British Opposition Leader Criticized for Riding Without Helmet. Should He Be?

Britain is agog over Conservative leader David Cameron riding without a bicycle helmet. According to This is London,

Headway, the brain injury association, said "Brain injury can happen at any moment - all it takes is just one fall and you will regret it for the rest of your life. We are deeply disappointed. Mr Cameron should be proud to be seen to be wearing his helmet. He should be setting a good example to cyclists, particularly young cyclists in the UK."

He has been criticized in the past for not setting a good example for children by removing his helmet.

Others are not so sure.


Peter Walker of the Guardian's Bike Blog says David Cameron should be applauded for his topless bike ride to work.

He wears a helmet out of habit, but is "resolutely against any moves towards compulsion, even of the guilt-based, you-should-set-an-example-to-others sort." He quotes Roger Geffen of the National Cyclists Organization:

The idea that it is somehow 'dangerous' and 'irresponsible' to cycle without a helmet is a total myth. It merely puts people off cycling and contributes to the increase in the level of obesity and other inactivity-related illnesses, which kill tens of thousands of people every year. If we are to encourage people to take up cycling - with all its benefits for our health, our streets, our environment and our wallets - then we need to promote it as a safe and enjoyable way to get around for day-to-day travel, wearing normal clothes.

Last year I wrote a post critical of Matthew Modine for setting a bad example by not wearing a helmet and got, um, criticized by Mikael at Copenhagenize, for encouraging a "culture of fear instead of promoting a life-extending, safe, healthy form of transport that can also transform cities into more liveable places."

I have become convinced that he is right, that we should feel as safe and comfortable on our bikes as we do as pedestrians, who nobody thinks should be wearing helmets even though they trip and hit their heads or have things fall on them. That in a civil and fair society, cyclists should have safe places to ride and drivers should know how to deal with them. I am almost willing to agree with David Walker at the Guardian:

This isn't something you're likely to hear very often from Guardian any other time during the election, and I stress it's a single issue-only accolade, but here goes: three cheers for Cameron.