Cycle helmets: the evidence

Cycle helmets: the evidence

Cycling UK wants to keep helmets an optional choice. Forcing - or strongly encouraging - people to wear helmets deters people from cycling and undermines the public health benefits of cycling. This campaign seeks to educate policy makers and block misguided attempts at legislation.

Cycling UK has long campaigned against helmet laws. Campaigners and politicians perennially attempt to make their name by proposing legislation to force people to wear helmets. Cycling UK aims to prevent these moves by explaining the damage such legislation could bring.

However Cycling UK is not only concerned about the harmful effects of mandatory helmet use.  By creating exaggerated perceptions of the risks of cycling, even voluntary helmet promotion campaigns have been found to deter some people from cycling. Given that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by around 20:1 (one recent study put it at 77:1), it can be shown that only a very small reduction in cycle use is needed for helmet promotion (let alone helmet laws) to shorten more lives than helmets themselves could possibly save, regardless of how effective helmets might be.

On the other hand, Cycling UK does not however take a view on whether or not it is beneficial for individual cyclists to wear helmets – in that respect, we are neither 'pro-' nor 'anti'-helmet.  The evidence on this question is complex and contradictory, providing as much support for those who are deeply sceptical of helmets as for those who swear by them.

Whether or not it is a good idea to wear a helmet may depend on both the rider and the type of cycling they are doing.  However, given the extent to which the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks involved, Cycling UK's view is that it is more important to encourage people to cycle, than whether or not they wear helmets when doing so. Cycling should be promoted as an essentially safe, normal and enjoyable transport and leisure activity, which anyone can do in whatever clothes they prefer to wear, with or without helmets.

For more information, see Cycling UK's campaigns briefings explaining our policy and giving an overview of the evidence on helmets.