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Conservative MP cites "safety" and attempts to reignite cyclist helmet debate

"If mandatory safety measures are acceptable for car drivers, they should surely be acceptable for cyclists"...

Despite repeated opposition to the idea of mandatory helmet laws for cyclists from his own party's government, one Conservative MP has penned an opinion piece explaining why he believes such legislation should be introduced.

Just last December the Department for Transport insisted that the government has "no intention" to make wearing a helmet while cycling a legal requirement, however Mark Pawsey, MP for Rugby in the West Midlands, has said he will "continue to call for change" having first raised the issue in Parliament in June.

The MP who has held his seat since 2010 expanded on the argument outlined during his initial call for legislation earlier this summer, telling the story of a constituent, then-teenage Oliver Dibsdale who suffered a serious brain injury in a cycling crash when he was not wearing a helmet.

Mark Pawsey MP

"Before I met Oliver, I took the view that a helmet was a matter of personal choice, and that any legal requirement to wear a helmet would be difficult to enforce," Pawsey wrote in a piece published on Road Safety GB, a road safety organisation last month accused of "victim-blaming" over its promotion of a cycling helmet campaign by another regional group.

"Oliver told me that he usually wore a helmet when cycling and that he bitterly regrets his decision on that occasion to ride without one. He spoke to me in a very moving way about the impact his injury has had on his family and the guilt he feels for the amount of time they have had to spend caring for him. He very much wants to help other families to avoid this fate."

Pawsey recalls how he and Oliver met Trudy Harrison, the head of the Department for Transport at the time, who engaged in an "excellent discussion" but insisted helmets "should be a matter of choice, not compulsory", the view still held by the government.

> Government shuts down mandatory cycling helmets question from Conservative MP

"Oliver continued to disagree," he explained. "And drew my attention to a number of arguments which I have found persuasive. Oliver points out that it is illegal to drive a car without a seatbelt and that it is compulsory to wear a helmet on a motorcycle.

"To this, those who oppose mandatory wearing of cycle helmets respond that there is a health benefit from using a bicycle, and that there should not be any discouragement of cycling. Oliver replies to this that, if people wish to exercise, there are many ways of doing so that present less risk; he points out that people can walk, run, take up a sport or go to the gym.

"Another argument cited by opponents to mandatory wearing of cycle helmets is that legislation would be difficult to enforce. While it would certainly create an additional burden on the police, it does not strike me as particularly difficult to enforce compared with other offences: it is easier to spot a cyclist without a helmet than to spot a driver using a mobile phone, or a car passenger without a seatbelt.

Cyclist in the evening 02 © Simon MacMichael.jpg

"No one now suggests that wearing seatbelts should be a matter of individual choice on the basis of difficulty in enforcing the relevant legislation."

Pawsey raised the issue during a 'Ten Minute Rule Bill' earlier this summer, asking for the government to "require a person riding a bicycle on the public highway to wear a safety helmet".

"I continue to believe that helmets should be mandatory, particularly for children," he concluded. "Following my Ten Minute Rule Bill, Headway, who are supportive of my call for mandatory helmets for cyclists, have asked me to become a 'Headway Parliamentary Champion'.

> Why is Dan Walker's claim that a bike helmet saved his life so controversial?

"I will continue to call for a change in the law, and I would encourage all readers who share my view to make the case to their own Member of Parliament."

Such change seems unlikely, in December the government responding to a written question from fellow Tory MP Mark Pritchard asking for a mandatory helmet law by saying the matter had been considered "at length" during the cycling and walking safety review in 2018, with the Department for Transport holding "no intention" to make it mandatory.

"The Department considered this matter at length in a comprehensive cycling and walking safety review in 2018 and held discussions with a wide range of stakeholders as part of that review," the DfT said.

London cyclist turning (copyright Simon MacMichael).JPG

"The safety benefits of mandating cycle helmets for cyclists are likely to be outweighed by the fact that this would put some people off cycling, thereby reducing the wider health and environmental benefits. The Department recommends that cyclists should wear helmets, as set out in the Highway Code, but has no intention to make this a legal requirement."

Research published from Australia in the same week as Pawsey's 'Ten Minute Bill' proposal found that cyclists wearing helmets were seen as "less human" than those without.

The research by Mark Limb of Queensland University of Technology and Sarah Collyer of Flinders University found that 30 per cent considered cyclists less than fully human, and that cyclists with helmets were perceived as less human compared to those without, while cyclists with safety vests and no helmets were perceived as least human.

