The Department for Transport’s response

We have received a letter, in response to one of our own, from the Department for Transport, as reproduced below:

Cycle Helmet Compulsion

27th April 2004

Thank you for your letter dated 8 April, addressed to the Minister for Transport, about cycle helmet compulsion. It has been sent to me to reply.

The Department commissioned an independent review that was published in 2002 as Road Safety Research Report Number 30 (this can be found at www.roads.dft.qov.uk). The review concludes that overall there is evidence that bicycle helmets can be effective at reducing the incidence and severity of head, brain and upper facial injuries and that they can be effective in reducing injury for users of all ages, though particularly for children. The report also concludes that there is evidence that compulsory helmet wearing may discourage some bicyclists leading to decreased bicycle use. We believe it would be irresponsible not to promote a product that can reduce injuries and continue to promote helmet wearing on a voluntary basis.

Wearing rates show that cycle helmets were worn by 15% of child cyclists on major built up roads in 2002. This compares to 18% in 1994. Teenage boys are particularly bad, where the rate has declined from 16% to 12%. It has been our view that at the current level of wearing rates, making helmets compulsory would cause enforcement difficulties and, without greater public acceptance, could have an effect on the levels of cycling. We will maintain our efforts to promote the wearing of cycle helmets and other safety measures such as – training, publicity and education.

We do not regard cycling as an especially dangerous activity – nor do we present it as such. The health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks. But we must recognise that it is not entirely risk free. It is only sensible that cyclists recognise their own responsibility to take precautions to protect themselves and that drivers take care around cyclists. Safer and more pleasant cycling is an important component in increasing cycling levels.

The Eric Martlew MP Private Member’s Bill, the purpose of which was to make the wearing of helmets by children compulsory, was debated in Parliament on the 23 April. On a procedural point raised by Eric Forth MP, the Bill lost its priority, and the Bill will be considered again on 18 June. Our position remains that compulsion at current wearing rates would cause enforcement difficulties and could have an effect on cycling levels. However, we will reflect on the issues raised during the debate on 23 April.

Yours sincerely
Jason Richardson