Cycling helmets – life saver or danger?
The health benefits of cycling has made its way into the press recently, with research suggesting that the benefits of this environmentally friendly form of transport on a person’s health far outweigh the dangers presented by breathing in polluted air in our congested cities; such as respiratory problems and physical injuries from being struck by traffic.
Cycling is being penned by many as a cure for many of the modern world’s threats, such as obesity, stroke, cancer, diabetes and climate change. It is thought that, on average, a regular cyclist will live 2 years longer than a non-cyclist, with a level of fitness comparable to someone a decade younger. In fact, cycling is thought to be so beneficial for our health that road safety and other pro-cycling organisations are campaigning not to impose an obligation to wear cycling helmets, in fear that this will discourage us from hopping out of our cars and onto our bicycles.
Looking back to our time at school and cycling proficiency sessions, we had drilled into us the importance of wearing a helmet when cycling. Many claimants who have suffered a brain injury in a cycling accident will no doubt wish they had taken on board that advice. It comes as a stark surprise then that almost the opposite behaviour is now being encouraged.
Recent theories suggest that mandatory use of helmets will in fact be a detriment to the overall health of the population, and campaigners are urging the government to allow cyclists to make their own decision as to whether or not they wear a helmet. The theory is that forcing the use of helmets will discourage cycle usage and, statistically, it is thought that just a 4.7% reduction in cycle use would result in more people dying due to poor health by not cycling, than those saved by a helmet in an accident.
There is a perception that cyclists obtain safety in numbers. In cities and areas where cycling is more prevalent, and perhaps the road networks are geared up for safe cycling, cyclists are less likely to be involved in a collision, compared with locations where cyclists are fewer in numbers and “out on their own”. Such areas may have lower speed restrictions for traffic and better signage which protects a cyclist, or such societies may simply better educate drivers on their responsibility towards, and the vulnerability of, cyclists.
There is also fear that helmets may in fact increase the risk of injury in some circumstances. Helmets are designed to withstand direct impact up to speeds of around 12mph. Anything above that and it may well fail to provide protection. Helmets also effectively increase the surface area of your head, and the effect of that additional mass can put extra force on your neck in an accident; force that it is not designed to expect. This can cause serious neck injury in even the most simple of collisions.
There is also the perception that too many safety devices can lead to a false sense of security, and that in wearing a helmet, a cyclist may be willing to take more risks. It’s a rehash of the old theory that if car manufacturers installed a spike sticking out of a steering wheel, drivers might be far more cautious so as to avoid a collision.
But whilst the benefits of cycling on a general scale might justify a freedom to choose whether or not to clip on a helmet, you only have to look at victims of accidents to know that for those for whom it goes wrong, the consequences could be devastating. Whilst a helmet might not be able to prevent all types of head injury, it may at least limit the effect that that injury may have on you. That could be different between being able to go back to work, walk and even talk. Our personal injury lawyers have been instructed by many victims of road injury traffic accident as a cyclist, with many of them sustaining life changing head injuries.
The effects of a cycling accident do not just affect that person and their immediate family. The cost to the state is huge. Each victim will require treatment from the NHS which, in a serious accident, will add up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. They may need state support for life if they are unable to work and will require input from social and other primary care services. It therefore isn’t simply a matter of personal choice; but social policy and responsibility. If we are going to pay such close attention to the environmental impacts of cycling, then we equally need to consider this.
It is important to note that if a Claimant makes a claim after suffering a head injury in a cycling accident, the Defendant is likely to argue for a reduction in compensation for contributory negligence, if the Claimant was not wearing a helmet.
This debate will hopefully, at the very least, improve awareness of the issues relating to cycle safety, and make cycle and other road user alike more considerate and alert to dangers that lead to accidents. Ultimately, we must all work towards preventing an accident in the first place, but cyclists should also think, have I taken all reasonable precautions to protect myself if one should occur?
If you or anyone you know wishes to discuss a personal injury claim, involving a cyclist or otherwise, contact our specialist lawyers on 0800 316 8892.