Can I claim if I was injured cycling without a bike helmet?

Cyclist without helmet

It is not a legal requirement to wear a helmet when cycling on the road in the UK. As such, If you were injured when cycling without a helmet and someone else was at fault, a compensation claim may be possible.

However, the defendant may argue that not wearing a helmet amounts to 'contributory negligence'. What does this mean?

What does the law say about wearing a cycle helmet?

Under UK law it is not compulsory for cyclists to wear a helmet. However, the Rule 59 of the Highway Code does recommend that you:

'wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened'.

You are not, therefore, committing a criminal offence if you cycle without a helmet.

But:

Section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states that:

“A failure on the part of a person to observe a provision of the Highway Code shall not of itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings of any kind but any such failure may… be relied upon by any party to the proceedings as tending to establish or negative any liability which is in question in those proceedings.”

In other words, you could be found liable (or partly liable) for your own injuries - even if the other party was apparently to blame.

How much protection does a cycle helmet provide?

Cycle helmets are designed to withstand an impact equivalent to a rider of average weight travelling at a 12mph falling onto a stationary kerb from a height of 1 metre.

Most cycling accidents occur within these parameters and it might, therefore, be concluded that helmets offer protection most of the time.

It is generally agreed that wearing a helmet is far safer than not wearing a helmet. Critically this is the view taken by most courts.

What about the studies that dispute the efficacy of cycling helmets?

There have been a number of academic studies on the safety of cycling helmets.

Research conducted by Dr Ian Walker, a traffic psychologist from the University of Bath revealed that, bizarrely, drivers gave helmet-wearing cyclists less room when overtaking; forcing them to deal with potholes and drain covers, potentially increasing the likelihood of accident and injury.

His findings also suggested that helmets, although protective in low speed falls or tumbles over the handlebars, may not offer much protection in the event of a collision with a vehicle.

Another study from the Transport Research Laboratory entitled 'the potential for cycle helmets to prevent injury' supports this view.

Bicycle helmets are made from polystyrene and are designed to protect wearers from falls to the ground at under 12mph. Some research even suggests there is a risk of rotational brain injury and neck injuries through helmet air vents catching on the road surface.

On balance, UK courts take the view that wearing a helmet makes a significant positive contribution to a cyclist's safety.

Can I still claim compensation if I wasn't wearing a helmet?

Yes. If you were injured on your bike and someone else was to blame, we can help you claim cycling injury compensation.

If you were not wearing a helmet and you suffered head injuries, the defendant may argue that you contributed to the severity of your own injuries. This defence is known as 'contributory negligence'. Even if this defence is upheld, you should still receive some compensation, albeit a reduced amount.

What is 'contributory negligence'?

If you were not wearing a helmet and you suffered head injuries, the defendant will probably argue that your injuries would have been less severe if you had been wearing a helmet.

Insurance companies routinely adopt the default position of contributory negligence if a claimant was not wearing a helmet - even if you didn't suffer head injuries.

The courts will usually agree with this reasoning - especially if the medical evidence supports it.

As most claims don't go to court, this legal argument is more of a negotiation between the defendant's and claimant's solicitors, neither of whom want to incur the expense or additional time involved in going to court.

More often than not, a claimant's solicitor will be able to 'bat away' the insurance company's initial position. However, if the medical evidence shows that your injuries would probably have been less severe if you were wearing a helmet, a percentage of the liability may be apportioned to you and your compensation would be reduced accordingly.

For example:

If the medical opinion is that your head injuries would have been 50% less severe if you had been wearing a helmet, your compensation award will probably be reduced to 50% of the amount it would otherwise have been.

Reducing the compensation award in line with the apportionment of liability is known as a 'split liability agreement'.

See also:

How often do injury claims go to court and what if they do?

How do I make a cycling injury claim?

Head and brain injury claims

What happened?

If you were injured as a cyclist, or you were involved in a collision with a cyclist, click on the icons below to read more about claiming:

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Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

Author:
Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher