In yesterday's Prime Minister's question time in the House of Commons, Tony Blair said his government would give "serious consideration" to the issue of compulsory cycle helmet wearing for under-16s. The answer was prompted by Eric Martlew, Labour MP for Carlisle, who said such legislation had the support of 80 percent of the British population. If Martlew's private member's bill was passed, bicycle retailers could face fines for not forcing children to wear helmets when cycling away from their premises.

Brit PM says child helmet law may get government support

Martlew’s private members bill was drafted by ‘Be-Hit’, the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust.

Last month, transport minister Dr Kim Howells seemed to suggest the bill would not get his department’s support because it would be unworkable in practice.

Yesterday in parliament, Martlew put the issue of child cycle helmets centre stage:

"Is [the Prime Minister] aware that, in a recent opinion poll, more than 80 percent of those polled agreed with the aims of my Bill? Is he also aware that my Bill is supported by 200 hon. Members on both sides of the House, including some Ministers? So will the Government give serious consideration to supporting my Bill?"

The Prime Minister replied:

"We will give serious consideration to it. The issue that my hon. Friend raises is a high priority for hon. Members and the government.

"As he will know, for children, our target is to reduce deaths and serious injuries by 50 percent by 2010. By 2002, we had already reduced deaths and serious injuries by 33 per cent.—so a large number of children have been saved from death or serious injury. Sometimes when we are talking about speed humps, speed limits, speed cameras and so on, we forget that, although those things can be aggravating for the motorist from time to time, sometimes they have a real point in relation to protecting our young people and, indeed, others.

"So we will certainly give careful consideration to this Bill, and if we can support it, I am sure that we will."

Whilst Martlew’s bill has received 200 signatures, a more considered Early Day Motion from Jane Campbell MP (Labour MP for Cambridge) has attracted just 12 signatures:

"That this House notes the substantial disparity between claims made for the efficacy of pedal cycle helmets and their measured effect in real populations; notes that the Transport Research Laboratory has reported the promotion of pedal cycle helmets may lead to increased injury rates; notes that cyclist injury rates remain unchanged following passage of mandatory helmet legislation in several countries; and calls on the Department of Transport to initiate a programme of research designed to establish why increases in helmet wearing rates are not associated with reductions in head injury rates, and why the countries with the lowest helmet wearing rates are those with the lowest cyclist injury rates."

There need to be at least 80 signatures for government to sit up and take notice. Ex-transport minister Peter Bottomley MP has added an amendment designed to wreck the EDM:

Line 1, leave out from ‘substantial’ to end and add ‘numbers of head injuries to cyclists; recognises that, in a crash, cycle helmets are likely to reduce the incidence of deaths and injuries; and calls on cyclists’ groups and on the Department for Transport to make this known widely, in addition to providing through track and road engineering; ways to reduce the risk if crashes involving bikes and bikers.’


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