LEGAL CORNER: Cycle helmets and the civil law – what every cyclist should know

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There is no legal obligation to wear a cycle helmet.

Rule 5.9 of the Highway Code says ‘you should wear a cycle helmet of the correct size, which conforms to regulations and is securely fastened’.

Scientific research confirms that cycle helmets provide basic protection for the head/brain.

Most experts agree that a cycle helmet is designed and tested to protect a cyclist who is de-stabilised and falls at low speed.

Helmets are much less effective, or even ineffective, in high-velocity collisions.

Applying the Highway Code, most judges would decide that a cyclist was negligent in not wearing a helmet.

However, if the defendant is to avoid paying 100 per cent of the compensation due to an injured claimant, they have to prove that the helmet would have prevented the injury altogether or would have made a considerable difference.

If the defendant can prove that the injury would have been avoided, then there could be a 25 per cent reduction and if the injury would have been ‘a good deal less severe’, then there could be a 15 per cent reduction.

In a high-value case, the insurance company will definitely want to try to obtain a 15 per cent or 25 per cent reduction from the award.

This could mean the cyclist would not be able to afford the professional care and rehabilitation they will need over their lifetime. Good expert evidence is vital.

In a recent case of mine, the insurer withdrew an argument for deduction for failing to wear a cycle helmet shortly before the

final hearing.

In that case, the main impact was to the skull just behind the ear, which is lower than the area that a helmet would effectively protect.

In contrast, in another case involving a lady who was cycling very slowly when she was knocked from her bicycle when hit by an opening van door, she on advice, had to accept some reduction from her award.

It is important to be aware that low-speed falls are frequent and do cause preventable head injury, particularly in children and learners. Tragically, those with brain injury can sustain dramatic and life-changing damage.

I cycle most days to and from work and in my travels I see far too many cyclists without helmets.

I strongly believe that all cyclists should wear helmets and that riders, pedestrians,

and drivers can all behave with greater care and consideration to make our roads safer.