The majority of people taking part in a new poll in France said they are in favour of making helmets mandatory for cyclists.
MPs have considered the much-debated question numerous times in recent years.
A study* by YouGov found that 69% of people do not feel safe on a bike and would be in favour of making helmets mandatory when riding. Of these, 75% are women.
Yet, this does not seem to translate to people’s behaviour in practice. The same poll found that just 30% of people always wear a helmet when they ride a bike, 23% sometimes do, and 47% never do.
The results also varied considerably by age, with younger people more likely to wear a helmet.
YouGov said: “We can see significant generational differences: 62% of 18-34s sometimes or always wear a helmet, versus 39% of 35-44s.”
Currently, wearing a helmet while riding a pushbike is not mandatory in France except for children under 12 (whether they are riding or passengers). This has been law since March 2017, and not complying carries a fine of €90-135 for the child’s accompanying or legal parent/guardian.
Whether to make helmets mandatory on push bikes for all ages has been debated repeatedly in parliament and the Senate in recent years.
In the latest debate, Senator François Bonneau presented a bill on the matter earlier this month (January 2022).
The bill proposed fines for cyclists – as well as e-scooter and monocycle users – who do not wear a helmet, at the same rate as scooter and motorbike riders: €135 per infraction.
He cited rising numbers of cycle and e-scooter accidents, and figures from road safety agency l'Observatoire national interministériel de la sécurité routière (ONISR), which show that in 2019, out of the 187 cyclists killed and the 4,783 cyclists injured in accidents, half were not wearing helmets.
Yet, Mr Bonneau later pulled the bill after less than an hour of debate, as it was received with friendly-but-firm rejection.
Senators state that they are generally in favour of helmets in principle, but that making helmets mandatory would send a message that riding is not safe. Bike-riding groups state that this would have a negative impact on the number of people practising the eco-friendly sport.
Biking associations say that rather than making helmets mandatory, the government should encourage more people to cycle – as the more cyclists on the roads, the safer it is – and invest in safer bike riding infrastructure that would better protect riders.
What are the rules on helmets in other countries?
Worldwide, most countries have not made helmets mandatory, except for Australia, New Zealand, and some Canadian provinces.
In Europe, many countries only make it mandatory for children. Helmets must be worn in Malta up until age 10; in Austria and Latvia until age 12; age 15 in Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden; age 16 in Croatia and Estonia, and age 18 in the Czech Republic and Lithuania.
In Spain, wearing helmets is mandatory for everyone outside of town centres, but only for those up to age 16 when in a town. In Portugal, it is only mandatory for electric bikes.
Cycling rules in France
Apart from helmets, there are laws in France regarding cycling on roads for both children and adults.
All cyclists must ensure that their bike is in good condition, especially if they cycle on roads or lanes that are also used by cars; whether in town centres or in more rural zones.
This includes having working brakes on both wheels, pumped-up tyres with sufficient tread, a supportive and safe saddle, and tightened bolts on parts such as wheels and handlebars.
Bikes must feature reflective stickers, panels or lights; with a red-coloured light or reflective label at the back; and orange reflectors on the pedals. Lights and reflectors must also be visible from behind and the sides.
Bikes must also be able to alert others to their presence, either with a horn or bell, that is audible from at least 50m away.
Riders who do not conform to these conditions risk a fine of at least €11 per bike, rising to €33 if not paid within 30 days.
At nighttime, or when visibility is poor, bikes must have a strong red light at the back, as well as a white or yellow lamp in front. Riders must also wear a reflective tabard at all times at night or during low visibility, and face an additional fine of €22-€75 if they do not.
*The YouGov poll questioned 1,009 people aged 18 or over, representative of the French population, online from January 19-20, 2022.