A leading neurosurgeon in the UK recently claimed that cyclists who wear helmets are wasting their time.
Henry Marsh of the St George’s Hospital in Tooting, London, said that many of his patients who have been involved in bike accidents have been wearing helmets that were ‘too flimsy’ to be beneficial.
He cited evidence from the University of Bath that suggests that wearing a helmet may even put cyclists at greater risk. The research showed that drivers tend to move closer to cyclists who wear helmets because they perceive them as safer.
He said: “I ride a bike and I never wear a helmet. In the countries where bike helmets are compulsory there has been no reduction in bike injuries whatsoever.
I see lots of people in bike accidents and these flimsy little helmets don’t help.”
Marsh says he’s been riding a bike for 40 years, wearing a cowboy hat, and has only fallen off once.
“I have been cycling for 40 years and have only been knocked off once. I wear a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. I look completely mad."
According to statistics, cyclists travel approximately 3.1 billion miles per year in the UK, with lights and reflectors being mandatory after dark. But, helmets are not compulsory in the UK, unlike in Australia and parts of the US, yet the government encourages cyclists to wear one.
Research conducted by Dr Ian Walker, a professor of traffic psychology at the University of Bath, showed that motorists drove around 8cm closer when overtaking cyclists with helmets.
His research suggests, that drivers think that cyclists wearing helmets are more "sensible, predicable and experienced", and therefore the driver doesn’t need to give them much space when passing.
In addition, his study suggest that cyclists nit wearing helmets, especially women, are less "predictable and experienced", so motorists tend to give them more room.
However, Marsh’s comments are more likely to anger cycling safety campaigners, than Walker’s study, who believe that helmets provide essential protection in accidents.
James Cracknell, a British Olympic gold medalist, was struck and nearly killed by a large truck while cycling in 2010.
Afterwards, he said that he only survived the accident because he was wearing a helmet, and has described those who do not wear one as "foolish" and "selfish" regarding family and loved ones around them.
"From a personal point of view I would be dead if I hadn’t worn a helmet," he said. "A wing mirror smashed into my skull at 70mph.
"There is no downside to wearing a helmet except having messy hair. And you have to remember that eight out of ten kids who have cycling accidents are not on the road.
"Even if you don’t care enough about yourself to wear a helmet other people care about you."
A small study with Britain’s Department of Transport showed that helmets could prevent 10-16 per cent of cyclist fatalities.
Angie Lee, Chief Executive of the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust said:
“I hope he is going to take responsibility for the cyclist who gets injured because they take their helmet off following his comments.
“This may be his opinion but there are a lot more neurosurgeons and surgeons who would counter that argument.
“My advice would be the same as the Department of Transport’s which is that helmets have a place in protecting the head.”
Marsh, who retires in March, also admitted jumping red lights to get ahead of the traffic.
“It’s my life at risk,” he said, ‘So I regularly cross over red lights.”
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