“If we want to kill urban cycling, then the obligation to wear a helmet is the right solution”, ironically Jean-Pierre Rousseau, president of the À Vélo Malo association. And he’s not the only one to think so. In Saint-Malo as in Rennes, Brest and Saint-Brieuc, they are unanimous: wearing a bicycle helmet must remain an individual choice, at the risk of putting a brake on cycling.
If the question has been around for a long time, it was Senator François Bonneau who brought it up to date with a new bill. Supposed to be debated in the Senate on Thursday, January 13, the text was finally withdrawn by the senator, in the face of violent criticism. A relief for Breton associations.
An obligation that hinders the practice of cycling
“Obviously, we are not against wearing helmets,” reassure the associations. “On the contrary, I wear it myself every day. But the obligation is counter-productive”, analyzes Clément Janot, member of Vélo Utile in Saint-Brieuc. “For example, in Australia, helmets were made compulsory in 1991. As a result, the number of cyclists dropped drastically as users were discouraged,” he explains. Because the helmet can be very restrictive for cyclists: “Already, that represents a cost. You should also remember to take it with you as soon as you go out and attach it to your bike. And it may seem silly, but to go to a party, you don’t want to arrive disheveled because of the helmet, ”smiles Rémi Salembier, president of the Rayons d’action association in Rennes.
As for the effects on safety, the associations are not convinced either. “In the Netherlands, there are a lot of cyclists, but no obligation to wear a helmet. However, the country has one of the lowest numbers of accidents,” observes Jean-Pierre Rousseau. “Moreover, studies show that in the event of an accident, it is much more often the limbs than the head that are affected,” he explains. “And if some argue that the helmet is essential since cyclists wear it on the Tour de France, we must not forget that this is a sporting practice of cycling, not a utilitarian use. If we go there, motorists should wear a helmet since this is the case for Formula 1 drivers, ”compare the Malouin Clément Janot.
An “admission of failure” in the face of insufficient facilities
In terms of figures, the helmet does not shine by its effectiveness: “Statistically, there is no more mortality for those who do not wear a helmet”, notes Michel Roudot, co-president of Brest on foot by bike. According to data from the National Interministerial Road Safety Observatory (ONISR), among the 4,763 cyclists who were victims of road accidents in 2019, 50% were not wearing a helmet, 45% were wearing one, and the information was not specified for the remaining 5%. “Finally, we risk more from a public health point of view to stop cycling than to ride without a helmet. Cycling is excellent for health and helps to fight against a sedentary lifestyle,” he analyzes.
However, the safety of cyclists is not to be taken lightly. “What needs to be done is to create real cycle paths and apply a speed limit of 30 km/h. At that speed, there is a 20% to 30% chance of being seriously injured in the event of a collision. This figure climbs between 70% and 90% for a speed of 50 km/h,” explains Michel Roudot. For Jean-Pierre Rousseau, “equipping trucks with blind spot detectors” would also be a much better solution than wearing a helmet. Moreover, according to Rennais Rémi Salembier, “this idea of obligation is an admission of failure. Cycling is not a dangerous sport as such, it is therefore to recognize that the work was poorly done and that the facilities do not allow you to be safe. »
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