Annette Brooke, MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole, July 2011

annettebrookeMid Dorset and North Poole MP Annette Brooke has won a national Road Safety Parliamentarian of the Month Award from the charity Brake and Direct Line for her campaign to improve cycle safety for children.

Annette felt compelled to take action to prevent needless deaths and injuries among children on our roads. In particular, she is determined to make cycling and walking safer for children.

On 14 July 2011, Annette presented the first reading of her Private Member's Bill to Parliament. The Bill would make it compulsory for children under the age of 14 to wear a cycle helmet. This acknowledges research showing that wearing a helmet significantly reduces the chance of serious brain injury in a crash, particularly among children [1].

If passed by Parliament, the law would not criminalise those cycling without helmets. Instead, cyclists under 14 found cycling without a helmet would be required to provide proof of purchase of a helmet within 28 days to avoid a fine.

Her campaign has the support of Brake, the British Medical Association, brain injury charity Headway, the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust, the Child Brain Injury Trust, and the Child Accident Prevention Trust.

While road casualties are falling at unprecedented rates in the UK, cyclist casualties are increasing. In 2010 cyclist deaths increased by 7% and serious injuries increased by 2% [2].

Evidence suggests that approximately 40% of pedal cyclists admitted to hospital in England suffer head injuries [3], which is why cycle helmet laws could make a huge difference. Scientific research into the protective effect of bicycle helmets has shown that they reduce the risk of head injury by 85%, brain injury by 88% and severe brain injury by at least 75% [4].

In Britain, cycle helmet wearing rates remain shockingly low for children (much lower than among adults), having failed to increase in recent years: just one in five children (18%) are observed to be wearing a helmet, with the figure for boys lower still (13%) [5]. Research shows that legislation increases helmet use among cyclists, particularly in younger age groups and groups which are least likely to wear helmets before the introduction of legislation [6].

The Cycles Bill will have its second reading in Parliament on 4 November 2011.

This is not the first child road safety campaign that Annette has been involved with. In March, Annette took part in a debate in Westminster Hall against cuts to school crossing patrols. She argued that school crossing patrols are a low cost service that delivers vital safety benefits to children.

Annette has pledged to continue fighting for safer roads for children through her work in Parliament and in the local community.

Annette Brooke MP said: 'We have a duty to protect our children, and the Cycles (Protective Headgear for Children) Bill will do just that. Brain injury devastates the lives of individuals and their families. Children are at a higher risk because not only are their brains not fully developed but they are less experienced at cycling and on the roads in general."

Julie Townsend, Brake campaigns director, said: "Brake supports Annette's Bill for compulsory cycle helmets for children and we are pleased to name her our Parliamentarian of the Month. Helmets are really effective in reducing the risk of serious head injury when cycling – so wearing a helmet is a simple step all cyclists can take to help protect themselves, but it's especially important for children. As well as encouraging more cyclists to wear helmets, we're urging the Government to invest in engineering measures like cycle paths and 20mph limits to make our roads safer for families, children and people of all ages to walk and cycle without their lives being endangered."

Communities worried about road safety problems can access advice on campaigning for safer roads by reporting their concerns to Brake's Zak the Zebra mascot at www.zakthezebra.org or by calling Zak's hotline on 08000 68 77 80.

[1] Bicycle helmets: review of effectiveness (Department for Transport, 2002)
[2] Reported road casualties in Great Britain: main results, Department for Transport, 2010
[3] The potential for cycle helmets to prevent injury: review of the evidence, Road User Safety and Cycling, Department for Transport Road Safety Research and Statistics Division, 2009
[4] Cycle helmets and the prevention of injuries: recommendations for competitive sport, Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, University of Washington, 1998
[5] Cycle helmet wearing in 2008 (Department for Transport, 2009)
[6] Effectiveness of bicycle helmet legislation to increase helmet use: a systematic review, University of Alberta, 2005