Israel amends law forcing adult cyclists to wear helmets

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 18 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4530
  1. Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
  1. 1Jerusalem

The Israeli Knesset (parliament) has passed a private member’s bill allowing adult cyclists to ride without helmets after pressure from companies that have started bicycle rental schemes in Israel’s main cities and from cyclists who dislike wearing helmets.

Israeli children and teenagers, however, will have to continue to wear them on bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and roller skates in urban areas.

The law making helmets compulsory was passed four years ago. The private member’s bill amending the law was initiated by the Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich, who took the side of amateur riders who claimed that helmets discouraged their sport by forcing them to carry helmets with them and that they messed up hairdos. Fewer cyclists meant more traffic and pollution and reduced health benefits of exercise, she argued. In addition, companies that recently started renting out bicycles in cities believed that the helmet requirement hurt business.

The private member’s bill was approved five months ago for its second and third readings in the plenum but was held back when MK Rachel Adatto, a doctor by training, demanded a new discussion. But this was rejected by the economics committee, opening the way for the watering down of the 2007 law.

Michal Hemmo-Lotem, the past director of Beterem, the Israel National Centre for Child Safety and Health, wrote in the Hebrew medical journal Harefuah soon after the original law went into effect that “head injury is the most common cause of death and serious disability in bicycle-related crashes” and that helmets would reduce the risk significantly, saving an average of 57 lives in the population of seven million, cutting emergency department admissions and hospitalisations by tens of thousands, and gaining $44.2m (£27.4m; €31.3m) in direct benefits to society over a five year period. She said it would be like revoking the seatbelt requirement for cars.

When the bill threatened to undo many years of pro-safety efforts, Elihu Richter, a longtime expert in injury prevention at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health, called the bill “idiotic and amateurish” and blamed it on an “MK’s obsessive demand based on assumptions and not facts. There are safety and lives on one side and comfort and pampering on the other,” he declared.

Beterem’s director, Orly Silbinger, feared that after the six to two vote by the economics committee “we are liable to see an increase in head injuries and deaths.” She added, “Despite the passage of the amendment, we call on bike riders of all ages to wear safety helmets at all times and all places for their own safety and to serve as a good example to their children.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4530