Bike helmets are optional in Hong Kong – but the government is seeking to mandate their use

The government has outlined its legislative agenda for road safety for the coming year, focusing on distracted drivers, warning bells for electric vehicles, baby seats in private cars and mandatory helmets for people using bicycles.

The plans were set out before LegCo’s Transport Panel by Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan.

In full, the new road safety agenda covers:

  • use of mobile phones by drivers;
  • tightening requirements for child seats in private cars;
  • mandating cyclists to wear protective helmets;
  • mandating drivers and passengers of motor tricycles (currently exempt from motorcycle helmets) to wear protective helmets;
  • requiring seat-belts on school buses and new franchised buses and mandating their use; requiring cranes to install “over-height warning systems”; and
  • installing “acoustic vehicle alerting systems” to EVs and hybrid vehicles.

“Transport Department takes into account the practices and experiences of other jurisdictions from time to time, closely monitors the trends of traffic accident numbers, keeps track of and analyses the statistics of traffic accidents etc., in order to formulate and implement appropriate road safety strategies and measures,” said the policy briefing paper.

The bicycle helmet idea in particular drew ire from cycling campaigners, who pointed to research overseas that mandating helmet use stymies cycling uptake and hence limits the societal benefits associated with regular cycling.

“Such a retrograde step would negatively impact the health and well being of Hong Kong people, and allow police to further victimise cyclists,” said Martin Turner, chairman of Hong Kong Cycling Alliance.

And indeed, the government has for decades rejected the idea of mandatory helmets, on the basis that it could impact cycling uptake and would be difficult to enforce.

“Authorities in [France, Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom and Singapore] generally consider that enhancing education and publicity to encourage voluntary wearing of protective helmets by cyclists is a more appropriate approach. In the United Kingdom, there are views that a mandatory requirement may lead to a reduction in cycling activities. Such a measure may also not be generally accepted by the public, and there are practical difficulties in enforcement,” the bureau said in 2008.

A number of jurisdictions around the world mandate helmet use for younger cyclists, while a full mandate for all cyclists is rare.

But a bike shop owner from Australia, where all cyclists are required to wear helmets, said she supported the idea. “If you have a crash with a car, you’re likely to break plenty of bones in your body. If you’re wearing a helmet, it could be one less thing for the surgeon to worry about,” she said.

Transport Department has not yet responded to questions on the helmet issue.

Electronic road pricing amongst other proposals

Also at the meeting the government detailed the key initiative under its Smart Mobility ambitions, the Free-Flow System (FFS) for drivers using tolled tunnels – some 800,000 vehicles will be provided with automatic toll chips in the middle of this year and government-run tunnels will dynamically adapt pricing to manage congestion.

While limited to tunnels, the government says FFS will pave the way for congestion pricing, with Transport Department claiming it will use the technology and experience gained from tunnel tolls to develop an electronic road pricing scheme for Central. While ERP has been under discussion for more than 20 years, the government says it will be ready to consult the public in mid-2022.


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