‘We want to encourage the freedom of cycling, not discourage cyclists by forcing them to wear helmets’

Transport Minister Baker defends helmet-free cycling on Radio 4

MP Norman Baker, a junior transport minister, has defending not wearing a helmet while he cycles. He aired his views on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.

The minister, with responsibility for walking, cycling and public transport, stirred up the helmet debate at the end of last week when he said it was his ‘libertarian right’ not to wear a cycle helmet while cycling, despite his Governmental role.

On the Today show this morning Julie Townsend, of road safety charity Brake, said: “We think it is very disappointing that the minister is choosing to ignore the very extensive evidence we have that helmets are effective in reducing injury and he isn’t taking the very simple step of wearing a helmet [while cycling].

“This isn’t only a public figure we’re talking about, this is the minister with responsibility for cycling. We think it’s positive he’s choosing to cycle, but we’d like him to set an example by cycling safely.”

Under questioning from the programme’s host John Humphrys, Baker said:

“There are a couple of points here. First of all it is Government policy to encourage children in particular to wear cycle helmets… We also think adults are capable of making up their own minds as to whether they should wear a helmet on or not.”

“There is an issue of whether or not cars give a wider berth to cyclists with or without helmets, but there’s also the point that whether making people wear helmets will actually discourage them from cycling. There are enormous benefits in getting people cycling in terms of health, in terms of tackling obesity, in terms of dealing with air pollution and environmental problems and I don’t want to put obstacles in the way of people cycling. I think we should encourage the freedom of cycling, rather than place restrictions on it.”

Refusing to compare legislation forcing car drivers and passengers to wear seatbelts (‘falling through a windscreen is not like falling off a bike’) the Minister maintained his stance that forcing cyclists to wear helmets could be a ‘net loss’ putting off many would-be cyclists.

Humphrys added: “You’re the [transport] minister, shouldn’t you set an example?”

Baker responded: “I’m the minister for cycling, I’m not the safety minister. I want to encourage people to cycle and stress the benefits and freedom it brings.”

You can hear the relevant section of the show here.

A recent controversial study downgraded the safety effect of cycle helmets in preventing head injury. And, yesterday, BikeBiz executive editor Carlton Reid gave his ‘pro helmet anti-compulsion’ views on a RoSPA blog.

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