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Compulsory helmets would lead to one in ten cyclists giving up riding, says IAM poll

A further three in ten say they would carry on riding without a lid

Results of a poll carried out by road safety charity IAM suggest that one in ten cyclists would give up riding their bikes if the wearing of cycle helmets were made compulsory. A further three in ten claim that they would carry on riding without wearing a helmet. The issue is a topical one, and was the subject of a private member’s bill introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this year.

Given that the remaining six in ten say they already wear a helmet, the findings appear to back up claims from organisations such as Sustrans and CTC that the negative effects of compulsion such as people stopping riding, or not even taking up cycling in the first place, outweigh any potential benefits in terms of reduction in head injuries.

That latter point is itself a perennial bone of contention, of course, as borne out by the IAM’s survey, which found similar proportions of people claiming that helmets only offered limited protection from head injury, or are of little use in the event of a crash as those who asserted that they do save lives, or protect from serious injury. A significant percentage of repondents also hit the "other please specify" option for this question a further indication of how complicated feelings can be on the issue.

Twenty per cent of those polled thought that cycling helmets should be made compulsory for everybody but a clear majority thought it should remain a matter of personal choice. However, things weren't quite so clear cut when it came to children a helmet compulsion for kids got the most votes, but only just and not a majority. Oddly, in the other question on helmet compulsion, compulsory kids lids got less votes than compulsory helmets for everyone.

When asked to rank the three most important cycle safety measures those surveyed  said conspicuous clothing and cycle lights were more important when it came to ensuring safety of cyclists on the road. Visible road position was judged the second most important aid to cycle safety while "Training" was viewed as the third most important safety measure - we're guessing by this it meant cycle training, but it could also have been interpreted as cycle awareness training – given that the poll was being conducted by a motoring organisation. A fact that was possibly underlined by the number of people that answered "other please specify" in response to this question.

Well over half the respondents said that they cycled and the second most significan proportion were in the "someone close to me cycles" category, with non-cyclists making up by far the smallest number of those taking part.

IAM cycling manager Duncan Pickering commented: “One in ten cyclists being prepared to give up cycling shows how controversial compulsory helmets would be. But generally people are not anti-helmet – they see it as an issue of choice.

“Ultimately fewer than ten per cent voted that they didn’t think wearing a cycle helmet was beneficial at all, so if cyclists feel safer wearing one it makes sense to do so. But cyclists can improve their safety and confidence a lot by taking training. Many accidents

involving cyclists could be prevented by cyclists positioning themselves more defensively in relation to larger vehicles.”

The poll attracted more than 4,000 votes – interestingly, out of 15 recent polls listed on the IAM website, the two cycling-specific ones feature among the five top ones in terms of response rate. You can see the full results on by going to the polls page on the IAM website and clicking on the wearing of compulsory cycle helmets poll. IAM polls are always and interesting snapshot into the views and opinions of road users on significant topics, but as we have said before the results are based on a self-selecting sample so fall in to the category of interesting talking point rather than peer reviewed statistical data.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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mrsminx411 | 12 years ago

But why would you give up cycling if you were forced to wear a helmet? I can't fathom that attitude at all.

Sparta_Mobberley | 12 years ago

I don't think helmets should be compulsory but I think you'd be crazy not to wear one! I came off my bike riding home from work towards the end of Winter and I put a serious crack in the side of my helmet. I'm glad it was the helmet that took the knock and not my noggen!

nelly | 12 years ago

i think helmets should be compulsory, its the only way to get kids wear them!! I had a crash not long ago,banged my head, now i wont leave home without one!

PhilRuss replied to nelly | 11 years ago
nelly wrote:

i think helmets should be compulsory, its the only way to get kids wear them!! I had a crash not long ago,banged my head, now i wont leave home without one!

[[[[ Yeah, Nelly....I badly banged my head getting INTO my car last month---now I wear a helmet while driving, in case I badly bang my head getting OUT of the vehicle! I do get some funny looks though (even from cyclists). I wonder why....after all, far more car-occupants injure their heads in crashes than do cyclists. Yes---compulsory helmets for car-drivers and their passengers, I say.
And what about those THOUSANDS of PEDESTRIANS hit by vehicles? Helmets for one, helmets for all, innit!
But to be serious; you can't make everbody wear hard-hats, so why should we be singled out?

handlebarcam | 12 years ago

I wonder if the AA will decide not to continue its pro-helmet policy, as only removing a meagre one tenth of cyclists from the roads may not be deemed cost effective. I can certainly imagine the likes of Clarkson exclaiming, "Is that all? Better push for compulsory insurance for every rider, and a man walking in front of all group rides waving a red flag. That'll really get those Guardian-reading, eco-Nazi cyclists off my roads."

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