A private member’s Bill to make wearing a helmet compulsory for under 16s is to get its second parliamentary hearing in April. But no sooner had the campaign supporting the Bill launched, than cycling groups started a counter campaign. Cycling groups such as the CTC fear that MPs might support the bill under the impression that they are supporting a children’s safety issue without realising that the most likely impact of criminalising non helmet-wearing children would be that fewer children would cycle.
Supporters of the Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill, sponsored by Carlisle MP Eric Martlew, believe that forcing young cyclists to wear helmets will help to reduce accidents and fatalities. The initiative was launched at Westminster on Monday by motor racing’s David Coulthard. Coulthard, not generally known for his risk-aversion, said that he was well aware of the risks of the road and always wore a helmet himself but that, “Children are not aware of these risks and it’s our responsibility to protect them.”
Understandably the Bill has provoked an uproar in the cycling lobby. The issue of compulsory helmet-wearing is a long-standing hot potato, and this particular bill would criminalise children for riding a bike without a helmet in any public recreational location even in parks, and would also criminalise their guardians for allowing them to ride without a helmet.
Roger Geffen of the CTC outlined the organisiation’s opposition to the Bill saying “By reducing cycle use and exacerbating the trends towards car-dependent sedentary lifestyles, this Bill would almost certainly shorten thousands more lives than it could ever hope to save.” The British Medical Association have also come out against the proposals for the same reasons, while Philip Darnton of the National Cycling Strategy Board said that the law would be unenforceable. Other cycling groups who’ve come out against the Bill include the Cyclists’ Public Affairs Group, the Association of Cycle Traders, British Cycling, Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign.
The cycling lobby have tried to get their message through to MPs who might be tempted to support the Bill without thinking through the implications. The CTC are producing a pamphlet, ‘Seven Reasons to Oppose a Child Helmet Law’ with which to lobby MPs. The pamphlet will make clear that “the principal threats to children’s lives are obesity, hearty disease and other illnesses resulting in large part from inactivity. Cycling has a key role to play in prevent these illnesses. Less cycling through a helmet law will aggravate the situation.”
It looks like the counter campaign may have already had some success, with their arguments being picked up by the BBC and with hints from the Department for Transport that the Bill will not have government support. At the third annual cycling Forum held at the DfT last week transport minister Dr. Kim Howells said that he was not in favour of compulsory helmet use and that any such law would likely prove unenforceable.
If you want to register your concern about the Bill you can contact your local MP and send feedback to the BBC. Alternatively if you think enforced helmet use is a good thing then have your say on the forum.
To read the bill check this link: Protective Headgear for Young Cyclists Bill