Bradley Wiggins is my hero. I take my cycle helmet off to his amazing feat in winning the Tour de France and Olympics gold within 10 days. But Wiggo is wrong to support calls to force cyclists to wear helmets.
I’m opposed to compulsion for practical and philosophical reasons. But at the outset I should say that I agree that it’s often sensible to wear a helmet. It’s just we shouldn’t be forced to do so.
Health and safety: the only possible reason to force people to wear a helmet is that it makes them safer and healthier. But there’s strong evidence from Australia that making people wear a lid (and criminalising those who don’t) leads to fewer people cycling, making for a less healthy society. It also suggests that cycling is a dangerous activity – which it isn’t. On average, 17 cyclists die a year, fewer than die flossing their teeth. (OK, I made up the bit about flossing, but you get the idea.)
Freedom: making helmets compulsory removes choice and responsibility from the individual. It also ignores the fact that risk varies according to where you cycle. It makes far more sense to let us decide when to wear one. If I’m cycling in the city or on country lanes with fast cars, I’ll don my helmet. If I’m pootling about in our quiet cul-de-sac, I won’t. The state shouldn’t make a criminal of a man going 5mph on a bike without a car in sight.
Supporters of compulsion say that few now complain about being forced to wear a seat belt in a car. True, but the risks are hugely magnified in a car. At this rate, we’ll see pedestrians in body armour within 30 years. And we’ll have to conduct a risk assessment before being allowed to walk down the stairs at home.
As Chris Peck from CTC, Britain’s national cycling organisation, said, “Two thirds of collisions between adult cyclists and motor vehicles are deemed by police to be the responsibility of the motorist. Any legislation should put the onus on those who cause the harm, not the victims.”