Tag Archives: AMAP

Refining the Mandatory Helmet Law (MHL) in Singapore

It is not as simple as “Helmet saves lives”.

Mandating helmet wearing does not prevent accidents on the road, yet it comes with side-effects that can have a negative impact on cycling in general.

How can we reduce the negative impact of the new Mandatory Helmet Law while saving the high-risk cyclists during an accident?

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Ideas that help to refine the MHL:

  • Limit MHL for Sporty road bikes on roads with speed limit above 50km/h.
  • Exempt Share bike, Folding bikes, MTB, Upright sitting bikes, or any Non-Sport Road bikes from the MHL. They may choose to wear or not to wear helmet freely.
  • in addition, enhance education targeted at young cyclists.

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Helmet wearing and Helmet laws are hot topics in any cycling forum. There is a heated debate with strong opinions on both sides. In any case, introducing the MHL (Mandatory helmet law) is not as simple as “Helmet saves lives”. There are implications and “side effects” which can severely limit the initial intent of protecting the cyclists.

There is a significant difference between “Advice”, and “Mandating by law”, to wear a helmet while cycling on roads.
The former, “Advisory”, allows a person to exercise his or her own freedom to decide when and where it is necessary to wear or not to wear a helmet. The latter, “Mandatory”, limits the freedom when the individual feels it is really unnecessary to do so.

Up to 2018, cyclists are advised to wear a helmet when cycling on roads but it is not mandatory. As a result, both types of cyclists exist on the roads.

Every weekend, it is easy to spot groups of sports cyclists wearing helmets on their long-distance training rides along Mandai Road, Upper Thomson Road, or Tanah Merah Coast road.

On the other hand, much less obvious yet every day, there are numerous bicycle users in all parts of Singapore riding a bicycle or share bikes without a helmet. These include all walks of lives from young to old. They are usually slow riders and mostly ride on the sidewalks. However, from time to time, they also need to ride on the roads when it is safe and more convenient to do so.

From Traffic Police statistics, the yearly fatal road accidents involving bicycles and eBikes were below 20. It is a concern yet this figure is not particularly worse than in any other city. Cyclists not wearing a helmet and received fatal head injuries are not reported, it is estimated that the number is well below 10.

In a way, admitting that there is no better way to improve the road safety for cycling, the Active Mobility Advisory Panel (AMAP) recommended the “Mandatory Helmet Law” on August 24th. On September 3rd, the recommendation was subsequently accepted by the Minister of Transport.

Accepting this fact, I wonder if there are ways to optimise the upcoming MHL in order to address the key safety issues of on-road cycling and to reduce potential negative “side effects” of cycling promotion in Singapore.

 

The issue: 

On roads, cyclists travel alongside larger and faster vehicles and are the most vulnerable users.  – 2018-8-24, AMAP

The intention: 

In the event of an accident, wearing a protective helmet would reduce the impact and injuries suffered by the rider.  -2018-08-24, AMAP

The key limitations of MHL: 

  1. The helmet issue is a Red-Herring: The cyclist’s vulnerability on road is NOT due to lack of helmet wearing, instead, it is due to the lack of safe infrastructure (e.g. dual exit lanes to the Expressway) and dangerous behaviour of both drivers and cyclists (e.g. Using handphone while driving or cycling, driver overtaking within the same lane as the cyclist, cyclists riding too fast and too near the curb with an uneven surface). The helmet issue distracts the public from the real solutions we need to implement to prevent accidents from happening.
  2. Lack of data support: Cycling on road is not new. If cyclists on road are at greater risk, we should have local accident data to support the MHL. So far, there is no data showing on-road, non-helmeted cyclists receiving head injuries. Excluding the helmeted eBikes and Sports cyclists, the total number of cyclists involved in road accidents is not very high.
  3. International benchmark: out of 195 countries, Australia and NewZealand are the only ones to have countrywide Mandatory Helmet Law. Ironically, both countries tend to suffer from high cyclist fatality rate on roads and also lower bicycle usage.
  4. On the contrary, countries with high bicycle usage and good safety records don’t need MHL. A few examples are The NetherlandsDenmarkJapan, Taiwan, China, UK, Germany.
  5. Share bike: Share bike has quickly become an important mode of transport over the last couple of years. In many areas, such as Joo Chiat and Sembawang, the cycling/walkway network is limited, most share bike users need to ride on the road. Having the MHL means that they will have to carry a helmet all the time just in case they may need to use the Share bike.
  6. Slow cyclistThe vast majority of local bicycle users are slow cyclists like those “uncles” riding to a nearby market for a “kopi” or a mother bringing her kids to school. For safety, they usually cycle on walkways, which may appear that the MHL won’t affect them. However, in practice, most of them need to ride on the road for 10-30% of their usual trips. This is due to disconnections between walkways and shared paths. The MHL would force them to carry a helmet for the daily trip, which they have been doing for decades safely without a helmet.
  7. Reckless youngsters: There are a number of young riders nowadays who cycles on the roads quite recklessly. Given the way they are riding on or off roads, in an accident, the injury would bound to be serious or fatal. The MHL may reduce their risk of suffering from head injuries, but it will not shield them from other serious and fatal injuries. Education target at this group to increase their awareness will be more effective to improve their safety.
  8. Sports cyclist: This is another high-risk group due to their speed and proximity to fast traffics. Every weekend, it is easy to spot groups of sports cyclists along Mandai Road, Upper Thomson Road, or Tanah Merah Coast road. MHL will have no impact on Sports Cyclists because nearly all of them are already wearing a helmet without the law.

Refining the MHL: 

Going through the list above, the upcoming MHL is likely to have a negative impact for Share bike (4) and Slow cyclist (5), but it will have no negative impact for Sports cyclists (7). Perhaps it would make sense to target the MHL at the Sports cyclist but not the Share bike users and slow cyclists?

A couple of ideas that helps to refine the MHL:

  • Limit MHL for Sporty road bikes on roads with speed limit above 50km/h
  • Limit MHL for Sporty road bikes on roads with speed limit above 50km/h.
  • Exempt Share bike, Folding bikes, MTB, Upright sitting bikes, or any Non-Sport Road bikes from the MHL. They may choose to wear or not to wear a helmet freely.
  • in addition, enhance education targeted at young cyclists.

Besides MHL, there is a lot that can be done to improve the safety of road cycling more effectively:

e.g. 1.5 meter rule, 40km/h CBD and residential area, Mandatory stop before STOP LINE, Educate the lorry drivers, Refreshment courses for driving instructors, etc. It is disappointing that the only recommendation AMAP put forward this time is to put a helmet on road cyclists. I hope that the next time, they can shift their attention to the motorist community and environmental factors which are the major factors for cyclist’s safety.

Fundamentally, I believe road safety and cyclist’s safety should be improved by coherent policies, which support health, the environment, and without the legal requirement to wear a helmet.

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