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Chris Boardman: Compulsory helmet laws won’t make cycling safer

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As the debate around cycle safety continues to rage in U.K., British Cycling policy advisor, Chris Boardman, has written of the dangers of introducing mandatory helmet laws.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

“Compared to our European neighbours, UK commuter cyclists feel the need to wear what amounts to body armour in attempt to stay safe. Yet despite their efforts we have some of the highest cycling KSI rates (Killed or Seriously Injured) in Europe and they are increasing. That in itself should tell us something.

All over the world, countries with the highest use of safety gear are the most dangerous for cyclists. Wherever helmet use has been made compulsory, there has been no corresponding drop in head injury unless there is also a drop in cycling rates.

At this point, we usually hear a cry of ‘If it saves one life it’s worth it’. Well, evidence tells us that where helmets have been made mandatory, cycling use drops significantly (30%-40% in Perth, Western Australia). Well, at least if they’re no longer riding, they’re not dying. Enter unintended consequences.

A recent study by the University of Glasgow showed that people who regularly commute by bike almost halve their chances of dying from heart disease and cancer compared to people who drive. In fact their chances of dying prematurely by any cause, drops by 41%. Let those numbers sink in.

So what about Mrs Oaten and her campaign? Imagine if her understandable anger over her son’s terrible accident had been directed not at protecting people in the event of a crash, but at the cause of the incident, the person, who rammed her son from behind as he rode to school? What if her campaign had been to have speeds reduced or areas around schools made car-free? Measures to make streets safe for children to do normal things in normal clothes? Imagine how many lives she would have saved then.

That is what happened in the 1970s in the Netherlands and now, more than 50% of kids ride to school in safety every day. Imagine the reduction in congestion if 50% of children in the UK were not driven to school! It’s also no coincidence that Dutch obesity levels are less than half that of the UK.”

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