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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127 comments

Avatar
Keesvant | 4 months ago
0 likes

Wearing a helmet should be your choice !
I wear one everyday

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Jimmy Ray Will | 4 months ago
2 likes

Looking at the specifics of this, if someone can demonstrate;

1. that cycling has a head injury problem (statistically higher risk than other methods of transport / activity)

2. that this problem is impacting quality of life / is a significant burden to the public

3. that cycling helmets will effectively mitigate against that head injury problem 

...then I am happy to concede that manditory helmet legislation would be a good idea.

However, from where I am sitting, it all falls down on point 1, we don't even need to go down the rabbit hole of helmet effectiveness. 

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brooksby replied to Jimmy Ray Will | 4 months ago
0 likes

Yeah, but "cycling", innit?  3

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Cugel replied to brooksby | 4 months ago
1 like
brooksby wrote:

Yeah, but "cycling", innit?  3

Indeed - but it isn't just the loony Toryspiv MPs or Daily Liar readers who like to get all judgemental about cyclist hats. A huge proportion of the faux-racer strava-striving wannabees are very pro-polystyrene bonnet and get very red-faced totalitarian about the matter.

"The pros all wear one and so should you". "A helmet saved my life!" (Following a stupid crash as the striver takes mad risks with kerbs and drystone walls to knock 1 second off a strava datum). And it just saved him a worse headache (perhaps) - but not the £300 for the next daft hat.

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The Giblet | 4 months ago
2 likes

If you look at the stats for injury it will show that more head injuries occur to occupants of cars. Therefore if you extrapolate the argument anyone travelling in a motor vheicle needs to wear a helmet.

As a politician, they never let facts get in the way of a sound bite, or a desperate attempt to try and get some voters are not swayed by the crazy policies of The Sunak.

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brooksby replied to The Giblet | 4 months ago
1 like
The Giblet wrote:

If you look at the stats for injury it will show that more head injuries occur to occupants of cars. Therefore if you extrapolate the argument anyone travelling in a motor vheicle needs to wear a helmet.

If it saves one life...

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Jimmy Ray Will replied to brooksby | 4 months ago
2 likes

After the tragic death of the lady in wales lately, I'm lobbying for a ban on marsh mallows.... save every soul!

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eburtthebike | 4 months ago
2 likes

I googled Oliver Dibsdale and came across this petition that he started in 2021.

"My name is olly and I sustained a TBI (traumatic brain injury) in 2015 due to not wearing a helmet while riding my bike. Right so, Google states that there is no British law to compel cyclists, of any age, to wear helmets when cycling, google also states that wearing a cycle helmet reduces risk of serious head injury by almost 70% and fatal head injury by 65% and 33% for face injury. And that's why I as many others strongly believe that the UK government should make helmet wearing a mandatory requirement. Yes, they are not 100% reliable but they are more than 50% reliable, and it would save a lot of our amazing NHS's time and the taxes of us British people.

Yes, they say many traumatic brain injuries would have not been prevented by a  helmet, as your brain can shake in the skull causing lots of little bleeds all over the brain (like my own).  However, all cars are fitted with working seatbelts by law, which are only 60% effective in reducing the likelihood of death and serious head injury, but you would not consider changing this law due to the amount of lives that are saved by them everyday. But the same amount of lives would be saved by enforcing bicycle helmets as law!

The only argument provided by the UK Government for not making helmets law is that it would discourage people from riding bikes and staying fit. Although, this is obviously very important it is not as important as the 45,000 people who sustain serious head injuries annually after crashing their bicycles without wearing a helmet. There are plenty other solutions for people to stay fit, which do not require the use of a helmet to stay safe such as running, using an exercise bike, swimming or plenty of other things.

It should be made a finable offence, so the first time you are caught without one you get a warning, the second time A £25 pound fine and then it keeps going up by £25 each time and all the profits go to rehab like C.E.R.U, where I recovered.

This law will save a lot of unnecessary tears from families like my own. I don't think my sister will ever forgive me for taking mum away from her at a vital point in her life, and I know there's no way I can turn back the clock, so I just want to change it now, so other family's don't have to go through what mine has been through."

The misunderstanding, misinformation and misrepresentation is clear and obvious, and the flaws in his arguments are plain to anyone with any knowledge of road safety.  While I don't doubt his sincerity, he really does need to look at the evidence, not base everything on his own personal experience, but sadly, I think that's unlikely.

It got 1,574 signatures.

