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Does not wearing a helmet affect a personal injury claim if I am involved in an accident?

Posted on 17th September 2018

You may be interested to know that it is not compulsory to wear a cycle helmet when cycling on Britain’s roads. I was surprised by this as the UK roads are very dangerous and accidents and injuries to cyclists are sadly not an uncommon occurrence.

Head injuries are often the most common cycling accident claim – particularly when the rider was not wearing a helmet.

Cyclists are vulnerable road users and have less protection on the road than motorists. Personal Injury claims pursued by cyclists are often therefore vigorously defended on such grounds as failing to wear appropriate protective clothing or a cycle helmet could have contributed to the seriousness of the injury sustained ( especially when dealing with head injuries).

Cycle helmets are made from polystyrene and are designed to protect wearers from falls to the ground. They have to comply with a European standard. This stipulates that helmets must withstand a test simulating the head striking a flat surface at 12 mph and a kerb at an impact speed of 10 mph. These parameters tend to suggest that a cycle helmet will make a big difference to the outcome (to your head) if you hit a stationary object and go over the handlebars. A helmet might offer your head a lot less protection if, say, you are struck by a car going at 30 mph.

How can I be injured?

There are many ways that a cyclist can be injured. Some of the bicycle accidents I have recently pursued are as follows:

  • Failure by a driver to see a cyclist
  • Roundabout collision
  • An incident with a Bus
  • A driver not giving a cyclist enough room
  • Side road car pulling out in front of a cyclist
  • Vehicles turning straight in front of a cyclist
  • Vehicles driving into the back of a cyclist
  • Dangerous and reckless driving
  • Hit and run accident
  • Head on collision

Roundabouts and T junctions are exceptionally dangerous for cyclists and it is at these types of junctions that the majority of collisions occur. But there are also accidents that can happen as a result of bad roads, such as potholes, oil spills or debris on the road. Many local councils are starting to do more to protect their cyclists from dangers, such as cycle paths and safer routes, but more still needs to be done.

The Law

The law in the UK does not make it compulsory for cyclists to wear helmets. What this means is that you won’t be stopped by the police if you fail to wear a cycle helmet and you won’t be prosecuted under the criminal law. It is generally agreed, however, that wearing a helmet is far safer than not wearing a helmet. Critically this is the view taken by most Courts.

Rule 59 of the Highway Code categorises cyclists as vulnerable road users and recommends that cyclists ‘should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened’.

The Highway Code is relevant to both criminal and civil law. Claims for personal injury compensation are classed as civil claims so the Highway Code is relevant. Even though there is no legislation requiring cyclists to wear helmets it may affect the amount of compensation you are awarded if you were injured in a bicycle accident and you were not wearing a helmet.

Contributory Negligence

Many cyclists are put off making a claim for compensation for accidents that weren’t their fault, on the basis that not wearing a helmet will go against them.

Failing to wear a cycle helmet will not, in itself, prevent you having a claim for personal injury compensation. However, it may lead to a finding of contributory negligence against you.

Contributory negligence means if you are the victim of an accident and you are found to have contributed to your losses or contributed to the accident itself, a court can proportionally reduce the amount of compensation awarded. The reduction would be in accordance with the level with which you are held to have contributed to your own harm.

On this basis, if a non-helmeted cyclist sustains injuries the general rule of thumb is as follows:

  • Where wearing a helmet would have prevented the injury completely, the deduction from damages will be 25%.
  • Where a helmet would have significantly reduced the severity of the injury, the reduction will be 15%.

Given the parameters mentioned above for cycle helmet safety performance, above a certain speed of accident, in some cases it would have made no difference at all (e.g. because the person did not suffer a head injury or it was a collision where the probable speed was beyond the design limit for a cycle helmet) in which case the failure to wear a cycle helmet will have no effect on compensation and there will be no reduction. You will then be able to receive full compensation.

It is very likely that a Defendant will argue that the extent of your injuries would have been less severe if you had been wearing a helmet. Many Courts will agree with this reasoning and will reduce compensation awards by citing the lack of a helmet as contributory negligence. Usually, we ask a medical expert to provide a medical report that confirms if a helmet would have made any difference to the injuries sustained. This will directly impact the amount of contributory negligence that attaches to you. In reported decisions from the courts, there are examples of judges refusing to make any deduction for contributory negligence because they could not be satisfied that a cycle helmet would have improved the injury outcome so each case is decided on a case by case basis.

However, there is no law to state that failing to wear a cycle helmet amounts to automatic contributory negligence.

Parallels can be drawn with seatbelts in this regard. The law on contributory negligence for failure to wear a seat belt dates from the 1970s. At that time, while it was known that a seat belt would probably lessen the injuries sustained in any road traffic accident, it was not a legal requirement to wear a seat belt. The same can probably be said for cycle helmets today – i.e. not a legal requirement but known to be a good idea to wear one.

Are you a cyclist and have you been involved in an accident?

If are a cyclist and have been involved in an accident and you were not wearing a helmet, contact us on 0800 437 0322 to get specialist legal advice about the whole circumstances of your accident. When properly analysed, there may be a way to eliminate contributory negligence as a possibility – or at least reduce it to a lower level than you originally thought.

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