Jane Devine: Wearing a cycling helmet should be a choice, not a government diktat
It all started with “clunk click, every trip”. From there on in, we were on a slippery slope.
When Jimmy Savile introduced his memorable campaign to encourage people to wear seatbelts in the mid-1970s, it marked a change in the way we view our own safety. It introduced a notion that it was OK to be told by the state how to look after ourselves; safer, in fact.
Bradley Wiggins applied this notion to cycling recently when he took it upon himself to call for state intervention to make helmets for cyclists mandatory – a comment from which he is now distancing himself. Nevertheless, it has started a debate. A debate so far which has focused on whether or not cycle helmets should be made compulsory. But what about a debate over whether or not we are comfortable with the state making decisions about our own personal safety for us?
The research into the effectiveness of cycle helmets in preventing or reducing injuries to cyclists is at best inconclusive. There are so many other factors: the way people cycle; the availability of safe, separate cycle lanes; the attitude of motorists (some research suggests that motorist are more careful when passing cyclists without helmets); the attitude of some cyclists (other research suggests that helmet-wearing cyclists take more risks).
What is irrefutable, though, is that if you wear a cycle helmet, you won’t hurt your head as much if you bump it as you would if you weren’t wearing one. The question is, though, do we need the state to tell us that?
Absolutely not. It should be a personal choice. I choose not to wear a helmet and have just spent a week cycling in Paris where almost no-one wears one and returned to Edinburgh where almost everyone does. I don’t rule out wearing a helmet and there are circumstances where I would: hurtling down a mountain track on my bike, for example, but ultimately it’s my choice.
If we encourage the state to get prescriptive over the details of our private lives, where will it stop? Should we ask the government to legislate for cyclists to wear reflective clothing, have a certain type of light, specific tyres and bells? Should we have to pass a cycle test and wait until we’re 17 to get our bike licence? What about MOTs for bikes?
The one conclusive piece of research I have discovered relating to the use of cycle helmets is that in countries where cycle helmets have been made compulsory, the number of people cycling drops.
We’ve just witnessed a Tour de France and an Olympic Games with massive UK-wide success in cycling, ranging from the “veterans” in Bradley Wiggins and Chris Hoy, to double gold medal winning Olympic newcomer, Laura Trott. Their success will probably do more for cycling than anything else has or ever will. Let’s not dampen spirits, let’s encourage people into cycling and keep them interested by keeping it simple and letting them do it their way.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west