Updated: Northern Ireland Assembly backs compulsory helmet law by two votes

Sustrans and CTC warn that proposed legislation could cause fall in number of cyclists

by Simon_MacMichael   January 31, 2011  

White cycle helmet

Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly have backed by two votes a private member's bill that is seeking to make it compulsory to wear bike helmets in the province. Although the bill does need to go through further stages of the legislative process, the result of yesterday's vote means that it has negotiated a significant obstacle.

The private member’s bill had been tabled by Pat Ramsey of the SDLP, who is seeking to make helmets compulsory with a £50 fine for any cyclist caught not wearing one.

Ahead of yesterday's vote, the proposed legislation has attracted criticism from representatives of national cyclists’ organisation CTC and the sustainable transport charity Sustrans, who warned that making it compulsory to wear a helmet while out riding could lead to a fall in the number of people cycling.

Tim Edgar of CTC told BBC News: "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.

“Money and time needs to be invested to tackle the causes of road dangers such as speeding traffic,” he continued.

“Safer, well-designed roads must be a priority and children should be given the skills and confidence to use them, through on-road training and practical guidance.

“For a relatively small sum of money, we could give every child the opportunity to cycle safely and enjoy all the benefits that brings.”

Ross McGill from Sustrans highlighted his own experience of seeing a compulsory helmet law put into force when he was growing up in the United States.

"I was a teenager living in upstate New York when cycle helmet legislation aimed at children was introduced," he explained.

"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."

“We’ve already seen that the police here are unable to prevent people cycling on the pavement, although that’s also illegal.

“So why add to their workload by introducing another law they won’t be able to enforce?”

A poll on the front page of Mr Ramsey’s own website shows that of 75 votes cast to date, 58.7% are against any form of compulsion. Some 34.7% of voters backed compulsion for all cyclists, and a further 6.7% said that helmets should be compulsory only for children.

Last March, the parliament of Jersey in the Channel Islands rejected by just one vote a proposed compulsory helmet law to apply to all cyclists on the island, although they backed the introduction of similar legislation applicable only to children aged under 18 by a margin of two to one.

22 user comments

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My worry if this bill goes through is that to implement any fines the police would have to have some form of proof of the rider's identity. This could then be the thin end of the wedge regarding registration for all cyclists so we could all be forced to pay an annual registration fee...
With the government trying to tackle rising obesity and also trying to encourage everyone to exercise more this bill would be a serious blow to that plan.

posted by PRINCIPIA PHIL [59 posts]
31st January 2011 - 19:28


Just taken a look at the SDLP MP's website poll.

Q: Should Cycle Helmets be Compulsary (sic)?

Dear oh dear!
And they want to impose laws on us?

Simon Mason, Kingston upon Hull

posted by swldxer [36 posts]
31st January 2011 - 20:05


If this legislation ever becomes law, the list of reasons why I'd never want to ride in Northern Ireland would get one item longer.

posted by handlebarcam [545 posts]
31st January 2011 - 21:26


Seems that Mr Ramsey's plans have backfired.

Currently the poll, completed by 115 people, shows 70.4% No, 25.2% for all cyclists and 4.3% Yes for children only.

Perhaps he should re-visit his constituents to find out if he is truly representing their views.

If this legislation ever becomes law, the list of reasons why I'd never want to ride in Northern Ireland would get one item longer.

They'd be better off enforcing the use of indicators which is a current legal requirement, it would have a much more beneficial effect for all road users and pedestrians

Done Nightrider 2013, 2014 and 2015 for Parkinson's UK. Next year Ride London

jova54's picture

posted by jova54 [663 posts]
1st February 2011 - 10:18


Worrying. In the worst case scenario UK cyclists could end up with compulsory ID, helmet, and high vis vest. Would any of these as law solve the real problem - excessive speed from intolerant motorists? Nope. Realistically it couldn't happen as the cycle vote is, I suspect, a sleeping giant but if this gets through in NI it will a matter of days before some opportunist MP brings it up in the Commons.

I'm all for helmets - but as a matter of personal choice. If all motorists chose to respect other road users and drive appropriately that would be an acceptable compromise. If this can't be enforced neither should helmet wear.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1218 posts]
1st February 2011 - 10:29


Why is that the people calling for mandatory helmet laws are the ones who don't ride bikes?

If you live in NI, it would be a good time to call your local member and complain before you end up like us in Australia.


posted by davekinkead [4 posts]
1st February 2011 - 10:40


Does NI have any cycle hire schemes? They should look at the probs Melbourne has getting people to use theirs; all because of compulsory helmet laws. Contrast that to London's which is a roaring success.

