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Ramsauer: helmet law for cyclists could be inevitable

Published: 19 Oct 2011 15:54 GMT+02:00

He said he could only imagine helmet use to remain voluntary if German cyclists started to ride more responsibly.

“If the helmet-wearing rate of nine percent does not significantly increase to well over 50 percent in the coming years, then you almost certainly have to introduce a helmet law,” Ramsauer said in an interview in Berlin.

Roughly 400 cyclists die from head injuries annually across the country, according to government statistics, and about half of those are due to serious head injuries that may have been prevented by helmets.

Many German politicians have already said they’re open to a helmet law for young children. The pro-business Free Democratic Party has said there should be an education campaign to encourage better traffic safety and more helmet use.

The question of how to get cyclists to wear helmets – and how necessary it is to encourage them to do so – has been a stormy issue in Germany for years.

But some experts, including the German Insurance Association, says there are better ways to improve safety, such as improving roads and other infrastructure for cyclists.

“A helmet protects against head injuries before anything else and a helmet mandate certainly wouldn’t hurt,” Siegfried Brockmann, who conducts research on accidents for the association, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “But a mandatory helmet law would have very little impact on the number of fatal accidents.”

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Your comments about this article

19:04 October 19, 2011 by lalomartins
That's sad and I hope he's wrong. Recently published research shows helmet laws for bicycles actually pretty reliable increase the number of accidents, and in places where helmets are optional, helmet users have higher accident incidence. Helmet users also have a higher rate of serious injury when they do have an accident. The two core problems are: first, if you're riding at a prudent speed for a city environment, head injuries are one of the lowest risks; at a safe speed, falling from a bicycle will hurt your arms, your legs, your torso, very occasionally your face. Serious head hits only happen when you're going way too fast (or when you run into a wall, I guess). Secondly, the helmet gives a sense of false security, and causes riders to be less prudent; they'll ride faster, pay less attention to traffic. So helmet laws are a really bad idea in this case.
19:37 October 19, 2011 by iline
I do wonder where you are getting your stats, lalomartins. Could you state your sources? In the World War, the British government introduced tin helmets for troops. Recorded head injuries increased massively. The reason? The amount of deaths from head injuries fell significantly.

While I am against a mandate for helmets, I live in Berlin where cycle lanes are ubiquitous. People ride their bikes wantonly and if I was driving and hit one, I'd hope they had a lid on when careening into my windscreen.
20:05 October 19, 2011 by The-ex-pat
Quite simple to find out if if has any effect, go to the Australian Embassy and ask them. Cycle helmets are a legal requirement down under.
20:09 October 19, 2011 by svaens
Back at home, in Australia, I can't quote you stats regarding accidents or injuries,

but I do know that mandatory helmet usage reduces the number of peoples getting on bikes, and reduces the usefulness of newly introduced casual use city-provided bikes (since most people don't walk around carry a bike helmet with them).

Would be a tragic thing if they were to introduce this to Germany!
20:15 October 19, 2011 by sparki
typical Germany. If there's a law to be made they'll make it. Like not being able to wash your car, cut the grass on Sunday or cross the road when he light is red but theres not a car in sight. Take away all free will. They'll be telling you when you're allowed to go to the bathroom next.
20:24 October 19, 2011 by auniquecorn
Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer has family in the helmet producing business too.

