I was delighted to read Joan Gordon survived her near-death experience after crashing her bicycle while descending The Struggle near Ambleside at about 40mph (Gazette, April 24, ‘Cycle helmet saved my life’).
If her cycle helmet saved her life, that’s great. And if Joan is now moved to encourage others to wear cycle helmets, that is perfectly understandable.
But I would ask Joan to think twice before advocating a mandatory cycle helmet law in the UK, as it would be a public health disaster.
The British Medical Journal has stated that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by at least 20 to one - whether or not you wear a helmet.
In rural Cumbria, where air pollution is less of an issue, the ratio soars to an astounding 415 to 1.
Yet in the few places around the world where cycle helmets have been made compulsory, the main effect of the law has been to deter people from cycling in their droves, so missing out on all the many health benefits of cycling.
But if a compulsory helmet law saves even one life, surely it would be a good thing?
Unfortunately the real-world evidence is that these laws do not result in any reduction in the rate of cyclists’ head injuries.
This may seem surprising, but cycle helmets are only designed to be effective in crashes where the head hits the tarmac at speeds of 12mph or less, while most adult cycling fatalities involve collisions with motor vehicles at much higher speeds.
As a result, despite determined lobbying by the helmet manufacturers, many of these ill-considered helmet laws have either been repealed or reduced in their scope.
The truth is that the UK needs a compulsory cycle helmet law like it needs a hole in the head.
For more hard-headed facts about the adverse effects of mandatory cycle helmet laws, go to www.cyclehelmets.org