Update 11 July: In this story originally published 10 July, 2022 we claimed the maximum penalty for not wearing an approved cycle helmet to be at Level 2, ie $5,000 and three months prison. In fact, with the release of the English documents today, we find this was a mistake, with that penalty to be levied at motorcycle and motor-tricycle passengers. For bicycle riders the maximum fine will be set at Level 1, a $2,000 fine and no prison. We apologise for the error, which came from a mis-translation of documents previously only available in Chinese.
The new Transport and Logistics Bureau (TLB) is firming up plans for mandatory bicycle helmets, outlining a legislative framework which could see cyclists face jail time for not wearing approved helmets.
Under proposals slated for 2023, cyclists could be given a $320 fixed penalty notice for a first offence, with penalties rising to Level 2 – $5,000 and three months in jail – for repeat offenders. Bicycle users of all age groups and on all roads and cycle paths will be required to wear helmets approved by the government, with TLB now working with police on an enforcement plan.
Transport Department is bringing the proposals to lawmakers for a Transport Panel meeting on Friday 15 July, with a Chinese-only document claiming to have consulted with the industry and stakeholders “including cycling clubs, auto clubs, driving schools, general public, logistics and transportation groups and takeout food delivery operators”.
TD says those groups generally support the new law and says the idea that mandatory bicycle helmets will hinder take-up of cycling was a “minority opinion”.
But the government itself held that view until recently, and 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 former Transport and Housing Bureau said in 2008.
Hong Kong Cycling Alliance (HKCAll), Hong Kong’s largest cycling advocacy group and one of many groups and individuals putting forward the “minority opinion” that mandatory helmets will impact cycling levels, says the news laws are a “massive step backwards for Hong Kong”.
“It is conclusively shown that this kind of law reduces the take up of cycling, and hence society loses all the health, mobility and carbon reduction benefits that cycling brings,” says Martin Turner, chairman of HKCAll.
“The personal and societal value of more cycling (in health alone, never mind urban mobility, pollution reduction, quality of life, cost) is hugely positive, unlike cars, buses, trains etc. Hence the proven reduction in number of people riding bikes when we are told to wear special equipment would make us all worse off.”
The government says action is needed given the number of cycle crashes in recent years, noting that 90% of the 446 killed or seriously injured (KSI) cyclists in 2020 were not wearing helmets.
British cycling legend Chris Boardman wrote in 2017 that mandatory helmet laws in the UK would “risk killing more people than we save”, claiming efforts should instead be put into reducing vehicle speeds or making areas around schools car-free.
“That is what happened in the 1970s in the Netherlands and now, more than 50% of kids ride to school in safety every day. Imagine the reduction in congestion if 50% of children in the UK were not driven to school! It’s also no coincidence that Dutch obesity levels are less than half that of the UK,” he wrote.