I heard he just bought a helmet factory for his son.
20:29 October 19, 2011 by zeddriver
Forget helmets. They should test the riders ability or in Germany the seemingly inability of bicyclists to properly share the road. Everyone over here fancies themselves a lance Armstrong in the le tour de France. They seem to have it in their head that when they peddle their bike on the road that it somehow closes to all traffic but them.
21:01 October 19, 2011 by The-ex-pat
@zeddriver, ironically they do. All school children have to pass a cycle course. It has been like that for more years than my wife can remember. So it comes down to people doing what they want to regardless. If you go out in my town and for example see 100 cyclists at night, three will have working lights. A quick €50 to the rest and the problem would soon sort itself out. However as the police cannot be bothered to sort out the Raserszene on our ring road every Friday and Saturday night, it looks like it will a helmet law, it is easier. Wonder if they will get off their collective backsides to fine people who don't have one when they can't be bothered with all the cycling infringements we already have. I doubt it, so a pointless law in the first place. However, my children know, if I catch them without a helmet on, they will walk for a week.
21:05 October 19, 2011 by charlenej
What is the difference between this and a mandatory seatbelt law though.
21:42 October 19, 2011 by Asgarli
If you allow bikers to ride on the roads - you gotta make them pass exams to understand rules of the roads, you gotta get them some kind of a riders license. I had some many problems with bikers when I used to drive - they have no idea about priorities, and red light is not for them!
21:55 October 19, 2011 by zeddriver
@charlenej

With a car the speed is so much greater. so a shunt comes with a much higher G force potential. A bike helmet is good for very low speed impact. In order for a bike rider to protect themselves from a car. They would have to use a full on motorcycle helmet. The best alternative is to require helmets for minors.
22:17 October 19, 2011 by toemag
I'm all for it, mandatory for all, cyclists. Adults who think of themselves as Lance Armstrongs should take a special test for riding on the roads. if they break the law, they get points and a riding ban, and their bicycles will be melted down. Bicycle registration plates and insurance, not to mention the TÜV/MOT, if it's not roadworthy then it has no place doing 40kmh+/- on the roads. A psychological assessment should be a mandatory requirement as well as hearing and eyesight tests.

I had a cyclist cut me up on Tuesday evening, he just pulled out without even looking to see if he was about to die or not. Once I'd brought my (Lkw) truck to a stop I realised why he hadn't known just how close he came to keeping all them squashed bugs on the front of my truck company, was that he was deaf, well he had Ipod earphones in and was probably listening to some dumb dumb dumb music.
23:39 October 19, 2011 by flipinwotsit
Billy Connolly hates the PC Brigade and I do too..( see Youtube)..what next? Winter Tyre law for cyclists???
06:05 October 20, 2011 by Gretl
Yeah, I can just see trying to get Oma to use a helmut. There was an old woman who refused to use the bike lane, I assume because there was a descent and ascent in it where the highway was flat. She rode without lights. I looked for her everyday because I nearly hit her once in the dark.

Other than lights, my biggest issue with bike riders is their use in winter. If there is snow or ice on the ground, do not use a bike! I don't need you hitting a patch and wiping out in front of my car. I don't want to run over someone.

Helmuts are not going to do anything for a motor vehicle - bicycle accident. Physics says the car wins.
08:46 October 20, 2011 by nz101
Helmets have been mandatory here in New Zealand for years. I'm absolutely in agreement - helmets save lives. There is no way I'd let my son cycle without one. I cannot understand why anyone would have a problem with this law.
09:55 October 20, 2011 by dacarch
I recently moved form a small village, where pretty much everybody riding for sport wore a helmet and city folk wore nothing when going to the market or doing errands. Now I live in Karlsruhe, and see no one with helmets, yet bike, pedestrian and automobile traffic is quite hectic and chaotic.

I bought a helmet because it made sense, and to be an example to my son, it follows his logic that if I don't wear one, why should he?

I am for a law, it will save lifes and in the very least, give the younger generation not just an example, but a living parent.

I don't buy the theory that people will now drive recklessly because they feel safer (did seat belt law translate into more fatalities?), nor that another law means we can expect laws on when to go #2, both BS points.

If you visit Karlsruhe, and see one (perhaps goofy looking) guy with a helmet, that will be me. Call me revolutionary.
11:51 October 20, 2011 by nemo999
In several recent reviews of medical databases from various countries some where helmets are required, some countries where helmets are not required, has shown no statistically significant reduction in head trauma. Given the population for instance in the Netherlands, where bicycle use is extremely high, the number of reported head trauma cases as a result of incidents with bicycles has not be observed to be statistically higher than other countries.

