A leading neurosurgeon has controversially claimed that cyclists who wear helmets are wasting their time.
Henry Marsh, who works at 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 made the comments while speaking at the Hay Festival during a discussion with Ian McEwan, whose 2005 novel Saturday featured a neurosurgeon.
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 get around 3 inches 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.”
Mr Marsh said that he had been riding his bike for 40 years, wearing a cowboy hat, and had 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.”
Cyclists travel around 3.1 billion miles each year in Britain. Lights and reflectors are a legal obligation after dark, and reflective jackets an increasingly common sight.
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.
He suggested that drivers think helmeted cyclists are more sensible, predicable and experienced, so therefore the driver doesn’t need to give them much space when overtaking.
Non-helmeted cyclists, especially non helmeted “women” are less predictable and experienced, according to this study and so motorists give them more room.
However, Mr Marsh’s comments are likely to anger cycling safety campaigners, who believe that helmets provide essential protection on Britain’s busy and narrow roads.
Read more at The Telegraph.