The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents reports that ¼ of cyclists killed or injured are children. There have been 119 cycling fatalities so far this year, a figure which represents a five year high. The youngest of those victims were two children, both just eight years old.
Anthony Gold proudly sponsored the annual gala dinner held last month by the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust which aims to promote cycling safety by ensuring young people in particular are educated in the importance of wearing a helmet when cycling.
According to the Trust, some 60,000 children are admitted to hospital accident and emergency departments annually. Each year 5,000 of those admissions are for treatment following cycling accidents. Such accidents happen when least expected and many result in catastrophic head injuries which could have been avoided had a helmet been worn. Few dispute the importance of helmets in guarding against serious and all too often fatal head injuries. Why then is wearing one not mandatory?
Rule 59 of the Highway Code provides that cyclists should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations.
Legally an injured cyclist who makes a claim and who failed wear a helmet runs the risk of a finding of “contributory negligence” if the insurers can show that the failure to wear a cycle helmet was a contributory cause of the accident – Smith v Finch.
In that case, a cyclist suffered serious head injuries after a collision with a motorcyclist. Notwithstanding the claimant’s failure to wear a cycle helmet, the court found the Defendant entirely to blame and no finding of contributory negligence was made. In deciding the case the judge concluded that there was no legal compulsion for cyclists to wear helmets, but there could be no doubt that the failure to wear a helmet might expose the cyclist to the risk of greater injury. Such a failure he said would not be “a sensible thing to do” and so, subject to issues of causation, any injury sustained might be the cyclist’s own fault and “he had only himself to thank for the consequences”.
Despite the use of helmets being recommended in the Highway Code and members of the judiciary making clear that failure to wear one potentially exposes cyclists to a risk of greater injury, Parliament has not taken steps to legislate for the compulsory use of a helmet when cycling.
In Australia the use of cycle helmets has been compulsory since 1992. Critics of the scheme argue however that the law has been a disaster with fewer cyclists now taking to the roads because of this.
In response supporters could argue that cycling in the UK is a growing phenomenon, boosted by the Olympics in which Britain excelled in the cycling events. Cycling accidents are also known to occur more frequently in urban areas and with the cost of public transport in inner cities such as London continually rising, it could be argued that the number of cyclists will continue to increase, irrespective of any change in the law.
Perhaps for now the best we can hope for is the continued success of the campaign by the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust and others like it. Speaking at the gala dinner this year, British Olympic rower James Cracknell, who himself sustained a catastrophic head injury while cycling, put it well when he said his work on behalf of the Trust will have been a success if youngsters and their parents put on a helmet as they would any other item of clothing, instead of seeing it as an optional extra. Speaking of the consequences of serious head injuries James added that many children don’t care to wear a helmet but think twice when hearing about his injuries and the impact they have had on him and the rest of his family.