Northern Ireland – This article aims to clarify the situation regarding a proposed helmet law for trike riders in Northern Ireland, following a recent claim by the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) that this proposal has been dropped thanks to their successful lobbying.
In June 2015 the Road Safety and Vehicle Regulation Division of the then Department of the Environment (DOE)  issued a public consultation regarding a – “ Proposal for the Mandatory Wearing of Helmets on Motor Tricycles”, meaning that if the proposal came about the wearing of helmets for riders of and passengers on motor tricycles used on public roads in Northern Ireland, would be a mandatory requirement.
Setting the Background
Through a previous consultation, the DOE decided after public concern was raised regarding motor quadricycle (quad bike) rider collisions on the public road, to implement legislation to enforce the wearing of helmets by quad bike riders.
This would be executed through a Road Traffic Amendment Bill (primary and secondary legislation) in the Northern Ireland Assembly and once the Bill had been enacted, the next step for the Department would be to implement subordinate legislation to give effect to this policy decision and to mandate the wearing of helmets on quad bikes in secondary legislation.
The issue of trikes and the wearing of helmets was brought into the discussion during scrutiny of the Road Traffic Amendment Bill in the Committee Stage of the Assembly process. Departmental officials (Civil Servants) considered also extending the requirement to wear helmets when riding motor tricycles on the public road in order to reduce road casualties and thus to re-define the type of vehicle for which the proposal was intended in legislation.
The reduction of casualties that the department officials was aiming to reduce were 2 fatalities between 2008 and 2014 (6 years) in Northern Ireland – 3 seriously injured – during the same period, however the department officials noted, “That even if these riders were wearing helmets it would not have necessarily prevented injury or death.”
Consultation responses at that time included ourselves as Right To Ride, along with the British Motorcyclists Federation (BMF). Together we raised our concerns and gave our opinions at the Motorcycle Safety Forum set up initially to deliver a motorcycle safety strategy to Northern Ireland motorcyclists.
Our response at that time of the proposal was that, “Trikes are substantially different to PTWs. In fact, Right To Ride’s Elaine Hardy noted that “there is another perspective which is that because trikes are far more stable – they have three wheels – in a certain respect, there is far less possibility of suffering injuries or fatalities by riding a trike.
The proposal that is for road safety, technically cannot take into account an adult’s own responsibility to have a freedom of choice, road safety cannot cope readily with that particular basic person’s right. Adults that ride road going and road legal trikes who are licence holders to ride these vehicles on the public roads are a close knit community, they cannot be classed overall as “normal” road users.”
The BMF’s main position was that, “in this particular case the BMF would not support what we believe to be both disproportionate and unjustified legislation.”
The Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) responded in opposition to the consultation reiterating its, “long-standing position on the issue (mandatory wearing of helmets) as it relates to all vehicle users is an unacceptable infringement of civil liberty that is not supported by an adequate body of evidence to justify it. Furthermore the infringement of the civil rights of bikers is a grossly disproportionate application of law. It is hypocritical to place unwarranted demands on a minority on a false premise while neglecting to address real issues.”
At the time we (Right To Ride) put out a request for comments from Trike Riders. There were several trike riders who replied and were all of the same opinion which was that they did not see the need nor the point of a mandatory helmet law.
Because of the references to safety and reducing road casualties in the proposal, we felt that it would be hard to stop that particular bandwagon, even if there was no need to introduce this legislation.
The announcement stated that, “Authorities in Northern Ireland were all set to implement a law forcing trike riders to wear helmets despite no evidence to show that trike riders were over represented in accident statistics or were at risk.
Following a meeting today between MAG’s Lembit Opik and the Minister responsible MAG can announce that the law is not being implemented.
This is a fantastic success for MAG’s team in NI and everyone who wrote letters and emails to the minister and lobbied against the law. If enacted it could well have set an unpleasant precedent for riders in the rest of the UK so this is a great result.”
Fantastic news and in my exuberance to get this great news out to the trike riding community and beyond in Northern Ireland, I shared via social media this “official” announcement, which understandably was greatly welcomed as it was on MAG’s own social media page.
Hold your horses Nelly!
Stepping back from this announcement from MAG – I searched for the official announcement from “government” in order to write a more in-depth article about the whole saga.
This response includes a synopsis of consultation responses from 104 respondees including 91 individuals and the main emergency services – the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) – 25 individual responses indicated that they came from other parts of the UK.
