J Med Ethics 38:338-341 doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100085
  • Law, ethics and medicine
  • Paper

Liberty or death; don't tread on me

Editor's ChoicePress Release
  1. John Spicer2
  1. 1Division of Population Health and Education, St George's, University of London, London, UK
  2. 2London Deanery, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Carwyn Hooper, St George's, University of London, Division of Population Health and Education, Cranmer Terrace, London SW17 0RE, UK; hoopercarwyn{at}
  • Received 11 July 2011
  • Revised 21 December 2011
  • Accepted 14 January 2012
  • Published Online First 7 March 2012


Many jurisdictions require cyclists to wear bicycle helmets. The UK is currently not one of these. However, an increasing number of interest groups, including the British Medical Association, want to change the status quo. They argue that mandatory cycle helmet laws will reduce the incidence of head injuries and that this will be both good for cyclists (because they will suffer fewer head injuries) and good for society (because the burden of having to treat cyclists suffering from head injuries will be reduced). In this paper we argue against this position. We suggest that cycle helmets may not be especially effective in reducing head injuries and we suggest that the imposition of such a restrictive law would violate people's freedom and reduce their autonomy. We also argue that those who accept such a restrictive law would be committed to supporting further legislation which would force many other groups – including pedestrians – to take fewer risks with their health. We conclude that cycle helmet legislation should not be enacted in the UK unless, perhaps, it is restricted to children.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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