Some biomechanical engineers have argued that the helmets may reduce the head trauma, but the cost is an increase in spinal column injuries, given that riders head mass has been increased with the use of a helmet, and therefore the torque applied to the spinal column in accidents are greater (about 30 percent greater).

What is known about mandatory helmet laws is that bicycle use is reduced. In Australia it is estimated that 1/3 of the population that used bicycles ceased to use them after the law was enacted. Head injury rates when adjusted to general population made a small but statistically insignificant reduction (within the margin of error).
11:59 October 20, 2011 by mhdamro
The same thing happened in Slovakia ... everybody used to ride bikes .... but when they introduced the law of wearing helmets everyone just stopped riding them and switched to buses and cars . i hate to see this thing happening here ........
12:57 October 20, 2011 by bugger
Those Bavarian dictators just cannot let the citizens live in peace. Arizona does not even have a helmet law for motorcyclists as a majority of people does not want a mandatory helmet.

The concept that citizens democratically decide on their own matters still is foreign to Germany and a threat to its established political elite.

The freedom of choice, let the adult rider decide.
13:24 October 20, 2011 by JDee
please, no way! I agree with many of the sentiments here. From someone that has been cycling for 35 years and never worn a helmet this is an atrocious idea. For me the rules are simple, I never go too fast, especially down hill. I don't ride in traffic unless there's plenty of room for others to pass and avoid congested areas. When cycling on pavements I always slow down within 10 metres of anything else that can move, especially children and dogs! Unfortunately there are a lot of d*ckheads who like to do the opposite of these rules and they tend to be the ones already donned up in the specialist cycle clothing and helmets already!
14:44 October 20, 2011 by LecteurX
I love those comments that go along the lines of "I think cycling with a helmet makes sense, so there should be a law forcing everyone to do so".

I personally think that wearing a warm coat, gloves and a hat in winter is common sense, so there should be a law requiring that each person do the same lest she catches pneumonia or something. I also think it's sensible not to walk around barefoot or, say, wear high heels when walking on a cobbled street, so there should be a law obliging all citizens to wear plain sensible shoes at all times when outdoors. Oh, and I think avoiding alcohol is healthy and saves lives, so there should be legislation outlawing all alcoholic drinks, and tobacco while we're at it. At the end of the day, domestic accidents claim many more lives each year than accidents on the roads. Therefore, to save lives, there should be a law forcing everyone to spend at least a certain amount of time out of their domicile to decrease the risk... see where we're heading at?

@ Toemag - love the sarcasm.

@ JDee - I totally agree with your comment.
15:41 October 20, 2011 by catjones
Fits right in with a socialist state. When someone does end up on their noggin and goes to hospital, all pay for treatment. No different than seat belts or cigarette taxes. From the bikers I see on the sidewalks, wrong side of street, blowing through intersections; it's too bad brains aren't mandatory.
16:42 October 20, 2011 by zeddriver
@JDee

Your last sentence sums it up.

I live in a remote area of the Palatinate forest. It seems the narrow road to my village has been over run by bikers in their racing gear on multi thousand € pinarello bikes. I have been stuck behind a group of these people for more than a kilometer solely due to the fact they were riding four bikes wide on a public road. And didn't care one wit that they were blocking traffic.
17:56 October 20, 2011 by Englishted
I personally don't agree with this .

But beware some of the comments wanting a bike test and license the state would love that,each one must have a photo and is only valid for two or say five years and naturally there would be a small cost to get one ,renew one ,change the address on one ,and any other money spinning thing they could think of .
12:57 October 21, 2011 by ValP
I am absolutely petrified by the idea of having to wear a helmet!!!!! So, THANK you lalomartins, JDee, Lecteur X and many others who have made very rational and sensible arguments so that I don't have to repeat them. You have spoken my mind here......
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