MAG is the leading riders’ rights organisation in the United Kingdom. We represent approximately 600 members in Northern Ireland, and the interests of an estimated 48,000 active motorcyclists, scooter riders and trike operators in that geography. Our modus operandi is to help policy makers develop evidence based refinements in all areas of policy which affect riders. As far as possible, we work with legislators and officers in the spirit of cooperation to find data-based and legislatively sustainable, consistent solutions to shared challenges, such as road planning, the environment and safety. We also draw on political and legal channels where necessary. MAG employs highly qualified research resources and possesses a comprehensive understanding of key issues associated with operating powered two and three wheelers.
MAG has conducted an extensive analysis of the technical, statistical and moral implications of existing helmet laws. Our analysis considered the financial implications of enforced use of helmets, as well as the philosophical implications of imposing such regulations. MAG is dedicated to ensuring legal, political and moral consistency in the application of laws as they pertain to motorcyclists. MAG resists discrimination against riders and promotes a ‘level playing field’ for those who choose to use powered two and three wheelers versus other road users.
MAG has conducted a detailed analysis of the consultation proposals to introduce a mandatory helmet law for trike riders. We have absorbed and analysed the data in the consultation document, cross-referencing it to MAG’s own extensive national and international research.
Overview of MAG’s position
Based on MAG’s extensive body of evidence regarding the moral, practical and financial effects of helmet legislation, we propose Option 1 – status quo. MAG also offers positive engagement between the riding community and road safety authorities to identify the most rational and cost effective way to achieve the objectives of the Road Safety and Vehicle Regulation Division. We offer our resources and experience to help deliver our shared safety goals and to monitor results on an on-going basis. We oppose introduction of new constraints which have no evidential basis.
Our continuing aim is to work with the Road Safety and Vehicle Regulation Division to ensure fair and non-discriminatory regulation of trike use, based on scientifically credible data plus consideration of the rights of individuals. We want to help find a sensible outcome and avoid recourse to legal action or high profile political campaigning if at all possible – a path which may even draw in questions about the original motorcycle mandatory helmet law. This is why we are extremely eager to meet with the Division at the earliest opportunity to make progress in a constructive manner. We are more than willing to share our expertise and achieve what all parties wish for.
Response to the six specific questions
Do you think that one of the listed options is the way forward?
Given the absence of quantitative data – and the statistically insignificant sample size regarding deaths and injuries amongst trike users – there is only one reasonable option amongst those being proposed.
If the answer to question 1 above was yes, which option do you feel provides the appropriate way forward?
Option 1 – namely, the status quo, is the only equitable legal arrangement for the use of helmets on powered three wheelers. MAG understands from the consultation document that two factors are driving the proposal to shift from this status quo: cost to the health service of treating trike riders involved in accidents; and damage to health. The consultation document does not provide a persuasive argument regarding either criterion, unless the Assembly is also willing to legislate on a series of other circumstances in which harm can occur to oneself or others, and which have nothing to do with trikes.
Let us start with the statistical basis for the proposal as contained in the consultation document.
No evidence of any statistical significance has been produced so far to support the changes being proposed. The data provided so far regarding deaths and serious injuries is drawn from a tiny sample, far too small to form a meaningful basis for a major change in legislation. The consultation document offers no clarity on the cause of injury or death, or the likely impact of wearing or not wearing helmets in each of these incidents – or whether the riders were even wearing helmets.
MAG has conducted a comprehensive analysis of the effect of mandatory helmet regulations. If the small – and evidently regrettable – number of accidents involving trikes is to be used as a precedent for imposing mandatory restrictions on this category of rider, it sets a cast iron precedent for the extension of such legislation to other – far more clearly defined – circumstances potentially involving harm to oneself and others and cost to the health service.
Let’s look at the facts. In the period 2008-2014 the consultation records two deaths and three serious injuries, plus five minor injuries amongst trike users. By comparison, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency – NISRA – recorded 1884 alcohol related deaths for the comparable sample period 2007-2013; over nine HUNDRED times more deaths than for trike riders over a similar period. In addition, data supplied by the Northern Ireland Assembly Research and Library Service for an Assembly debate led by Danny Kinahan MLA, indicated that alcohol was a contributory factor to 369 injury-related road accidents, 23 deaths, 120 serious injuries and 439 slight injuries – in 2009-2010 alone. Based on the two criteria driving the mandatory helmet proposal – cost to the health service and harm to health – introducing a law to force trike riders to wear helmets instead of focussing on tough new restrictions on access to alcohol would evidently be inconsistent and discriminatory.
As a second example, poor diet has been attributed as a cause of death. In Northern Ireland, 24% of over those over 16 years old are obese and a further 37% are overweight, according to House of Commons Library research for the period 2013-2014. NHS research in 2013 suggests that the combined experience of all obesity grades is an increased likelihood of mortality in the region of 18%. Again, a mandatory law for trike riders but no law preventing, say, excessive eating is inconsistent and disproportionate, especially given the numbers affected by obesity versus riding a powered three wheeler.
There are many other examples which indicate the unarguable discriminatory nature of mandating helmet usage for trike riders, when far higher savings in health and cost to the health service would be achieved by addressing these other issues. Note also that not wearing a helmet has no third party implications to health, unlike alcohol related road injury accidents.
