The Cycle Helmet and Liability.

Cyclists, it seems, are now facing the same phenomenon so well recognised by their motor driven counterparts for some while now; contributory liability. Helen Pidd comments:

To the millions of sensible cyclists in the UK who don’t wear a helmet: why not? Is it because you’ve assessed the evidence and concluded there simply isn’t the proof that one will protect you in the event of a life endangering collision? Do you believe the research which has shown that motorists drive more recklessly around helmeted cyclists than those without? Perhaps you simply object to wearing something that gets between the wind and your hair as you freewheel down the hill.

Back in the early seventies, motorcyclists were having the same arguments. Sure, hitting your head on the tarmac at speed – even relatively low speed – is likely to prove fatal and wearing a helmet may mitigate this. Unfortunately, you will probably be brain damaged or die anyway from multiple organ injuries. So what is the point? For motorcyclists, the point (well, for me anyway) is comfort. It keeps the wind and the flying insects out of my face. So legally required or not, I would always wear one. Still, as cyclists are now finding out, those culpable of causing an accident will seek any means possible to reduce the cost to themselves and there is now a precedent that will aid them in doing so:

Well, thanks to a knuckle-gnawingly ludicrous judgment from the high court, carrying on as you are might just cost you dearly. From now on, if you have the misfortune to be mown down by a speeding vehicle and are not wearing a helmet when the paramedics scrape you from the road, you could be held partially liable – even if there is no doubt in the world that it wasn’t your fault.

For this scarcely believable truth we can look to one Mr Justice Griffith Williams, who has concluded that cyclists who suffer head injuries when not wearing a helmet may not be entitled to full compensation if it can be shown that a helmet would have reduced or prevented their injuries.

There you have it. Welcome, cyclists, to the world that has erstwhile been inhabited by motorcyclists. Don’t ride with a dipped beam on during daylight hours? Partially culpable (failure to abide by Highway Code rules can be used against you), despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that this will have any mitigating effect in a potential accident situation. Not wearing a neck brace? Not wearing one of those new airbag jackets? Well, you had it coming, didn’t you? So, cyclists who choose not to wear a helmet (and I don’t), you, too, are partially culpable despite the fault being someone else’s. In this case, ironically, the fault was a motorcyclist’s…

This, as the fine national cyclists’ association, the CTC has pointed out, is madness. Being a helmet refusenik is not the cause of most brain-threatening accidents sustained by cyclists. Careless motorists are.

Indeed. Motorcyclists have been saying this for decades. Welcome to the club. And, before anyone makes the expected comment; motorcyclists don’t generally make a habit of ignoring traffic signs or jumping red lights – that is  contributory negligence in the event of an accident. Some carry out the most atrocious weaving through moving traffic and that, too, is contributory negligence if they get knocked off.

The other big flaw with the judgment is that Williams didn’t really take into account any evidence of the efficiency of cycle helmets, particularly in high speed, high impact collisions. No one has proved those silly Sars-style facemasks work either, but what if a judge ruled that cyclists were putting themselves at risk of respiratory problems by not wearing one?

Oh, now come on! You don’t really want evidence, facts and reality to get in the way do you?

Of course, there’s always the idiot factor as the comments to this piece demonstrate:

Can’t they just pass a law that you need to wear a helmet if you cycle on the road?

Is it that big a deal?

Yes, it is a big deal. We do not need a cycle helmet law any more than we needed a motorcycle helmet law. It should be a matter for the individual to decide, having weighed up the risks. But, then, the righteous don’t do individual responsibility. It’s the Groan after all, I should expect no less.


Update: Okay, I sort of expected comments regaling me with the heinous crimes committed by cyclists on the roads. Yes, I know all about it; I’ve witnessed enough myself. Please, that is not the point of this discussion, so if you would be so kind, lay off the “they jump red lights, they don’t obey the Highway Code, they don’t have lights fitted… ad nauseum” because those things are, indeed, contributory negligence. Consequently, I’m really not that interested. This discussion is about the freedom of the individual to make assessments of risk and act accordingly without the state getting involved – and, indeed, whether common law principles have been applied appropriately in this case. i.e. is failing to wear a helmet contributory negligence?


