Introduced by Pat Ramsey(SDLP) MLA, chair of the All-Party Group on Road Safety, the bill seeks to compel all those cycling in a “public space” in Northern Ireland to wear a protective helmet. A £50 penalty charge awaits anyone found to be cycling without one, or to be responsible for any children found to be cycling helmetless.
The vote was close with only two votes separating the Ayes and the Noes. The Members were all in favour of promoting road safety and the increased use of helmets by cyclists, but many felt that legislation was the wrong tool for the job. A number of problems with the draft bill were also raised and debated. In the end, however, the house decided that the bill was fit to move to the Committee stage, where it will be examined and debated in greater detail before potentially being passed into law.
The argument is emotive, but actual evidence that compulsory helmet use increases cyclist safety is hard to come by, and that overall road safety would be improved by such a law is a questionable position. Today’s debate was robust and (seemingly) provided with the best available data, but was still inconclusive. The Committee stage should seek out and consider even better, more recent data, and I trust that the bill will be made into law if and only if there is an overwhelming argument in favour.
Anything less would be a failure, if not a disaster, for cycling in Northern Ireland.