Read the article in the Haaretz Daily Newspaper. Your thoughts?
Knesset passes controversial law requiring cyclists to wear helmets
By Tamara Traubmann, Haaretz Correspondent
The Knesset passed a controversial law Wednesday that requires cyclists to wear helmets. The law allows police to write tickets for cyclists caught without helmets.
Those in favor of the law say it will reduce the number of cyclists injured. Those opposed, which include a group representing cyclists and organizations in favor of increased use of public transportation, say helmets should be voluntary, and that less people will ride bicycles if required to wear a helmet.
Opponents of the law concede that cyclists in the city are at the mercy of wild drivers, but they say the way to improve the situation is not by forcing the use of safety equipment, but rather by changing the behavior of the drivers of motorized vehicles.
They also say there should be more bicycle paths, which would mean more cyclists, and that drivers will learn to be careful, and are concerned that the law will cause a reduction in the number of cyclists because helmets are uncomfortable, especially in the summer, or because the helmet sends the message that cycling is dangerous.
MK Gilad Erdan (Likud), who also introduced the law requiring that drivers who have to get out of their car on the roadside must wear reflective vests, initiated the helmet bill at the behest of Beterem, an organization that promotes child safety. Erdan said the law was originally formulated to protect children and teens, but was expanded to include adults as role models.
However the law is formulated so broadly that even cyclists making their way on a path in their kibbutz from home to the dining room without a helmet would be breaking the law. The law has many supporters, including senior officials in the health-care system, the National Authority for Road Safety, the neurosurgeons' and pediatricians' associations, and the national councils of the Health Ministry and the World Health Organization.
Dr. Dan Link, head of planning and policy in the National Authority for Road Safety, said a helmet "could not protect a rider from all harm, but there is no doubt its use will reduce the damage."
A Beterem position paper presents data of the Central Bureau of Statistics showing that each year, six children and teens are killed and 700 hospitalized following accidents involving bicycles. The numbers do not indicate how many of the injured cyclists were wearing helmets.
According to Beterem and the road safety organization Or Yarok, hospitalization due to cycling accidents in New York, New Jersey, Canada, Seatle and California were down by dozens of percentage points - especially among children - after helmet laws were passed. However the Israel Bicycle Association, which says that cyclists should be encouraged to voluntarily don helmets, notes that children and adults, city paths, countryside cycling and off-road cycling cannot be treated equally. Moreover, "cycling helmets have not been through comprehensive testing," said Noam Segel, an activist with the organization. "Tests show that a helmet can absorb a blow up to 20 kilometers an hour," he noted. "If a car traveling in the city at 40 kilometers per hour hits a cyclist, that is twice what the helmet can absorb. The main reason for cyclists' injuries are because of motor vehicles." According to Beterem statistics, a 1989 study in Seattle showed that wearing a helmet reduced the chance of head injury by about 85 percent, and brain injury by 88 percent. But other researchers criticized the study's scientific validity, noting that the helmeted riders were mainly whites riding in parks or bicycle trails, accompanied by parents, and those that were hurt and not wearing helmets were black and immigrant cyclists alone on city streets. When the statistics were re-analyzed, it emerged that only 40 percent of the head injuries were avoided due to helmets.
Another study of 10,504 riders in countries with helmet laws published in 2006 in the British Medical Journal, showed that the number of riders decreased, but the number of head injuries did not.