Belfast Telegraph

Cycle helmet proposals criticised

Proposed laws compelling cyclists in Northern Ireland to wear helmets will be impossible to enforce, it has been claimed.

It would also put people off cycling, charity Sustrans warned.

SDLP Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey is piloting draft legislation due to be debated in the Assembly. Parents would have to pay a £50 penalty if their child was caught without safety headgear. However, penalties can be suspended if it is a first offence and if the child later purchases protective equipment.

Ross McGill, Sustrans sustainable transport officer, said similar efforts had been unsuccessful in the US.

"I was a teenager living in upstate New York when cycle helmet legislation aimed at children was introduced," he said. "No child I knew took any notice of the law. It was quite impossible for the police to enforce, even though there were more officers on patrol than you would see in Northern Ireland."

Helmet-wearing rates across the UK have increased steadily since 1994 with up to a third wearing them on major roads.

According to the Transport Research Laboratory, helmets are effective in most accidents but that depended on the size of the injured person and the type of incident. It said a helmeted head can fall at least four times as far for the same risk of injury as an unprotected head.

In Northern Ireland in 2009/10 2% of road casualties involved cyclists. A total of 32 were seriously injured and 164 slightly injured.

Sustrans said in Australia, New Zealand and Canada significant falls in cycle use were recorded after legislation was introduced.

CTC, the UK's national cycling organisation, is also opposed to the draft laws. Northern Ireland development officer Tim Edgar said: "We want to make cycling as safe as possible, just like the supporters of this bill. But there's robust evidence that making helmets compulsory puts people off cycling in the first place. That would have a significant impact on the current levels of cycling which we've worked so hard to increase over the last few years."

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