Reduced Compensation for Not Wearing a Cycle Helmet

February 6, 2024


Understanding the Importance of Bicycle Helmets in Preventing Fatal Head Injuries

The wearing of helmets for motorcyclists, cyclists and E-Scooter riders in the UK involves different legal requirements and implications in the event of an accident, as per the Highway Code’s rules.

Motorcycle Crash Helmets

Rules 83 and 84 of the UK Highway Code mandate that motorcyclists must wear crash helmets. If a motorcyclist is involved in an accident and is not wearing a helmet, they may be considered partially at fault, which is referred to as contributory negligence. This can impact the compensation they receive.

What is the Law on Wearing Cycle Helmets?

Motorcycle Helmet laws when operating a motorcycle or moped on public roads, is mandatory.  You must wear a safety helmet that adheres to the established British safety criteria. In addition the Helmets must be of a sufficient standard for Safety Helmets to ensure uniform protection.

To be legal for road use in the UK, helmets must comply with one of the following standards:

  • Comply with British Standard BS 6658:1985 and include the BSI Kitemark.
  • Conform to UNECE Regulation 22.05.
  • Match the safety and protection levels of BS 6658:1985 as set by a European Economic Area member standard, and bear a mark comparable to the BSI Kitemark.

SHARP – Helmet Safety Initiative

Further the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme (SHARP) provides information on approved helmets and their level of protection.

Visors and Goggles

For those using visors or goggles, these items must:

  • Be certified to a British Standard and feature the BSI Kitemark.
  • Meet a European standard that provides safety and protection on par with the British Standard and have a mark similar to the BSI Kitemark (in line with UNECE Regulation 22.05).

Protective Motorcycle Apparel

While there is no statutory requirement to wear additional protective gear, wearing specialised motorcycle clothing is strongly advised for your safety.

Cycle Helmets & E-Scooter Helmets

For cyclists, the rules are different. The Highway Code suggests (Rule 59) that cyclists ‘should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations’, but there is no legal obligation to do so. The choice of not wearing a helmet may be seen as taking a risk, similar to car users not wearing seat belts. This means that in the event of an accident, if a cyclist chooses not to wear a helmet and sustains more severe injuries, this might impact any legal proceedings or compensation claims.

These regulations and legal precedents highlight the importance of helmet use in reducing injury severity and legal consequences following road accidents. For more detailed information, you can refer to the UK Highway Code’s specific rules on helmet use.

The Significance of Bicycle Helmets

Bicycle helmets are an essential piece of safety equipment for cyclists of all ages. They are specifically designed to protect the head from injuries during falls or collisions. The importance of helmets in preventing fatal head injuries cannot be overstated. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, wearing a bike helmet while riding reduces the risk of a serious head and injury by nearly 70% and of a fatal head injury by 65% [oai_citation:1,Helmet Safety – OrthoInfo – AAOS].

How Helmets Protect the Head

Bicycle helmets work by absorbing the energy from a fall or collision, which reduces the impact on the skull and, consequently, the brain. When a cyclist falls and hits their head, the helmet absorbs a significant portion of the impact force. This force is distributed over the surface of the helmet, rather than being concentrated on a small area of the skull. The thick plastic foam inside the helmet’s hard outer shell provides additional protection by cushioning the blow [oai_citation:2,Helmet Safety – OrthoInfo – AAOS]

Scientific Study on Helmets

Case-control studies have shown that wearing helmets significantly reduces the risk of head injuries, such as brain injuries, skull fractures, and soft tissue damage, for bicyclists involved in crashes.

These studies, including a large one with 3,390 participants, highlight helmets’ effectiveness in protecting against severe brain injuries in various crash scenarios, including high-impact collisions with motor vehicles.

Helmets are effective in dissipating energy from linear impacts, but measuring their effectiveness against rotational forces causing axonal shear injuries is more challenging.

