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Not wearing a helmet could be 'contributory negligence'
17.03.09 by Buffalo Bill

According to a judge, quoted in the Telegraph.

The ruling, by Mr Justice Griffith Williams, came in a case brought by 29-year-old Robert Smith who was knocked off his bike by a speeding motorcyclist in Brightlingsea, Essex in 2005. Mr Smith, who was not at fault, sustained a serious brain injury. But the judge ruled: “There can be no doubt that the failure to wear a helmet may expose the cyclist to risk of greater injury.” He added that, in some cases, “any injury sustained may be the cyclist’s own fault” and cyclists themselves could be held partly liable.

Although the speed of the collision meant the helmet made no difference to the eventual outcome of Mr Smith’s case, in which the motorcyclist was held fully liable, it is feared the ruling could open the door to attempts to reduce damages by insurers.

Martin Porter, a personal injury lawyer, said: “It is really very worrying. It is a retrograde step to blame innocent cyclists for not wearing a helmet. There is an interesting parallel between a cyclist not wearing a helmet and a pedestrian not wearing a helmet.

“By the same logic, pedestrians not wearing helmets are also at risk of contributing to their own injuries.”

The Cyclist’s Touring Club had this to say:

However it is alarming that the judge concluded that, in general, a cyclist’s decision not to wear a helmet may be regarded as “contributory negligence” (i.e. compensation for someone else’s negligence should be reduced on the basis that the cyclist was also partly to blame for their own injuries), in cases where the helmet would have made a difference. CTC will be seeking advice on the scope for contesting this finding, and the pros and cons of contesting this ruling or awaiting a different opportunity to do so.

The CTC also has more information on the cases for and against helmets here, which includes this

recent edition of the BMA’s publication the British Medical Journal included a paper by Australian-based statistician Dorothy Robinson, arguing that there is no evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of cycle helmets that there has been any benefit to public health.

Robinson reviewed data before and after helmet legislation in Australia, New Zealand and Canada and believes helmet laws discourage cycling and produce no obvious response in the number of head injuries. She says: “This contradiction may be due to risk compensation, incorrect helmet wearing, reduced safety in numbers (injury rates per cyclist are lower when more people cycle), or bias in case control studies.”

Last year, in response to some pretty heavy-handed promotion of helmets by Fyxomatosis, I myself had this to say:

In 1995, when the debate about the use of helmets was beginning, Moving Target published an article entitled ‘Helmets cause death’. A totally absurd assertion, yet this conclusion was supported by the evidence from Western Australia, where helmets had been made compulsory. In the year following the enforcement of helmets, the number of cyclists went down, yet the number of fatal head injury stayed the same. So the rate at which cyclists were dying of head injuries went up.

So it’s worth noting that the simple act of putting a helmet on is not enough to guarantee greater safety for the wearer. I’ll say it again: the risk of collision is not lessened if you have a helmet on. Nor will a helmet prevent death. Emma Foa was wearing a helmet when she was run over and killed.

There is also some evidence that motorists drive closer to helmet-wearing cyclist, which is an unintended, and unfortunate, consequence of bicycle helmets. This is an example of risk compensation. Risk compensation occurs where safety measures are in place that make people feel that the risk of a collision is reduced, therefore it’s safe to go a bit faster, or closer, or pay less attention, thus subverting the extra level of safety.

Oh, and before you write in with stories of how a helmet saved your life, remember that these will be unscientific and anecdotal, ie not evidence of anything other than your own opinions.

College of Emergency Medicine debate ends with call for compulsory helmets for child cyclists
Risk compensation

  1. just wear one!

    — tomkov    18 March 2009, 15:47    #
  2. why not two?

    — headbanger    18 March 2009, 16:05    #
  3. This is a big issue, whether you think that it afects your riding style, or is heavy, or makes you brain feel like a boiled egg, or whatever… The solution is, choose one that fits your head, talk to people that wear one and ask them about in summer wear and winter, comfort, etc, but BUT WEAR ONE, even if you are not going to look as cool as you were without one, but at least it can save you from having some brain injuries,and you can atach a headcam to it. :)

    — pedro    18 March 2009, 16:07    #
  4. clippers and gaffer tape

    — headbanger    18 March 2009, 17:49    #
  5. “..even if you are not going to look as cool as you were without one”.

