I like cycling, and I view it as an extension of walking. The idea of compulsory safety kit, or cycle registration, or mandatory licensing and testing fills me with horror. You can just buy a bike, get on it, and go: and that's how it should be. I can accept that systems of vehicle licensing and driver registration are necessary where cars and motorcycles are concerned. The principle difference is that in a car or on a motorbike, you can cause significant harm to other people, and that needs to be controlled in some way. A bicycle is essentially harmless, and it should remain free from state interference.
And then poor old Norman Baker goes and gets himself into all sorts of trouble:
Norman Baker, the minister responsible for cycling, walking and local transport – and lifelong bike enthusiast – has reignited a debate that divides bike lovers. The Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes has declared it his "libertarian right" to put himself at risk on roads by not wearing a helmet, prompting claims from road safety groups that he is unfit for the job.Is it the law that one must wear a cycle helmet? No, it is not. Is Baker therefore free to choose whether he wears a helmet or not? Yes, he is. But that's not enough for the chiding, nagging governesses of the 'charity' Brake:
"Ministers should practise what they preach and when a minister directly responsible for cycling safety refuses to wear a cycle helmet, we then have to look at their suitability for the role."Nice little scold, that one, as well as the classic illiteracy of 'their'. But Baker has it absolutely 100% right when he says this, and in the process proves himself to be a true Liberal (from the days when Liberal meant believing in freedom):
"It is a libertarian argument. The responsibility is only towards myself. It's not like drinking and driving where you can damage other people. You do no harm. I'm not encouraging people not to do this, I'm just saying I make a decision not to."That's the key, and it is a truly Libertarian concept. If you do no harm to others, then you should be free to do as you please with your own life. It is no-one's business but your own. Thank God that someone in government feels this way and can articulate it. Brake obviously feels that the general public aren't intelligent or subtle enough to understand that someone may recommend one course of action while pursuing another. Note: recommend. If he were legislating for the rest of us to wear helmets by compulsion while not wearing one himself, that would be different. That would be like banning smoking from all enclosed public spaces while making the Palace of Westminster exempt, ha ha. But all he is saying is that wearing a helmet is a good idea, although he prefers not to. That's not too hard to understand, is it?
On a bicycle, I don't wear a helmet, and if it were made a legal requirement I would still not wear a helmet. On a motorcycle, I always wear a helmet, and would do so even if the compulsion to do so were removed. Partly, that's from comfort - the world is a different place at 70 mph compared to 15 mph, and I am rarely cycling for 200 miles at a stretch - but it's also from a concern for self-preservation. A fall on the head from a bicycle saddle is unlikely to cause serious head injuries (although it may), whereas a fall from a motorbike at speed would almost certainly be catastrophic. It's the old risk management thing: one is a small and acceptable risk; one is a large and unacceptable one.
I'm with Norman here. On a bicycle, I like the feeling of the wind in what remains of my hair, and the pleasure is enough to make the small risk a worthwhile one. On the other hand, if wearing a motorcycle helmet is a choice I make, then do I believe it should be compulsory for everyone? No, I don't. There is a massively-strong case for wearing one, but even that does not justify taking away people's freedom to live their own lives and make their own choices. The time for protesting against the helmet laws is long gone, and it's not a freedom I would go to the barricades over, but the principle is clear. If we're not free to go to Hell in our own way, then we're not free. There's a surprisingly robust defence of Baker in a comment piece in the Grauniad here, and the comments are surprisingly supportive of Baker (I suspect it is because they associate pro-helmet with anti-bike, and therefore Daily Mail-style wrongness). Support also here and here, where Brake's claim (on which the whole of their argument rests) that most cycling fatalities are caused by head injuries is blown apart.