The Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill is published today. However a draft circulated in advance by the Bills sponsors the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust would criminalise anyone aged 16 or over who caused or permitted an under-16 to cycle without protective headgear meeting required standards. As currently drafted, the law would apply not only on roads but also in parks, gardens and recreation grounds to which the public has free access.
The Cycling Public Affairs Group (C-PAG) has collated international evidence showing that making cyclists wear helmets leads to reduced cycle use particularly amongst teenagers thereby undermining the health and other benefits of cycling.
At a time of acute concern over the problem of obesity, particularly amongst children and teenagers, such a law would almost certainly cause more harm than the problem it seeks to address, says a release from CPAG, representing organisations such as the Bicycle Association, the National Cycle Strategy Board, CTC, British Cycling, Sustrans and the ACT.
"The British Medical Association, Royal College of General Practitioners and the National Heart Forum are opposed to helmet compulsion ... Obesity shortens lives by an average of nine years," says the CPAG release.
The UKs main cycle-user organisations believe Martlew's planned law would be enormously damaging to the future of cycling.
Helmet laws in Australia resulted in large decreases in the number of people cycling. Child cycling dropped by 30% to 50%, with falls of up to 91% in some areas, claims CPAG.
"Laws must be reasonable and enforceable The proposed law risks criminalising not only childrens parents, but their teachers, their 16-year-old friends, cycle shop owners and many others," says CPAG.
"Exaggerated claims about the danger of cycling and the effectiveness of cycle helmets have been made to argue for a new law that would effectively turn young cyclists into young offenders. For example, the widely-quoted claim that cycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries has been shown to be flawed, has been withdrawn by its authors and no data based on real world evidence has come anywhere close to matching it."
Philip Darnton, acting chair of the National Cycling Strategy Board, said: The National Cycling Strategy Board is not anti-helmet wearing. We are opposed to mandatory helmet wearing, which apart from connotations of the nanny state, is quite unenforceable. It would dramatically reduce the number of cyclists and, as such, be the worst possible step to take when we are also concerned about the desperate health problems arising from obesity. With 10 per cent of 10-year-olds now clinically obese, for the Government to support measures to reduce physical activity would send out a quite contradictory message.
John Franklin, a cycle safety consultant, said: "Anyone who's looked at the wider evidence on cycle helmets would find this measure very difficult to support. There are much more effective ways to promote children's well-being, especially by encouraging more of them to cycle."
Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy manager at CTC said: It is far more important to encourage people to cycle at school age, than to insist that they wear a helmet when doing so. The last thing we should be doing is legislating children into car-dependent sedentary lifestyles.