* Top court overturns ruling allowing lower insurance payout
* Cyclists association, transport minister back decision
KARLSRUHE, Germany, June 17 Germany's highest
court of appeal ruled on Tuesday that cyclists who sustain head
injuries in an accident are not automatically considered partly
responsible if they were not wearing a helmet.
The ruling, which overturned a controversial lower court
decision, means cyclists can choose not to wear a helmet without
fear of any financial disadvantage in case of a crash.
Helmets are not compulsory in Germany and only 15 percent of
cyclists wear them.
The Federal Court of Justice ruling concerned an accident in
April 2011, when a 61-year-old woman cycling to work was thrown
from her bike when a passenger in a parked car suddenly opened
the door as she passed.
The woman suffered serious head injuries and spent months in
hospital. The car owner's insurance company claimed she bore
some responsibility for her injuries because she wasn't wearing
a helmet, and wanted to reduce its payout by 20 percent.
A local court in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein
agreed with the insurance company and reasoned that "a decent
and reasonable person would wear a helmet to decrease the risk
of injury". The woman appealed the ruling to the federal court.
The German Cyclists Association (ADFC) welcomed Tuesday's
ruling. Its National Director Burkhard Stork said, "the 30
million people that cycle everyday can decide for themselves if
they should wear a helmet or not."
The cyclist lobbying group encourages voluntary helmet
wearing. It says the safety benefits of basic bicycle helmets
are not as clear as those of seat belts or motorcycle helmets.
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt agreed, saying:
"Helmets can provide security and reduce injuries in the case of
accident... but we want freedom of choice to be the main focus."
In Berlin, where cyclists with and without helmets dart
across the city daily, opinion was mixed. Ludwig Wright, a young
helmet-wearing cyclist, said he believed people should be free
to decide because compulsory helmet wearing could reduce the
number of cyclists, such as he said happened in Australia.
Tabitha Ludek said she opposed a helmet law because it would
mess up her hair. "I don't think you should always have to wear
a helmet, especially not for shorter distances," she added.
A Swedish company called Hoevding developed an airbag in
2013 to replace the traditional bike helmet in response to just
such fashion concerns. The catch: it costs about 300 euros
($410), compared to about 30 to 60 euros for a helmet.
($1 = 0.7345 Euros)
(Reporting by Anja Nilsson and Norbert Demuth; Editing by
Alexandra Hudson and Tom Heneghan)