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Spain set to make bike helmets compulsory amid law reform "designed to push cyclists off the streets"

Bicycle advocacy group ConBici slams measures including cyclists having to ride on right and children banned from riding on road

Spain’s national traffic authority is planning to make cycle helmets compulsory according to the bicycle advocacy group ConBici, which says that the proposal is one of a range of measures “that seem designed to push cyclists off the streets.”

Other proposals highlighted by ConBici include cyclists having to stay on the right-hand side of the carriageway, banning children from riding on the road unless accompanied by an adult, and the introduction of a system of fines that it says presupposes that “cyclists represent the same danger as motor vehicles.”

The cycling campaign group says that it received confirmation of the intention to make helmets mandatory from Francisco de las Alas-Pumariño, chief of statutory regulations at the Dirección General de Tráfico, Spain’s national traffic authority, who was one of the people responsible for drafting the proposals.

ConBici representatives were informed of the proposed measures while attending a road safety conference in Salamanca, and were told that they will be officially announced later this month once scrutinised by Spain’s ministry of the interior.

It adds that other than a few pages, cycling groups have not had an opportunity to look at the proposed text of the changes to the regulations.

In common with its counterparts in other countries, the campaign group is opposed to compulsory helmets for a number of reasons, which it says “is a deterrent to cycling, and gives the false message that cycling is a dangerous activity.

“The national traffic authority has not presented any arguments or studies demonstrating the need for compulsory helmets – unlike ConBici which has presented convincing arguments against compulsory helmets.”

Currently, under a law implemented in 2004 but reportedly seldom enforced, cyclists in Spain have to wear helmets while riding in non-urban areas unless the weather is too hot or they are going uphill. A law that required all cyclists to wear a helmet at all times would presumably be more strictly enforced.

It points out that making helmets obligatory for all cyclists will reinforce the mistaken perception that cycling is more dangerous than it actually is, as well as damaging municipal bike rental schemes found in cities such as Barcelona.

While it is the issue of compulsory helmets that is most likely to grab the headlines, other proposed measures are likely to set alarm bells ringing not just in Spain, but elsewhere.

One of those is the requirement for cyclists to “preferably” stay to the right of the carriageway, which ConBici believes would mean “that in the event of an accident and a subsequent court case, the cyclist must demonstrate his or her reasons for not being on the right of the lane – even if the motorist is at fault.”

It adds: “The bicycle will once again be considered a road obstacle, and the law will limit the amount of space that a bicycle can occupy on the road. Our proposed amendment to the law is the opposite: ‘Cyclists will preferably occupy the centre of the lane and when a motor vehicle approaches from behind the cyclist will, if safe for the cyclist, facilitate an overtaking manoeuvre by moving to the right of the lane. Drivers of vehicles must not intimidate a cyclist into moving to the right.’”

Other planned changes include that ban on children riding alone on the road, which ConBici warns will “mean cancelling projects encouraging children to travel by bike to school – some of which are supported by the national traffic authority,” and a reclassification of cycling offences as “serious” instead of “minor,” which it describes as “Yet another hammer blow for cyclists.”

ConBici acknowledges that some measures are to be welcomed, including that local authorities will have the power to allow cycling on the pavement, albeit with the stipulation that “the pavement is at least three meters wide, uncrowded, and cyclists remain at least one metre away from doorways.”

However, its conclusion of the reforms when taken as a whole is a damning one.

“These measures will push Spain further backwards, prevent the growth of sustainable transport, and only favour those multinationals that have dominated the vehicle and oil industries for decades,” it says.

ConBici adds: “In short, while there are a couple of positive points that reflect years of campaigning, these points are over-shadowed by several extremely negative proposals that will seriously damage cycling in Spain. Urgent reconsideration is needed.”

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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