A number of constituents have engaged me on Twitter – including my friend and excellent Labour councillor Ian Martin – on the issue of cycle helmets asking why I am against making wearing them compulsory and why I usually don’t wear one myself in Exeter.
On compulsion, the simple reason I am against this is that where it has been tried – in Canada and parts of Australia – cycling rates plummeted. So the overall health impact of a ban has been highly negative. All the UK cycling groups like CTC, the London Cycling Campaign etc are against compulsion. We’ve made good progress at increasing cycling rates in Britain in recent years, particularly among children and I fully support encouraging helmet use – particularly for children – but I wouldn’t support legislation that reduced cycle use and damaged child and adult health. I have also heard of research that indicates helmets give cyclists a false sense of security and that drivers take less care around cyclists wearing helmets – but I haven’t managed to verify this – so would not use it as an added argument.
Not usually wearing a helmet myself in Exeter is a more complex issue. One of the very valuable things about using a bike to get around Exeter is that people often stop me to raise a problem they have or a concern about policy. I’ve always tried to make myself accessible to constituents and I pick up a lot of issues out and about on my bike. I’ve noticed when I have worn my helmet that people don’t stop me nearly as much. I don’t know whether it’s because they don’t recognise who it is under the helmet or there is something about somebody wearing a helmet that puts them off – but it definitely makes a difference. I decided that being accessible to constituents when I’m out and about was more important, so only tend to wear one in Exeter when it’s dark or raining hard. I always wear a helmet when up in Westminster.