UK cyclists' organisation CTC and sustainable transport charity Sustrans have joined forces to challenge proposed legislation that would force cyclists to wear helmets in public places in Northern Ireland.
The Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill passed the second stage of the legislative process in January by a narrow margin of 20 to 18 and it's now being scrutinized by the Environment Committee.
If it becomes law, anyone caught cycling without a helmet will face a £50 fine – although this will be waived if it's a first offence and the cyclist can prove that they've since bought a helmet. Parents of children who break the law will also be fined.
CTC and Sustrans have launched a petition against the Bill, which can be signed by any resident of the UK. They say they aren't anti-helmet but that evidence suggests making helmet wearing compulsory would lead to a sharp reduction in the number of cyclists on Northern Ireland's roads.
They say the legislation ignores the fact that cycling is a relatively safe activity, and the extra cost of a helmet will disproportionally affect those from poorer households.
Roger Geffen, CTC's campaigns and policy director, said: “Cycling for day-to-day journeys is a relatively safe activity and it gets safer the more people there are cycling. This bill may be well-intentioned, but it will deter vast numbers of people from cycling, while increasing the risk for those who remain.
"At a time of mounting concern about obesity and climate change, scaring people into car-dependence is bound to shorten more lives than helmets would possibly save. I’d recommend our petition to everyone who enjoys cycling. With their support we can defeat this fundamentally flawed bill.”
Sustrans’ Northern Ireland director Steven Patterson said: “We share the wish of the supporters of this bill to improve the safety of cyclists but there are many better ways of doing this, such as giving every child on-road cycle training or reducing speed limits to 20mph in residential areas.”
The man behind the bill is the Northern Ireland Assembly member for Foyle, Pat Ramsay. Speaking prior to January's vote, he said: "People who are opposed to mandatory legislation cite reports that argue that helmets are ineffective in protecting against head and brain injury. However, respected and rigorous reports show strong evidence that helmets are effective in reducing head injury. According to the British Medical Association, the use of properly fitted helmets reduces the risk of head and brain injury by 65 to 88 percent and reduces the risk of injury to the upper face by 65 percent.
"It surprised me that some cycling organisations are opposed to the Bill. In organised cycling events, even informal rides out, cyclists are invariably helmeted. It also surprised me because the main governing body for cycling racing, the UCI, has made helmets compulsory in all racing events. It is, therefore, surprising that some cycling organisations argue against the same level of protection for children and adults as they insist on for themselves. Let's face it: most cyclists aren't professional. They cycle on roads that are shared by motorised traffic, with the obvious accompanying risks."
Both the CTC and Sustrans will submit a portfolio of evidence to the committee and will give evidence on 10 March. Written submissions from the public must be made by 14 March, and can be done through www.writetothem.com. To sign the petition or read more about the proposed law, head to www.ctc.org.uk/NIrelandHelmets.