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House of Lords Hansard
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21 October 2010
Volume 721

Question

Asked By

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many deaths and serious injuries occurred in 2009 owing to pedal cyclists not wearing a helmet.

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My Lords, reported casualty statistics do not record the type of injury or whether a cycle helmet was worn. The Transport Research Laboratory’s published review of on-road cycle helmet effectiveness, dated 15 December 2009, is available online. The report estimates that 10 per cent to 16 per cent of fatalities could have been prevented and that 30 per cent of serious injures mitigated or prevented if cyclists had worn a helmet that was a good fit and was worn correctly.

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I thank the noble Earl for his Answer. I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating Mayor Boris Johnson on launching the Barclays bike hire scheme, which has recently had its millionth journey. However, does the noble Earl share my concern for the safety of the scheme, which has placed an additional 5,000 bicycles on our roads in London, with most journeys taking place without a helmet? How are the Government planning to ensure that the wearing of helmets continues to increase, especially as Boris’s bikes come with no helmets and you normally own a helmet only if you own the bicycle that you are riding?

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The noble Lord raises an important point. The Boris bikes have indeed been very successful and the accident rate has been very low. The noble Lord correctly identifies an obvious difficulty. To be effective, the helmet has to be a good fit and be worn effectively. The only solution is for the rider to bring his own helmet. That presents obvious difficulties for an ad hoc journey but the statistics show that the benefits of bicycling far outweigh any risks, in a ratio of 20:1, even taking into account the current rates of helmet-wearing.

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My Lords, do cyclists have to pass a test of any kind anywhere prior to taking up their cycling? Is it not the case that many of them seem quite unaware that it is not legal even to pedal the wrong way up a one-way street or to sail past a red light?

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The noble Baroness raises an important point. No test is required to ride a bicycle. However, the Bikeability instructors are properly qualified. The enforcement of traffic offences—and riding a bike illegally is a traffic offence—is an operational matter for the police.

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My Lords, there will be obvious concern about the effect of the proposed abolition of Cycling England on safety. Perhaps the Minister will wish to comment on that. Apart from the wearing of the helmet, a number of measures can of course be taken to reduce deaths and serious injuries among pedal cyclists. Local government plays a fundamental role in that area. Assuming that it will still have sufficient staff numbers in future to enable it to play a continuing, meaningful role in road safety, what assessment did the Department for Transport make of the impact on making further improvements in road safety for pedal cyclists of the future removal of the ring-fencing of nearly all local authority revenue grants, at a time when local authority budgets are being reduced? Did the Department for Transport make such an assessment at all and, if so, what did it show?

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I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to explain the situation regarding Cycling England. The noble Lord will remember that the Bikeability project is part of Cycling England. The functions of Cycling England will be absorbed into the Department for Transport. However, the Bikeability project will continue. Funding for it is available until at least the end of this Parliament. As for the issue of local authorities, we believe in localism but it is inconceivable that they will not promote bicycling, because of its obvious benefits.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments on the health benefits of cycling which, as he said, far outweigh any risks in a ratio of 20:1. Does he agree that any siren calls for making helmet wearing compulsory should be resisted, particularly in view of the evidence that in Australia, when helmet wearing was made compulsory, some 30 per cent or more of regular cycle users stopped riding their bikes?

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My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord’s comments. We have no intention of making the wearing of helmets compulsory because it can be extremely difficult to enforce with the youngsters who are our targets. If we can get youngsters to wear helmets from an early age, we hope that they will carry on wearing them as adults. Wearing rates are, slowly but surely, increasing and we have no plans to interfere with that process.

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My Lords, this question is about brain injuries and deaths. I am sure the Minister will agree that rehabilitation units that treat those who have been injured can make the difference between new life and living death for those people hurt and their families. Will the Minister, although he is a transport Minister, convey to his health colleagues the need to ensure that specialist units dealing with those with brain injury are protected in the reconstructed health service?

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My Lords, I take on board the noble Baroness’s point about brain injuries. They are devastating and often mean that the victim can no longer take a full part in society. Obviously I answer for Her Majesty’s Government, and I shall raise the noble Baroness’s point with health Ministers.