Northern Ireland Bike Helmet Law proposals: Helmet Law would be a public health disaster say cyclists

Cyclist.ie, the Irish national cycling lobby group, has reacted with dismay and deep concern to news of a proposal to make it illegal for people to cycle in Northern Ireland unless they wear a helmet.

Cyclist.ie chairperson Dr. Mike McKillen stated “The regular exercise provided by cycling confers protection against heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. There is a straightforward public health imperative to get as many people as possible to make daily journeys by bicycle. If this aim is be realised, we must not get distracted by counterproductive debates about helmet wearing.  The drop in the number of cyclists following vigorous helmet promotion in other jurisdictions draws a stark picture: you can promote cycling or you can promote helmets; you cannot do both”

The cyclists also point out that if the proposed law goes through, then Northern Ireland is effectively turning its back on the modern trend for public bike share schemes such as the Dublin and London schemes.  These schemes have been hugely popular and have shown general city cycling to be extremely safe with over a million trips and no serious injuries recorded among users.  Conversely bike share schemes in cities covered by helmet laws such as Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland have conspicuously failed to take off.

A bill to make it illegal to cycle without a helmet in Northern Ireland passed the second stage in the NI Assembly earlier this week, despite serious concerns being expressed by the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC) and Sustrans.  This is viewed as setting an unfortunate precedent both in the island of Ireland and across Europe.  The European Cyclists Federation is also opposed to such laws and to misleading helmet promotion campaigns.  Cyclist.ie offers the people of Northern Ireland every assistance available in fighting this unwarranted attack on a healthy, accessible form of transport.

15 thoughts on “Northern Ireland Bike Helmet Law proposals: Helmet Law would be a public health disaster say cyclists”

  1. “[The Dublin and London bike-share schemes] have been hugely popular and have shown general city cycling to be extremely safe with over a million trips and no serious injuries recorded among users.”

    Actually, the two schemes combined have recorded quite a bit more than that. dublinbikes recorded their one millionth journey back in August, while the London scheme hit one million trips after ten weeks (July-September 2010). I think the total is over three million now, between the two schemes, with no serious injuries incurred in either jurisdiction.

  2. As a someone born in Tyrone and now living and working in the field of cycling planning and promotion in Melbourne I am totally dismayed at this news. Mandatory helmet laws have been an utter failure in Australia. The EU has acknowledged this in countless documents, often pointing to the Australian experience as the reason such laws should never be introduced. The Melbourne Bike Share scheme has so far failed to take off and the problem can be largely attributed to helmets. Indeed, what you don’t hear is that of those riding the bikes, most don’t wear a helmet.

    Can you provide some context to this proposal? Who instigated this and why?

  3. Even if this ill-conceived legislation should somehow be forced through, I’d imagine it would be ignored like so many other laws, whether demonstrably sensible or not e.g. using a mobile phone while driving is illegal, but it is widespread …

  4. it was that clown pat ramsey of the sdlp who proposed it and his retarded out of touch party supported it he is be lobbied by the helmet companies and the headway charity belfast from thier expensive offices.

  5. Not wearing a cycle helmet is indisputably irresponsible – globally.

    If you crack your head bad enough, it compromises a lot of other functions as well.

    I understand some people make a hobby of fighting legislation and the law just for the sake of resisting authority, but because not everyone is sensible enough to wear a helmet, some things are best prescribed, things like speed limits, safety standards, security standards, and wearing helmets.

    I always wear a helmet and whenever I hear or read about an unfortunate incident where injury occurred whereby lack of a helmet was a contributory factor, I think “If only they had wore a helmet…”

    Another angle for you to consider.
    Are you thinking of your dependents and loved ones when you risk skull injury by not wearing a helmet?
    Are you prepared to become dependent upon their love and support should you sustain a permanently debilitating head injury?
    If not, try to think less of yourselves and more of your dependents’ hopes for your safety.

  6. Niall –

    Since there are many more head injuries to car occupants and to pedestrians than to cyclists, are you supporting compulsory helmets in those cases too? Please let us know – for consistency, I hope you are. You can get support here…
    http://drivingwithoutdying.com/
    I don’t know the proportional statistics, but to save the maximum number of head injuries these head injuries surely mean that walking and driving helmets should be the top priority.

    “Another angle for you to consider…
    Are you thinking of your dependents and loved ones when you risk skull injury if you don’t wear a helmet when you are walking or in a car?
    Are you prepared to become dependent upon their love and support should you sustain a permanently debilitating head injury?
    If not, try to think less of yourselves and more of your dependents’ hopes for your safety.”

