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Policy statement

Child helmet laws

In a number of countries mandatory helmet laws have been introduced for children, and there is frequently pressure for new laws.

At first sight this may seem a beneficial policy to protect vulnerable cyclists, but there are many reasons why such a measure may cause more harm to children than the problem it seeks to address.

This case study examines the evidence on the wider consequences of a child helmet law.

Based on a paper produced originally with a UK focus, its content is equally applicable to any country.

The principal threats to child health and life expectancy

The principal threats to children's lives at the beginning of the 21st century are obesity, heart disease and other illnesses resulting in large part from inactivity. Cycling has a key role to play in preventing these illnesses. Less cycling through a helmet law would aggravate an already very serious situation.

Cycling is a safe and healthy activity

… and the risks of cycling are low

The number of children currently at risk of dying prematurely through obesity and related illnesses is approx 12,000 times those suffering serious head injury each year through cycling and which might be mitigated by a helmet that was 100% effective. That ratio is predicted to double by the year 2020 (RCP, 2004)

Cycling gets safer the more people who do it

Helmets deter cycling and lead to poorer health

The law resulted in 30 more teenagers wearing helmets compared with 623 fewer cycling.

Senior neurosurgeons, cycling and helmet experts have consistently given evidence in British courts that cycle helmets have very limited value in cases of serious head injury.

The benefits of helmets in reducing injury are greatly overstated

Many doctors believe that cycle helmets can increase the risk of the most serious types of brain injury (that lead to death or chronic intellectual disablement) by converting direct forces into rotational ones that helmets do not mitigate (Curnow, 2003)

Many other everyday activities would benefit more from helmets than cycling

Helmet laws can make it a crime for children to take part in a healthy activity


Child helmet laws


Andersen, Schnohr, Schroll and Hein, 2000

Andersen LB, Schnohr P, Schroll M, Hein HO, 2000. All-cause mortality associated with physical activity during leisure time, work, sports, and cycling to work. Arch Intern Med 2000 Jun 12;160(11):1621-8.

BHRF, 1028

Barnes JE, . A bicycling mystery: head injuries piling up. New York Times, 29 July 2001.

BHRF, 1079

Helmet use, safety and obesity. .

BHRF, 1194

Change in cycle use in Australia. .

BHRF, 1236

Trends in cyclist casualties in Britain with increasing helmet use. .

BMA, 1992

Cycling towards health and safety. British Medical Association ISBN 0-19-286151-4.1992.

Bryan-Brown and Christie, 2001

Bryan-Brown K, Christie N, 2001. Cycle helmet wearing in 1999. Transport Research Laboratory Report 487.

Bryan-Brown and Taylor, 1997

Bryan-Brown K, Taylor S, 1997. Cycle helmet wearing in 1996. Transport Research Laboratory Report 286.

Burdett, Can

Burdett A, . Cyclist fatalities in Canada. OCBC .

Chipman, 2002

Chipman ML, 2002. Hats off (or not?) to helmet legislation. Canadian Medical Association Journal 2002 Mar 5;166(5):602.

Cook and Sheikh, 2000

Cook A, Sheikh A, 2000. Trends in serious head injuries among cyclists in England: analysis of routinely collected data. BMJ 2000;321:1055.

Curnow, 2003

Curnow WJ, 2003. The efficacy of bicycle helmets against brain injury. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2003,35:287-292.

DfT, 1

Traffic Census Data. Department for Transport.

Ekman, Schelp, Welander and Svanstrom, 1997

Ekman R, Schelp L, Welander G, Svanstrom L, 1997. Can a combination of local, regional and national information substantially increase bicycle-helmet wearing and reduce injuries? Experiences from Sweden. Accident Analysis & Prevention 1997 May;29(3):321-8.

Franklin and Chapman, 2005

Franklin J, Chapman G, 2005. Quantifying the risk of head injury to child cyclists in England: an analysis of hospital admissions data. BHRF .