Nonetheless, helmets are crucial for reducing potential head trauma, see the full study by the NCBI on helmet protection.

The same study found that:

Helmet use reduces the risk of head injury by 85%, brain injury by 88% and severe brain injury by at least 75%. The protective effect of helmets for facial injury is 65% for the upper and mid facial regions. No protection is provided for the lower face and jaw. Bicycle riders of all ages should be encouraged to wear helmets. General bicycle helmets with chin protection should be developed.


Advances in Helmet Technology

As our understanding of brain injuries has advanced, so too has helmet technology. Conventional helmets were designed for linear impacts, but modern helmets are now also designed to protect against rotational forces, which are often more damaging to the brain. Technologies like MIPS (Multidirectional Impact Protection System) and WaveCel have been developed to address these concerns, offering enhanced protection by absorbing rotational velocities on impact [oai_citation:3,The Science Behind Bicycle Helmets Protecting Cyclists | Discover Magazine]

The Role of Helmets in Accident Scenarios

In accidents involving motor vehicles, helmets are particularly crucial. A study analysing paediatric bicycle-related crashes with motor vehicles showed that helmeted bicyclists were 78.6% less likely to be diagnosed with a head injury compared to those not wearing helmets. When a head injury was diagnosed, helmeted bicyclists were 44% less likely to sustain a severe head injury [oai_citation:4,Bike helmets prevent paediatric head injury in serious bicycle crashes with motor vehicles

Usage and Public Perception

Despite the proven benefits, many cyclists still choose not to wear helmets. Reasons for this include the belief in personal invincibility, discomfort, or a perceived lack of fashionability. These attitudes can be changed through education and awareness, highlighting the life-saving potential of helmets [oai_citation:5,Do Bicycle Helmets Prevent Head Injury?

Legal Aspects For Not Wearing A Helmet

The Highway Code make it compulsory for motorbike riders but a recommendation for cycle, Quad bike and E-Scooter riders. Many regions have implemented laws requiring helmet use, especially for children. These laws aim to increase helmet wearing rates and, by extension, reduce the number of head injuries and fatalities. However, the effectiveness of these laws depends on enforcement and public acceptance [oai_citation:6,Do Bicycle Helmets Prevent Head Injury?

Reduced Compensation For A Heard Injury

The following are case decisions where a cyclist has failed to wear a helmet and therefore had the compensation reduced for contributory negligence.  There are also two cases that refer to not wearing a seat belt where similar principles are applied.

O’Connell v Jackson

In the case of O’Connell v Jackson, a the case involving a collision between a moped and a car, the key issue was whether the moped rider’s decision not to wear a helmet constituted contributory negligence. The moped accident occurred in January 1969, when the rider was injured after being thrown off his vehicle and hitting his head on the road. The car driver was found negligent, but it was argued that the moped rider also contributed to his injuries by not wearing a helmet.

The case centered on two main points of contention:

1. Whether the absence of the latest Highway Code edition, advising moped riders to wear helmets, was available to the claimant and its relevance under Section 74 of the 1960 Act.

2. Whether the failure to wear a helmet amounted to contributory negligence on the part of the moped rider.

The court examined precedents, including the Hilder v. Associated Portland Cement Co. case, which had determined that not wearing a helmet did not constitute contributory negligence as helmets were not legally required at the time. However, in this case, the latest Highway Code did advise wearing a helmet. The court recognised the established effectiveness of helmets in reducing head injury risk and concluded that not wearing a helmet in this instance did amount to contributory negligence.

As a result, the court decided that the compensation awarded to the moped rider should be reduced by 15%, acknowledging that his decision not to wear a helmet contributed to the severity of his injuries.

Capps v Miller,

In Capps v Miller, involved a claimant whose helmet was not securely fastened and came off before his head hit the road and his compensation was reduced by 10%.

