In 2010, a politician in Northen Ireland attempted to introduce a bicycle helmet law, after being lobbied by Headway, a charity focused on recovery from brain injury. How ironic that an organisation focused on brain injury lobbies to make mandatory a device that is more likely to cause brain injury than to prevent it.
It seems that Headway has influenced this politician by presenting a one-sided view, using material from policy-driven studies or misguided studies exaggerating the effectiveness of helmets while denying the negative side-effects of a helmet law. This politician claimed in parliament that helmet laws introduced in other countries have been a success, illustrating how blind helmet believers can be.
The debate was quite fierce, with emotional arguments from helmet believers being rebutted by rational argument from people in favor of personal choice.
As usual, helmet believers assumed that “helmets” are the solution to cycling safety, without considering the negative side-effects of a helmet law, like increasing the risk of accident. Many people are not aware that helmets are useless in major accidents, assuming that everything labelled a “helmet” must provide decent protection. This is the kind of ignorance that fuels support for such laws.
The politician supporting this bill does not even ride a bike. How convenient to enact a law that only affect others! He knows what’s better for others despite having zero practical experience, a very odd tendency among some helmet zealots.
A campaign has been set up to fight the proposal. They have gathered much relevant information.
In the end, the main political parties woke up to the negative side-effects of this proposal and the law was not enacted.
It was close though. Never underestimate the power of the emotional arguments put forward by helmet believers, who may have the best intentions but are misguided. They appear sincere and well-meaning. Their emotional arguments appeal to the uninformed, particularly the non-cyclists. They use the same old misleading policy-driven studies or misguided studies, that appear convincing at first sight. It takes much more effort to learn about the un-intuitive, counterproductive results of imposing a helmet law than to merely assume that forcing cyclists to wear a ‘helmet’ can only be a good thing.
This is one of many bicycle helmet laws that has been attempted to be introduced in Europe in the last decade. These attempts usually fizzle out once more informed opinions are brought to the limelight. As more people realise that the negative side-effects far outweigh the potential benefits, support for the proposed law dwindles.