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The case against compulsory helmets

Chris Peck's picture
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Surely helmets must be a good idea? That's the first reaction from most people when they hear CTC's policy against compulsory helmet use. So what's the case for CTC's position?
Unhelmeted cycling is the norm in the Netherlands, even for children
Unhelmeted cycling is the norm in the Netherlands, even for children

Cycling is healthy

Cycling regularly gives you a level of fitness equivalent to being 10 years younger and a life expectancy 2 years above the average. In terms of life-years gained and lost, the Government acknowledges that the health benefits of cycling far outweigh any risks involved – by a factor of 20:1 according to one estimate, and even higher according to a recent study from Spain.

Tens of thousands of people die annually from diseases attributed to physical inactivity, whereas only a relatively small number die in crashes on bicycles each year.

Cycling is also a very popular form of exercise, ranking only behind swimming and athletics in popularity. Furthermore, when asked which activity people wish to do more of, cycling is second only to swimming.

Cycling is safer in places where cycling levels are higher

Evidence from Britain and elsewhere shows that cyclists really do benefit from 'safety in numbers'.  A doubling in cycle use was found to be associated with only a

By contrast, helmet wearing rates are, if anything, inversely related to cyclists' safety. In countries where cycle use is highest - such as the Netherlands and Denmark - cycle helmet use tends to be much lower than in countries with a higher risk of cycling, such as Britain and the US.

Imposing helmet-wearing stops people cycling

International evidence also shows that making cyclists wear helmets leads to reduced cycle use - particularly among teenagers - thereby undermining efforts to maximise its health and other benefits.

Following laws implemented and enforced in Australia in the early 1990s, cycle levels fell by over a third.

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  • Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC): A company limited by guarantee, registered in England no.25185. Registered as a charity in England and Wales No 1147607 and in Scotland No SC042541
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