Wearing a helmet reduces a very small risk of injury still further. It may be desirable but should not be compulsory
Opponents of cycle helmets point out that they don’t protect the head against being run over.
Monday 26 September 2016 19.26 BST
Bicycle helmets save lives. That is a point clearly established by the latest research from Australia, where the subject is live and controversial because in parts of the country it is compulsory to wear them, on penalty of substantial fines. Opponents point out that they are of very little help in serious crashes, since they don’t protect the head against being run over, or the rest of the body at all. Besides, there is some evidence that they encourage bad behaviour: drivers filmed on English roads treat apparently defenceless cyclists with greater consideration than those who appeared armoured in special clothing. Drivers gave the widest berth of all to cyclists who wore skirts and no helmets. But no government would make it compulsory to wear skirts on a bike. Should they, though, make helmets compulsory?
From the point of view of accident reduction, the answer is entirely clear. Helmets do prevent some head injuries, and these can be very serious even when they are not immediately fatal. On the other hand, they are extremely rare. You would have to cycle tens of thousands of hours in Australia to get an injury requiring medical treatment. More than 10 times as many Americans were shot dead in 2014 as died cycling and, despite the headlines, most Americans are never going to be shot at in their lifetimes. The benefits of cycling can’t be translated into such striking figures but there’s no doubt that regular exercise prolongs and improves life in every way, and cycling is one of the best ways to make gentle exercise a daily routine.