Undesired Results of Helmets
compensation by cyclists
Safety equipment can change behaviour under certain
circumstances. This may "use up" some of
the benefit or even increase the risk. Risk compensation
has been formally observed amongst risk-averse child
cyclists. Measured adult helmet use is highest on
busy roads and at peak times. One analysis has warned:
"Don't over-predict benefits. Unduly optimistic
predictions will hamper injury prevention efforts
in the long run".
compensation by drivers
Some drivers may be less careful towards cyclists
if they feel them to be protected by helmets. A cycle
helmet is intended to protect in a simple fall at
low speed, not in a collision with a motor vehicle.
There is no known case of a UK court accepting that
a cycle helmet would have reduced the severity of
head injury suffered in a serious crash with a motor
vehicle. Fortunately such incidents are rare.
In other activities, it has been observed that helmets
may slow reaction times by heating the brain. If this
is true of cycle helmets, it could lead to increased
Enforced helmet laws drive cycle use down, thereby
increasing the risk for those who still cycle and
negatively impacting public health. There is also
evidence that child cycling levels have fallen after
local helmet promotion campaigns. Insensitive helmet
promotion labels cycling, incorrectly, as a dangerous
activity. Some kinds of cycling do incur higher risks
of head injury, such as stunt riding, mountain biking,
and competition. Informed helmet use in specific activities
is unlikely to deter cycle use overall. The perceived
attitude that cycling is "inevitably dangerous"
is a major obstacle to raising mass cycle use as daily
transport. On-road cycling is a low-risk mode of travel
that gets safer when it gets more popular.
Cycle helmets should not be made compulsory. It would
be arbitrary to impose legislation on cyclists, who
do not face clearly higher risks than pedestrians
or drivers. Enforced helmet laws drive cycle use down,
thereby increasing the risk per cyclist and harming
public health. Enforced helmet laws have not effected
material prevention of serious head injury at the
2. A large increase in cycle
use should have political and social priority. Increasing
cycle use is one of the most effective measures to
reduce the risk of death or injury per cyclist, due
to the "safety in numbers" effect. It is
also "probably the most effective measure"
to tackle obesity and lack of physical exercise in
Helmet guidelines should be realistic. "Don't
over-predict benefits. Unduly optimistic predictions
will hamper injury prevention efforts in the long
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