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CTC and Sustrans launch online petition to fight helmet compulsion

Organisations seek to overturn NI helmet law and draw a line in the sand for the rest of the UK too?

Sustrans and the CTC are have launched an online petition in their continuing efforts to fight a bill that would make cycling with a helmet compulsory in Northern Ireland by launching a petition and presenting evidence to the committee of the NI assembly that is currently scrutinising the bill as part of the legislative process. The online petition can be signed by anyone living in the UK.

Last month the Northern Ireland assembly passed The Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill by two votes which if it becomes law will make it an offence to ride a bicycle in public in the province without wearing protective headgear.

The bill was backed by the Northern Irish council of the BMA and its passing lead to calls for similar legislation to be passed in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland. One reason no doubt that both Sustrans and the CTC are asking people from across the British Isles to sign the petition.

In this latest stage of their campaign against the bill both organisations, which work to promote cycling are careful to explain that they are not “anti-helmet”. Instead, they point to a catalogue of evidence showing that Northern Ireland would see a sharp reduction in the number of people who would cycle if the bill became law. This would have serious consequences for public health, quality of life, congestion and the environment.

Explaining his organisation's stance, Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy director at the CTC, said: “Cycling for day-to-day journeys is a relatively safe activity and it gets safer the more people there are cycling. This bill may be well-intentioned, but it will deter vast numbers of people from cycling, while increasing the risk for those who remain. At a time of mounting concern about obesity and climate change, scaring people into car-dependence is bound to shorten more lives than helmets would possibly save. I’d recommend our petition to everyone who enjoys cycling. With their support we can defeat this fundamentally flawed bill.”

Sustrans’ position was set out by its Northern Ireland Director Steven Patterson who said: “We share the wish of the supporters of this bill to improve the safety of cyclists but there are many better ways of doing this, such as giving every child on-road cycle training or reducing speed limits to 20mph in residential areas.”

The Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill was proposed by Sinn Fein assemblyman and ex-Mayor of Derry Pat Ramsey who during the Assembly debate himself acknowledged the concerns of the CTC and Sustrans.

“I am not for one minute dismissing claims that cycling incidence reduces after the introduction of helmet legislation,” he explained. “In fact, it is out of concern for any negative impact that I have proposed a three-year introductory period, if the legislation were approved, during which there would be a publicity campaign and time for schools, the Department and other parties to enter into a full awareness campaign. That full three years would allow ample opportunity for those groups and other cycling groups to come on board and to become aware of the regulations.”

Mr Ramsey, a former Mayor of Derry, added:

“It surprised me that some cycling organisations are opposed to the Bill. The reason why it surprises me is that in organised cycling events, even informal rides out, cyclists are invariably helmeted. It also surprised me because the main governing body for cycling racing, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), has made helmets compulsory in all racing events.

The UCI does not as far as we are aware have an position on the wearing of helmets outside of close road cycling events and certainly Mr Ramsey's comments could be said to show a distinct failure to grasp the relative risks involved in riding a road race and popping down to the shops on your bike or riding to work a fact not lost on those who opposed his bill both within and outside of the Assembly.

You can read the CTC's briefing paper on the NI helmet bill on the CTC website.

Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.

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