UK cycling minister defends right not to wear a helmet

'I don't want to put obstacles in the way of people cycling'

Norman Baker, the junior transport minister for cycling who earlier this week said it was his “libertarian right” to choose not to wear a helmet, has defended his comments on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Asked by presenter John Humphrys why he didn’t follow his own government's policy, Baker said: “Government policy is to encourage children in particular to wear helmets, but we also think adults are capable of making up their own minds whether they should wear a helmet or not. There’s also the point whether making people where helmets would discourage them from cycling.

"There are enormous benefits of cycling in terms of health, in terms of tackling obesity and in terms of dealing with environmental problems, and I don’t want to put obstacles in the way. We need to encourage the freedom of cycling, rather than emphasise the restrictions.”

Humphrys put it to Baker that as a transport minister he should be setting an example. “Well I’m a minister for cycling, and I set an example by cycling. I’m not actually the safety minister,” replied Baker.

Julie Townsend, of road safety charity Brake, said that by choosing not to wear a helmet, Baker was “undermining the Department for Transport’s own very important road safety messages”.

Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes in East Sussex, said last week that while he fully supported the government line on encouraging helmet use, it was his own personal choice. “The responsibility is only towards myself,” he said. “It's not like drinking and driving where you can damage other people – you do no harm. I'm not encouraging people not to do this. I'm just saying I make a decision not to."

The issue of helmet use by cyclists has long been a matter of fierce debate, and efforts are underway to make it compulsory in Northern Ireland. So, who do you agree with? Let us know below.

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