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.
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