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Cycling: Safety

Volume 507: debated on Monday 15 March 2010

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Transport (1) what priority his Department gives to increasing safety for cyclists; (321903)

(2) if he will arrange a press conference to publicise the report commissioned by his Department on the potential for cycle helmets to prevent injury;

(3) what the cost to his Department was of publishing the report on the potential for cycle helmets to prevent injury; and to whom and by what means it was distributed;

(4) if he will bring forward proposals to make it compulsory for children aged 14 years and under to wear cycle helmets when cycling on the public highway;

(5) what estimate he has made of the number of (a) lives that could be saved and (b) serious injuries that could be prevented if the wearing of cycle helmets by children when cycling on public highway was made compulsory, as recommended by the recent report commissioned by his Department, “The potential for cycle helmets to prevent injury”.

[holding answer 12 March 2010]: The Department for Transport’s proposals for policies to improve road safety for all road users, including cyclists, were set out in our consultation paper “A Safer Way: Consultation on Making Britain’s Roads the Safest in the World”, which was published in April 2009.

The Government want to see more people cycling, while at the same time minimising the risks of cycling. There are a number of initiatives under way at present, aimed at improving cycle safety. These include:

promoting bikeability cycle training for children;

using the Highway Code and the Think! road safety campaign to provide advice to child and adult cyclists on safe road use, including use of protective equipment such as high visibility clothing and cycle helmets;

providing more safe cycle routes to schools and other locations;

providing guidance to local authorities on the design of safer road infrastructure, including effective cycle-specific measures, as well as more general measures that benefit all road users, such as 20 mph zones;

improving motor vehicle driver testing and training;

enacting new measures on lorry mirrors to improve the visibility of cyclists and pedestrians.

There are no plans to arrange a press conference in respect of the report commissioned by this Department on the potential for cycle helmets to prevent injury. The Department publishes numerous reports throughout the year and it is not usual practice to facilitate a press conference for each report’s publication.

The total cost of the research programme on Road Safety and Cycling is £527,719 excluding VAT. The report on cycle helmets was published by TRL on 15 December 2009 alongside a report providing an understanding of the key causes of collisions involving cyclists. Research findings for both reports are available to download from the Department for Transport website and direct links to the full reports, which are free to download from TRL's website, are provided.

Pre-publication copies of the reports were sent to the road safety and cycling research project’s advisory group a week before publication. This group is made up of a wide range of road safety, health, and cycling interest groups. An e-mail link was sent to the advisory group and a wider group of stakeholders on the day of publication.

TRL’s research confirms conclusions from earlier work showing that cycle helmets can help to protect cyclists in the event of a collision. That is why the Department for Transport encourages cyclists—especially children—to wear helmets when cycling.

However, the Department has no plans to introduce legislation to make cycle helmets compulsory for children or for adults. Taking into account the practicalities of enforcing such an offence—particularly among children—as well as the possible impact on levels of cycling and the potential loss of wider health benefits, the Department is not persuaded that making helmets mandatory is the right option.

TRL’s research project estimated that between 10 and 16 per cent. of cyclist fatalities with a certain type of head injury could have been prevented if they had worn an appropriate cycle helmet. This estimate is based on an assessment of cyclist fatality reports and includes both adults and children. It is not possible to use this to estimate specific casualty savings for children.

The Department for Transport’s statistics show that a total of 12 cyclists aged 15 or under were killed in road accidents in Great Britain in 2008. The statistics do not show how many of these were due to head injuries, or how many were, or were not, wearing cycle helmets.

TRL’s research also found that of the on-road serious cyclist casualties admitted to hospital in England, 10 per cent. suffered injuries of a type and to a part of the head that a cycle helmet may have mitigated or prevented. 405 child cyclists aged 0 to 15 were recorded as seriously injured in road accidents in Great Britain in 2008, although this definition of serious injury includes a much wider range of injuries that were not sufficiently serious to lead to admission to hospital.

The report also found that a further 20 per cent. of cyclists admitted to hospital suffered ‘open wounds to the head’, some of which are likely to have been to a part of the head that a cycle helmet may have mitigated or prevented.