In this case involving a motorcycle collision with a car, the main issue.  The motorist was at fault but there was an argument to reduced the motorcyclist compensation for not securing hit helmet. The facts are as follows:

– The claimant was riding his motorcycle and collided with a car driven by a negligent, drunk driver.

– The claimant was wearing a helmet, but it was not properly fastened, causing it to come off during the fall.

– The claimant suffered severe brain injury upon hitting his head on the road.

– Expert evidence suggested that while the claimant would have been injured even with a properly fastened helmet, the injuries would have been less severe.

The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the motorist applying the principle of contributory negligence.  The motorcycle rider’s compensation was by 10%, acknowledging that his failure to properly fasten the helmet contributed to the severity of his injuries.  However one judge in that case  proposed a higher reduction, suggesting a typical 15% reduction for injuries worsened by an improperly fastened helmet, and a 25% reduction if the injury would have been entirely prevented with a properly fastened helmet.

Froom V Butcher [1976]

The case of Froom v Butcher [1976] QB 286 is a landmark decision in English law regarding contributory negligence where in this case it is the failure to use a seat belt and not a helmet. The key elements of the case are as follows:

Lord Denning’s Judgment:

Background: The plaintiff was involved in a car crash caused by the defendant’s fault. The plaintiff was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.

Ruling on Contributory Negligence: The Court of Appeal, led by Lord Denning, ruled that the plaintiff’s compensation should be reduced by 20%. This reduction was based on the plaintiff’s partial responsibility for his own injuries due to not wearing a seatbelt.

Legal Reasoning: Lord Denning highlighted the importance of foreseeability and the duty of individuals to act as a reasonable, prudent person. The key issue was not the cause of the accident itself, but the cause of the damages sustained. Lord Denning asserted that the failure to wear a seatbelt was a contributing factor to the extent of the damages.

Mitigation of Damages: The judgment also emphasized the injured party’s duty to mitigate damages. If the plaintiff fails to take reasonable steps to lessen or mitigate damages (like wearing a seatbelt), they must bear some responsibility for the consequences of the accident.

Standard for Contributory Negligence: Froom v Butcher established a crucial precedent in the law of contributory negligence. It set out that individuals have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect themselves from harm and that failure to do so could lead to a reduction in damages awarded.

Blame, Fault, and Causation: Lord Denning did not draw distinctions between blame, fault, and causation, focusing instead on the practical effect of the plaintiff’s actions (or inactions) on the injuries sustained.

Significance: This case remains a significant reference point in personal injury law, illustrating how contributory negligence is assessed and the expectations placed on individuals to act responsibly for their own safety.  It is important to remember that the wearing of seat belts at the time of the accident was not mandatory.

Pearson v Anwar

The case of Pearson v Anwar is a Court of Appeal 2015 decision that reviewed the leading case of Froom v Butcher and deals with the issues of contributory negligence in a road traffic accidents.

Key Facts: The Claimant, Mr. Pearson, the claimant, suffered catastrophic injuries, resulting in tetraplegia, while being a passenger in a taxi involved in a collision. At the time of the accident, the claimant was not wearing a seatbelt.

Legal Issue: The case focused on whether the Claimant’s failure to wear a seatbelt constituted contributory negligence and to what extent this negligence should reduce his compensation.

Court Of Appeal Decision:  Upholding the judge’s decision at first instance, the Court decided that had the Claimant worn a seatbelt, he would have likely suffered only a modest whiplash injury. Therefore, the Judge found significant contributory negligence.  The claimant argued 15% contributory negligence but the court disagreed and allowed a 25% reduction in the compensation award. This decision was based on the fact that the tetraplegia was directly related to the Claimant not wearing a seatbelt.  The significant injuries he had sustained could have been avoided.

Significance of the Case: Pearson v Anwar serves as a critical reminder that the guidelines established in Froom v Butcher are not rigid and can be adjusted based on the specifics of each case. The significant difference in the nature and extent of the injuries sustained due to not wearing a seatbelt led to a higher contributory negligence reduction than the standard 15%.

