A group of neurologists and trauma surgeons drawn from some of the leading hospitals in the Netherlands are calling on people to wear helmets while cycling, saying it will lead to a reduction in deaths resulting from brain injuries.
United under the banner Arsten voor Veilig Fietsen (Doctors for Safe Cycling), the medics claim that of the approximately 50,000 cyclists who sustain serious injuries each year in the Netherlands, around one in three suffer a brain injury.
“Promotion of bicycle helmets is important for improving road safety and reducing the number of fatalities and injuries among cyclists,” they maintain, saying that there is widespread support for the wearing of helmets among doctors and professional bodies.
As a result, the group has been formed to campaign for the wearing of helmets and highlight the issue at local and national level, with the group pointing out that the number of cyclists killed in the Netherlands last year was, at 229, the highest it has been in two decades, with one in three of the victims riding an e-bike.
Highlighting particular concerns regarding the safety of children and e-bike riders, they pointed out that “serious brain injury is the leading cause of death in cyclists,” and claim that wearing a cycle helmet “reduces the risk of serious brain injury by 60 per cent and fatal brain injury by 71 per cent.”
The group adds that “recovery from brain injury is also very limited because the brain – unlike other organs – has limited reserves. Brains cannot grow or repair with the help of surgery. You have to be careful with your brain.”
One of the neurologists who founded the group, Myrthe Boss, of the Gelderland Valley Hospital in Ede, near Arnhem, said: “We think it is important that the wearing of bicycle helmets is actively encouraged to reduce the risk of brain injury, especially among vulnerable cyclists such as children and e-bikers.
“Our goal is to reduce the number of cycling casualties significantly in the coming years. If this goal is not achieved, then mandatory helmet use should be seriously considered by policy makers. Our message is: Use your head, put on a helmet!”
The Dutch language makes a distinction between sports cyclists, wielrenners, almost all of whom wear a helmet, and everyday cyclists, fietsers, the vast majority of whom do not.
Opponents of helmet compulsion point out, among other things, that research on their efficacy is inconclusive and that they are only safety rated to provide protection from a fall while not moving on the bike, and certainly not for a collision involving a motor vehicle.
They also insist that the deterrent to cycling that any move towards helmet compulsion has been found to bring about in jurisdictions where they have been made compulsory is outweighed by the wider public health and environmental benefits of getting more people riding bikes, particularly for short trips.
As the English-language website Dutchnews.nl points out, speaking last year, Wim Bot of the Dutch cycling union Fietsenbond, said: “It is a bad idea. Just promoting the idea that helmets should be worn strengthens the idea that cycling is not a safe activity in itself.”
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