    That’s a big ask. Anyway, helmets are for Dads.

    — Darrenger    18 March 2009, 19:43    #
  6. pedro- i have had access to pretty much any helmet i want and have been trained by gyro in fitting them, i still cannot find one that i find comfortable. personal choice all the way. furthermore there have been no mass studies into the efficacy of helmets- we know if you bang your head you’re better off wearing one but are you less likely to bang your head in the first place if you don’t? we know that drivers pass helmeted cyclists faster and closer than their unhelmeted brethren. this could be a back door to a compulsory helmet law which would be MASSIVELY negative for UK cycling.

    — sleepy    19 March 2009, 15:34    #
  7. These helmets are pretty expensive.
    Instead of buying one simply cut a watermelon in half,eat the inside then hey presto you got a helmet for next to nothing.

    — overdrive    19 March 2009, 16:28    #
  8. I’ve been run down by vehicles twice. Neither time was I wearing a helmet. I didn’t get any head injuries even though the second incident (which was with a dump truck) fractured my spine. I’ve crashed several other times while I was wearing my helmet. Each time the helmet protected me from a pretty severe head impact on the pavement.

    Lesson? Wearing a helmet makes you hit the ground with your head.

    — Kyle    20 March 2009, 08:15    #
  9. perhaps your helmet is 2 heavy Kyle, and that is why you hit the ground with you head.
    However, i do agree with you, in accident with other vehicle(car for example)there is no much use of a helmet.
    But i’ll still wear one, cause its save my life last time

    — hans kloss    20 March 2009, 09:32    #
  10. slapheads don’t do helmets, same as beardies don’t wear masks.

    — zero    22 March 2009, 15:34    #
  11. kyle i had a similar experience to you. hit my head twice while weaing a helmet, didn’t hit my head when not wearing one.

    — lee    23 March 2009, 10:05    #
  12. When you crash with a helmet on you don’t make the same efforts to stop your head hitting the ground in my experience…

    Crazy but true.

    — Alex    21 May 2009, 17:04    #
  13. They’re at it a fucking again. According to Cycling Weekly (21/05/09) Judge Richard Lowden of Durham Crown Court gave Dennis Moore (a 50 year old who has never passed his driving test) a 24-week suspended prison sentence for killing cyclist James Jorgensen. The judge said that the fact that Jorgensen had not been wearing a helmet was a ‘mitigating factor’ and Moore’s sentence had been reduced accordingly. THESE SCUM JUDGES SHOULD BE FUCKING KILLED, preferably by being buggered to death with a D-lock.

    — Gertie    21 May 2009, 19:49    #
  14. OK, I’ve got a story of how it saved me, but it’s not the anecdotal part but the root cause that I want to bring out.

    I’ve got every reason to call myself an experienced cyclist and I reckon I do everything in my control to cycle safe. Mostly I ride trying to make certain I’m not where the accident is going to be and I have no expectation that a helmet will save me from the out of control lorry with my name on it.

    But. I never used to wear a helmet all the time. A few years back, I was riding along Southwark Street when a gust of wind blew a road barrier into the bike, stopping it dead. My flying lesson included the chapter “Landing on Head” and because I had been wearing a helmet I walked away. The alternative option probably included the words “vegetable or dead”.

    So, the question is, do you think it is a good bet to ride without a helmet? Personally I no longer do, because the things that really stuff you up you have no control over. I don’t buy that helmets are dangerous so I wear one.

    Personal choice at the end of the day, but it also entered my calculations that I seem to have cornered the market in bizarre incidents.

    So far as the judgement is concerned my initial reaction is that it turns my stomach, but then I get to thinking. Seatbelts. If you don’t wear a seatbelt, I believe you are potentially considered as contributing to any injuries sustained. Don’t get confused by whether or not it is obligatory to wear them – it’s because you know (or should know according to the consensus of opinion) that it makes you safer.

    Ham    29 May 2009, 09:04    #
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