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Cycling: Helmets

Volume 756: debated on Thursday 23 October 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to legislate that cyclists must wear helmets.

My Lords, the Government take cycle safety very seriously. We have no plans to legislate to make cyclists wear cycle helmets. However, we encourage their use by all cyclists, especially children. We believe that this should remain a matter of individual choice rather than imposing additional regulations which would be difficult to enforce.

I thank my noble friend. However, if cyclists wore helmets, would they not be more visible and certainly safer? Can we also persuade them not to ride on pavements? Is my noble friend aware that recently, on a crossing outside the House, I hit a cyclist on the back because he did not stop and his friends behind shouted, “Well done—why didn’t you hit him harder”?

I think we can all agree that my noble friend is a force of nature inside this Chamber and, based on what I have just heard, outside it as well. There is an important point, however. Although the police have a role to play in enforcing the law, we need everyone to play their part to ensure that all road users and pedestrians respect each other. If we had more people with the courage and decency of my noble friend, the world would be a better place.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness. I would not like to meet her when on my bike on a dark night. However, she is absolutely right and so is the Minister. Does he agree that the answer to both encouraging more cycling and making it safer is to give real, regular investment to cycling over the whole country? A sum of £10 per person per year may be a very small proportion of the road budget but there would be more discipline and space and a much better environment to cycle in.

The noble Lord makes an important point and I agree with it. We want to make cycling safe, to encourage more cycling. Last week, a cycling delivery plan was released and was discussed and debated in the other House. It is our ideal aspiration to spend £10. We currently spend £5 per person, compared with £2 in the previous Parliament, so we are continuing to spend more money for safety and more cycling.

My Lords, Dr Hugh Jackson, a Newcastle paediatrician, fronted a major national campaign seeking to persuade the Government of the day that children cycling on public roads should be required by law to wear helmets. He produced some alarming statistics about the incidence of head injuries, many of which could have been prevented—and the children spared the results—by wearing helmets. Is it not time to re-examine this whole issue?

My Lords, cycling helmets reduce the impact of a collision; they do not prevent collisions. The report mentioned by the noble Lord concluded that cycle helmets would be effective in many accidents but their effectiveness depends on a range of factors such as whether it was a fall or a collision with a vehicle and what object was struck by the road.

My Lords, there are very few cyclists, certainly in London, who do not now wear helmets. However, could the Government publish statistics of the number of serious and fatal injuries caused by people not wearing them? On the other hand, will the Minister also bear in mind that if legislation did make it compulsory there would almost certainly be a considerable reduction in the use of Barclays bikes, particularly by tourists, which would be a disadvantage to the general well-being of London?

My Lords, the Government do produce figures on people wearing, or not wearing, helmets. About 18% of children do wear helmets. It is therefore important to work to avoid accidents in the first place and make cycling safer through redesigning junctions, increasing awareness, training cyclists and motorists and encouraging cyclists to take simple steps such as wearing high-visibility clothing and helmets.

The noble Lord will recognise the importance of cycle safety. If we are to encourage people to use bikes more, particularly for commuting into our cities and towns, we have got to make things safer. Yet when it came to the question of resources, raised by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, the Minister evaded the issue, as did his counterpart in the Commons after a major debate two weeks ago. Do the Government not recognise that to make cycling safe, expenditure is necessary? It does not have to be a great deal, but expenditure is necessary and it would behove the Government to respond to this. On a personal note, cycling down the River Lea for seven miles most mornings I always think that the safety device I need is not a helmet but water wings.

My Lords, let me take the question of expenditure first. The previous Government spent £2 per person; currently, we are spending £5; in our eight cycling cities we are spending £10. We have our cycling delivery plan and the final report will be published. It is our aspiration to spend £10, or even more, by 2020-21. We want to see more cyclists on our roads.

My Lords, we must do more to protect the lives of cyclists but there is a serious point about protecting pedestrians as well. Will my noble friend look at the level of penalties and demand that the police take enforcement action against that small minority of arrogant Lycra louts who sail through red traffic lights as if the law does not apply to them, belt down the pavement and scatter pedestrians, and mow down some people on zebra crossings, including some people in wheelchairs—so I declare a personal interest?

My Lords, the enforcement of cycling offences is an operational matter for individual chief officers of police. Officers can issue verbal warnings or a fixed penalty—which has increased from £30 to £50—and rogue cyclists on the pavement can be prosecuted. We are doing what we can to carry out the necessary training and awareness programmes to make sure that bad cyclists do not give a bad name to the good cyclists.

My Lords, given that winter is approaching quickly, does the Minister agree that, apart from safety helmets, high-visibility jackets and proper lighting are among the most important elements of cycling safety? Having to drive through London in rush hour is a menace for everybody.

My Lords, we are taking action through redesigning junctions, creating awareness and training cyclists—all of which is taking place with Transport for London and the Mayor of London as well.