posted 4 years ago

All cyclists should be forced to wear helmets!

Practical experiment reveals how motorists treat cyclists in head-gear differently to those without.

When I’m on my bicycle my head is protected by the packaging material that prevents TVs getting scratched when bringing them home from the shop. If I drove into a plasma-screen at thirty miles per hour – even though the screen’s cardboard box is padded with expanded polystyrene –  I wouldn’t expect to be able to turn on the telly afterwards.

EPS isn’t designed for high-speed impacts yet many people get irate at the fact many cyclists don’t wear helmets, as though the non-wearing of EPS makes cyclists culpable in collisions. Cycle helmets are designed to be protective in falls from about one metre and at speeds of lower than 12mph – they’re not so hot at deflecting the kinetic energy of moving motor-vehicles. When an HGV smashes into a cyclist it seems reporters are now duty bound to mention whether or not the cyclist involved was or wasn’t wearing a helmet as if a smidgen of foam packaging would make any difference to the gory outcome. 

It’s odd that so many “safety” activists, who claim to be interested in protecting cyclists, zero in on a measure that has so little to offer in car-v-bike crashes. It’s doubly odd that the if-only-one-life-were-saved-it-would-be-worth-it campaigners don’t wish to save the lives of pedestrians and motorists. Apparently only cyclists are worth saving. If helmets are so good (and they are good for what they’re designed for) why shouldn’t everybody be made to wear them? Pedestrians bang their heads after tripping on pavements, and motorists often suffer head injuries in smashes. The clear and obvious fact that pedestrians and motorists would also benefit from compulsory head protection is never discussed by those demanding that cyclists should wear helmets. Runners, too, travel at speed, often on the road, yet no-one is (yet) clamouring for them to wear head protection.

Now, what has all this to do with a motoring website? Amazingly, studies have shown that some motorists believe those cyclists who wear helmets are protected by a forcefield, and can be safely skimmed. A male academic – let’s call him Dr. Ian Walker, because that’s his name – used on-bike equipment to measure motor-vehicle passing distances when wearing headgear and when not wearing headgear. He also donned a blonde wig to make him look like a woman riding without a helmet. His measuring equipment found that he was afforded the greatest passing distances when he was riding as a helmet-free “woman”. If this study is correct, cyclists who don lids are more at risk on the roads, not safer.

Statistically, motorists are more likely to suffer head injuries than cyclists. Yes, this is because, for the moment, there are more motorists than cyclists but everyday motoring helmets would definitely save the lives of many thousands of motorists so why aren’t activists campaigning to reduce motorist head injuries? And it's not just drivers who would be saved, but their passengers, too – think of the children!

The helmet I’m wearing in the photograph is a helmet for everyday motoring, produced in Australia in the 1980s. The manufacturer recommended “you wear your Motoring Helmet at all times when motoring but particularly … during long trips when you may become tired … [or] within five kilometres of your home or destination.” In short, all of the time. How would you feel if some diktat from Brussels forced you to wear such a helmet while driving? Dole out the pitchforks, fire up Nigel Farage, how dare those faceless bureaucrats tell me what to do in my own car, I’m perfectly capable of evaluating my own head-injury risk.



Carlton Reid is the executive editor of and the author of Roads Were Not Built For Cars, a best-selling history book that shows how motoring was created by cyclists. He drives a Nissan, but not very often. He freely admits he doesn’t wear a helmet while motoring but sometimes wears one when cycling. 

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I've seen that Walker study trotted out so may times I finally went and read it. Not very scientific and AFAIK, never reproduced. It was basically one guy (with an agenda) riding and measuring himself. So an interesting bit of research and a good conversation starter, but not science as we know it. And what's with the headline? Did the editor not read the story or was it just to be provocative?

'Force Cyclists to Wear Helmets' Is this the same 'force' that requires drivers travel at 20 and 30 mph in built up areas? Of course, they all observe that don't they....yes; in the same way no-one drinks and drives! Get your own house in order first.................

I am a car driver and a cycle user i have all safety kit for riding a bike but i still get cut up by idiots who think they can push me off the road. A week ago some idiot decided to push me on to a pavement the good thing was mr plod was following so off to court goes the idiot who did that to me. I agree every one should wear the correct kit but a bit of common curtsey still goes a long way

Some responders seem to miss the fact that many cyclists are also car drivers. Odd really as the writer of the article is one such. Cyclists who are car drivers have of course taken a test. It is helpful not to think of road users as 'cyclists' or 'car drivers' but as human beings using different forms of transport at different times. There is a prevailing fascism on British roads that says the bigger and faster the vehicle I have the more rights I have to drive just as I like on the road. As a cyclist you are small, slower and vulnerable, and therefore often ignored or cut up.