  1. Why the implication it is the motorists or others fault?at least you did admit grudgingly to a motorcyclist being responsible.Ive seen far more dangerous driving from cyclist both pedal and motor.The worse one is swinging out around a parked vehicle without looking behind.,and your never stopped for having no lights.Then there is dodging cyclists going full pelt on pavements,dare to remonstrate and just listen the the abuse.All of these are wearing helmets too.
    I am a pedestrian by the way.

  2. There was nothing grudging about my comment – it was a simple acknowledgement of fact; that in this instance the other vehicle was a motorcycle is unusual, that is all.

    I expected this type of comment, frankly… And it has nothing to do with the point being discussed, though, has it? Which is why I forestalled such digressions (unsuccessfully, it would appear) by making the comment that I did.

    Yes, I know that there are cyclists who do not abide by the Highway Code and in such instances, they are most certainly guilty of contributory negligence.

    As for fault generally, the vast majority of motorcycle accidents involve vehicles pulling into the path of a motorcyclist where the rider has priority – “I didn’t see you” being the usual excuse proffered.

    We are all pedestrians at some point. So what?

    Oh, and incidentally…

    and your never stopped for having no lights.

    What makes you think that any of my vehicles are less than roadworthy? 😐

  3. And in logical progression, you will be considered to have contributed to your injuries if shot while not wearing protective body armour and/or helmet.
    Of course, wearing protective body armour and/or helmet will be seen as terrorist activity, with the consequence that you are targeted by security services.

  4. Further “The Economic Voice”, I note that helmets are required for racing/rally driving in cars- perhaps we should have compulsory helmets for car drivers as well?

  5. Motorcycle headlights – you know the H/C doesn’t actually say you should use headlights in daylight? It says “Dipped headlights, even in good daylight, may also make you more conspicuous.” I know of several ROWV incidents that the rider did not have headlights on that have borne no relation to the outcome of the incident.

  6. Weasel words, I’m afraid. The advice is there and failure to observe it could be used against you. That has always been the case with such advice in the Highway Code. It isn’t law, but…

    That there have been incidents where the party at fault has not sought to mitigate doesn’t mean that they cannot or indeed at some point will not.

  7. I’m all for it. The more people they bring under their boots the more of us realise what they are like. There are still people out there who just don’t get it.

    Helmets for cyclists, pedestrians and DIY people should be compulsory. Labour will have my vote. 🙂

  8. ref. helmet law in Australia, the result was this:
    (from )

    “The law resulted in the number of head injuries falling by 11% to 21% [2]. However, this was proportionately less than the decline in cycling. The risk of head injury for those who continued to cycle increased.
    Total cyclist hospital admissions have increased steadily since law enforcement despite the large fall in cycle use.
    Before the law, cycling was enjoying a tremendous increase in popularity in Western Australia, growing at 12% per year during the 1980s [7]. The law saw the start of a serious decline.
    Following the helmet law, cycle use in Western Australia fell by 30% or more.”

    in other words, Longrider, the helmet law meant a substantial decrease in cycling. hemets don’t prevent serious head injuries anyway, it might save your scalp in a low-speed tumble, but won’t do any good if you are hit by a car, or knocked flying by a motor vehicle and land at high speed. which is why as a percentage head injuries have increased, since only the hard core fanatics still cycle, helmet or not – due to high mileage (plus the effect of drivers not being as careful around helmeted cyclists) they are more at risk of accident (ie at risk from other drivers)but the low-risk segment have stopped cycling because of the helmet law.

    a cycle helmet law doesn’t work, worsens the situation re. head-injuries, ruins people’s enjoyment of their harmless hobbies, and is illiberal. what are the chances?

