Chris Boardman: 'Shame on the government' for discussing compulsory cycle helmet law

Chris Boardman argues that making cycle helmet use compulsory in Britain will not lead to saving lives, and discussing it is distracting from the real cause of cyclist deaths and injuries

Chris Boardman

(Image credit: Chris Catchpole)

Chris Boardman has written a strongly-worded article criticising the British government for discussing a law for the compulsory use of cycle helmets rather than focussing on the things that "really keep people safe and save the most lives".

Boardman's piece is in reaction to reports that compulsory helmet use and hi-vis clothing will be discussed as part of a Department for Transport review into cycling safety.

Former Olympic and world cycling champion Boardman, who now acts as British Cycling policy advisor and Great Manchester's cycling and walking commissioner, argues that the introduction of the compulsory use of cycle helmet in Perth, Australia led to a drop in cycle use by 30 to 40 per cent.

A drop in cycle use, says Boardman, could have dire health consequences as people seek sedentary forms of transport to travel to work and school.

"A recent study by the University of Glasgow showed that people who regularly commute by bike almost halve their chances of dying from heart disease and cancer compared to people who drive," writes Boardman on the British Cycling website.

"In fact their chances of dying prematurely by any cause, drops by 41 per cent. Let those numbers sink in.

"In the UK one in six deaths - nearly 90,000 per year - is as a result of physical inactivity related disease including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Clearly, any measure proven beyond doubt to reduce people's likelihood to travel by bike, will almost certainly kill more people than it saves."

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Boardman uses the example of a case in New Zealand to support his argument. Rebecca Oaten campaigned for compulsory helmet use in the country after her son suffered a severe head injury after being hit by a car while riding to school in the later 1980s. Her campaign led to compulsory helmet use in New Zealand in 1994.

"Imagine if her understandable anger over her son’s terrible accident had been directed not at protecting people in the event of a crash, but at the cause of the incident, the person, who rammed her son from behind as he rode to school?" says Boardman.

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"What if her campaign had been to have speeds reduced or areas around schools made car-free? Measures to make streets safe for children to do normal things in normal clothes? Imagine how many lives she would have saved then."

According to figures quotes by Boardman, the Dutch adopted the policy of creating safe infrastructure for cyclists, leading to a rise in cycle journeys and a drop in injuries.

"More than 50 per cent of kids ride to school in safety every day," said Boardman of the Netherlands. "Imagine the reduction in congestion if 50 per cent of children in the UK were not driven to school! It’s also no coincidence that Dutch obesity levels are less than half that of the UK.

"So if you want to wear a helmet, go ahead, whatever makes you feel safer but I won’t be letting the debate get sidetracked from the things that evidence shows really keep people safe and saves the most lives.

"To the government, I say shame on you that this even has to be discussed (again) and shame on you that we even have to campaign, so we and our children can travel safely in a way that benefits everyone, on the roads we all pay for."

Boardman's mother, Carol, died of her injuries after being hit by a pick-up truck while she was out cycling in North Wales in July 2016. Two people have been charged in connection with her death.

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