Make kids' helmets compulsory, say doctors

“Helmets reduce head injury by 85 percent”

The Association of Paediatric Emergency Medicine has just voted to officially call for a change in British law to make it compulsory for cyclists under 16 years of age to wear a helmet.

The Association quotes studies suggesting that helmets reduce the chance of head injury by 85 percent, brain injury by 88 percent and severe brain injury by 75 percent.

The group's Dr Ian Maconochie said: “The evidence is significant in terms of reducing direct brain injury at low impact velocities. The debate we had was extensive but the medical fraternity voted thee to one in favour of having mandatory cycle helmet wearing.

“It's estimated there are 90,000 accidents on the road in the UK involving bicycles and 100,000 off the road, 53 percent of which involve children. In terms of traumatic brain injury, about 52,000 children have suffered significant brain injury which requires additional support from the state so there are elements of how it affects society and individuals.”

Dr Maconochie did not say over what period these injury figures were collected or where they came from. The most recent annual figures available from the Department for Transport (2007) show 3,633 child cycling injuries in total, of which 509 were classed as seriously injured and 13 were deaths. The same figures for child pedestrians were 9,527, 1,842 and 57.   

UK cyclists' organisation CTC have issued a full rebuttal at www.cyclehelmets.org. The main thrusts of their counter argument are that helmet wearing will reduce cycling (Australia is quoted as an example) and increase child obesity – a greater danger than head injury from bike falls.

CTC also maintain that the consequent reduction in cyclist numbers on the road will make the roads more dangerous for those choosing to pedal. Their Safety in Numbers campaign stresses how they believe more cyclists are the key to making the roads safer for all cyclists.

Chris Peck, spokesman for the CTC, said:  “We believe children should not have to wear helmets. Our position is that parents should have a choice. We also want parents to be aware of the element of risk compensation: where children and adults choose to wear a safety aid they will take more risks.

“Look at countries in Europe where cycling is huge – in Holland 27 percent of trips are made by bike and you would not see a helmet on cyclists, not even kids. And in Copenhagen 55 percent of people cycle to work and you see very few helmets there. In fact there are a lot of advocates in Holland and Denmark who strongly object to them. A recent helmet law was defeated in the Danish parliament.

“Such a law would be unenforceable [in Britain]. The law would have to lay responsibility for children wearing helmets on their parents or guardians. This would mean that those individuals would need to accompany their children at all times, or bear responsibility for their child's decision to remove their helmet when away from the parent. Neither of these solutions is practical."

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