The Isle of Man could become the first place in Europe to make bike helmets compulsory for all cyclists after the Crown Dependency’s legislators backed an amendment to proposed road traffic legislation that would require anyone on a bike to wear one.
While some European countries have compulsory helmet laws that apply to children – under-15s in the case of Slovakia and Slovenia, and under-12s in France and Sweden, for example – only Spain stipulates that all cyclists should wear them, but only outside towns and cities.
This week, the House of Keys – the lower house of the world’s oldest continuous parliament, the Tynwald – saw the third reading of the Road Traffic Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2020, reports iomtoday.co.im.
Clauses approved by Members of the House of Keys (MHKs) included one that will require all cyclists, motorbike sidecars passengers, quad bikers and people riding animals or animal-propelled vehicles to wear protective headgear.
The clause was not backed unanimously. One MHK, Bill Shimmins, said that while he wore a helmet when riding his bike, he was not in favour of them being made compulsory.
“No other European country has enacted compulsory cycling helmet legislation for all users and many of those countries have a far higher number of cyclists,” he said.
He noted that in the Netherlands, “very few” people wear helmets, despite high levels of cycling and it being one of the safest countries in the world to ride a bike.
Shimmins added that he believes that nine in 10 cyclists on the Isle of Man already wear a helmet, and that they would afford minimal protection to someone in a collision with a car or a lorry.
Another MHK, Clare Barber, raised concerns over how such legislation could be enforced.
“I think it’s far more about education, rather than a very blunt instrument,” she said. “I’m not totally against an enabling clause because I also recognise this could include things like horse riders and so on.
“But I do think we need to be very cautious about the route we may be going down with this because I don’t think it is so cut and dry as the intention would seem to indicate.”
The bill was introduced by former infrastructure minister Ray Harmer, who said that the proposed legislation was not primarily aimed at cyclists.
“It is more of a general provision and more appropriate for riders of quads and those that propel by horse riding and so forth and a number of different vehicles that come into play from time to time,” he said.
“I think it’s important to have that provision so that we can meet the challenges head on.
“Obviously any provision will have to be set up fully in regulations, it would have to have a detail and be approved by Tynwald.”
The bill will now head to the island’s legislative council for approval.
The Isle of Man would not be the first British Crown Dependency to introduce a compulsory helmet law; Jersey did so in 2014, but it only applies to those aged 13 and under.
Outside Europe, countries including Australia and New Zealand have compulsory helmet laws for cyclists of all ages, as do some states that make up the USA, with others having age-specific laws, or none at all.
Opponents of helmet compulsion point out that where such laws are introduced, they are accompanied by a decline in bike-riding, which has a disproportionate effect on general public health than the perceived problem the legislation aims to address.