The ongoing cycle helmet debate
It is a well-known fact that cyclists are the most vulnerable group of road users. Cyclists in the UK are not required by law to wear a helmet. The debate as to whether cycle helmets should be made mandatory is contentious and topical.
Although you cannot safeguard against all injuries in a bike crash, wearing a helmet I believe offers a degree of protection from blows to the head.
A new study has found yet more evidence to support the case of cycle helmets saving lives and reducing the risk of sustaining a life-changing brain injury.
The study revealed that use of cycle helmets was found to reduce head injury by 48%, serious head injury by 60%, traumatic brain injury by 53%, face injury by 23% and the total number of killed or seriously injured cyclists by 34%. Cycle helmets were also suggested to offer more protection in high-risk single cycle crashes, such as on slippery or icy roads, and among drunk cyclists than sober cyclists, click here to read more.
The government in November 2017 were reviewing cycle safety and the compulsory requirement to wear a helmet but this has not come into fruition.
There have been numerous attempts to introduce such a law to increase safety, but various arguments have been put forward against this.
- Scientific studies demonstrating a decrease in cycling where mandatory, enforced helmet use has been introduced;
- Concerns regarding perceptions of safety while wearing a helmet; and
- Scientific arguments in respect of the actual protection given by helmets.
Although there is no criminal sanction if you choose to cycle without a helmet and are involved in an accident, the issue of contributory negligence crops up very frequently in the civil law.
The Law Reform Act of 1945 states that if you are the victim of an accident and are found to have negligently contributed to the accident, a court can proportionally reduce the amount of compensation awarded. The reduction would be in accordance with the level with which you are held to have contributed to your own harm. For example – if a cyclist is held to be 50% responsible for causing the accident, the compensation awarded would be reduced by 50%.
Claims by cyclists involved in accidents while out on the road are often met with by arguments from insurance companies that, as a result of not wearing a helmet, they are partially to blame for their injuries.
There is no clear judicial authority on whether or not it is appropriate to make a finding of contributory negligence.
The case of Smith v Finch (2009) is however helpful. Mr Smith was riding his bicycle in Brightlingsea, Essex when he was involved in a serious collision with a motorcyclist, Mr Finch. He sustained catastrophic head injuries and was not wearing a helmet. The insurers argued that Mr Smith was partly responsible for his injuries. Mr Smith’s legal team cited expert evidence which showed that a modern helmet which complied with EU standards would only have protected him from impacts at less than 12mph. Due to the speeds involved and the area of the head likely to have been impacted, a helmet would not have prevented or caused the injuries to be less severe and therefore the motorcyclist was found to be 100% responsible.
Contrast this with the case of Liam Clark (a protected party suing by his mother and litigation friend, Nicola Woods) v (1) Darren Lee Farley (2) Motor Insurers’ Bureau and (3) Ryan Edmonds  EWHC 1007 (QB) which my colleague, Sana Bibi recently wrote about in a previous blog, click here to read more. In this case the court found the claimant 40% to blame overall, which included a reduction for not wearing a helmet.
In any event being able to show that the claimant failed to wear a helmet is not enough. The burden of proof lies with the insurers to prove that wearing a helmet would have prevented the injury or made it less severe and each case is dependent on its facts.