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Helmet wearing and cycle use in Great Britain

Research by the Transport Research Laboratory in 1996 (Bryan-Brown and Taylor, 1997) found that:

Eleven Local Authorities had held a helmet campaign when their activities were focused solely on the promotion of helmets. In these Local Authority areas, a larger increase in helmet wearing was found than in the areas which had not held such a campaign. However, this increase was found to be strongly linked to a decrease in the numbers of cyclists observed: in those areas where a campaign had been held and the numbers of cyclists had increased, helmet wearing fell. [TRL emphasis]

Focused campaign held 1994 - 1996 Change in helmet wearing Change in cycle counts
Yes (11 authorities) + 4.1% - 2.8%
No (18 authorities) + 0.8% + 4.9%
p < 0.001, sample approx 20,500 cyclists

Generally, in areas where cycling to work accounted for a high proportion of all journeys to work, helmet wearing was low. Where relatively few people cycled to work, helmet wearing was high. TRL verified interaction between these two factors. In places where helmet use increased, cyclist counts dropped and vice-versa. In Cardiff, an increase in helmet wearing from 18% to 54% was accompanied by a 52% fall in the number of cyclists. In Warwickshire where a new cycle route had been introduced, the cyclist count increased by 197% and helmet wearing decreased from 28% to 11% of cyclists.

It was not reported whether changes in cycle use or changes in helmet wearing were most likely to result in changes to the other factor, or if both had similar effect.

One local authority was found to have a significantly larger increase in the number of child cyclists than the average of all the other local authorities. This local authority did not promote helmets but took a neutral position:

“We do not 'promote' cycle helmets in the sense that you mean. We take [a] neutral position on the use of helmets. If people wish to know about helmets, we will inform them of what to buy, the protective value (honestly), the issue of risk compensation by helmeted cyclists, discomfort and improper fitting. (Most helmets are very difficult to fit properly). Our main concern is that people should cycle. If a helmet will give them the confidence to do so we will encourage them to wear one.”

A further analysis of helmet use by TRL in 1999 (Bryan-Brown and Christie, 2001) stated:

The 1996 survey found that, when analysed by area, an increase in helmet wearing was associated with a fall in the number of cyclists observed. This effect was not found in the 1999 survey, indicating that this has not continued.

However, the 1999 survey included no analysis of the effects of helmet promotion campaigns by which to substantiate this statement. The survey did show the same inverse relationship as previously between helmet use and cycle use in almost all towns except Cambridge and Oxford.

References

Bryan-Brown and Christie, 2001

Bryan-Brown K, Christie N, 2001. Cycle helmet wearing in 1999. Transport Research Laboratory Report 487.

Bryan-Brown and Taylor, 1997

Bryan-Brown K, Taylor S, 1997. Cycle helmet wearing in 1996. Transport Research Laboratory Report 286.