4th October 2012
BRIDPORT: MP shocks children with views on road safety
MP OLIVER Letwin stunned primary school children by stating he would rather the law did not require people to wear seatbelts or motorcycle helmets and that children should start taking responsibility for their own health and safety “at around nine or ten years old.”
Bridport’s St Mary’s Primary School pupils had invited the West Dorset MP into their classroom to call for the law to be changed to make helmets compulsory for children when cycling.
But far from agreeing with their proposal, the cabinet minister was dead against the idea.
He told them: “I must tell you I’m against legislation that would make wearing cycle helmets compulsory. I think things like that should be down to the individual.”
To the 10 and 11 year olds’ surprise Mr Letwin then went much further.
He went on: “I personally don’t think, for example, that wearing seat belts in cars or wearing helmets on motorbikes should be compulsory either.
“Of course, wearing a helmet is not a gross intrusion, but it’s yet another law. No one thing is just by itself, one thing leads on to another and you end up with laws governing every aspect of your life.
“The police would then be forced to spend all their time making sure people were looking after themselves instead of catching people who were doing bad things to others.
“I think individuals should be given the responsibility to look after their own safety and wellbeing and we shouldn’t use laws to force them to do so.
“For example, would you make a law banning people from eating unhealthy food? Or making them go to the gym every day?”
The children answered that they thought this was in fact a good idea, to which Mr Letwin replied: “You seem to want to ban everything. Well, it’s a consistent argument and I’m sure we would all be much safer and healthier. But it’s not a country I would want to live in.”
When one pupil pointed out they were not suggesting forcing everyone to wear a cycle helmet, just children, Mr Letwin again surprised the class by suggesting even youngsters should be responsible for their own safety.
He said: “I want people to think for themselves and think you should start doing that at quite a young age.
“I think people of nine or ten years old can make these decisions by themselves.”
One outraged schoolboy wondered: “Do you care at all about children’s lives?” which made the cabinet member laugh.
He replied: “Of course I care about children’s lives but you have to balance personal freedom against the benefits of lowering the risk of injuries.
“You have to put up with a certain amount of risk to have a free life.”
The father of two was more receptive to the idea of a poster campaign warning of the dangers of going without a cycle helmet.
He said: “That’s a much better idea. Of course we should encourage people to do these things, educate them to look after themselves and act safely. I’m all for that.
“It’s just I wouldn’t make laws forcing them to do it.”
Organisations such as Headway and the Child Brain Injury Trust continue to campaign for a change in the law on cycle helmets even though the Department of Transport concluded in 2009 there was no evidence helmets resulted in a lower risk of head injury for cyclists.
In August this year Olympic champion and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins backed a change in the law.
Responding to a direct question on the subject he said: “I think when there’s laws passed for cyclists, then you’re protected and you can say, well, I’ve done everything to be safe.”
The government’s own Think! campaign warns that in a car crash you are twice as likely to die if you are not wearing a seatbelt.
Its sister campaign for motorcycle helmet awareness SHARP encourages motorbike users to ensure the helmet they wear offers the greatest protection possible.
PICTURE: MP Oliver Letwin with the Year Six schoolchildren of St Mary’s Primary School, Bridport
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