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NOtotheEU | 4 months ago
2 likes

"No one now suggests that wearing seatbelts should be a matter of individual choice , , , "

I do, for drivers only though and only if the drivers airbag is deactivated by not plugging in the seatbelt. Let them experience the consequences of their selfishness that the rest of us have to deal with.

The most dangerous ones would be gone quickly and there would be less headlines like 'Driver kills passengers in crash but survives'.

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chrisonabike replied to NOtotheEU | 4 months ago
1 like

If only you could still prevent / mitigate the lesser kinds of injuries and just ensure people were killed off and didn't need expensive care if they incurred more serious ones...

This is getting a bit dark - let's just have sustainable safety principles instead!

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NOtotheEU replied to chrisonabike | 4 months ago
3 likes

No one blinks when Health damage from cars and vans costs £6 billion annually to the NHS and society (2018 estimate) so I don't see why 'no seatbelt' injuries should be any different.

Also anyone in intensive care isn't behind the wheel so if we assume a lot of them are dangerous drivers we'll save some money (& lives) from that.

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Sriracha | 4 months ago
0 likes

Dibsdale? Anagram of Disabled. Is this story for real?

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Rendel Harris replied to Sriracha | 4 months ago
1 like
Sriracha wrote:

Dibsdale? Anagram of Disabled. Is this story for real?

Not in the best of taste, old chap.

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Sriracha replied to Rendel Harris | 4 months ago
5 likes

I honestly thought it was made up. Apologies, my mistake.

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chrisonabike | 4 months ago
3 likes

There we are then - 1 day, 100 posts and I'm sure that's now solved the questions of head-worn PPE for cycling to everyone's satisfaction.

Great stuff!

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Backladder replied to chrisonabike | 4 months ago
2 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:

There we are then - 1 day, 100 posts and I'm sure that's now solved the questions of head-worn PPE for cycling to everyone's satisfaction. Great stuff!

Ever the optimist!

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OldRidgeback | 4 months ago
3 likes

Hopefully this dolt of an MP will lose his seat at the next election. Even better if he then gets caught having had his fingers in the till when the new government starts investigating all the dodgy contracts awarded during Covid.

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hawkinspeter replied to OldRidgeback | 4 months ago
5 likes
OldRidgeback wrote:

Hopefully this dolt of an MP will lose his seat at the next election. Even better if he then gets caught having had his fingers in the till when the new government starts investigating all the dodgy contracts awarded during Covid.

I want to see the contents of Bacon Tax Sunak's WhatsApp messages - they'll be enlightening...

...what's that you say? All deleted?

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/oct/02/sunak-fails-to-hand-whatsapp-messages-from-time-as-chancellor-to-covid-inquiry

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eburtthebike replied to hawkinspeter | 4 months ago
3 likes

You need to read Private Eye, the Sunak whatsapp group is hysterical.

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polainm | 4 months ago
9 likes

Never underestimate the depths of ignorance a politician will stoop to, in the pursuit of votes. Plan For Drivers is the green light for legitimate Carnage From Drivers. When they can move outside of the inevitable self-inflicted traffic jams. For cyclists, horse riders, mobility scooter users and pedestrians, the next step in the Plan For Drivers is the mandatory requirement for those not driving, to wear body armour. This armour should meet the requirements of being hit by a driver at 30mph, who has lost concentration due to the demands of a 20mph zone. Not wearing body armour and helmet will lead to contributory negligence claims from the driver's insurers, to further increase their profits within a failed 'free market' economic system. 

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Pub bike | 4 months ago
7 likes

Whilst this might be a sincere and heartfelt campaign based on the tragedy of one of Mark Pawsey, MP's constituents, the reality is that enforcement of this will be carried out by lazy police forces to meet their targets whilst demonstrating no leniency whatsover. 

Meanwhile myriad much more serious driving offences that we all witness or experience daily will continue to be ignored by the police or are treated with extreme leniency at the roadside and yet further leniency in the rest of the justice system should they even get that far, despite the existence of the points system which itself is a way of treating motorists more leniently.

He should spare a thought for what to do about all the existing laws that don't get enforced before trying to add yet another one to the statute that will just be used by police and others to harass cyclists who already face continual harassment on the roads with little or no legal protection.

