On The Brink In Northern Ireland

“Any fool can make a rule, and every fool will mind it.”  – Henry David Thoreau

We recently posted a story on the proposed bill to introduce an all-age mandatory bicycle helmet law in Northern Ireland.

Like Australia in the 90s, the bill was introduced by a possibly well-meaning, but ill-informed, vocal non-cyclist.

The bill has failed to progress any further through the assembly and it is likely that it will never see the light of day again. How was this achieved? By vocal opposition from the peak cycling groups in the UK – The CTC and Sustrans. Both are strongly opposed to mandatory helmet laws – as were Australia’s cycling groups in the 1990s, and were completely ignored – and they have been successful in putting a stop to its introduction.

In Australia, things are different. Our peak cycling ‘advocacy’ groups in each state have very close ties to their respective governments and their independence is questionable. The vast majority of their work – which they do well – is to organise cycling events, sponsored principally by government.

Not one of these groups is willing to say anything negative about Australia’s mandatory bicycle helmet laws – they don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them. So instead they just shrug their shoulders and stand on the sidelines when they should be fighting for choice on the matter. They can support choice and yet encourage helmet use if they choose – it’s not an either/or argument.

How can it be that groups that support cycling in different countries can have polarising positions on the topic of mandatory bicycle helmet laws? After all, the UK & Australia are similar in all other aspects of cycling. The fact that the views are diametrically opposed should ring alarm bells… what if MHLs in Australia don’t actually make any significant difference to cyclist safety as a group?

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