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Authorities considering doing away with cycle helmet requirement

Road traffic officials are pondering legislative changes that could eliminate the requirement for cyclists to wear helmets on the road. Current legislation requires that bikers and persons being carried on bikes wear appropriate protective headgear when on the move - but doesn't prescribe any penalty for violations.

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Image: Petteri Juuti / Yle

Although existing legislation calls for riders and passengers to always wear appropriate protective headgear on bikes, in practice many people ignore the recommendation.

That’s mainly because the law does not prescribe any punishment for not complying with the recommendation and police officers cannot therefore fine or otherwise penalise people who choose not to wear a helmet.

However road safety officials are now working on amendments to current legislation that could change all that.

Chief executive of the Finnish Road Safety Council Anna-Liisa Tarviainen said that the final legislation could adopt one of three alternative approaches.

"For instance we may not regulate the use of helmets at all in the legislation. Another alternative is that the law remains the same as it is now. In other words, we say in a forceful tone that a helmet must be used, but we don’t prescribe a fine. A third option is to introduce a fine," Tarviainen explained.

The last option would mean that wearing helmets would become legally obligatory and not using them could lead to a penalty, in other words, a fine.

"Recommendations don't belong in the law"

Officials have been working for some time on amending the Road Traffic Act. The road safety council said that the draft legislation will be circulated for commenting this year, perhaps during the summer.

"Some are of the opinion that regulations that take the shape of recommendations don’t belong in the law. They say that the law should contain the kinds of prohibitions and decrees for which penalties have been prescribed and which can be handed out," Tarviainen observed.

In other words, if police don’t have the resources to monitor the use of helmets by cyclists and can’t write fines, there is no point in including compulsory fines in toe legislation.

"But we do have other statutes now that police don’t really enforce in practice: for example cyclists are prohibited from riding on sidewalks and pedestrians are not supposed to cross the street on a red light."

Whatever legislators eventually decide, the head of the road safety organisation said that cyclists would do well to protect their heads.

"Protecting one’s head is always advisable, even if police aren’t watching and will not hand out fines," she concluded.

According to figures provided by the council, in 1990 just four percent of cyclists used a helmet while riding. In 2015, on average nearly half of bikers – some 43 percent used protective headgear. In Helsinki, the figure was as high as 80 percent.

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