Should you wear a bike helmet?


Should cyclists be forced to wear helmets? It’s a subject guaranteed to start an argument. Driver: Have you got a helmet on? No!
Cyclist: I don’t have to wear a helmet! Everyone has an opinion. The problem is, they’re normally not based on evidence. Let’s start with something straightforward. I don’t have a problem with bike helmets. In fact, when I ride a bike,
I usually wear one. And if I fall off my bike and my helmet is properly fitted and I hit something at low speed, the evidence shows
it’s probably going to help me. So making cyclists wear helmets
is a good thing, right? Well, here’s where it starts
to get complicated. Let’s hear first from a doctor who has to deal with head injuries. I’ve seen patients sustain
devastating skull fractures, brain injuries,
indeed unsurvivable brain injuries as a consequence of
the head striking the ground. Last year when I was cycling across America, a truck’s wing mirror smashed into the back of my head at 70 mph, knocking me off my bike
and onto the road. But I was lucky. I was wearing a helmet. If I hadn’t been, I’d be dead. I honestly believe
that cycle helmet legislation would significantly reduce the proportion
of cyclists that are currently killed on our roads. So it’s pretty clear:
helmets can save lives. But let’s hear from another doctor – one who looks at health not just for individuals but across whole populations. There are very good indications that forcing people to wear bike helmets makes cycling less appealing to people and probably reduces the amount of cycling that takes place. And there’s an overwhelming body of evidence that the health benefits of cycling vastly, vastly outweigh the health risks. Also, cycling isn’t as dangerous
as people think. Here in Britain there is one death for about every 30 million miles cycled. That’s around 100 cyclists
killed every year. In fact, it’s about as safe as walking. But in that same year, well over 85,000 people die early because of illness caused by inactive living, mainly things like heart disease,
diabetes and cancer. And these are precisely the sort of conditions that cycling can play a really, really big role in preventing. Cycling is one of the best ways that we can help fight that, I mean cycling as part of transport, as part of everyday life means that people get
a moderate workout regularly. It’s not something that you have
to go to the gym to do. They can do it on their way to work, on their way to the shops and so on. So enforcing the wearing
of cycle helmets, even if it were the case
that it made cycling safer, would still lead to an overall
cost in public health terms. And something else happens when cyclists put on a helmet, something that seems hardwired
into our nature. Scientists call it ‘risk compensation’. Basically, that means if you have more protection, you tend to take more risks. We got people into the lab and we told them we were going to look at decision-making whilst they wore an eye-tracking device. It came with a baseball cap or it came with a bicycle helmet. And then we got them to do
various decision-making tasks and gambling tasks. We found that the people
who were given the helmets took more risks on the gambling tasks and seemed to show higher sensation seeking measures. So riders seem to be using
that extra protection to be more reckless. But here’s where it gets more scary. Other road users then seem
to take more risks with cyclists too. In another experiment,
Ian went out on his bike fitted with a measuring device. Sometimes he wore a helmet, sometimes he didn’t. And he found that when
he was wearing the helmet, traffic would, on average,
pass him more closely. Sometimes dangerously so. We had two possible explanations for that. It might just be that
if you’re wearing a helmet you look more experienced
and drivers respond to that. Or the other possible explanation was drivers were essentially thinking: ‘he’s protected, I can take risks’. So what has happened when countries have made bike helmets compulsory? Scientists have done major studies in three countries: Canada, New Zealand
and Australia, to try and find out whether helmets improved overall safety. Keep your head together,
wear a helmet! Their conclusion? There’s no evidence that they do. This is why lots of cycling experts get really
frustrated when cycle safety campaigns get based around helmets and high-viz only. Wear a bicycle helmet
every time that you ride, gotta strap it on kids,
wear your helmet with pride. Someone who knows these frustrations better than most, is Chris Boardman, the former Olympic champion
turned cycle campaigner. Helmets are quite a divisive topic. They tend to be people’s reaction
to an environment: “I feel helpless, there’s nothing I can do.” Cycling is a safe activity. It’s the environment that’s dangerous. It’s that that we need to change … The Dutch have spent 40 years
building safe bike lanes and over there almost nobody
rides wearing a helmet. But in the Netherlands,
cycling is about four times as safe as it is in Britain. One thing the Dutch do is removing a lot of the motor traffic
from neighbourhoods. So that residential streets
are not really busy with people trying to cut through, avoid the main road, you know,
take a short cut and so on. I would suggest to people, if you want to wear a helmet,
wear a helmet. Whatever makes you feel comfortable
to ride a bike. And I think for all of us the message is: if there is a freedom to choose, which, of course, there should be, then let it be a freedom, which means I’m not going to impose my will on you either way. In fact, if you look purely at head injuries for all road users, the greatest number is amongst motorists. So maybe if anyone should be forced
to wear helmets. It should be them. Thanks for watching –
let us know what you think in the comments below,
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