Wiggins in trouble for backing compulsory cycling helmets

Aug 2, 2012

Critics hit out at Olympic champion cyclist after he is forced to take position in controversial debate

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EDITOR'S UPDATE, 3 AUGUST: Since this item was posted, Bradley Wiggins has clarified his comments, saying: "I haven't called for helmets to be made the law as reports suggest. I suggested it may be the way to go to give cyclists more protection legally [if] involved in an accident. I wasn't on me soap box CALLING, [I] was asked what I thought."

A DAY after becoming the UK's greatest cyclist by topping his Tour de France victory with a gold medal in the Olympic time trial, Bradley Wiggins has risked alienating many of his fans by arguing that it should be compulsory for riders to wear helmets.

Wiggins had just sat down to give a press conference following his crushing victory in the time trial when news came through that a 28-year-old male cyclist had been killed by a double-decker bus carrying journalists to the Olympic park.

Asked about the crash, Wiggins said the government should be "legalising helmets to make them the law to wear", the Daily Mail reports.

"Ultimately, if you get knocked off and you don't have a helmet on, then you can't argue," he said. "You can get killed if you don't have a helmet on."

It is not yet known whether the cyclist killed yesterday was wearing a helmet, but a witness later said the victim had been dragged under the wheels of the bus - suggesting a helmet would have been unlikely to have saved his life.

Wiggins went on to suggest that if laws were passed to require certain safety standards of cyclists they would be in a better position to blame the motorist in the event of an accident: "You shouldn't be riding along with iPods and phones and things on. You have lights on. Once there are laws passed for cyclists then you are protected and you can say, 'Well, I have done everything to be safe'."

The gold medalist went on: "There are a lot of things that need to be addressed with cycling at the moment on the roads. Things can't continue the way that they are, everybody knows that."

Wiggins has cycled on London's streets for many years and considers it a "dangerous" place for cyclists. He admits to having been knocked off his bike several times.

The compulsory wearing of bicycle helmets is a highly controversial issue. In Australia, cyclists who fail to wear a helmet have faced a fine since the early 1990s. Studies conducted there on the benefits of wearing helmets have been inconclusive. Critics have pointed out that even if it could be proved that the number of head injuries did fall, helmet compulsion puts people off cycling, which is bad for the health of the population.

Cycling charity CTC took to Twitter to call Wiggins's view on helmets "misguided" and added: "Mandatory helmets would not be helpful - everyday cycling would collapse and there would be no change in driver attitude or behaviour."

Chris Peck, CTC's Policy Coordinator, told Radio 5: "Making cycle helmets compulsory would be likely to have an overall damaging effect on public health, since the health benefits of cycling massively outweigh the risks and we know that, where enforced, helmet laws tend to lead to an immediate reduction in cycling.

"Two-thirds of collisions between adult cyclists and motor vehicles are deemed by police to be the responsibility of the motorist. Any legislation should put the onus on those who cause the harm, not the victims."

Transport journalist Christian Wolmar also criticised the Olympic champion on Twitter: "Oh dear Bradley Wiggins has got it badly wrong on helmets.
Would be deterrent and not necessarily safer."

However, there is also plenty of sympathy for Wiggins, with tweeters pointing out he was "jumped on" after having just won his gold medal and that he was in a no-win situation, since if he had made the opposite argument, it would have been just as controversial.

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While I admire Bradley Wiggins as an outstanding athlete, his off the cuff comments about helmets should be withdrawn. He's an athlete not a road safety expert, and helmets have never been shown to reduce risk to cyclists.

Bradley has become the greatest cyclist from our shores but already the adulation has gone to his head and he feels the need to make glib and uneducated calls for laws restricting those who want to participate in the activity he has graced.

There is no evidence that helmets will reduce the amount of injuries and deaths and it's naive to think a piece of polystyrene will make you invincible against a bus or lorry. There is actually evidence to show helmets can sometimes make you less safe and drivers will also give wearers less of a wide berth.

I'm sure there are times when pedestrians are killed that could have been prevented by wearing a bike helmet but that does not mean we should make them compulsory by law - sounds ridiculous? For those that cycle it sounds ridiculous too.

By all means have a campaign to encourage people to wear helmets but I'm sure we'd reduce deaths more by promoting safer cycling and cracking down on bad driving - which is often abysmal these days. All a helmet law will do is reduce deaths by massively reducing the number of cyclists on the road.

Can you imagine it? "I think I'll cycle down to the shop for a paper. Oh, can't find my helmet, better just drive."

Bradley was quite right, and by running articles like this we perpetuate the idea that it is okay not to wear a helmet. I would be interested to read the research that has produced the stats referred to by the CTC. I cycle in London and the vast majority of cyclists already wear helmets. I also work in a nursery where many children who scoot to school wear helmets. Good publicity and education have already contributed to a huge shift in attitude towards cycle safety and this should be supported not undermined. Wearing a helmet will clearly not protect cyclists from the most severe accidents, but the action of putting one on - along with a high viability vest at night - ensures that cyclists contribute to their safety. Cycling is a great sport, a great way to commute and it's fun....why would people think wearing a helmet would change it?

