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Cycle Helmet Wearing

The National Cycling Strategy Board for England was established by the Department for Transport in 2000 and attracts all-party political support. Its remit is to deliver significant increases in the number of trips by bicycle, in line with the targets in the National Cycling Strategy. To do this the Board seeks to promote safe and sensible cycle use, and works for a more secure traffic environment for cycling.

Reducing the level of risk for cyclists can be brought about through investment in better training and education, as well as through traffic management and engineering. These are all essential features of the NCS Board’s approach. The Board also recognises that all road users, including pedestrians, are vulnerable to the risk of accident, so that educational measures need to reach others as well as cyclists.

Cycling has an important part to play in our lives as a mode of transport for short journeys. It offers notable environmental benefits. And as a regular means of exercise it gives large gains in public health, helping to reduce levels of obesity, coronary heart disease and stroke.

There is now clear evidence that increases in the numbers of people cycling do not lead to a pro-rata increase in accidents. Instead, as levels of cycling increase it becomes safer to cycle, an effect which results in part from greater awareness by all road users of cyclists.

Arguments that appear to disavow the efficacy or utility of cycle helmet wearing, or on the other hand claim it as the major influence in reducing injury to cyclists, are both wide of the mark. In particular, campaigns seeking to present cycling as an inevitably dangerous or hazardous activity, or which suggest that helmet wearing should be made compulsory, risk prejudicing the delivery of those very benefits to health and environment which cycling can deliver: they also serve to confuse the general public about the wider social and economic advantages of cycling. As a result, the NCS Board is anxious that the question of wearing helmets is placed in its proper context.

The NCS Board has a clear view on this issue, which is that it must remain a decision for individuals as to whether to wear a helmet for some or all of their various cycle activities. Parents will need to take this decision on behalf of their children, bearing in mind all the particular circumstances. But any mandatory requirement to wear helmets on all occasions would greatly dilute the benefits which safe cycling can offer our society as a whole.

NCS Board 14 January 2004