Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 21:20 EDT

Cycle Helmets Debate Continues

October 5, 2012

LONDON, October 5, 2012 /PRNewswire/ –

Cycle Helmets Debate Continues

Matthew Claxson, a road accident claims [http://www.fentons.co.uk/road-accident-claims
] specialist at Fentons Solicitors LLP, said the peculiar science of cycling safety is
much more complex than many people realise. “The issue of helmet use within the cycling
community is a fiercely controversial subject, particularly in regard to mandatory helmet
laws. Opinions as to whether helmets should or should not be worn are frequently dominated
by both emotion and exaggeration, which can make it very difficult knowing what to
believe… In the meantime however, the civil courts in personal injury claims involving
helmetless cyclists are having to consider whether any damages awarded may have to be
reduced for the cyclist’s perceived ‘contribution’ to their injuries.”

Cycle helmets and contributory negligence

In the landmark 2008 Reynolds v Strutt & Parker case, a claimant sued his employer
after falling from his bike and suffering brain damage whilst competing in a cycle race
organised as part of a company team-building day. Although the claimant was unhelmeted
when he fell, despite the availability of helmets on the day of the incident, his
employers were found liable because they had ‘failed to conduct an adequate risk
assessment’ before the race. The claimant’s damages however, were reduced by two-thirds
because of his perceived contributory negligence in firstly failing to wear a helmet and
secondly because he was seen to have been riding in a dangerous manner.

“The Reynolds case was the first time the courts had reduced a cyclist’s compensation
in this way and meant that any decision not to wear a helmet could have legal consequences
for cyclists suing for compensation after suffering head injuries,” said Matthew. “The
Cyclist’s Defence Fund suggest that it is now common for insurers to seek contributory
negligence deductions in out of court settlements for cycling-related head injury claims
[http://www.fentons.co.uk/serious-injury-claims/head-injury-claim ] and for the cases that
have reached the courts in recent years, failing to wear a helmet has been deemed
negligent, largely because it involves ignoring Rule 59 of the Highway Code which
currently recommends that ‘you should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current
regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened’.”

How effective are helmets at protecting cyclists?

In contrast with the efficiency of seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, the evidence
surrounding cycle helmets is hugely controversial. Cycle helmets have been around since
1975 and were originally conceived as a ‘spin-off’ product from the development of
expanded polystyrene foams in motorcycle helmets. Acting like a shock absorber, the
expanded polystyrene liner is intended to dissipate the energy of an impact by compressing
- in theory, protecting the rate at which the skull and brain are accelerated by a
collision. However, once the liner is fully compressed, the helmet can offer no further
protection and any residual energy is then passed directly onto the skull and brain. In
high impact cases involving vehicles, the protection afforded by helmets is likely to be
minimal as the energy potentials are commonly at rates known to overwhelm even Formula 1
racing helmets. Put simply, cycle helmets are not designed to protect wearers from an
impact with a moving vehicle and many remain convinced that they only offer protection in
low speed falls involving no other parties.

In 2009, the Department for Transport commissioned a report reviewing the evidence on
cycle helmets and concluded that helmets ‘would be expected to be effective’ at reducing
the risk of head injury in accidents not involving any other vehicles. However, there was
no reliable evidence that helmets have resulted in a lower risk of head injury in cases
involving vehicle collisions, as helmets themselves don’t require testing at impact speeds
above 12mph.

So should cycle helmets be worn or shouldn’t they?

Very few people would argue against the voluntary use of helmets. However, it is the
active promotion of helmet use – particularly in regard to mandatory helmet laws – that
attracts the most controversy. Those advocating the use of helmets, such as road safety
campaigners, brain injury charities and those who believe helmets have already saved their
lives or spared them more serious injury, invariably believe that in the event of a fall,
a helmet might spare them from lifelong disability by significantly reducing the severity
of any potential head injury suffered.

“Two-thirds of collisions between adult cyclists and vehicles are deemed by the police
to have been the fault of the motorist,” said Matthew. “Helmet campaigners often assume
that helmets are as effective at preventing brain injuries and fatalities as they are at
preventing lacerations and minor concussions. In London, more than 50 per cent of cycling
fatalities are caused by large vehicles turning left at junctions. Sadly, no helmet in the
world is going to save anyone from being crushed under a heavy-goods vehicle whose driver
failed to see them on the inside. As such, any reflex response that the absence of a
helmet might be a causative factor in someone’s injuries often ignores the reality on our

“It is concerning that an automatic implication of fault for failing to wear a helmet
is gathering currency and that many personal injury lawyers, insurance companies and
coroners are focusing too much on the question of helmet use, rather than analysing the
cause of the vast majority of accidents involving cyclists, that of negligent driver
error,” said Matthew. “Many injuries to cyclists could not under any circumstances be
prevented or remotely affected by the wearing or absence of a helmet. Seeing that helmets
can clearly only protect the crown of the wearer’s head, it is absolutely wrong for a
helmetless collision victim to be held culpable without a great deal of further

“The safest forms of travel are walking and cycling,” added Matthew. “Cycling is not
inherently dangerous but like pedestrians, cyclists are more vulnerable and susceptible to
serious injuries than motorists. Driver error is responsible for 90 per cent of all
collisions on the road and as such, they have the major responsibility to take care.
Rather than making cycle helmets compulsory for all we should instead be concentrating on
calling for a range of additional measures to improve cyclists’ safety, such as more
widespread 20mph limits, more traffic-free and segregated cycle lanes – especially on key
commuter routes – and a greater emphasis on awareness campaigns aimed at educating both
cyclists and motorists in how they can share the limited road space we have in the most
effective and appropriate way.”

Although the Royal Society for the prevention of accidents (RoSPA) have a policy that
recommends all cyclists wear a helmet, they also state that ‘The most effective ways of
reducing cyclist accidents and casualties are to improve the behaviour of drivers, improve
the behaviour of cyclists and to provide safer cycling environments.’

How can Fentons help?

Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for individuals who
sustain serious injuries in road traffic accidents.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on
0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.

SOURCE Fentons Solicitors LLP

Source: PR Newswire