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October 25, 2014

Call for mandatory bicycle helmets

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By Lloyd Mudiwa.

Dr Fenton Howell

A leading public health doctor has called for mandatory bicycle helmet-wearing to improve road safety. Speaking after Northern Ireland Assembly members voted last week in favour of a bill to make this law, Dr Fenton Howell said the IMO would welcome a similar bill in the Republic.

“Best evidence supports the use of bicycle helmets for the prevention of acquired brain injuries, similar to motorcyclists. They reduce the risk and severity of head injuries,” Dr Howell told Irish Medical Times.

The former IMO President said the organisation had tabled and passed a motion calling for compulsory or mandatory protective headgear for cyclists at its AGM in 2001.

The motion passed, despite calls by the Galway Cycling Campaign to withdraw the motion in the first instance and, failing this, for delegates to reject it unequivocally.

Helmets provided a limited level of protection, and only if the helmet was properly fitted and worn, while improperly worn or used helmets could kill due to strangulation, the Campaign had argued, adding that such a law could discourage people from cycling.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association’s (BMA)Council in Northern Ireland, which advocated for the requirement as part of a range of measures to improve cycling safety, said: “The consequences of traumatic brain injury are significant, not only to the individual involved, but to their families and society as a whole.”

Last week, on the day the bill was passed, the IMO won recognition for its unstinting commitment to tackling road traffic accidents over the past 16 years from the European Road Safety Charter — beating 700 other organisations to the award.

Singling out Dr Howell and his colleague Dr Declan Bedford for their dedication to promoting road safety since 1995, IMO President Prof Seán Tierney said the campaign was “founded in the experience of doctors who work to save those with horrific injuries, try to rebuild the bodies and lives of those with disabilities, and to comfort and counsel families with unbearable loss”.

Both Dr Bedford, also a former President of the IMO, and Dr Howell had shown how much of this could be prevented through changing driver behaviour, Prof Tierney added.

The IMO signed the Road Safety Charter last May, undertaking to highlight road safety for three years. The union says it will continue advocating road safety strategies through research, submissions and policy to influence change at national level, Dr Bedford said.

The IMO has passed several motions on road safety at its annual general meetings over the years, published a position paper on the subject, and jointly with the BMA Northern Ireland, presented a submission to MEPs at the European Parliament.

lloyd.mudiwa@imt.ie