should my child wear a bike helmet?

In writing this article we risk dividing parents, safety experts, cyclists, non-cyclists and everyone else.  Whether or not to wear a helmet as an adult is a hot topic, and emotions run very high whenever it is mentioned.  Add kids safety into the mix, and it gets extremely contentious.  But, there really is no simple right or wrong answer to the question “should my child wear a bike helmet?”

Should my child wear a bike helmet?Many column inches and website pages have been devoted to the question of whether cycle helmets improve safety or not. We do not intend to replicate them all here.

We believe that each parent must make the choice for their family as to whether or not helmet wearing is compulsory. We also believe you should be able to make an informed decision, with the full facts of the arguments both for and against.

Should my child wear a bike helmet?

As parents, we understand that sometimes, (only sometimes??) your darling offspring will not do as you want. If you decide that the answer to the question “should my child wear a bike helmet?” is “Yes”, and junior will not comply, then you need to ask yourself how strict you will be in enforcing a ‘no cycling’ ban until they do.  It goes without saying you will need to be 100% compliant yourself.

A very brief summary of the pro’s and con’s of wearing a cycle helmet is given below, with details of where to go for more information.  We hope this helps you make an informed decision.

Please note, that if you live in a location outside the UK where helmet wearing is legally compulsory, then this article does not apply.

the argument for why kids should wear cycle helmets

  • Some evidence, used by the pro-helmet lobby, shows that helmets have  been effective in reducing potential injury to a young cyclist’s head/brain in the event of a fall or impact with an object.
  • Brain injury is devastating and we believe it is not worth leaving it to chance – Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust
  • Helmets are best suited to providing protection during low speed impacts. As a child is learning to ride, this is precisely the type of fall they are likely to have

If you asked these people “should my child wear a bike helmet?” the answer would be a resounding “Yes!”

Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust
Royal Society for the Protection of Accidents (RoSPA)
Child Accident Prevention Trust
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

the argument against compulsory use of bike helmets

There is no law in the UK saying children, or anyone else for that matter, must wear a cycle helmet. There are numerous arguements about why it should not be necessary to wear a bike helmet:

  • Helmets are part of the culture of “cotton wool parenting”, and this makes children believe cycling is a risky activity
  • Few people in The Netherlands, where cycling is a mainstream transport choice, wear a helmet
  • Rather than putting the emphasis on cyclists to protect themselves by wearing a helmet, our politicians and transport planners should be providing a cycling infrastructure that is safe for all to use
  • All evidence to support the pro-helmet lobby can be argued against, in terms of relevancy and accuracy
  • The benefits of cycling in terms of improved health and better life expectancy, out weigh the risks from not wearing a helmet
  • Risk compensation – riding a helmet may cause riskier behaviour, as the rider feels protected

If you asked the following group of people “should my child wear a bike helmet?” you’d get a more complex answer.  The links have much more information about the limited benefits of wearing cycle helmets, and right of individuals to make an informed decision about whether to use a bike helmet.

National Children’s Bureau
CTC – The UK’s national cyclists’ organisation
Bicycle Helmet Reseach Foundation
Road Danger Reduction Forum
Cyclists Rights Action Group (Australian site)

Finally, for those of you who’ve inadvertently waded into this, and didn’t realise what a contentious area it was, here are a few articles and threads to bring you up to speed:

Cycle helmets – a hard case to crack – BBC website
The helmet debate rumbles on in the mainstream media – Singletrack forum
Great Australian helmet debate continues to rage – road cc
Bike helmet call for cyclists triggers fierce web debate– thisisdorset

 Should my child wear a bike helmet? – the verdict

The answer to this question (if you live in the UK, or anywhere else where it isn’t compulsory), is that the decision is entirely up to you.  The evidence for the pros and cons of wearing bike helmets is there for all to see.

“Should my child wear a bike helmet?” is just one of the many difficult questions we as parents face. Each of us will come to our own conclusion, for our own personal reasons.

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