There is another key consideration. In the spirit of consistency, if mandatory helmet wearing is to be introduced for trike users, then it MUST also be introduced for drivers and passengers of motor cars. These are responsible for thousands more head injuries than trikes are – or ever could be. Explicitly, if helmets are regarded as an appropriate defence against head injury, a far higher reduction in those experiencing head injuries – with a consummate saving in cost and damage to health – will be achieved by introducing mandatory helmets for car drivers and passengers. Failing to do so would make it patently discriminatory against trike riders given the miniscule casualty numbers for this category of vehicle user versus those in powered four wheelers.
MAG returns to the Division’s own data. Note again that with trikes, across the seven year period, there were two deaths, three serious injuries and five slight injuries. Using the charity Headway’s statistics, there are around 170,000 minor, moderate and serious head injuries in the UK every year. The charity claims almost half are directly related to road traffic accidents. Pro-rata, this would indicate the Northern Ireland health services deal with over 4,000 road accident-related head injuries per annum, of which – by the Road Safety and Vehicle Regulation Division’s own statistics – no more than NINE (9) could possibly have been generated by trike accidents – across the whole of the seven years from 2008-2014. The rest must necessarily have been the result of car accidents, pedestrian-related collisions and accidents involving those already wearing helmets: these riders again form a small minority of the total tally since they constitute less than 3% of road traffic. As such, there is a far stronger case to impose the mandatory wearing of helmets on car drivers and passengers than to impose it on trike riders. To impose the regulation upon trike riders instead is therefore plainly discriminatory in regard to the liberties and rights of users of powered three wheelers versus those of car drivers – a position MAG is confident would be upheld in a court of law.
Note also that the data contained in the consultation report does not even identify whether the trike related injuries were head related, and whether these made any difference to the ultimate condition or fate of the riders – crucially, a point acknowledged by the consultation document itself. Thus the entire proposal is based on an unsubstantiated conjecture that helmets would have altered the outcome in these accidents – despite the fact the consultation itself concedes there is nothing to suggest that this is the case – and with a disregard to the fact that thousands more head injuries occur every year in cars. Yet the logic of the proposal implies that, considering the dual criteria of harm to oneself and cost to the health service, car travellers should be mandated to wear helmets IF the tenets of the consultation are valid and applied consistently.
The cost in liberty of mandating helmet usage for trike users is hard to quantify in pecuniary terms. However, its imposition in this discriminatory and non-databased fashion is again inconsistent – in this case regarding personal liberty, especially given that there is no third party victim if a rider is harmed as a result of not wearing a helmet. By contrast, alcohol is instrumental in first and third party harm, which until now, de facto, is accepted as a ‘tolerable harm’ in terms of the level of legislation in force to prevent it. As such, seeking to enforce a mandatory helmet law may lead to a legal challenge (which could additionally have the unintended consequence of necessitating a review of the existing helmet law as it pertains to riders of powered two wheelers) on the basis of demonstrable discrimination against the riding community, for example in the context of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
If your answer to question one was no, can you suggest a possible alternative course of action? Please give details.
Do you think the sales market for trikes will be affected by the introduction of this policy?
YES – the introduction of mandatory helmets WOULD negatively impact the sector
By definition, the status quo will not alter the current sales market. However, there is no doubt that the introduction of mandatory helmets as outlined in options 2 and 3 will substantially reduce the sales of trikes, given that the freedom to ride without a helmet is a key attraction of this mode of transport. The loss of sales will significantly exceed any uplift in sales of helmets. Note that a substantial proportion of trike riders already possess helmets, and as such it is not tenable to suggest an increase in helmet sales will counterbalance the loss of sales of trikes. This will therefore negatively impact the economy. While the economic arguments are to some extent a moot point, there is no economic case as far as the powered two and three wheeled sector is concerned to introduce this change. Rather, the economics of the sector points to the status quo – Option 1.
Do you agree that this policy should also be introduced for disabled drivers/riders?
NO – the status quo should be in place to all users of powered three wheelers.
There is no case to introduce helmet legislation for people with disabilities which is at variance to the law for able bodied riders. To create different legislation would constitute discrimination and is thus open to legal challenge.
Do you feel there is a more effective way to define trikes in legislation? If yes, please give details.
Any attempt to define the different categories of trike as suggested in the consultation document, as far as the analysis put forward is concerned, appears largely arbitrary. The only way to meaningfully define different types of trike in the context of safety it to have a solid, clear and quantitative body of evidence which relates to the relative risk associated with each type of vehicle. No such analysis has been offered in the consultation document. Thus, it is impossible to define trikes in a more effective way in legislation, given the absence of data to justify doing so.
In addition, given the criteria on which the proposal is being put forward – namely impact on health and cost to the health service – such an analysis requires consideration of the data relating to head injuries in other categories of vehicles; such as cars, buses and so forth. We have already pointed out the far higher incidence of head injury in four wheeled vehicles, with the consequent impact on health and the cost to health services. There is obviously a compelling need for consistency, regardless of the number of wheels a particular vehicle happens to have, otherwise any such proposal is discriminatory.
MAG is eager to work with the authorities to make progress on the safety of powered two and three wheelers. We take an informed and rational approach, with over 40 years’ experience in the field. MAG is committed to working with the Road Safety and Vehicle Standards Division to ensure an equitable approach towards road safety issues. We look forward to positive engagement with the Division to identify the best way forward regarding road safety for riders and the wider road-using community.
Selina Lavender – Ian Mutch
Chair, Motorcycle Action Group – President, Motorcycle Action Group