Cycle Helmets and The Law (UK)

Wearing a bicycle helmet is a precaution that many choose to ignore when going for a bike ride. Safety laws and regulations vary according to country, but the UK has not made any law regulating bicycle helmet safety. Despite the lack of current regulation, lobbyists and politicians are campaigning to have bicycle safety regulations implemented for the health and safety of the UK citizens. Evidence suggests that there are drastically different predictions on the implementation of these laws and the consequences that will result.

  • One published paper predicts that implementing laws compelling cyclists to wear helmets will increase premature fatality rates, while also reducing cycling levels.
  • Surveys from 1994 to 2008 show an increase in adult cyclist helmet wearing, without compelling laws. Almost 35% of cyclists in the UK now wear helmets, but the rate of helmet wearing by child cyclists has remained stagnant since 1994. 
  • A survey by the British Medical Journal showed that nearly 70% of respondents did not believe that cyclists in the UK should be compelled to wear helmets. 

The reason for the negative perception towards helmet laws in the UK is supported by staggering statistics. Bicycle helmets claim to prevent head injuries, but results have shown that as helmet use has increased, so has head injuries. There are no proven reasons for the surprise that helmet increase has correlated directly with increased injuries, but individuals claim a variety of explanations:

  • Wearing a helmet makes cyclists feel more protected, sub-consciously motivating them to go faster, or perform more hazardously.
  • The unnatural element of having a helmet strapped to your head can feel uncomfortable, resulting in accidents.
  • Helmets can sometimes slip or move atop one’s head, requiring the rider to sacrifice a hand from balancing to fix the loose article. 

The UK’s national cyclist’s organization claims that, “The more cyclists there are, the safer cycling becomes". If UK laws compel cyclists to wear a helmet, than it is predicted that the cycling levels will fall, meaning that conditions will become more dangerous. There are a number of reasons why increasing the number of cyclists will increase safety.

  • A greater number of cyclists means that they are easier to spot by motorists. Drivers will be more aware of them and able to make better decisions to ensure their safety.
  • Higher numbers of cyclists will give more reason for cities to improve infrastructure to support cycling. Improved road signs, paths, and regulations will increase safety conditions for everyone.

Although there are currently no laws regulating helmet wearing in the UK, it is safe to assume that the debate for future laws will continue.