    As a cautionary tale [obviously of no statistical value] … believe it or not I know a cyclist who often wears a helmet when cycling, but took it off when walking along the pavement last winter. She skidded on the snowy pavement, banged her head, suffered bad concussion, hospital visits and was off work for a period.

    Finally, may I refer you to http://www.cyclehelmets.org. Please look at the facts before accusing others of irresponsibility.

  7. Dave, re “Since there are many more head injuries to car occupants and to pedestrians than to cyclists, are you supporting compulsory helmets in those cases too?” …

    Firstly, you cannot deny that cars have inbuilt safety measures – seat belts, airbags, crumple zones, etc. In most incidents, these preserve lives. Bicycles have nothing inbuilt like that, except the steering and brakes.

    Secondly, you cannot deny that there are comparatively more cars than bicycles on the roads, so statistically of course there would be more car-related injuries.

    Re “Are you thinking of your dependents and loved ones when you risk skull injury if you don’t wear a helmet when you are walking…?” Yes I am. I watch where I walk, I wait at the the Red Man, go on the Green Man, avoid footpath holes, etc.
    Do you?

    And when driving the car I wear my seat belt, drive at around and within the limits, and especially drive gently with family in the car, with youngsters restrained in required safety seats. Today’s IT reports that 30 per cent of Irish parents do not restrain their progeny in the car. Unbelievable!
    Do you?

    By the way, the Irish Times reports today that an ambulance paramedic calls cyclists without helmets “Organ Donors”. That’s apt. I also think the Darwin Awards is apt.

    Lastly, when I was young and spending my Summers at my uncles farm, there was an intelligent and very pretty pharmacy student in the nearby village, had everything going for her. She was out cycling, flew down a steep hill, hit a pothole, fell off, suffered a severe head injury, and died. A helmet might or might not have helped, but at least there would be no question of “What if she had a helmet?”

    Many people take unnecessary risks, and that’s especially unfortunate if they have young dependents. Or like that pharmacy student, who could have gone on to bear progeny.

  8. By the way, I also think there’s an element of laziness in not wearing a bike helmet.
    It’s another item to carry, it takes some time to put it on, adjust it, take it off, etc.

    Personally, I’d prefer to spend 2 minutes of every cycle dealing with my helmet than spend 2 months recuperating from an injury than my helmet would have prevented.

    It’s all about risk management really – the more risks one takes, the more chances are for bad outcomes.

  9. Thanks to compulsory helmet laws in Australia and New Zealand, we now know what happens to head injury rates when large numbers of bare-headed cyclists start wearing helmets over a very short period of time. Surprisingly, the head-injury rates do not improve.

    But, looked at another way, it’s not all that surprising. Bicycle helmets are not designed to protect against severe forces. They’re certified to compress without breaking when a 5kg mass is placed in them and dropped about two metres. Compared to the forces undergone when one is hit by a motorised vehicle even at quite moderate speeds, this is completely inadequate protection.

    Furthermore, severe head injury among cyclists is actually rare, so you have a very modest form of protection trying to bring down very low rates of injury. It’s not surprising the laws make very little difference in this sense.

    But in another sense, they make a huge difference: they clearly deter cycling, which is a great net benefit to any nation.

  10. Finally, the whole “organ donors” meme has been doing the rounds for years, though it probably started off being applied to bare-headed motorcyclists.

    I can’t find any statistics for Ireland, but the UK fatality rate for cyclists is 6 deaths per 100 million km travelled, while the Dutch rate is 1.5 deaths per 100 million km. The Dutch rate is clearly better, and I’m assuming our rate is more like the UK rate, but in neither case could you say that premature death is likely for the average cyclist, helmeted or not. 100 million km is a few thousand lifetimes of cycling, even for someone doing a few thousand km every year.

  11. Things are not always what they seem:
    Rock Climbers often use helmets, but not as one would imagine to protect themselves in the event of a serious fall, as in such cases the impact forces would generally exceed the protective capabilities of the helmet. The main function of a rock climbing helmet is to protect ones head from falling stones often knocked by climbers above.

    Compulsory bicycle helmets would seem to save the occasional individual “human life”, but a the same time would probably loose more total “human life” due to causing a drop off in casual cycling and a subsequent general population health decline resulting in shorter life spans.
    So if we really want to save “human life” it is best to keep them optional…

  12. In the March 28th Irish Times @ http://www.irishtimes.com/letters/ , a retired neurosurgical anaesthetist offers his opinion, as have a few trauma medics in recent weeks.

    They have seen cyclists’ head injuries that we dare not imagine.

    Consequently, all are supportive of wearing a helmet when cycling.

    But in the end, since the law seems voluntary for now, it’s up to individual discretion and responsibility for any consequences.

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