Intended for healthcare professionals


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

The conclusion of "it's complicated" for cycle helmet efficacy at societal or individual level sounds like something of a cop-out, but it is in fact a significant step forward in a culture where the public (and in particular the school children we hope to be the next generation of regular cyclists) are still widely exposed to a simple, simplistic message that wearing a helmet to cycle is a "no brainer", several years after I noted in the BMJ ( that continual pressure to wear helmets is unlikely to allow intelligent risk assessment of or foster confidence in the safety of cycling.

Some progress has been made in that time, with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Norman Baker stating on live TV that he did not ride with a helmet as he considered cycling safe enough not to warrant one, British Cycling having dropped their insistence that helmets are "essential" for transport and leisure users and the Association of Bikeability Schemes seeing fit to show unhelmeted children at the head of their website amongst other positive incremental points. However, there still remains a long way to go before the risks of cycling are assessed by the general public in a similar way to other everyday activities that are comparably safe.

That credible public scientific figures have pointed out in a BMJ editorial that helmet wearing on a bike is not just a simple message to be parroted unthinkingly will hopefully help realistic assessment of cycling risk move towards something like normality in the UK.

Competing interests: No competing interests

21 June 2013
Peter Clinch
Clinical Scientist
NHS Tayside/University of Dundee
Department of Medical Physics, Ninewells Hospital & Medical School, Dundee, DD1 9SY