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Bicycle helmet usage is “key safety performance indicator” in Irish Government’s Road Safety Strategy

— Bicycle infrastructure KPI is only indicator without a percentage.
— Green Party councillor critical of helmet promotion in strategy.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has signed off on the Government’s Road Safety Strategy with a “key safety performance indicator” of how many people are wearing bicycle helmets.

The plan includes reducing deaths on Ireland’s roads by “15% from 144 to 122 or lower” by 2024, by 50% to “72 or lower” by 2030, and zero deaths or serious injuries by 2050.

The Road Safety Strategy outlines ” The key role of engineering interventions in effectively reducing road user fatalities and serious injuries” but the key safety performance indicator on walking and cycling infrastructure is the only one of 15 not to have a percentage and it’s actually unclear what the indicator means.

It states: “Proportion of extra cycle and pedestrian infrastructure developed to make urban and interurban mobility healthy and sustainable.”

A focus on helmets is seen as misguided by most cycling campaign groups. The EU country with the highest cycling levels and best safety records, the Netherlands, has a helmet-wearing rate measured at around 0-1%.

IMAGE: List of “key safety performance indicators.

The Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030, which was developed by the Road Safety Authority for the Government, lists “% of riders of (a) powered two wheelers and (b) bicycles wearing a protective helmet” as one of its 15 “key safety performance indicators”.

Cllr Oisín O’Connor, a Green Party councillor on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, criticised the inclusion of bicycle helmets as a key indicator.

Cllr O’Connor said: “What’s measured is managed. This list of KPIs seriously undermines any credibility that the RSA might have had left with regards to active travel. A 10 year road safety strategy focused on increasing helmet use. Pathetic and neolithic.”

Referring to the Netherlands, he added: “The safest country in the world to cycle in. A higher rate of cycling among women in their 70s in the Netherlands than women of any age group in Ireland. Do they look like they measure helmet wearing rates as a success indicator?”

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Three written parliamentary questions were asked in September 2020 on making helmets mandatory by three TDs from different parties but all three representing the Dublin Bay North constituency — Seán Haughey, a Fianna Fail TD; Denise Mitchell, a Sinn Fein TD; and Richard Bruton, a Fine Gael TD.

In an identical written reply, Green Party leader and Minister Ryan ruled out making helmets mandatory but said that it was long-standing Government policy to “recommend and promote the wearing of helmets”.

Minister Ryan said: “Making the wearing of helmets compulsory for cyclists is an issue which has arisen a number of times over the years. It is a long-standing Government policy to recommend and promote the wearing of helmets. The Rules of the Road booklet encourages the use of cycle helmets and draws attention to their safety benefits, and the Road Safety Authority, the agency responsible for public education and awareness, strongly encourages their use.”

He continued: “However, opinion is divided internationally on whether the wearing of safety helmets is best achieved through the introduction of statutory requirements or through other strategies. Making the wearing of helmets compulsory would raise a number of difficulties. For example, if wearing helmets were made compulsory it would be necessary to have some kind of enforcement system with penalties, presumably fines, for cycling without a helmet. Whilst enforcement might be possible, it could create considerable strain on Garda resources, and indeed on the courts.”

“The matter was considered in the context of the preparation of the Road Safety Strategy 2013 – 2020. Although the Strategy strongly favours encouraging the use of helmets, it stopped short of recommending making their wearing compulsory. International studies also show that making the wearing of helmets mandatory results in a decrease in the number of people cycling,” said Minister Ryan.

He added: “It is my view that the wearing of cycle helmets is better achieved by way of educational and publicity campaigns rather than by pursuing a punitive approach to the issue, particularly having regard to the large numbers of children and young people who cycle. Consequently I have no plans to make the wearing of bicycle safety helmets a legal requirement at this time.”

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Cian Ginty
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