Helmet hair better than head injury?
What do Argentina, Singapore, Cyprus, Australia, and New Zealand all have in common? They all require and enforce universal use of helmets by cyclists, in all environments, at all ages.
It is not; however, a legal requirement to wear a cycling helmet in the UK in any circumstance as The Highway Code only suggests that cyclists should wear a helmet.
A major study of bike helmet use around the world, taken from more than 64,000 cyclists, found cycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 51%, serious head injury by 69%, face injury by 33%, and fatal head injury by 65%. (Olivier, Creighton, 2016).
Headway, the UK brain injury association charity advises that all cyclists should wear helmets, particularly vulnerable road users such as children who do not possess the same level of competency or experience as adults.
Headway stated that cycle helmets save lives and can prevent people sustaining lifelong brain injuries. A 2019 study into the impact of cycle helmet use on severe traumatic brain injury and death in an NHS England national cohort of over 11,000, found that cycle helmet use was associated with a significant reduction in severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). 47.6% of patients who were not wearing a helmet sustained a severe TBI, compared to 19.1% of patients who were wearing a helmet (Dodds N, Johnson R, Walton B, et al, 2019).
James Cracknell OBE, Olympic gold medallist and HCML’s Rehabilitation Ambassador sustained a traumatic brain injury whilst cycling and attributes his survival to the fact he was wearing a cycle helmet. He says, ‘Putting on your seatbelt is an automatic process when you get into a car; we value the security it provides, without it changing our driving behaviours through some false sense of risk compensation.
We need more public health campaigns to educate about the life-saving benefits of wearing a helmet while cycling.’
In July 2020, the UK government announced a £2 billion fund to install thousands of miles of new protected bike lanes and cycle training for everyone. They also announced they would be trialling ‘social prescriptions’ which includes GPs offering adult cycle training and free bike loans under new plans to overhaul cycling and walking in England.
According to the then Transport Secretary in May 2020, in some places there was a ‘70% increase in the number of people on bikes for exercise and for necessary journeys’ since lockdown began. Sport England’s survey showed that more than six out of ten people intended to walk and cycle more for everyday journeys as lockdown rules eased.
We can improve our physical and mental wellbeing by taking up the UK government’s initiatives and getting on a bike. We can also follow the lead of the ‘head smart’ overseas countries and maintain physical and mental wellbeing by wearing protective head gear on each cycle journey.
As James says, ‘I love cycling and want to encourage more people to get on their bikes – whether for sport, leisure or commuting.
But please do so safely and protect yourself as best you can. Follow the Highway Code, which says cyclists should wear helmets. Use your head – use a helmet!