German court says helmet-free cycling is not 'negligence'

A smashed helmet
In a landmark ruling, the German Supreme Court has ruled that it is not 'negligent' to cycle without a helmet, hence there is no justifiable reason for reducing the injury compensation payable to helmetless cyclists. Now, CTC says the Highway Code needs to change.

The case is a major victory for the ADFC (Allgemeine Deutsche Fahrradclub, the German equivalent of CTC), who supported a member in an appeal against an earlier ruling of 'contributory negligence', handed down in June 2013 by the regional court of Schleswig, North Germany.  Her compensation settlement had previously been reduced by 20% as a result of this ruling. She is now entitled to full compensation.

The driver's insurer had argued that any sensible person would wear a helmet while cycling. However, the ADFC members' legal team argued that, with just 11% of German cyclists wearing helmets, it was not reasonable to dismiss the other 89% as not being sensible. CTC would add that helmet wearing rates in the Netherlands are below 1% - surely 99+% of Dutch cyclists can't also be dismissed as not being sensible!

Closer to home 

The States of Jersey - effectively Jersey's Parliament - is considering introducing a helmet law later this summer. CTC will be joining forces with British Cycling and Sustrans in opposing it. Former Olympic cyclist, Chris Boardman has asked the States of Jersey to be allowed to present evidence against the law.

The German court's ruling will also add pressure for a change to the Highway Code's rule 59 which advises cyclists in the UK to wear a helmet. While many people might regard this as reasonable advice, its practical effect is to encourage motorists' insurers to routinely seek a finding of 'contributory negligence' on the part of any cyclist injured when not wearing a helmet. This can cause immense distress to seriously injured cyclists or their bereaved relatives.

Case law

So far, there has been no case where a court has ruled that a helmet would have made a difference to the injuries suffered by individual cyclists who have been on the receiving end of 'contributory negligence' claims in road collisions.

However, there has been a contributory negligence claim against a cyclist injured during an off-road race in collision with another cycling colleague. In another case, a judge said (albeit in a manner that is not legally binding) that he felt that, in principle, helmet-free cycling could amount to 'contributory negligence' in any collision where it could be shown that a helmet would have made a difference.

CTC called for the Highway Code rule on helmets to be amended the last time the Code was up for revision, in 2007. We succeeded in getting amendments made to 40 other rules in the Highway Code, but not the one on helmets."

Roger Geffen
CTC Campaigns and Policy Director

With a further Highway Code revision expected in 2015 (following changes to other road rules), CTC will press for the Highway Code to be revised to end the threat of unjustified 'contributory negligence' claims against cyclists.

For more information and evidence read CTC's briefing on Compensation for injured cyclists.