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BMA Cycle Helmet Decision Opposed By Doctors and pro-Cycling Activists


CTC - the UK's national cyclists' organisation

30th June 2005

BMA helmet decision flawed say doctors

The British Medical Association has today delivered a serious blow to the promotion of cycling as a healthy form of transport and recreation, based on an inadequate and unscientific debate, flawed evidence and against views of its own members working in public health according to CTC, the national cyclists' organisation.

The BMA Annual Representatives Meeting (ARM) voted to press for a ban on cycling without a helmet, for people of all ages after a debate lasting only five minutes during which many doctors responsible for public health strategy were not allowed to speak.

Dr Stephen Watkins, chair of the BMA's Transport and Health Working Group and Director of Public Health at Stockport Primary Care Trust, said:

"Almost everywhere cycle helmets have been made compulsory cycling has fallen by 25-40%. The BMA Board of Science's own calculations indicate that, if we could promote cycling as the main mode of transport for journeys under 5 miles, thousands of lives would be saved by reducing heart disease. This contrasts with just a handful of deaths which might be saved by cycle helmets.

Last time the BMA's own public health conference considered the issue it rejected it by a large margin. It is depressing that the BMA has now adopted this unscientific stance that will cause great harm."

During the debate, Sir Charles George (the Chairman of the BMA's Board of Science) was accused of misinformation by some delegates for presenting as evidence a study of helmets that has been widely criticised for a lack of transparency and which ignored the fact that the findings were totally at variance with all available "real-world" population-level evidence. The UK Government knows of no case where increased helmet-wearing has ever been linked to improvements in cycle safety and no other significant evidence was presented to the meeting.

The issue of cycle helmets is highly contentious, with all of the UK's major cycling organisations being strongly opposed to compulsory helmet-wearing. The main concern of cycling organisations is the overwhelming evidence from other countries that such laws lead to substantial reductions in cycle use, thereby undermining the realisation of its health and other benefits.

In 1999, the BMA itself voted against compulsory helmet-wearing. Its report issued at that time noted not only that helmet compulsion would undermine cycle use, but also that the protective value of helmets is limited (they are only designed to withstand impacts up to around 13mph, equivalent to falling from a stationary riding position, and that most fatal and serious cyclist injuries involve impacts with motor vehicles at impact speeds above what helmets can withstand), and that such a law would lead to enforcement difficulties. Key road safety organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety (PACTS) are also opposed to helmet compulsion for similar reasons.

CTC Director Kevin Mayne said:

"This decision could not come at a worse time. Right now we really ought to be working closely with the BMA and other health professionals to encourage more and safer cycling as a way to tackle Britain's obesity epidemic. The doctors who voted for helmet-compulsion may have been well-intentioned, but actually their stance will do far more harm to the health of the nation than any benefit which helmets might have achieved."

For detailed information and resources on cycle helmets go to www.ctc.org.uk/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabID=3910

Notes to editors

CTC is the national organisation for all cyclists in the UK and Ireland, including children, families, and commuters. CTC has 70,000 members and affiliates and is the oldest and largest cycling body in the UK. For details of all CTC services visit www.ctc.org.uk In response to the government's road safety bill CTC called for a range of measures known to increase cyclists safety including

* A 20mph default speed limit for most urban and residential roads. * Lowering the drink-drive limit, from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood. * Extending the proposed fines for driving whilst using a mobile phone to cover hands-free (as well as hand-held) kits. * New definitions of bad driving offences. * A statutory duty for local authorities to reduce danger on the roads they manage.

Yannick Read Media officer CTC - the UK's national cyclists' organisation 0870 873 0063