Dec 152010

One of the age-old debates in leisure cycling is whether cyclists should be made to wear helmets to improve their safety/protection against possible head injuries from an accident.

There are countless peer review scientific studies that support the notion that it does provide protection as well studies that do not, while some studies suggest that safety may have been compromised by wearing a helmet.

Wearing a helmet in the UK is still very much left to individual choice, but it could become compulsory in Northern Ireland in the near future if Pat Ramsey, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in the province, has his way.

Yesterday (December 13) saw the publication of a private members parliamentary bill (Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill 9/10) in the Northern Ireland Assembly that will require the wearing of a helmet for adults of all ages while cycling on a road or a public place in Northern Ireland.

Under the proposals of the bill, those caught riding without a helmet will face a fixed penalty charge of £50. However, first-time offenders can be excused if they produce a suitable helmet and a purchase receipt within seven days at a police station along with their penalty notice. An appeals process will also be available where fixed penalty notices can be challenged.

Interestingly, if the legislation is passed, the helmet law will not come into force until three years from the year it is passed. In that period, there would be a public campaign to raise awareness of wearing a helmet when cycling.

The helmet bill is at the first stage of the parliamentary process and will still require further parliamentary scrutiny and the support of all MLAs for it to pass and become law. As it is a private members bill, the vote on the law will be not based on political party lines.

UK cyclist organisation CTC has said it will oppose the bill and campaign in Northern Ireland against it.

The CTC believes that wearing a helmet is a personal choice and is opposed to making it compulsory. It argues that compulsion laws in other countries have reduced the number of people who cycle and a knock-on reduction in safety for those that remain.

Pat Ramsey’s bill is supported by brain injury charity Headway.

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