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Bicycle helmets and the law

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 12 June 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3817

Re: Bicycle helmets and the law

As alluded to by Goldacre and Spiegelhalter<1>, between questions about (a) whether helmets prevent head injuries and (b) whether helmet legislation would do more good than harm is a question with immediate practical implications in all jurisdictions: Should bicycle helmet use be promoted?

Should we encourage cyclists to wear helmets through public awareness campaigns, financial incentives such as tax breaks on the purchase of helmets, or the distribution of free helmets to some cyclists (e.g. children)? Mandatory helmet legislation is controversial largely because of concern that it would decrease cycling rates. It is more difficult to see how helmet promotion would decrease cycling rates. It also unlikely that cyclists would wear a helmet but improperly merely to comply with a societal norm but, as Goldacre and Spiegelhalter point out, they might do so to comply with a law.

Ideally helmet promotion would be one facet of a coordinated strategy to encourage (safe) cycling by improving roadway infrastructure, enacting and enforcing laws that protect vulnerable road users from motor vehicles, and promoting other safe cycling behaviors.<2> If cycling was safer and more cyclists wore helmets, questions about helmet legislation enactment and enforcement would fade away.

<1> Goldacre B & Spiegelhalter D. Bicycle helmets and the law. BMJ 2013;346:f3817
<2> Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario. Cycling death review, June 2012. Available: www .mcscs .jus .gov .on .ca /stellent /groups /public /@mcscs /@www /@com /documents /webasset /ec159773 .pdf (accessed 2012 Oct. 2).

Competing interests: No competing interests

14 June 2013
Nav Persaud
Associate Scientist
St Michael's Hospital
30 Bond Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5B 1W8