For healthcare professionals only


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

Like many cyclists I have been involved in an accident where I felt that I had been saved by my helmet which split in two when I was unfortunate enough to hit a car at speed. It initially stands to reason that wearing a helmet must therefore be a good thing.

It is however very interesting to look closely at the design spec for cycle helmets. The expanded polystyrene foam produces a limited “crumple zone” that has to be light enough to be tolerated during aerobic activity. The level of protection offered is “less than that given by helmets for motorcycle riders and is intended to give protection in the kind of accident in which the rider falls onto the road without other vehicles being involved.” (1)

It has been estimated that the forces generated once another vehicle is involved would exceed the design specification of a grand prix racing car helmet (2), which no cyclist would want to wear.

I still wear a helmet while commuting through London, partly because the lights attached to it make me more visible and partly out of force of habit from a childhood spent mountain biking in the Lake District. But rather than place emphasis on the wearing of a material which objectively provides very limited protection it would make more sense to focus on measures which avoid cyclists coming into contact with cars in the first place.

(1) BSI Standard 6863:1987
(2) “Heads Up”, B Walker, Cycle, June/July 2005, p42-45

Competing interests: No competing interests

20 June 2013
Tim J Halsey
Orthopaedic Surgeon
Chelsea & Westminster Hospital
369 Fulham Road, London SW10 9NH