Hendrie, Legge, Rosman and Kirov, 1999

Hendrie D, Legge M, Rosman D, Kirov C, 1999. An Economic Evaluation of the Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Legislation in Western Australia. Road Accident Prevention Research Unit .

Hillman, 2003b

Hillman M, 1993. Cycling and the promotion of health. Policy Studies 14 (2), pp.49-58.

Jacobsen, 2003

Jacobsen PL, 2003. Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling. Injury Prevention 2003;9:205-209.

Jamieson, 2003

Letter from David Jamieson MP, Minister Department for Transport, to Michael Jack MP, October 2003. .

Kennedy, 1996

Kennedy A, 1996. The pattern of injury in fatal pedal cycle accidents and the possible benefits of cycle helmets. British Journal of Sports Medicine 1996 Jun;30(2):130-3.

Leden, Garder and Pulkkinen, 2000

Leden L, Garder P, Pulkkinen U, 2000. An expert judgment model applied to estimating the safety effect of a bicycle facility. Accident Analysis & Prevention 2000 Jul;32(4):589-99.

McLean et al, 1998

McLean AJ, Fildes BN, Kloeden CN, Digges KH, Anderson RWG, Moore VM, 1998. Prevention of head injuries to car occupants: an investigation of interior padding options. Federal Office of Road Safety CR160.

NTS 1998-00

National Travel Survey, 1998 - 2000. National Statistics.

O'Rourke, Costello, Yelland and Stuart, 1987

O'Rourke NA, Costello F, Yelland JDN, Stuart GG, 1987. Head injuries to children riding bicycles. Medical Journal of Australia 1987;146:619-621.


Office for National Statistics. .

ONS, 1

Population data from Office for National Statistics. .

PAC, 2002

House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report. January 2002.

Paffenbarger, Hyde, Wing and Hsieh, 1986

Paffenbarger RS, Hyde RT, Wing AL, Hsieh CC, 1986. Physical activity, all-cause mortality, and longevity of college alumni. New England Journal of Medicine 1986;314:605-613.


Perry N, . Analysis of data from New Zealand Household Travel Survey. .

RCP, 2004

Storing up problems - The medical case for a slimmer nation. Royal College of Physicians ISBN: 9781860162008 .2004.

Robinson, 1996

Robinson DL, 1996. Head injuries and bicycle helmet laws. Accident Analysis & Prevention 1996 Jul;28(4):463-75.

Scuffham, Alsop, Cryer and Langley, 2000

Scuffham P, Alsop J, Cryer C, Langley JD, 2000. Head injuries to bicyclists and the New Zealand bicycle helmet law. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2000 Jul;32(4):565-73.

SMH, 1997

Boy faces detention for unpaid bike fines. Sydney Morning Herald, 12th December 1997.

Smith and Milthorpe, 1993

Smith NC, Milthorpe MW, 1993. An Observational Survey of Law Compliance and Helmet Wearing by Bicyclists in New South Wales - 1993 (4th survey). NSW Roads & Traffic Authority ISBN 0-7305-9110-7.

Taylor and Scuffham, 2002

Taylor M, Scuffham P, 2002. New Zealand bicycle helmet law - do the costs outweigh the benefits?. Injury Prevention 2002;8:317-320.


Traffic casualty statistics from Transport for London. Helmet wearing data from TRL. .

The Age, 1993

Focus on petty sins defeats court's purpose. The Age, 2nd September 1993.

Tuxworth, Nevill, White and Jenkins, 1986

Tuxworth W, Nevill AM, White C, Jenkins C, 1986. Health, fitness, physical activity and morbidity of middle aged male factory workers. British Journal of Industrial Medicine 1986 Nov;43(11):733-53.

UWA, 2004

University of Western Australia, March 2004. Reported ABC On-Line 4th March 2004.

Wardlaw, 2002

Wardlaw MJ, 2002. Assessing the actual risks faced by cyclists. Traffic Engineering + Control Dec 2002 p352-356.

See also