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Helmet bill will only reduce the number of cyclists

As the principal public health organisation in the transport field, the Transport and Health Study Group joins many other organisations in opposing legislation to make the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory.

We have just completed a major study of the links between daily travel, public health and road safety called Health on the Move 2. What clearly emerges is that public health advances are being hampered by a false perception of cycling as a relatively hazardous mode of travel.

Proper assessment shows that the actual risks of cycling are low: indeed, young people are generally safer on bikes than driving and society as a whole is far safer if young people are encouraged to cycle. The risks are further reduced if more people take up cycling, as there is a "safety in numbers" effect. Evidence shows that enforced laws compelling helmet use deter people from cycling and increase risk for cyclists. The health benefits of cycling rather than driving every day are many times greater than any increase in injury risk. However, in Australia and New Zealand, permanent reductions in cycling to school and work followed enforced helmet legislation.

While we understand the concerns behind the proposed Bill, it is not justified by the evidence. The two approaches that will make cycling safer are reducing speed limits on residential streets, and encouraging more people to cycle.

Dr Stephen Watkins

Chair, The Transport -amp; Health Study Group

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