— Minister Ryan received complaint that he should wear a helmet even when wheeling his bicycle.
A Senator wants planned new road traffic legislation, which is primarily to deal with legalising electric scooters, to include making the non-use of helmets illegal.
Fine Gael Senator Micheál Carrigy made the comments in the Order of Business Seanad debate on October 25, 2022.
Senator Carrigy said: “Senator O’Sullivan mentioned the greenways, which are a fantastic addition to our countryside. There are more and more people out walking and cycling on them but it has been brought to my attention that lots of people, particularly children, do not wear helmets.”
“It is not mandatory to wear a helmet but that may need to change. We will be dealing with legislation with regard to e-scooters and so on and we should consider making it mandatory for children and adults to wear a helmet when on a bike for their own safety. It is worth considering and if children start wearing them when they are young, they will continue to do so later in life,” said Senator Carrigy.
The Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021, which deals with electric scooters and other issues such a higher power electric bikes, was at the second stage in the Seanad at the time.
Politicians and the public contact Minister regarding helmets
An FOI request made by journalist Ken Foxe shows that between the start of 2020 and October 2021, the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan had been contacted 19 times by members of the public and politicians seeking mandatory helmets for people cycling, including for people to be fined if they are caught without helmets.
The names of the people were redacted and some of the records refer to previous emails, so, the 19 emails are from fewer people than that number.
Six parliamentary questions were also asked about the issue in the same timeframe. Although the questions were asked by the TDs and Ministers in a neutral way without expressing if they supported such an idea or not.
In a June 2020 ministerial reply to Fine Gael TD for Mayo, Alan Dillon, Minister Ryan said: “International evidence is that mandatory helmet legislation acts as a major disincentive to cycling such that the net impact of the legislation on public health is significantly negative. Therefore I do not propose to introduce such legislation.”
If you value our journalism, please subscribe today.
As previously reported, 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.
Replies to a number of the questions asked, in the names of Minister Ryan and junior Minister Hildegarde Naughton, 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.”
“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,” they said.
In other replies, Minister Ryan said: “International studies also show that making the wearing of helmets mandatory results in a decrease in the number of people cycling.”
Helmets “not cool” for teenagers
The 19 emails from the public and politicians — which are from fewer than 19 people — include at least one parent and a grandparent looking for the Government to make helmets mandatory to apparently overcome helmets being uncool for teenagers.
One said that they had also written to the Taoiseach Michael Martin and Tanaiste Leo Varadkar about the issue.
One email writer said: “I am the parent of a 13-year-old child whos in 1st year in secondary school.” The child, who’s name was redacted, “had a near miss off his bicycle last Friday week when he fell off his bike and had a bruising to his head and arm. A parent of one of the other boys rang me to see how [ ] was that evening and she said she also has the same issue with her son who won’t wear a helmet either as he also feels pressure when no one else is wearing one.”
That parent said that it was their “experience and general observation” that teenagers won’t wear a helmets
In another email, the writer complained about feeling dismissed by the Road Safety Authority. They said: “Part of my inclusions is a copy of the ‘“’Oxford English Dictionary’ and ‘Chambers Large Print Dictionary’. Covering the meaning of words: A) ROAD. B) SAFETY. C) AUTHORITY.”
An email said “Education just isn’t cutting it. Those ads are effective on TV but it doesn’t mean a thing until there’s an actual piece of legislation to work with here… The major culprits for choosing not to wear helmets in this country are the adults and not the children in the education system.”
Minister Ryan is often shown in the media as wearing a bicycle helmet or having it on his handlebars after dismounting.
One person however complained that the Minister should be wearing his helmet at all times, even when dismounted and wheeling his bicycle to “set the example of helmet wearing”.
They wrote: “I would therefore urge you to be conscious of this and wear a helmet at all times even if wheeling your bike. This would make a difference particularly with young persons who, in my opinion, are the worst offenders in lack of helmet wearing.”
After getting a generic reply, from junior transport Minister Hildegarde Naughton rather than Minister Ryan, what seems to be the same person wrote: “I am MOST. Disappointed that, again, minister Ryan – or you, [ ], on his behalf, are ducking this issue. This issue is that the minister is on view without a helmet on his head!!!!! It is NOT about helmets per see! Please get the minister to promise to have his helmet on his head when in public and especially when on TV! His influence on the safety issue is important.”