduce motor traffic speeds to 30 km/h in urban areas and separate cyclists from fast moving traffic.

Here’s the full text of the editorial:…/a

Of course, the BMA is not the only august body to be against helmet compulsion. The National Cycling Strategy Board is also anti-compulsion.

The NCSB’s view on helmet compulsion is:

"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. As a result, the NCS Board is anxious that the question of wearing helmets is placed in its proper context.

The NCS Board has a clear view on this issue, which is that it must remain a decision for individuals as to whether to wear a helmet for some or all of their various cycle activities. Parents will need to take this decision on behalf of their children, bearing in mind all the particular circumstances. But any mandatory requirement to wear helmets on all occasions would greatly dilute the benefits which safe cycling can offer our society as a whole. "

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