By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
Safety experts have denounced the private member’s bill to revoke the law requiring adults to wear helmets while biking in urban areas – just endorsed by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation – as “idiotic, amateurish and dangerous to public health.”
The bill, initiated by Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich, would make it legal for adult cyclists not to wear helmets in cities, but would retain the requirement for intercity roads and for cyclists aged 17 and below.
According to scientific studies, said BETEREM, the Israel National Center for Child Safety and Health, wearing a bike helmet reduces the risk of head and brain injuries both on urban and intercity roads by 88 percent.
BETEREM said that revoking part of the law, which took much effort by it and other organizations to get passed despite heavy lobbying, was like allowing vehicle passengers not to wear seat belts during the first two kilometers of their trip.
Yacimovich, amateur cyclist groups and other supporters of the bill argue that wearing helmets while biking in a city or town is uncomfortable, discourages biking because the rider does “not feel free,” interferes with hairdos and requires dragging the helmet around when not in use.
According to BETEREM, by backing the proposed amendment, the ministerial committee “preferred the populistic considerations and comfort of biker Yacimovich.”
However, safety requirements are not determined by popularity, the voluntary organization continued, but are rather based on epidemiological analyses of injury rates and empirical tests of the efficacy of alternative safety methods. “Safe behavior should be a societal norm, but because that is not the situation, there are laws made to ensure the norm,” it said.
Treating permanent and temporary disability costs society a great deal of money, argue opponents of the bill.
Meanwhile, two senior safety experts from the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine called on Transport (and road safety) Minister Yisrael Katz to cancel the bill on the grounds that if implemented, it would bring about a significant rise in injuries and fatalities on the roads.
Prof. Elihu Richter, former director of the school’s Center for Injury Prevention, and Dr. Yael Stein called the bill “idiotic and amateurish” and blamed it on an “MK’s obsessive demand based on assumptions and not facts. There are safety and lives on one side and comfort and pampering on the other. It will also provide a double message to children [who must wear helmets when on bikes] and counter safety education.”
“My concern is that there will be an increase in head injuries among cyclists from collisions with vehicles, and falls, the latter on roads, sidewalks and paths for mountain bikes in urban areas,” added Richter. “Until now, such collisions and falls resulted in nonevents. Those [who would] enact the repeal of the law – the Transport and Health Ministries – have an ethical obligation to require epidemiologic follow-up of hospital emergency rooms and medical clinics to ascertain whether there will be an increase in head injures among adult cyclists in the wake of a repeal.
“Repeal would be an unethical exercise in human experimentation. Were this decision to have been made in a medical setting, it would require approval from a Helsinki Board on Human Experimentation, which would have required proof that no harm will befall the population.”
Richter added that for those who need to park their helmets with their bikes, there are plenty of simple pull-through lock-chains that lock both helmet and bike. For those worried about their hairdos, “they should know that bike helmets are beautiful. Mussed-up hairdos are quickly fixable, but fractured skulls and battered brains leave their permanent residual effects on mental function, mood state and general well being.”