Donohoe rules out making cycle helmets compulsory

Cyclists without helmets are three times more likely to suffer head trauma, study finds

Paschal Donohoe said making helmets compulsory would have an “instant and very negative effect” on city bicycle schemes being rolled out across the country. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Paschal Donohoe said making helmets compulsory would have an “instant and very negative effect” on city bicycle schemes being rolled out across the country. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

There are no plans to make cycle helmets compulsory though they are proven to reduce serious injury, Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has said.

Such a measure would have an “instant and very negative effect” on city bicycle schemes being rolled out across the country, he stated.

However, Mr Donohoe encouraged all cyclists to wear helmets citing evidence that helmets can reduce serious head injuries if a cyclist is struck by a car at less than 50km/h.

Research in Canada found cyclists who did not wear a helmet were almost three times more likely to suffer severe head trauma in a crash.

Director of the National Spinal Injuries Unit Seamus Morris said a third of all cyclists visiting emergency departments do so with head injuries.

Speaking at the Road Safety Authority (RSA) annual academic road safety lecture, he cited a Cochrane paper that reviewed all the worldwide evidence in relation to cycling injuries.

It showed conclusively that cycle helmets improve road safety for cyclists. The importance of wearing a cycling helmet “cannot be underestimated. That’s what all the medical evidence suggests, no question about it.”

Mr Morris said it would made sense to make cycle helmets compulsory, but enforcement might be difficult especially in relation to the city bikes schemes.

He told the conference, which is part of Road Safety Week, there was a “complete mismatch” between cyclists accounting for only 2 per cent of all road users, but 8 per cents of all injured.

Spinal injuries

There had been a three-fold increase in spinal injuries over the last five years in the Mater hospital, reflecting the huge increase in the number of cyclists on the roads.

The profile of injured cyclists is overwhelmingly men aged 25-50. The phenomenon of “middle-aged men in lycra” is very apparent in cycling injury statistics, he stated. “They tend to be travelling at higher speeds.”

Cyclists over the age of 50 have a 40 per cent greater chance of an injury.

Some 83 per cent of cycling accidents occur when there is a vehicle such as a car or a lorry involved. This is higher than the international average, a fact Mr Morris suggests may be down to underreporting of falls from bicycles in Ireland.

The number of cyclists involved in serious incidents spiked from 390 in 2011 to 652 in 2012, the last year for which figures are available.

This reflects the large increase in the number of cyclists who are now cycling on Irish roads since the introduction of the Cycle to Work scheme in 2009. Last year more bicycles (95,000) were sold in Ireland than cars (91,732).

Prof Michael Gilchrist, the head of UCD’s school of mechanical engineering, stated that there is compelling evidence that cycle helmets make a difference if a cyclist is hit by a car travelling at less than 50km/h but the difference when motorists are travelling at over 50km/h is “minimal”.

He told the conference there were 12 PhD students across Europe working on ways to make the cycle helmet safer.