Mandatory Helmet law (MHL) alone does not prevent accidents on the road, yet it comes with side-effects that can have a negative impact on cycling promotion and is likely to hamper the Car-lite initiative.
Mandatory Helmet Law Spurs Intense Debate among Singapore Cyclists
In August 2018, the Active Mobility Advisory Panel (AMAP) stirred controversy by suggesting a “Mandatory Helmet Law” (MHL) for on-road cycling, a recommendation endorsed by the Minister of Transport on September 3rd.
The discourse surrounding helmet use and the enforcement of helmet laws has ignited a passionate discussion within the cycling community, drawing strong opinions from both sides. While there is a shared belief that helmets can potentially save lives in accidents, it’s essential to recognize them as personal protective devices rather than accident prevention tools.
The introduction of the MHL goes beyond a simple safety measure, introducing implications and potential negative impacts on cycling promotion and the government’s Car-lite initiative.
Distinguishing between “Advice” and “Mandating by law” is pivotal in understanding the intricacies of helmet usage. Advisory measures empower individuals to decide when and where to wear a helmet, preserving personal freedom. Conversely, mandatory laws impose restrictions even when individuals perceive it as unnecessary.
Up until 2018, cyclists were encouraged but not obligated to wear helmets on roads, resulting in the coexistence of two distinct cyclist groups – helmet-wearing enthusiasts often on long-distance rides and non-helmet users, including various cyclists traversing Singapore’s sidewalks.
Traffic Police statistics, until 2018, indicated fewer than 20 annual fatal road accidents involving bicycles and e-bikes. However, the focus shifted with the MHL proposal, aimed at addressing safety issues for on-road cycling.
Challenges and Concerns:
- Cyclists’ Vulnerability Beyond Helmets: The MHL’s exclusive focus on helmets diverts attention from more critical issues, such as perilous behaviors of drivers and cyclists and road designs unfriendly to bicycles.
- Lack of Data Support: The absence of robust evidence supporting mandatory helmet use for on-road cyclists limits the rationale behind the law. Local accident data fails to establish non-helmeted cyclists’ head injuries as a prevalent issue.
- International Benchmark: The efficacy of Mandatory Helmet Laws in Australia and New Zealand, contrasted with countries boasting high bicycle usage and stellar safety records, raises questions about the universal effectiveness of such regulations.
- Share Bike Challenges: Imposing mandatory helmet use presents logistical challenges for share bike operators, necessitating consistent helmet availability, sizing, and hygiene maintenance, potentially jeopardizing the practicality of share bike operations.
- Impact on Daily Commuters: The MHL could disrupt the daily routines of slow cyclists, including individuals commuting to markets or mothers accompanying their children to school. These cyclists often resort to road cycling due to walkway disconnections.
Refining the Mandatory Helmet Law: Balancing Safety and Individual Freedom
Considering the potential impacts outlined earlier, it becomes apparent that the impending Mandatory Helmet Law (MHL) may negatively affect Share bike users and Slow cyclists while potentially enhancing the safety of Sports cyclists. To strike a balance, a targeted approach seems prudent – focusing the MHL on Sports cyclists while exempting Share bike users and Slow cyclists.
Here are a couple of refined ideas to improve the MHL:
- Selective Application on Popular Roads: Applying the MHL selectively to specific popular roads commonly used by road cyclists, such as Mandai Road, can address safety concerns without unnecessarily burdening cyclists on less congested routes.
- Speed-based Enforcement: Implementing the MHL for cyclists traveling at higher speeds, for instance, those exceeding 40 km/h, acknowledges that the risk of severe injury increases with speed. This targeted approach ensures that the law applies to those who may face greater risks without imposing unnecessary requirements on slower cyclists.
- Exemptions for Slow Cyclists: Exempting cyclists traveling below 30 km/h acknowledges the practical challenges slow cyclists face and allows them the freedom to decide whether to wear a helmet based on their individual circumstances and trip characteristics.
Additionally, there are broader measures that can contribute to prevent accidents and enhancing road cycling safety:
- Speed Limits in CBD and Residential Areas: Implementing a 30 km/h speed limit in central business districts (CBD) and residential areas, akin to the concept of Silver zones, contributes to overall road safety.
- 1.5 Meters Passing Rule: Establishing a 1.5 meters passing rule ensures a safe distance between vehicles and cyclists, reducing the risk of accidents during overtaking maneuvers.
- Mandatory Stop Before Stop Line: Enforcing a mandatory stop for drivers before the stop line enhances intersection safety, reducing the likelihood of collisions with cyclists.
- “Slow Lane” Road System: Introducing a “Slow Lane” road system, inspired by successful models like Taiwan’s, provides designated lanes for slower-moving vehicles, creating a safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians.
- Education Initiatives for Lorry Drivers: Implementing educational programs targeted at lorry drivers helps raise awareness of cyclist presence on the road and encourages safer driving practices around cyclists.
- Refreshment Courses for Driving Instructors: Providing refreshment courses for driving instructors ensures they stay abreast of the latest road safety measures, subsequently imparting this knowledge to new drivers.
Fundamentally aligned with the Car-lite vision, these measures collectively contribute to road safety and cyclist well-being. By fostering coherent policies that support health, the environment, and personal choice, we can cultivate a safer and more cyclist-friendly urban environment.