Yes. Everyone on the roads in open transport should. Wear helmets. Surely its for their own safety. Are cyclist's that "thick" they have to be forced to wear them?

What's really sad is the fact that making wearing a helmet compulsory puts people off cycling.

After a friend's son was brain damaged by being knocked off of his cycle by a car, I'm inclined to support such a law... except that academic surveys in Bristol (which is where the accident happened) have shown fairly clearly that wearing a helmet - or not - reflects in the behaviour of car drivers. The space given to cyclists by drivers is SMALLER when the cyclist is wearing a helmet. For male cyclists, anyway: drivers give female cyclists a much wider berth than males, I conclude that a long blonde wig worn under a helmet might be significantly more effective as a life saver than a "skid lid" alone.

Commonsense says that you should do all you can to protect yourself. I have been in favour of helmet laws and the enforcement of lighting laws for many years. The timing was controversial not the statement but it was a journalist that introduced it.

Why should he withdraw? I doubt that any of the people commenting here are expert either. Many so called experts are not reliable as they often just present the evidence to support one side or another of the argument.
I am old enough to remember the introduction of laws on seat belts and even drink driving (yes that old) and the fuss there was by tho opposed to the change. I remain to be convinced that opposition to helmets doesn't fall into that category.

To those that say helmets don't work, ask yopurself why the pros wear them in road racing!

The Governments of the world had no trouble making helmets mandatory for motorcyclists, so why should cyclists be any different? - And before people start going on about speed differentials etc:, the majority of M/cycle accidents happen in town at less than 30 mph, with the rider hitting their head on the ground, or the other vehicle.

Again like cyclists, 80-90% of collisions (note NOT accidents) are caused by car drivers turning in front of the rider, into a side road, or pulling out at a junction in front of the bike. No amount of safety gear and day-glow clothing will prevent the crash, but you can wear equipment that will prevent or reduce injury. Yes I ride a m/cycle, and a pushie, and I wear a helmet on both.

No mention of the fact that Mr. Wiggins was wondering around on his bike ("probably looking for family" said the commentators) without his helmet on after winning his recent gold medal?

It is compulsory in Australia and I think it should be here

I can never understand why wearing a helmet would put people off of cycling...death doesn't seem to deter them!

If Bradley Wiggins makes the point that they are needed, who are any of you to think you are in a better position to judge. Freedom of speech allows him to voice his position and I personally think it is a voice that should be listened to...on this subject.

If anyone wants to criticise Bradley Wiggins they are most likely the ones who ride pushbikes down the road without helmets on. I myself have been a cyclist since I was a young boy and have been knocked off when i didn't have a helmet on. I ended up with a cracked skull and now have a scar on my head. I can relate exactly to what he's saying. If I had my helmet on then, I wouldn't have the scar on my head. Making it compulsory definitely should happen, and well done to Wiggins for standing up for it. After all, it's the safety of cyclists he is trying to promote. While it is true the motorists are normally at fault for reckless driving and lack of respect for cyclists, cyclists have no leg to stand on if they don't have safety gear on.

Dear Jet, you appear to be misinformed on just about every aspect of cycling and helmets. Regular cyclists live longer than average, so it's more dangerous not to ride a bike than to ride one. Bradley Wiggins is an exceptional athlete, but he isn't an expert in road safety, and while I'd happily listen to his opinions about road racing, his opinions about helmets are irrelevant. I've spent 30 years looking at the evidence on helmets, so yes, I am in a better position to judge.

And what happened in Australia when they introduced the law?

Did cycling suddenly become safer? No. There was a drop in the number of cyclists hospitalised, but the fall in the number of cyclists because of the law was greater, so cycling became more dangerous.

Since cycling confers such huge health benefits, and helmets cannot be shown to have any benefits, helmet laws, by reducing the number of cyclists, are a massive cost to the public health. Australia is now one of the most obese nations on earth.

The pros wear helmets for two reasons: it's the rules and they get paid to wear them.

The governments of the world did indeed have no difficulty bringing in motorcycle helmet laws, but there is no clear evidence that they have made motorcycling safer. When introduced in this country, there was a significant reduction in the number of motorcyclists dying, but only between the hours of 2200 and 0200, so unless helmets became magically effective late at night, the cause of that reduction was something else. Co-incidentally, the breathalyser law was introduced at the same time and is a much more likely reason for the fall in deaths.

Nowhere with a helmet law can show any reduction in risk to cyclists. Such laws have two demonstrable effects: a reduction in the number of cyclists and obscene profits for the manufacturers, there is no safety benefit.

Regular cyclists live longer and are fitter, slimmer and healthier than the general population, so by deterring some people from cycling, helmet laws and promotion are a public health own goal.

In the middle of an obesity epidemic which will reduce life expectancy and quality of life of millions, and another report last week highlighting the costs of failing to exercise, helmet laws and propaganda are literally insane.