The guiding principles can, it is argued also be applied to motorcycle, cycle, quad bike and E-Scooter riders who fail to wear a helmet.  Each case will be decided on its own particular facts and no doubt be guided by expert evidence.

Smith v Finch (High Court)

Here a motorbike struck a pedal bike. The pivotal issue was whether wearing a helmet could have significantly mitigated the claimant’s head injuries from a collision.

The court closely examined expert testimonies regarding the impact’s nature and the helmet’s potential protective capacity. Despite discussions on helmet safety standards and the specific dynamics of the collision, it was determined that the severity and specifics of the accident rendered the absence of a helmet less critical in this context.

The judge found that the speed was in excess of 12 mph and taking into account the claimant’s expert evidence decided no contributory negligence was proven by the Defendant.

Consequently, the defendant’s burden to prove contributory negligence by the claimant for not wearing a helmet was not met, especially given the evidence suggesting the collision’s force exceeded levels at which a helmet would provide effective protection. This case underscores the complexity of assessing contributory negligence in accidents where protective gear is involved but may not significantly alter the outcome due to the accident’s severe conditions.

For a detailed discussion on this case visit our webpage: When Not Wearing a Cycle Helmet Makes No Difference To The Injury

Importance of Proper Fit and Maintenance

For a helmet to provide maximum protection, it must fit properly. The helmet should sit level on the head and low on the forehead. The straps should form a “Y” shape around each ear and be snug under the chin. Helmets also have a lifespan and should be replaced after a significant impact or if they show signs of wear and tear [oai_citation:7,Bicycle Helmet Safety: Importance of Wearing a Helmet.

Helmet Use in Different Cycling Environments

Helmets are crucial not only for recreational cycling but also in competitive and urban cycling environments. In urban areas, where interactions with motor vehicles are more frequent, the protective role of helmets becomes even more critical. Competitive cyclists also benefit from wearing helmets, as they often ride at higher speeds and their falls can have more severe consequences [oai_citation:8,Why Bike Helmets Matter: Reducing Risk, Absorbing Impact, Encouraging Safety

The Future of Helmet Technology and Safety

As helmet technology continues to evolve, future designs are expected to offer even greater protection. Research and development in this area focus on improving the helmet’s ability to protect against various types of impacts, including those that occur at different angles and velocities. Additionally, there is a growing emphasis on making helmets more comfortable and stylish to encourage widespread use [oai_citation:9,The Science Behind Bicycle Helmets Protecting Cyclists | Discover Magazine]

Encouraging Helmet Use Among Children and Adolescents

Educating children and adolescents about the importance of wearing helmets is crucial. Parents and guardians can play a significant role by setting an example and ensuring their children wear helmets from an early age. This early introduction helps establish helmet wearing as a normal and essential part of cycling [oai_citation:10,Bicycle Helmet Safety: Importance of Wearing a Helmet

Conclusion on Cycle Helmets

In summary, bicycle helmets are a vital safety tool that significantly reduces the risk of serious and fatal head injuries. The advances in helmet technology, along with increased public awareness and appropriate legislation, can lead to a substantial decrease in cycling-related head injuries and fatalities.

The law recognises the protection afforded by helmets wearers and in many relatively low velocity accidents a helmet can significantly protect the rider from a serious or fatal injury.  Therefore should a rider of a motorbike, bicycle, Quad Bike, E-Scooter (whether it is compulsory or not) fails to wear a helmet they run the risk of having their compensation reduced from 15% to 25% due to their contributory negligence.  In short they had failed to reasonably protect themselves from harm.

The reader must be aware it matters not that the other party is 100% to blame for the accident.  Failure to wear a helmet will still be decided against them.

Further information where no contributiory negligence was awarded read:

When Not Wearing a Cycle Helmet Makes No Difference To The Injury

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