Letter to NI Assembly on Helmet Law

I am writing this submission from my position as chairman of ‘Cyclist.ie’, the all-island umbrella body for utility cyclists. I was born in Belfast and lived there for part of my childhood years. All my relatives live in Northern Ireland.

I would urge that you listen to what experienced cyclists (Cyclists Touring Club, NI Cycling Initiative, many individual cyclists, etc.) have been saying to you about this Bill. Its original proponents may mean well but what you, as legislators, have to consider is the unintended consequences of introducing it into law.

I would urge that you consider your answer to these two fundamental questions below:

  1. Is the Bill going to reduce significantly the incidence of road traffic collisions involving a cyclist and a motorised vehicle?
  2. Is the Bill going to reduce significantly the incidence of head injuries leading to death or morbidity in such collisions?

The peer-reviewed research evidence suggests that the answer will be ‘no’ to both these questions. The CTC and others have provided you with the references to this literature.

The over-weight and obesity incidence in our society has reached epidemic levels so the last thing we should be doing is to depress active travel, particularly use of the bike among young people of school-going age. Do you wish to reduce cycling levels, and therefore valuable aerobic exercise, by the enactment of this Bill?

You will have been presented with research literature evidence that mandatory and enforced helmet-wearing reduces levels of cycling in jurisdictions where it has been implemented by legislation.

One very telling research finding is that wearing of personal protective equipment, when its efficacy to protect riders from impact with a vehicle is dubious in the first instance, leads to the ‘risk compensation’ factor coming into play with the result that riders may feel less vulnerable and engage in riskier behaviour. This particularly applies to children.

What proponents of the Bill are failing to recognise is that wearing a bike helmet will not protect the rider from impact with a vehicle in a road traffic collision where the majority of fatalities arise from what are called ‘left-hook’ turns at a junction where the motorised vehicle is turning left and crushes the rider under the wheels. A bike helmet provides next-to-no protection against body crushing under wheel sets.

If parliament wishes to introduce legislative or administrative measures that would make our roads safer for all then attention would be better directed at the driving instruction and testing regime. Roads can be made much safer by behavioural change in the driver and bike rider cohorts. For instance if drivers were required to leave a 1.0-1.5 m space between the vehicle near-side and any rider while overtaking same then the effect would be dramatic. If this was coupled with altering drivers’ behaviour at junctions in the proximity to riders then collisions would be virtually eliminated.

These measures would be cost-effective.

If the Assembly enacts this Bill then I will predict that the measures will not reduce the incidence of motorised vehicles’ collisions with bikes or the outcome for the rider from such impacts. It is a clear case of an Act missing out on the proper ‘target’.

It will involve the PSNI in the enforcement of legislation that will be subject to ridicule and produce odium towards the enforcing officers among the community.

5 thoughts on “Letter to NI Assembly on Helmet Law”

  1. I cant imagine there will be time during this session of the assembly and certainly hope there is not. Half caked idea from Pat Ramsey SDLP Derry MLA and the controversial Headway charity group

  2. I got a letter from Pat Ramsay confirming he has no plans to take forward this proposed Bill during this new mandate of the Assembly.

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