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Road Safety (Cycle Helmets)

Volume 733: debated on Wednesday 7 June 2023

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require a person riding a bicycle on the public highway to wear a safety helmet; and for connected purposes.

Back in November 2015, my then 15-year-old constituent, Oliver Dibsdale, was cycling along Hillmorton High Street in Rugby when his foot slipped off the pedal and he fell. He hit his head on the kerb and was left with a serious brain injury. He spent four weeks in critical care and a further 15 weeks at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and the Central England Rehabilitation Unit in Leamington Spa.

Oliver had hoped to be in the Public Gallery here today, but because of the severity of his disability he would have needed two support staff to accompany him from Rugby and had to meet the significant cost of their travel expenses. Oliver was told by his doctor, Dr Badwan, that, had he been wearing a helmet, he may still have sustained an injury, but it would have been far less severe. When I met Oliver, he told me that he usually wore a helmet when cycling and that he bitterly regrets his decision on that occasion to ride without one. He spoke to me in a very moving way about the impact his injury has had on his family and the guilt he feels for the amount of time they have had to spend caring for him. He very much wants to help other families to avoid this fate. The Bill will achieve that aim.

The mandatory wearing of cycle helmets has been considered in Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) introduced the Bicycles (Children’s Safety Helmets) Bill as long ago as 2007. A broader debate took place on the topic of cycling safety in Westminster Hall on 21 November 2012, when nine Members took part. At a personal level, on a recent family holiday, we rented bikes. When the person serving us offered me a helmet, I initially declined. He then looked me in the eye and asked, “Just how many brains do you have, sir?” I took the hint and I took the helmet, but there is not always someone on hand to offer such advice and ensure a helmet is worn. And as anybody who has children will know, children do not always take that advice. Oliver makes the point that it will be far easier for parents to insist that their children wear a helmet if it becomes a legal requirement.

When Oliver first contacted me nearly two years ago, he asked whether the Government would consider making cycle helmets a legal requirement. He explained his circumstances: six years after his accident, he remains in a wheelchair and is likely to do so for the rest of his life; he has lost the use of his left arm; and he has missed so much that his peers have experienced. He finds it extremely frustrating whenever he sees cyclists on the road without helmets because, from his personal experience, he knows all too well the risk they are taking.

After my meeting with Oliver, I wrote on his behalf to the Department for Transport and received an explanation of the work undertaken as part of the cycling and walking investment strategy of 2017 and the subsequent consultation in 2018. The focus of this work has rightly been to increase levels of cycling and walking and to make the UK’s roads safer for vulnerable users, including cyclists. Following that work, the Department’s clear advice to all cyclists, as set out in rule 59 of the highway code, is that cyclists should wear helmets, but the Government do not intend to legislate. I shared the Government’s response with Oliver at my advice surgery. He continues to contest it and makes a compelling case from his own experience for helmets to be mandatory.

To take his case further, I arranged for Oliver to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), then Minister for Transport. Oliver was very pleased to have the opportunity to make his case here in Westminster to the Minister and I thank my hon. Friend for accommodating us. We had an excellent discussion but, to Oliver’s disappointment, the Government’s position remains unchanged—that the wearing of helmets should be a matter of choice, not compulsory.

Oliver continues to disagree and draws attention to a number of counts. He points out that it is illegal to drive a car without a seatbelt and that it is compulsory to wear a helmet on a motorcycle. To this, those who oppose mandatory wearing of cycle helmets respond that, unlike travelling by car and motorbike, there is a health benefit from using a bicycle, there should not be any discouragement of cycling and some people might be put off cycling, thereby reducing the wider health and environmental benefits. Oliver replies to this that, if people want to exercise, there are many ways of doing so that present less risk; he points out that people can walk, run, take up a sport or go to the gym.

A further line of argument cited by opponents to mandatory wearing of cycle helmets is that legislation would be difficult to enforce. While it would certainly create an additional burden on the police, it does not strike me as particularly difficult to enforce compared with other offences: it is easier to spot a cyclist without a helmet than to spot a driver using a mobile phone, or a car passenger without a seatbelt. No one here suggests that wearing seatbelts should be a matter of individual choice on the basis of difficulties in enforcing the current legislation.

In support of mandatory wearing of helmets, a 2016 review and analysis of previous research, undertaken by Jake Olivier and Prudence Creighton, drew on data from 64,000 injured cyclists. They found very large protective effects from helmets, estimating 85% and 88% reductions in head and brain injury respectively for helmeted cyclists relative to unhelmeted. The House of Commons Library notes that pedal cyclists are 23 times more likely to be a casualty and more likely to die on the road than a motorist. If mandatory safety measures are acceptable for car drivers, they should also be acceptable for cyclists.

Cyclists are the most vulnerable road users. Given all the data about how much safer cyclists are when they wear a helmet and the strong arguments from Oliver—a person who acknowledges that his life has been transformed by the simple failure to put on his helmet that fateful day in 2015—this Bill to mandate the wearing of helmets by cyclists is intended to ensure that far fewer cyclists have to suffer the experience that Oliver went through and has to live with every day of his life. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mark Pawsey, Judith Cummins, Dan Carden, Mr Peter Bone and Dr Luke Evans present the Bill.

Mark Pawsey accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 321).