By Ryan McGreal
Published August 05, 2011
The Telegraph reports on a recent survey from the British Medical Journal which found that two-thirds of its reader community of British doctors oppose mandatory bike helmet laws.
The BMJ has published a selection of respondent comments on its blog. A number of comments point out that the health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks, and that mandatory helmet laws serve only to reduce the number of cyclists without reducing the rate of risk, hence producing a net reduction in health.
Since no country with a helmet law can show any reduction in risk to cyclists, only a reduction in cyclists, why would anyone want to bring in a law for something which is clearly not effective at reducing the risk to cyclists? The largest research project about helmets showed a small but significant increase in risk with helmet wearing. There is no reliable evidence that cycle helmets reduce the risk to cyclists, and all the research that shows massive benefits from helmets has been peer reviewed and found to be unreliable.
Regular cyclists live longer, are fitter, healthier, and have a better quality of life: one researcher has said that if the benefits of cycling could be bottled, it would be the most popular medicine in the world. The only observable effect of helmet laws and propaganda is to reduce the number of cyclists, and those people deterred from cycling lose the massive benefits, and therefore the overall result of helmet laws and propaganda is a large reduction in the public health.
Other comments point out that helmets are not actually designed to protect cyclists from collisions with motor vehicles:
Cycle helmets do not protect cyclists from impacts with motor vehicles. They are designed to be useful at 12 mph [19.3 km/h] or less and only protect the side of the head. If you want to campaign to force cyclists to wear helmets then you should also campaign to force motorists and pedestrians, as they would be just as "useful" to them. Why not run a campaign to get motorists to respect vulnerable road users instead of victim-blaming?
The peer-reviewed BMJ is a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Medical Association, which is the professional organization of medical doctors in Britain. A February 2011 statement that precedes the survey notes that the issue is controversial but that the BMA "supports compulsory wearing of cycle helmets when cycling for children and adults."
A number of respondents to the BMJ survey referred to research published by the British Medical Association itself, including Cycling Towards health & Safety by Meyer Hillman, which runs counter to the BMA's support for a helmet law.