This article was published in 2006, in Newsletter 64.
Tim Gill has written Cycling and Children and Young People: A review for the National Children’s Bureau. It includes an Annex: The Cycle Helmet Debate. This 53-page document includes many useful facts, with references, which, although well known to many cycle campaigners, seem not to be generally acknowledged. It documents the contrast of the relatively low risk of cycle accidents to children with the ‘perception’ of high risk, as well as the far greater risks to health of inactivity. It also details the ‘social’ benefits of cycling by enabling children and young people to explore and be independent of adults.
So what about helmets then?
A simple breakdown of known statistics is used: 18 cyclists aged 0-15 were killed in 2003, 70% due to head injury. But of those 13, in 50% of cases impact speed was too great for protection, and in half of the remaining 50%, the point of impact was outside helmet area.
So we are left with absolute helmet wearing for all children in Britain saving at best 3 lives per year.
Compare this with the savings of life due to the exercise, well being and social inclusion that increased levels of cycling can bring, especially in later life.
I think this is a review which should be read by school governors, head teachers and all those involved in the welfare of children and young people.
There is an author’s postscript on the helmet debate which almost exactly mirrors my view. I’ve worn a helmet for many years, I’ve encouraged my children to wear one, but do not prevent them from cycling without one, and am strongly opposed to compulsion. Our children travelled independently, on foot, by bike, and on public transport from an early age. The skills they’ve so learnt have been valuable as they’ve grown up, and I believe the health and social advantages they have so gained far outweigh any possible ‘transport’ risks.
“Cycling and Children and Young People: A review” by Tim Gill was published for the National Children’s Bureau in December 2005. ISBN 1-904787-62-2,