Why do children need to wear cycle helmets?

Why do children need to wear cycle helmets?

The health benefits of cycling are widely recognised for children who cycle for fun in parks and off-road environments, but also on the roads to get to school. Health and fitness, as well as environmental concerns, are great reasons to encourage kids to use their bikes for getting around, but as our brain injury lawyers know only too well, there are also risks to cycling on the road. 

How can parents encourage safer cycling?

Teaching children good road sense, the highway code and ‘bikeability’ or cycling proficiency can help them avoid being the cause of an accident, but serious injury from falls and collisions can still occur even when the child is riding carefully, from dangerous road and weather conditions or the carelessness of other road users.

To protect their child’s head from severe brain injury in the event of an accident, leading brain injury charity, Headway, and The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) both advise parents to ensure that children always wear a cycle helmet.

Does wearing a cycle helmet reduce the risk of serious brain injury?

Absolutely! The purpose of a cycle helmet is to prevent or reduce the extent of injury to a cyclist’s head during a fall from the bike or a collision. The devastation caused by severe brain injury cannot be understated. Preventing skull fracture and severe brain injury is precisely what a cycle helmet is designed to do.

What does the brain injury charity, Headway, say about cycle helmets?

Headway believe that all cyclists should wear cycle helmet and that wearing helmets should be compulsory for children. They support their strong position by saying that it is based on research and expert opinion from leading neurosurgeons, together with common sense which dictates that wearing a cycle helmet will offer greater protection to a person’s fragile skull than not wearing one.

What does RoSPA, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, say about cycle helmets?

RoSPA strongly recommend that cyclists wear a cycle helmet, which reduces the risk of suffering a serious head or brain injury in an accident. However, they point out that cycle helmets alone do not prevent crashes from happening, nor guarantee survival. They are a secondary safety feature which provide a last line of defence for the cyclist’s head.  Therefore, preventing collisions from happening in the first place must be paramount. Unlike Headway, although RoSPA firmly believes cyclists should wear cycle helmets, it doesn’t call for compulsory cycle helmet laws. 

What does the law say about cycle helmets?

Despite the protection that a cycle helmet can offer, cyclists in the UK are not required by law to wear a helmet, however, the Highway Code states that cyclists ‘should wear a cycle helmet that conforms to current regulation, is the correct size and securely fastened’.

What do the statistics from research studies say about cycle helmets?

RoSPA refers to a number of studies which have shown how cycle helmets can help reduce and prevent serious brain injury. The statistics include:

  • a Cochrane Review of five case-control studies from different countries which suggested that helmets decreased the risk of injury to the head and brain by 65%-88%, and injury to the upper and mid-face by 65%;
  • a French study found that helmets contributed to a 24%-31% reduction in head injury and a 70% reduction in head injuries categorised above level 2 (moderate injury);
  • research into police data regarding cycling crashes over a five-year period from the Road Authority of Victoria  found that not wearing a helmet increased the risk of severe injury by 56%;
  • a study by McNally and Whitehead found that helmets effectively reduced the severity of head injuries over a full range of simulations. Where head impact occurred, the risk of serious injury (above level 3) was reduced by 40%;
  • cycle helmets have been found by many studies to make less of a difference at high energy impact with a vehicle but could prevent fatality in a third of high impact RTA cases;
  • the most recent and extensive review by Olivier and Creighton compared 64,000 casualties with and without helmets and estimates that wearing a cycle helmet reduces the risk of severe head injury by 69% and the risk of fatal head injury by 65%.

Headway refers to a 2018 study in the academic journal, Accident Analysis & Prevention, which gathered the findings of 55 studies from 1989 – 2017 and found that cycle helmets:

  • reduced head injury by 48%;
  • reduced serious head injury by 60%;
  • reduced traumatic brain injury by 53%;
  • reduced facial injury by 23%;
  • reduced the total number of killed or seriously injured cyclists by 34%.

Commenting on this study, Headway’s Chief Executive, Peter McCabe, said:

“There is an overwhelming body of evidence proving the effectiveness of helmets in reducing the risk of cyclists sustaining life-changing brain injuries. This latest piece of comprehensive research is yet another part of scientific evidence that reinforces this fact. It also highlights that although cyclists can take every care to avoid accidents, at times there are simply things that are outside of their control, such as icy road conditions or other road users. Cycling is a fabulous way to keep fit and active and at Headway we are passionate about promoting safe cycling, while supporting measures to make it safer for people of all ages to take to their bikes and get pedalling. Sadly however, we also know easy it can be to sustain a brain injury and the devastating effects that can result. Our message to all cyclists is please use your head – use a helmet”

Why do some people argue against making cycle helmets compulsory?

Reasons given by people who don’t want cycle helmets to be compulsory include:

  • it was suggested that some studies showed that cyclists or vehicle drivers take more risks, (such as riding faster or overtaking at closer distance) when the cyclist is wearing a helmet, however, further analysis of this research has disproved this idea, which is also known as ‘risk compensation’;
  • cyclists may be less aware of surroundings because of the fit of their helmet; 
  • some people are concerned that helmets may put people off cycling (losing the health benefits), either because they are perceived as not cool or uncomfortable or give the impression that cycling is a high risk activity.  However, as Headway points out, mandatory use of seatbelts and motorcycle helmets were initially argued against but in retrospect the benefits are now accepted.

What CAN’T a cycle helmet do?

The purpose of a cycle helmet is to reduce the extent and severity of the injury to the cyclist’s head and brain when a collision (or fall from the bike) occurs.

Clearly, wearing a cycle helmet alone cannot:

  • prevent a road traffic accident (RTA) or fall from the bike from occurring;
  • prevent all injuries – but it reduces the chances of devastating severe brain injury;
  • change the road infrastructure or make cycling safer in other ways on the roads – that must be dealt with by the government and the highway authorities. Headway and ROSPA both call for a range of additional measures to improve cycling safety, including safe cycling lanes and campaigning for education.

How does not wearing a cycling helmet in a road traffic accident (RTA) affect a cyclist’s brain injury claim? 

If a cyclist is head-injured in a road traffic collision that was caused by another driver’s negligence and their injury could have been prevented or reduced if they were wearing a cycle helmet, the driver’s insurers may argue that their failure to wear a helmet contributed to their own injury and their compensation award may be significantly reduced. 

Knowing the facts about cycle helmets and brain injury, what CAN a parent do?

Whether cycle helmets for children ever become mandatory in the UK remains to be seen, but the benefits of cycle helmets in reducing risk of serious brain injury are clear. It’s up to parents to do what we can to encourage our children to cycle safely and wear a correctly fitting helmet, so that they can enjoy being healthy and safe on their bikes.

Always:

  • ensure that the child’s bike is roadworthy and suitable in size for the child;
  • ensure the child wears a helmet;
  • ensure the helmet is made to correct safety standards – EN1080 in the case of children’s helmets and fits properly to maximise benefit, comfort and visibility;
  • ensure high visibility clothing is worn and there are lights on the bike – some helmets have built in rear lights;
  • ensure the child follows the highway code;
  • set a good example as an adult by using good road sense and wearing a helmet when cycling.

How can Boyes Turner help?

Boyes Turner’s personal injury team are recognised as national experts in the Legal 500 and Chambers directories for their expertise and experience in helping brain-injured cyclists and their families obtain rehabilitation, care, adapted accommodation, equipment, therapies and substantial compensation following road traffic accidents.

If you or a family member have suffered brain injury or serious disability in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, and would like to find out more about making a claim, contact us by email at piclaims@boyesturner.com.

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