The Senate is set to debate tomorrow (January 13) whether to make the wearing cycle helmets mandatory for adults in France both for bikes and other personal transport means such as electric scooters.
Cycling has risen in popularity in France since 2019 and over the pandemic, but helmets are only mandatory for children aged under 12.
Senator François Bonneau (Union centriste) proposed the change in a bid to improve user safety on the transport types, which in French are known as 'engins de déplacement personnel motorisé (EDPM)’, or ‘motorised personal transport devices (MPTs)’.
The proposed new law would include a €135 fine for people who wouldn’t wear helmets.
In his proposal, the Senator stated: "Only 31% of cyclists wore a helmet in 2020, according to [road safety group] the l'Observatoire national interministériel de la sécurité routière…
“Cycling deaths have increased by 21% since 2010, and the number of people injured on EDPMs has increased by 40% in one year: 62% were not wearing a helmet.”
He added that the proportion of people who wear a helmet on EDPMs (86%) is considerably higher than the relatively few who wear a helmet (9%) on self-service bicycles hired via an app.
Safety of cyclists ‘not to do with helmets’
However, cycling associations do not support Mr Bonneau’s suggestion, saying that the debate is a waste of time, since the idea of mandatory helmets is a “false good idea”.
Françoise Rossignol, president of the urban cycling group le Club des villes et territoires cyclables, said that helmets make relatively little difference to cycling safety.
She told BFMTV: “The question of safety is linked to the speed of vehicles and the visibility of cyclists who, if there are even more of them, are better protected.
“It is certainly not [anything to do with] helmets, which are actually a barrier to the practice [of cycling].”
Senator Jacques Fernique, from the green party, agrees that wearing a helmet should not be a legislative issue. He said: “We don’t want this to become a legal thing. Imagine seizing someone’s bike or e-scooter just because the rider isn’t wearing a helmet!”
From safety to economic strength
But some of the debate over mandatory helmets is not purely about safety.
MP for Val-de-Marne, Guillaume Gouffier-Cha, believes that the country needs to invest more to help create a stronger economic sector in bike manufacturing and the overall cycling sector.
Both he and Ms Rossingol believe that more can be done to boost cycling safely in France, and enabling the creation of a strong “Made in France” sector is one way to promote it, the MP has said.
He is set to submit a report on the proposal in the second half of January, with three scenarios suggested to Prime Minister Jean Castex. He has said he will base his suggestions on the ‘Plan Vélo’ that was first started by former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in 2018.
Mr Gouffier-Cha said: “[Cycling] is much broader than an industrial sector, it includes infrastructure, services and different uses such as travel, sport and leisure. We need to move from an overall budget to a per capita budget on a par with other European countries.”
He is suggesting that France sets a budget of €30 per inhabitant [a strategy that is adopted in many other European countries], instead of the current €10, in a bid to encourage cycling.
He said: “This method of calculation stems from the fact that the bicycle is a means of transport in its own right, like road infrastructure, which represents €271 per inhabitant, or public transport, which reaches €473.
“Bicycles currently represent only 1.3% of investment expenditure in transport,” he said.
In contrast, the European average is €30 per person. In the UK and Germany, the budget is €24 per person, while in much of Dutch-speaking Belgium, this rises to €45.
France has been embroiled in numerous debates over whether adults should be required to wear cycle helmets.
In June 2019, the Assemblée Nationale voted against making them compulsory, despite some MPs believing that they are central to safe cycling.