  9. This it the law of unexpected consequences. The motorcycle helmet law saw a reduction in deaths due to head injuries but an increase in those left with severe injuries. As I mentioned in the piece, I will always wear a helmet on the motorcycle because I don’t like wind and insects in my face, but I don’t kid myself that it will be much use should I collide with another vehicle – my internal organs don’t have a helmet…

    I don’t wear a helmet on the push bike because I see no real need for one. I started riding when I was about five years old and rode every day to school and during the holidays for long rides out to the Kent coast. I managed perfectly well then without falling off – and that, of course is the nub; it is having an accident that proves fatal. Avoiding it is the key 😉

  10. i agree, the brain will spin round in the head and rip loose at a sudden stop at much over 20mph, a helmet just keeps the mess in. i wear a motorbike helmet and would do so anyway, because a big bee of the bombus genus would put your eye out; a sparrow hit the toe of my boot (on a CB250RS) and ripped off the sole. helmets on bikes are good and sensible. on my pushbike, flies land on me to hitch a lift, or maybe it’s the smell. maximum human running speed, 15mph, is what i cycle at (fat bastard on 3-speed BSA folder) so i don’t need a helmet, and don’t really want to be told to wear one. a helmet on a bicycle – IF they are made compulsory! – will be the badge of a slave, someone who is told what to do by the State. smokers standing in the cold when there is a cosy fire and the landlord who owns the premises can’t smoke either, that’s not enough, let’s dictate to people who keep themselves healthy by exercising as they travel. france is the place to be.

  11. france is the place to be.

    Indeed it is. No one cares very much what we do. And although most people around here have push-bikes, I’ve yet to see anyone wearing a helmet.

  12. we were in Fance in 2006 and 2007, on holiday. the traditional village markets typified the French. the people left not a trace of litter. there were knives on sale of every type, flick-knives the lot. home-made sausages and cheeses. (can we DO that in Britain? just make stuff at home and sell it?) an old man on a moped with a home-made wooden trailer, bringing vegetables to market; no lights, numberplate, mudguards, effective silencer, or helmet. as road-legal as a harrier jump-jet. an Englishman beside me summed it up – “if this was back home that old boy would be fined and his bike would be crushed”. indeed. in Dieppe i saw a young man chase what i thought was a banknote across a carpark on a windy day – it was a piece of litter, which he put in a bin after a hard sprint. civic pride. at every turn the French were polite and helpful. when i asked for directions at a cafe/pub village shop (we were running late for our flight home) a man, perceiving the difficulty, got into his car and asked us to follow him as he drove through the back-roads for about 6km until we reached a roundabout and he indicated the correct turnoff with a friendly wave. in Toulouse a man ran out of his shop because i had just bought a hat which he had forgotten was on offer, he gave me my change in the street after i had left the shop.
    the environment was extraordinary, old houses carefully preserved and lived-in by ordinary people, wildlife diverse and abundant; crickets chirped, lizards sunned themselves on walls, there were butterflies of many kinds, frogs croaked along the riverbank at dusk. the hedges buzzed with the noise of insect life, i noticed the comparative silence back in UK. the roads were magnficent, well-surfaced and all but empty (i’m a biker) the scenery was wonderful, the people were slim and fit-looking, well-dressed smart and attractive. the women had that something, i don’t know what it is, ha ha. even the unattractive ones somehow weren’t. the quality of life, the chill-out factor, the distinct lack of night-time chavs, spides, neds and yobboes. a V1 flying bomb on it’s ramp, not roped off or behind a fence, in immaculate unvandalised condition. and no CCTV. i saw one small camera in the square at Toulouse, that was it. i suppose East Germans felt something similar when they escaped over the berlin Wall.
    at the time my house could have been sold and would have got me a fine dwelling, maybe not a Norman half-timbered farmhouse but not a kick in the arse off it. now i could just about pay off my mortgage, with enough left over to buy that old boy’s motobecane and his trailer of courgettes.
    i wouldn’t say that every morning i awake with a cry of horror because i am not French or in France, but I think about France every day. anyone who has emigrated has done the right thing. i can’t wait to return. i wish i’d taken more photos, as i’m starting to forget the details.
    quel dommage.

Comments are closed.