New legislation came into force on 17 July 2014 in Jersey, making it compulsory for children under 14 to wear a cycling helmet. It is the first place in the British Isles enact such a law.
The proposal was first made in 2010 by Deputy Andrew Green MBE, the Minister for Housing and also Chair of the brain injury charity Headway UK.
Andrew Green has his own very poignant reason for wanting the legislation. Over twenty year ago, he received a phone call that all parents dread, telling him that his 9 year old son Christopher had been knocked off his friend’s bike and had suffered a serious brain injury. As a result, Christopher and his parents’ lives were changed forever.
Following the vote in the States of Assembly of Jersey, Andrew Green said “I am delighted that this vital piece of legislation has been passed and I congratulate my fellow Members in the Assembly for taking this bold but necessary decision”. Referring to the accident involving his son, he said “Nothing can change that; we cannot turn back the clock. But we can help reduce the risk for others and avoid the years of emotional and financial cost for other children, their families and the State and this law will help us do just that”.
Before the vote took place the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) were commissioned to provide an independent evidence review, of the relevant literature relating to the proposed legislation and to assess the likely effects on cyclist injuries and activity.
TRL reported that the legislation “will prevent head and brain injuries, especially in the most common collisions that do not involve motor vehicles, often simple falls or tumbles over the handlebars”.
Technical Director for vehicle safety at TRL and an author of the report, Richard Cuerden, said, “There is no doubt that cycle helmets are effective in a crash, although some anti-helmet advocates still argue the opposite. The other arguments frequently made against them include, they put people off cycling and this results in a net health disbenefit; some even argue that helmet wearing increases the risk of an accident”.
Adding, “These are extremely serious claims and the literature surrounding these issues was considered very carefully”.
Based on the current evidence the TRL found that the evidence “does not support the assertion that cycle helmet legislation leads to large reductions in cycling participation that outweigh any potential injury reduction benefits through a corresponding reduction in health benefits”.
Cuerden concluded that, “cycle helmets are effective, but it is equally important to actively identify and improve other casualty reduction measures including road design, especially at junctions, cyclist conspicuity, cyclist and other road users training and behaviour, enforcement, the crashworthiness of other vehicles and new accident technologies”.
Tristen Dodd, Jersey’s chief civil servant for transport matters explained that the legislation covers any bike of two or more wheels, propelled by the rider’s own power, which include young children’s balance bikes. The legislation will be enforceable on any public route, cycle paths and tracks in parks but not grassed areas, gardens or beaches.
Enforcing the law will be the island’s honorary police; elected, unpaid law enforcers who are community based. Those brought before the law will not face a court as we all know it, but rather a parish hall enquiry, the island’s fairly informal and community-based method of youth justice. Fines which can be incurred will set the child’s parents back £50. However, Dodd stated that the incurrence of a fine is likely to be rare, “You’ll probably just get ticked off, to be honest with you. It’s the inconvenience of having to go down to the parish hall with your parents”.
How the practicalities of the law will take effect will be detailed over time, and its effectiveness will be under scrutiny by many.
Will the legislation be rolled out across the rest of the British Isles? Only time will tell.