A compulsory helmet law would be a very, very bad idea, it would put people off cycling and there is a large debate about the effectiveness of cycle helmets anyway. To me, it's a cheap way of making cycling 'safer' (mainly by reducing cycling rates) rather than tackling the main problem by creating decent, safe cycling infrastructure, such as that found in the Netherlands. Coincidently, the Dutch cycle more than any other country and barely anyone wears helmets there, yet their road fatality rate (cyclists and drivers) is one of the lowest in the world. In conclusion, large motorised vehicles are the problem, not cycling.

It's sad that someone cares more about the look of the helmet than the purpose it serves. I don't cycle much - but when I do, I would always wear a helmet, the kids aren't allowed on their bikes without helmets. Why? I work in brain injury rehab and I see the effects of head injuries on a daily basis. A helmet may save your life, but it may also stop your life being irrevocably altered by a brain injury.

Before anyone condemns the compulsory use of helmets they should spend some time with those who have suffered brain injury as a result of not wearing one.

It would be same as driving car - look at effect of compulsory seat-belt wearing - hardly anyone drives now do they?

Yes, the pros in motor car racing wear them too. But I have yet to see any mum put one on herself and the kids when they climb into the family car for an outing.

Although people on motorcycles might do 30mph in towns, the machine can do way more than that elsewhere. Human-powered bicycles cannot (Wiggins averaged 32mph; you and I do about 10).
If safety is the goal, then why stop at demanding just people on bicycles wear them? There's many more people that die from head injuries in cars than on bicycles.

Please, do wear a helmet if you feel you or your children benefit but don't demand that I do for misguided reasons.


I know someone who survived falling down the stairs many times and had just a slight headache and a bruised ego.

And I am sure there are plenty of people that know of a person who has been in a car crash.

Personal antedotes are not arguments for or against something. Only research across a population is useful in determining effectiveness.
We do this for drug trials and we can do this for transport policy too. In every drug study there are very likely to be individuals who react badly but even so across the sample as a whole there may be enough benefit to warrant the drug being made available.


It was also thought that by introducing ABS brakes on cars that there would be a reduction in car crashes. I believe there wasn't, because people changed their behaviour in the knowledge that they were more 'protected'.

Read Wiggins words: "There are **a lot** of things that need to be addressed with cycling at the moment on the roads."

One of the things to be done is to create appropriate infrastructure - in some places this means separate bicycle paths, in others it means 20mph limits, and most importantly it means every person having respect for all other people using the roads.

We are people. Not labels like cyclist, motorist, pedestrian...


Every car has built-in seat belts - you don't have to bring along your own.

The dangers of a motorised, fast-moving vehicle are proven. The safety of a human powered, slow-moving bicycle is also proven; To say nothing of the cost saving on our health services due to less obesity and coronary heart issues (and less need to send fire crews to rescue people injured in car crashes).


It is a small sample size out of the larger population.

Have you spent time with people who have suffered brain injury as a result of not wearing one when driving a car that crashed? Those people would be easier to find. Sadly.


I am sorry to hear of your injury. Helmets are only rated for protection from a fall, not being crashed into so it is unlikely that having had one on would have helped protect you. Maybe it would have. Don't know.

Do you support making it compulsory for people going for a walk, driving in their cars, or going down stairs to wear helmets too?


How many of your patients were injured due to falling off of a bicycle? Or being in a car crash?

The cases you see are genuinely upsetting, and more should be done to make the roads safer for all people using them. What is the most effective way?


Unless we're statisticians we should steer clear of the stats used in the media, government, and even cycling bodies etc - they pick out what they need to support their particular argument. All I know is...I've got a soft head and a car is very hard...and so is the pavement...and so is a forest floor with roots sticking out. I wear shoes to protect my feet, I wear a helmet to protect my head. If we follow the argument through mentioned by some fellow cyclists about 'changes in behaviour' when laws are changed - well , we wouldn't have any new laws going through for much would we. Are we also presuming cyclists are more reckless when they wear helmets? We seem to be using the stats to argue a lot of unhelpful things about motorists...accidents don't happen when a motorist gives 1cm less leeway for a male cyclist than a female....they happen by ACCIDENT. All we can do is be prepared. Drivers have airbags (now compulsory despite initial worries re chest impact)....what do we have? Helmets!

If you want to talk bibycles you **have** to go have a look in Amsterdam. Big traffic, lots of bicycles, hardly any injuries or death. And when it does happen, it is not preventible by a helmet. I can only imagine how much less people would cycle having to use a stupid helmet.

What you need to look at is bicycle friendly roads

And after 30 years you still disagree with all medical professionals, doctors, paramedics, ambulance crews, that helmets save lives or would have if having been worn in a worst case scenario. You say you've studied this for 30 years, if so show some of this proof to us that says you are better off in an accident, when you smash your head against a car or the road, if you aren't wearing a safety helmet!

Apologies for late replies but I had a puncture on my PC.