"Inside every car is a pedestrian, just Waiting to get out..." S.J.L.

scotter's picture

posted by scotter [64 posts]
1st February 2011 - 12:01


This must have got through on a slow day at Stomount.
It's not going to improve road safety, as that is more to do with the standard of driving.

I really hope this gets rejected soon before some backbench MP at Westminster wanting to make some noise proposes the same thing.

I would have thought it would be so far down the list of priorities for the PSNI, they have plenty of more serious stuff to deal with.

posted by thereverent [354 posts]
1st February 2011 - 12:34


Of all the legislation they could put forward to improve road safety.... I'm very disappointed. Are there really no other measures they could implement to save lives apart from forcing cyclists to wear a polystyrene hat?

Do these people actually live in the real world? Do they not consider examples in other countries, view the evidence or look for relevant views? It appears that they don't cycle themselves and see cyclists as an easy target for the 'blame the victim' mentality.

This kind of thing is another step on the road to contributory negligence: "You weren't wearing a helmet therefore you can't claim off me / punish me in court for running you over. You brought it on yourself, barehead".

If this is what democracy has given us then I despair for its future. Bring back dictatorship Wink

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2415 posts]
1st February 2011 - 13:16


Put it this way, in the well-documented case of the competition cyclist killed by a poor driver, the victim would not have survived whether or not he had been wearing a helmet.


posted by OldRidgeback [2580 posts]
1st February 2011 - 13:18


so would people have to wear any helmet or a helmet that has been approved by a specific body (money making opportunity for someone). Will it be ascertained if said helmet fits correctly, or is fastened and adjusted correctly or does not carry any prior damage?

Unworkable, farcical, have the police been consulted on this?

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [1112 posts]
1st February 2011 - 14:13


Simon E wrote:

If this is what democracy has given us then I despair for its future. Bring back dictatorship Wink

They had a dictatorship in Northern Ireland for about 35 years, it was called Direct Rule Wink

Done Nightrider 2013, 2014 and 2015 for Parkinson's UK. Next year Ride London

jova54's picture

posted by jova54 [663 posts]
1st February 2011 - 17:32


Aye - except that dictatorship didn't push through a ridiculous law like this!! If successful this will only detrimental to cycling in the province Sad obviously research has not taken into account that our more cycling friendly nations do not use this unneessary and draconian approach towards cyclists! And realistically - is a helmet going to save a life if hit by a speeding vehicle? More effort should be put into dealing with dangerous drivers!!

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1184 posts]
1st February 2011 - 19:17


Simon E wrote:
Do these people actually live in the real world?

No, they are politicians.

posted by handlebarcam [545 posts]
1st February 2011 - 21:39



two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1448 posts]
1st February 2011 - 22:40


Anyone can vote on the SDLP website, the vote at the moment appears to be heading for a public "no".


posted by solentine [96 posts]
2nd February 2011 - 16:22


In all fairness, as I was nearly sucked under the wheels of a huge articulated lorry last night I was comforted by the fact my wife would have a decent chance to identify my pulped remains because my poorly rated, barely tested polystyrene hat *might* save enough of my head to be recognisable.

Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [586 posts]
2nd February 2011 - 16:47


solentine wrote:
Anyone can vote on the SDLP website, the vote at the moment appears to be heading for a public "no".

quite an emphatic 'no' it would seem...

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7855 posts]
2nd February 2011 - 16:54


Just wondering if Mr Ramsey has taken a look at his website lately Thinking Seems like the general public has other ideas...

Will it be against the law to not wear a helmet when on cycle tracks or in forest parks or just the roads? Bearing in mind that most off-road cyclists will wear full face helmets; sportives and clubs require the wearing of helmets to take part. All this legislation will do is put off the casual cyclist whose only interest is to pedal a couple of miles a week or drags their machine out for the summer holiday and do not want to go to the expense of buying a bit of polystyrene to perch on their bonce Surprise

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1184 posts]
2nd February 2011 - 18:42


… yes, we'd been looking at that too

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4201 posts]
2nd February 2011 - 19:01


I favour covering cars with two or three centimetres of polystyrene and a thin layer poly carbonate. That should provide complete protection to my whole body and not just my head. After all a bit of polystyrene is obviously all that is required to overcome the physics of a two ton body colliding with a 75kg body?

posted by JessOnABike [7 posts]
2nd February 2011 - 19:31

1 Like

Look on the bright side..... it's somewhere to clip your head camera


Simon Walker's picture

posted by Simon Walker [53 posts]
3rd February 2011 - 13:45