Will a bicycle helmet be compulsory soon?

Will a bicycle helmet be compulsory soon?

A four year old girl practices cycling under the supervision of her parents. It loses its balance, falls down, and its head hits the curb. The girl dies.

This sad story happened more than 30 years ago in a small town in the Ruhr area, there were no bicycle helmets. Today we know: helmets save lives. Of the 6 to 10 year olds, 72 percent wear a helmet – of the adults, however, only around 20 percent protected themselves in 2019.

Do we need helmets?

No, says Ansgar Staudinger, President of the German Traffic Court Conference in Goslar. The professor of law is currently against a legal anchoring in the road traffic regulations – so as not to counteract the trend towards cycling, as he says.

“We allow everyone to endanger themselves,” says Staudinger. This results from the free development of personality anchored in the Basic Law. There would be good reasons for the state to intervene. Not so in Australia: there the state requires people to protect themselves. Anyone caught on a bike without a helmet can expect a fine of several hundred dollars.

Education instead of punishment

In Germany, interference with personal rights should be proportionate, says the lawyer Staudinger. There are still more lenient means than a fined bicycle helmet requirement – “for example information campaigns from associations and well-thought-out advertising campaigns by the state”.

The campaign of the Federal Ministry of Transport, in which half-naked models in bed wore a bicycle helmet , was, however, a “blowout”, says Staudinger. “You have also managed to ensure that no one finds a helmet uncool on the ski slopes.”

Helmet could be vital in an accident

The fact that seat belts are compulsory in the car shows that the German state can also elect to protect itself. This became a law on front seats in 1976. “That’s right,” says Siegfried Brockmann, head of accident research at the insurer. The seat belt requirement saved more than 1,500 lives in the first year. However, the number of bicycle deaths is far lower than that of the victims of car accidents: 400 bicycle accidents per year are fatal. But: If everyone wore a helmet, an estimated 100 of them could survive.

Even if a helmet requirement were compatible with the Basic Law, “we would not have the police capacity to control it,” argues Brockmann. In addition, it should be clear what counts as a helmet and what is not. In Berlin, a case ended up in court in which a scooter driver wore a turban instead of a helmet.

Wearing a helmet could also be required without an obligation

Law professor Staudinger is convinced that courts could induce people to wear helmets even without a legal obligation. How is that supposed to work? By making cyclists complicit in court after an accident.

For example, the court could say to a 70-year-old who was hit by a car with his e-bike and injured his head: “You could have driven with a helmet.” As a result, the cyclist could not claim 100 percent compensation for his injuries, but less. When assessing contributory negligence, wearing a helmet should be taken into account, demands Staudinger. That would be a learning effect for people.

Above all, skiers learned from the accident of the former Formula 1 star Michael Schumacher. But even a helmet cannot offer absolute protection: what is dangerous is not a possible fracture of the skull, says accident expert Brockmann – but the acceleration of the brain in its fluid and the bruises, cerebral hemorrhages and swellings caused by the impact on the skull.

The helmet only works up to a certain speed, says Brockmann. “A helmet is good protection up to 25 km / h.” Since most accidents in the city happened when turning, cars and cyclists mostly stayed below this speed.

Bicycle helmet compulsory is discussed further

A possible compulsory bicycle helmet is also a topic of discussion at the traditional German Traffic Court Conference in Goslar (28/29 January), which will be smaller this year due to the pandemic. At the official opening of the congress of lawyers and traffic experts on Friday morning, Staudinger and Lower Saxony’s Minister of Economic Affairs Bernd Althusmann (CDU) will speak, and the plenary lecture “Artificial Intelligence in Justice and Mobility” will be given by Paul Nemitz, chief advisor to the EU Commission in Brussels.

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