A leading neurosurgeon has claimed that cyclists who wear helmets are wasting their time.
Henry Marsh, an eminent doctor and keen cyclist, has been accused of putting lives at risk after reportedly saying helmets were “too flimsy” to offer much protection.
His remarks have been branded “irresponsible” by cycling safety campaigners, who said that wearing one could mean the difference between life and death.
Speaking at the Hay Festival, Mr Marsh, a consultant at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London, 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.”
He added: “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.”
Campaigners said his comments were “disappointing” and risked endangering cyclists.
Angela Lee, chief executive of the Bicycle Helmet Initiative, said: “He has got a responsibility.
“If somebody stops wearing a helmet because of what he says then he needs to take responsibility for the consequences.
“It would be a travesty if somebody takes their helmet off because of this. It is such a negligent thing to say for a person in that position.
“Helmets have a place in cycling, the evidence is robust that helmets are effective.
She added: “He may take risks with cycling, but he shouldn’t be encouraging others to – unless you are going to take responsibility and fund their care if somebody injures themselves.”
Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said helmets are important, but added they should not be made compulsory in case this puts off would-be cyclists.
But some campaigners said Mr Marsh did have a point.
He cited research which suggests that wearing a helmet may in fact put cyclists at greater risk – because drivers get around three inches closer to riders wearing helmets.
Michael Cavenett, from the London Cycling Campaign, said he did not think Mr Marsh’s comments were “particularly controversial” and said doubt had been cast on the effectiveness of helmets for decades.
“As a cycling organisation we support the right of people to choose if they wear a helmet or not,” he said.
“People think helmets are much more effective than they are.
“The frustration for campaigners is that if you talk about a cycling injury or fatality people start talking about helmets and that distracts from the real issue which is how streets and junctions are designed.
“We don’t want policy makers to say people have to put on helmets because that doesn’t work.”
31 May 2014 | 6:49 pm – Source: orange.co.uk