Since the end of the first confinement, the bicycle is everywhere in the cities. Sport, rides but also home-to-work journeys, more and more French people are opting for the little queen, causing an increase in accidents.
This Thursday, Senator François Bonneau wanted to take up the subject by proposing a law aimed at making wearing a helmet compulsory. Faced with the outcry of user associations, he finally changed his mind. But the reaction has something to question. Why is the issue of cyclist safety so sensitive? 20 minutes explored a few leads.
“There is a form of hedonism” in cycling, even more so without a helmet, advances Matthieu Adam, researcher at the CNRS. In his interviews with cyclists, the geographer notes that the notion of pleasure is “much more mentioned than in the case of the individual car”, in addition to its fast and fluid side. The kiff argument moreover largely surpasses the environmental motivation of the people it questions. In fact, imposing the wearing of a helmet, often perceived as unpleasant, “can make people fear entering a control system”, while the world of cycling “is approaching the world of the automobile” with the progression of the electric bicycle , emphasizes the researcher from Lyon.
A fear shared by many of the readers who responded to our call for testimony. “When will the permit, the insurance, the gray card? asks Bernard, 66. “You can also fall on foot. So when is the obligation to wear a helmet on foot? “, ironically Martin, who pleads to stop “to infantilize the citizens”. Among opponents of the obligation, the safety benefit of the helmet is generally not called into question, even if Jean-René, 85, believes that it “harms control of the environment”. But, like Thierry, who “walks along the Loire on secure tracks without a helmet”, they ask for “nuance rather than generalization”.
Accidents, whose fault?
But the argument of freedom is quickly countered by the proponents of security. “Putting on your seat belt was seen as a freedom killer in the 1970s,” recalls Anne Lavaud, general delegate of the Association pour la Prévention Routière. An example widely taken up by our readers in favor of the obligation to wear helmets, the majority among more than 300 contributors. A better awareness of the dangers and the Highway Code are also advanced, whether in addition to or in replacement of the compulsory helmet. With the famous example of the “cyclist running through red lights”, criticizes Marie. However, “the Highway Code has actually adapted, allowing cyclists to switch to red when it is safer for them”, pleads Matthieu Adam.
Bill for the obligation to wear a bicycle helmet. Debate No. 3487. Some arguments AGAINST ⤵️
— Guillaume Martin (@GlmMrt) January 13, 2022
Because accidentology reveals one thing: “cyclists are less often considered responsible for accidents”, he explains, citing as the first cause “the unsuitability of the territory”. The request of Camille, 28, to “create secure cycling facilities before wanting to impose the wearing of helmets” is regularly taken up by other readers. Some cite the case of the Netherlands and Denmark, countries known for their widespread use of bicycles, where “the position for the non-obligation of wearing a helmet is assumed by politicians”, further specifies Matthieu Adam. The infrastructures there are particularly reassuring, contributing to the use of bicycles almost ten times more widespread than in France.
The burden of occasional cyclists
Compulsory helmets, combined with the lack of infrastructure, would on the contrary run the risk of slowing down the development of cycling. Like Clément, many French people only use the bike occasionally, without necessarily planning it. “If this measure is adopted, as I will not leave home with a helmet every morning” just in case “, and I will no longer be able to use the Vélib ‘”, says the thirty-something. Bulky, sometimes expensive, the helmet can quickly become a burden once the bike is attached. Unless the bike share services provide a helmet. Logistically complicated, the locations are often not secure, and potentially repulsive from a hygienic point of view.
Wearing the helmet permanently would however respond to a concern for consistency, noted by Anne Lavaud: giving parents a role model for children under 12, who are already subject to this obligation. “A child wants to do like the big ones, so taking off the helmet is like being a big one,” she explains. There remains the intimate argument, which we are sometimes reluctant to admit as it seems futile, but which our reader Benjamin has confessed: “I didn’t use it for the one and only reason that it was mind-blowing. “