The response states that, “Overall, eight of the respondents (7.69%) are in favour of the Department’s proposal to mandate the wearing of helmets on motor tricycles whilst 95 respondents (91.35%) are opposed to its introduction. The majority of the respondents opposed to the proposal are members of, or represent the motorcycling community in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.”
Earlier this year the number of Northern Ireland government departments was reduced from 12 to nine these former departments were restructured and transferred to the relevant new department . For road going/motorcycle issues the functions of the former Department for Regional Development (DRD) the state of the roads and vehicle regulation, road safety & Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) functions of the DOE are now encompassed within the DfI – Department for Infrastructure.
But we’ll do it anyway!
The outcome of the consultation from the DOE was that, “There was majority opposition from respondents for the proposal to make to changes to legislation to mandate the wearing of helmets on motor trikes.
However, after much consideration and discussion, it has been decided that the Department will proceed with the implementation of this policy proposal into legislation. The requirement will be applicable to all riders of motor trikes in Northern Ireland. The only exemption not to wear a helmet when on a motorcycle will be provided to any follower of the Sikh religion while he is wearing a turban. The Department will keep the proposal to provide an exemption on medical grounds under review”.
They continued that, “The Department does not intend to deny people in Northern Ireland their freedom of choice. However, the proposal to mandate the wearing of helmets has been consulted upon after it was raised by the Environment Committee as a road safety concern and also after considering PSNI collision data. The Department has consistently stated that that one death on our roads is one death too many. The Department believes the proposal to mandate the wearing of helmets on motor trikes on a public road will help make the roads in Northern Ireland a safer place for all road users.
There are currently no primary legislative powers to require the wearing of helmets on quads and the Department is introducing this through a clause in the Road Traffic Amendment (RTA) Bill which has gone through the primary legislative process in the NI Assembly.
Once the RTA Bill has been enacted, the Department will proceed with introducing this requirement in subordinate legislation for both motor trikes and quads.”
So what caused this seismic shift from the proposed introduction of mandatory helmet wearing for trike riders and their passengers in February, to MAG’s announcement five months later that this proposal would not be made into law? (Bear in mind that since the published report from the DOE, there has been a new Government Department and a new Minister – Chris Hazzard).
We know that the previous minister stated in March that, “It is proposed that the necessary legislation to make it mandatory to wear a helmet when riding a quad on a public road will be progressed as soon as possible in the next Assembly mandate.”
In the meantime, MAG has just released its August 2016 issue of the MAG activist newsletter, ‘Network’ which reiterates the statement above – furthermore, MAG highlights that the issue has been the subject of intense lobbying and that, “It has been made clear to the Assembly officers that there is no possibility of MAG standing down in the issue.”
Lembit Opik, MAG Campaigns Manager states that, “I was successful in convincing the previous Minister not to implement this restriction on personal liberty. We need to make sure the current new Minister will honour the commitment made by his predecessor.’ He also states that MAG, “Will take direct action and also evoke anti-discrimination laws to challenge any attempt to implement a mandatory helmet law.”
We contacted the Minister and department in question, the BMF has also been in touch with the department and while we wait for a response from the Minister Chris Hazzard, we understand that the matter is still being discussed pending the minister being fully briefed on the subject.
The BMF says it, “Will continue talks with the relevant parties involved” and it will update riders when a successful conclusion has been reached.
So the mandatory wearing of helmets and redefining what a Trike is in legislation in Northern Ireland, is still on the cards.
Our view? – It’s unlikely that those on the Hill (Stormont)  will change their minds, although stranger things have happened!
 The DOE – Department Of the Environment was a government department in Northern Ireland with its main role to put government policy into action and to advise ministers as part of the Northern Ireland Executive the Northern Ireland Assembly the devolved government in Northern Ireland.
 Earlier this year the number of Northern Ireland government departments was reduced from 12 to nine these former departments were restructured and transferred to the relevant new department. For road going/motorcycle issues the functions of the former Department for Regional Development (DRD) the state of the roads and vehicle regulation, road safety & Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) functions of the DOE are now encompassed within the DfI – Department for Infrastructure.
 The House on the Hill – Stormont – Parliament Buildings – Northern Ireland Assembly devolved legislature of Northern Ireland – MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) politicians elected by and representing the people of Northern Ireland.
Trike riders enjoying their chosen means of getting about on our roads. Gathering together to mainly to raise thousands of pounds for local charities and having fun! Helmets on or helmets off!