Cycling Helmets and Cycling Safety

Compulsory Protective Helmets for All Cyclists Many cyclists of all ages have been breaking the law, by not wearing their helmets as required by the National Road Traffic Act, 1993(Act No.93 of 1996).

There is more than enough medical data to justify the compulsory wearing of protective helmets when cycling. According to Wikipedia, in the USA, two-thirds of cyclists admitted to hospital have a head injury. Ninety percent of cyclist deaths are caused by collisions with motor vehicles.

For cyclists admitted to hospital in Western Australia before the helmet law, about 30% of cyclists and 30% of pedestrians had head injuries.

In recent research published in the June 2016 International Journal of Epidemiology and titled "Bicycle injuries and helmet use: a systematic review and meta-analysis", Jake Olivier reaches the following conclusion:

"Bicycle helmet use was associated with reduced odds of head injury, serious head injury, facial injury and fatal head injury. The reduction was greater for serious or fatal head injury. Neck injury was rare and not associated with helmet use. These results support the use of strategies to increase the uptake of bicycle helmets as part of a comprehensive cycling safety plan."

Helmets use varies greatly between populations and between groups. Downhill mountain bikers and amateur sportive cyclists normally wear helmets, and helmet use is enforced in professional cycle sport and in a few legal jurisdictions. Utility cyclists and children are much less likely to wear helmets unless compelled.

National Road Traffic Act and Compulsory Helmets in South Africa

Reg 207. Compulsory wearing of protective helmet

(1) No person shall drive or be a passenger on a motor cycle, motor tricycle or a motor quadrucycle, or be a passenger in the side-car attached to a motor cycle, on a public road, unless he or she is wearing a protective helmet—

(a) which is specially designed for use in connection with such cycle; and

(b) which fits him or her properly and of which the chin strap is properly fastened under the chin.

(2) After expiry of three years from the date of commencement of this regulation, no person shall drive or be a passenger on a pedal cycle on a public road unless he or she is wearing a protective helmet which fits him or her properly and of which the chin straps is properly fastened under the chin. (date 5 October 2004)

(3) The driver of a motor cycle, motor tricycle, motor quadrucycle or pedal cycle shall ensure that any passenger in or on such cycle who is younger than 14 years, complies with the provisions of subregulation (1) or (2), as the case may be.

(4) Notwithstanding the provisions of subregulations (1) and (3), the driver and passengers of a motor cycle—

(a) equipped with a seatbelt anchorages that comply with the requirements of standard specification SABS 1430 “Motor vehicle safety - anchorages for restraining devices in motor vehicles”, for the driver and passengers (if any);

(b) the engine of which can not move unless the driver and passengers (if any), of the motor cycle wears the seatbelt referred to in paragraph (a); and

(c) that complies with the requirements of annex II of the standard specification SABS 1440 “Motor vehicle safety - The steering mechanism of motor vehicles (M1 only) - behaviour on impact,

may drive or be passengers on such motor cycle on a public road while not wearing a protective helmet.

Professor Sebastian van As, Head: Trauma Unit Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, said that the wearing of helmets for children will reduce the number of deaths caused by head injuries associated with being knocked over or falling off a bicycle.

Injuries such as a fractured skull can cause underlying brain damage and bleed, leading to death.

"One of the biggest killers of children under the age of 18 worldwide is trauma and head injuries," said Von As.

"Obviously wearing protective gear like a helmet will reduce the number of accidents."

He cautioned parents not to be blasé about where children wear their helmets.

Nearly all accidents happen close to home and the majority are within one-kilometre radius of the home. There is simply no excuse not to wear a helmet."

Arrive Alive offered the following tips to cycle safely with a helmet:

  • Always wear cycle helmets to prevent head injuries;
  • Replace any damaged helmets for maximum protection.  Helmets must fit properly to be safe; and 
  • Helmets only work once. If a helmet has been in a collision that required the inner lining to absorb shock, buy another one! Even though the damage may not be visible, the shock absorbing qualities may be reduced.

Also View:

Cycling Safety Suggestions for South African Conditions

Cycling safely on South African roads and mountain bike trails