The Transport Research Laboratory has this week published a further paper on the effectiveness of cycle helmets. A long report that concludes that
"Cycle helmets would be expected to be effective in a range of accident conditions particularly the most common accidents that do not involve a collision with another vehicle, often simply falls or tumbles over the handlebars and also when the mechanism of injury involves another vehicle glancing the cyclist or tipping them over causing their head to strike the ground."
It would, I suppose, be genuinely astonishing if it were found that helmets were of no use in protecting the head in any circumstance. I have a clubmate who found his particularly helpful when caught unawares by a descending carpark barrier. I sometimes have wished I was wearing mine in the kitchen when my head has contacted an open cupboard door.
The TRL report expressly says it does not deal with the vexed question of risk compensation, whereby people's behaviour changes as a consequence of seeing themselves or others as less vulnerable. Nor does it deal with the questions whether the wearing of helmets should be encouraged or mandated, but its conclusions probably mean that we should not be expecting any change in the Highway Code's advice to cyclists to wear a helmet (accompanied by a vulnerable looking cyclist cowering in the gutter).
Whether this report will provide further impetus to motor insurers to blame cyclists for head injuries because they have not worn a helmet remains to be seen. What I will say is that in no case yet has a Court determined that a cyclist both ought to have been wearing a helmet and that it would have made any difference. No deduction for contributory negligence has therefore been made by a Court to date. Cyclists and their lawyers should bear that in mind when a reduction is suggested.
I have already expressed my views on contributory negligence here. Nothing in the latest paper changes my view. It is so much more important that people cycle than that they cycle with helmets and the Australian experience demonstrates that you cannot encourage both. It is so much more important that accidents are prevented than that we are forced to look to personal protection to hope to minimise their effect.
So when we see a famous footballer taking his children out for a bicycle ride let us applaud him for getting on a bike and not attack him because he has chosen not to wear a helmet.