Cyclists should pass a test be insured and have the appropriate safety equipment then i will listen to there moaning about other road users until then they will be a pain in the backside to all other road user ......demanding this demanding that ...riding anywhere regardless of others but not willing to put there own house in order but blame everyone else for there own short comings

I agreed that cyclists should be forced to wear helmets and also hi-vis jackets and rear flashing lights.

The helmetless lady mentioned on the bike is probably given more room as the drivers see a poor cyclist more bothered about her hair than head hence no helmet. In many cases cyclists are knocked off their bike by a vehicle and the head falls the 6 ft or so and collides with the road, much the same as when simply falling off. The cheap helmets do not necessarily help much in some instances but the better quality ones do afford a good level of protection, why do the cyclists in the Tour De France bother to wear them? Motorists have air bags to give some head protection in an accident, air bags on the front of vehicles may help in protecting pedestrians and cyclists in an accident. Now there's an idea, if we were all to travel in a motorized air bag we could bounce safely to our destination. Pet hate, motor cyclists and pedal cyclists who undertake.

A test for cyclists will stop them doing stupid stuff in just about the same way the driving test creates perfect motorists. :-) There are stupid road users full stop.

Would it not be better to make cyclists simply take a proper driving type test, everyday in London they travel between cars at lights, inside of lorrys, jump red lights simply because the Highway Code does not apply to them being invincible. Motorbike helmets for cyclists should be compulsory for cyclists along with a proper test, why do 50% of cyclists consider they don't need lights at night when wearing dark clothing, common sense says wear hi-vis clothing why not make this compulory as well as it will save more lives than a plastic foam hat.

I wear my helmet simply to avoid scuffing up my face if I come off, expecting nothing more from it. If folks and particularly the legal and medical professions would read around the arguments and the studies, they might stop banging on about compulsory helmet use which reduces the number of cyclists on the road and makes it more dangerous for those who are left. More cyclists equates to safer cycling and of course the essential prerequisite of road safety of everyone on the road is being aware of and respecting the rules and eachother.

Interesting article which had my friend not last year been in an accident and cracked his skull whilst not wearing a helmet I may have agreed with. He came off not at speed but going over a drain he didn't see. So, are they the fix all for cyclists? No, but they are a link in the chain. Want motorists to give you room? Make sure you are visible by having appropriate lighting and preferably wearing a high visibility jacket. I cycle and drive so see both sides and get rather tired of the bickering between the two groups. We can all use the road, so let's do our best to keep safe together.

I am strong advocate of cycle helmets, I have been involved in 2 incidents where had I not been wearing a helmet I would either be a vegetable or not here at all. The sad thing is that motorists don't seem to pay attention to what is going on outside the car!

Great article, exposing the myths of cycle helmets for what they are, hype and profit. The only people promoting helmets base their arguments on emotion, while those opposing helmet laws use science are reliable data. Which should dictate what our laws are based on, emotion or facts? check out for the facts

I bought the helmet on eBay, few years back. The box is a scream.

Why is Ian Walker's wig always reported as being blonde? In the study it's simply stated as being a "long feminine wig"...

Guess we'd all better start wearing wigs instead of helmets then.

I believe that helmets a a distraction from road safety, which should be focused on avoiding collisions rather than marginally increasing the chance of surviving one. It seems very clear that the main beneficiaries of helmets would be drinkers, since alcohol is a factor in about 60% of serious head injuries. As well as being a cyclist I am also a scientist, and much as I recognise the value of Dr Walker's research the fact that it has not been repeated reduces it's scientific validity. His one study always gets cited but there needs to be corroborative research in order for his conclusions to be confirmed.

It could it be that in Ian Walker's experiment motorists were more leery of passing a male cyclist wearing a blond wig than cyclists wearing a helmet. Testing standards stated wrong, it’s a 2 m drop at 14 mph. Also, it's not that pro bicycle helmet advocates are ignoring other potential head injuries, the point (and Carlton stated it) is that bicycle helmets work for what they are designed to do. It is well documented empirically (and I know of several first-hand cases), that bicycle helmets prevent and/or significantly reduce head injuries.

Nice helmet Carlton, where can I get one?