The Isle of Man will introduce a compulsory cycling helmet law, having passed a third reading of a new Road Traffic Legislation Bill that captures cyclists, horse riders and motorbike sidecar passengers.
If passed by the legislative Council, the territory will join a very limited club of European nations with any rules on cycling helmets. Malta formerly made helmets compulsory in 2004, but scrapped the legislation, acknowledging its negative impact on cycling levels. Sweden has imposed rules, but only on children under 15. This rule also applies in Slovenia and the Czech Republic. A detailed breakdown of the rules across Europe can be found here.
The legislation was described as a “blunt instrument” by Clare Barber, who represents the Douglas East region of the Island.
She said on the Act’s progress: “I think it’s far more about education, rather than a very blunt instrument. 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.”
In fighting against the legislation the island’s authority heard evidence citing Denmark, where it was claimed that 25% of all commutes are cycled. (It is likely higher than that figure.) It was argued that 27% wore helmets as standard and that they get by without the need for compulsory cycling helmet legislation.
Referencing Holland’s cycling levels, back bencher Bill Shimmins, a cyclist himself, said: “Very few people actually wear cycling helmets in their everyday lives, despite it being seen as one of the safest cyclist countries in the world.”
Shimmins also correctly identified that a cycling helmet is not designed to protect in the event of a collision with a motor vehicle, a topic that is discussed in the up coming issue of CyclingIndustry.News Trade Journal with leading manufacturers.
In places where compulsory helmet use does exist the net effect has very often been that cyclist numbers decline in response.
In Australia, where fines are readily available in some territories for declining to wear a helmet, cycling levels dropped in tandem with the creation of helmet compulsion laws. One New South Wales study taken back in 1993 found that while helmet uptake had risen with laws compelling it, 30% less children rode to school after legislation was introduced.
Further east, New Zealand’s helmet compulsory cycling helmet laws came in to force in 1994, bicycle trips fell by 51% between records taken between 1989 and 2006.