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JLasTSR | 4 months ago
3 likes

I don't believe in government either banning things or making things mandatory. I do know the evidence points to helmets being a sensible precaution for cyclists to take and I wear one and I approve of encouraging other cyclists to wear them. For those who point out that per mile travelled pedestrians are more likely to be injured I would say quite true but per 15 minutes cyclists are more likely to be injured. That is one mile of walking and what 3-5 miles on a bike, If you quote numbers you can often make them say what you want. The UK stats show that over a period where helmet wearing increased by 6% it saw a reduction in people admitted to hospital with head injuries of 7%. Equally while there was a reduction in pedestrian head injuries over that time period it was not of the same order as the reduction in cyclist admissions. Of course it could be better brakes came in or some other factor causing a change. Testing of helmets has improved but ultimately whether they protect you or not will come down to the specific collision they are involved in. I personally wear a helmet and have reason to be grateful that I do and I would always recommend others did. However I would never seek to force them to wear one.

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hawkinspeter replied to JLasTSR | 4 months ago
4 likes
JLasTSR wrote:

I don't believe in government either banning things or making things mandatory. I do know the evidence points to helmets being a sensible precaution for cyclists to take and I wear one and I approve of encouraging other cyclists to wear them. For those who point out that per mile travelled pedestrians are more likely to be injured I would say quite true but per 15 minutes cyclists are more likely to be injured. That is one mile of walking and what 3-5 miles on a bike, If you quote numbers you can often make them say what you want. The UK stats show that over a period where helmet wearing increased by 6% it saw a reduction in people admitted to hospital with head injuries of 7%. Equally while there was a reduction in pedestrian head injuries over that time period it was not of the same order as the reduction in cyclist admissions. Of course it could be better brakes came in or some other factor causing a change. Testing of helmets has improved but ultimately whether they protect you or not will come down to the specific collision they are involved in. I personally wear a helmet and have reason to be grateful that I do and I would always recommend others did. However I would never seek to force them to wear one.

The issue is more that the conversation around road safety is dominated by cycle helmets when they're not even in the top ten things that improve road safety.

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cyclisto | 4 months ago
8 likes

"To this, those who oppose mandatory wearing of cycle helmets respond that there is a health benefit from using a bicycle, and that there should not be any discouragement of cycling. Oliver replies to this that, if people wish to exercise, there are many ways of doing so that present less risk; he points out that people can walk, run, take up a sport or go to the gym."

No, no and something else, ah yes, no!

My only exercise that is somehow cardio is my commute to work. My other exercise is walking for errands. I find it super boring having to do exercise just for exercise. So the above claim is kind of false and the long-living walking japanese are a good proof, that you can stay fit without losing precious time to work out.

P.S. I ride with helmet for 99% of my miles and as a guy who falls frequently, I find it super necessary. But if (inexplicably to me) a helmet law stops people cycling, then the small safety benefits will be offset by losses in riders health, air quality, climate change, money sent to Emirs etc, etc.

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Steve K replied to cyclisto | 4 months ago
5 likes
cyclisto wrote:

"To this, those who oppose mandatory wearing of cycle helmets respond that there is a health benefit from using a bicycle, and that there should not be any discouragement of cycling. Oliver replies to this that, if people wish to exercise, there are many ways of doing so that present less risk; he points out that people can walk, run, take up a sport or go to the gym."

Leaving aside the rest of your post (which I completely agree with) I wonder which sports they had in mind? Maybe football or rugby? No brain injuries sustained as a result of either of those...

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IanMK replied to Steve K | 4 months ago
5 likes

Of course no body has ever fallen and banged their head running or walking.
I note that taking a shower every day has limited health benefit so I'm not sure there's any argument against shower helmets.

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wycombewheeler | 4 months ago
13 likes

How many head injuries occur for activities other than cycling? why is the MP not calling for helmets for these?

Cycling is not the top cause of head injuries presenting in A&E but is uniquely identified as the one where helmets are esential for "safety"

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Pub bike replied to wycombewheeler | 4 months ago
5 likes

Apparently he is calling for this because of one data point - his constituent.  Hopefully little parliamentary time will be wasted on this because others in the house will point out the lack of any research or statistical analysis that supports his wish to introduce such a law.

Contrast this with the amount of carnage required to have occurred at so called "accident black spots" before any action is belatedly taken.

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IanMK replied to Pub bike | 4 months ago
3 likes

I did wonder why the takeaway from the accident wasn't mandatory grippy shoes. If his foot hadn't slipped he wouldn't have fallen off.

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OldRidgeback replied to wycombewheeler | 4 months ago
3 likes

I think we should have a ladder test and ladder licencing. Ladder users should need to wear body armour and a helmet and use a fall arrest system if climbing a height of more than 1m. More people are injured in ladder incidents than in cycling crashes in the UK.

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