COMPULSORY PROTECTIVE HELMETS FOR ALL CYCLISTS
Many cyclists of all ages have been breaking the law, by not wearing their helmets as required by the National Road Traffic Act, 1993(Act No.93 of 1996).
A chief traffic officer confirmed that it was illegal to ride a bicycle without a helmet and said an enforcement of the law would follow a public awareness campaign.
He said that the department had not been enforcing the four-month-old law, blaming the three-year interval between the passing of the law and the date of effective enforcement.
"It would be unfair to enforce the law while nobody knows about it," the traffic officer said.
"To be honest, I don't think any provinces have done anything about this yet. An education drive needs to be launched to make the public aware of the new law."
In October 2004, regulation 207(2) of the National Road Traffic Regulation became effective after being passed three years earlier.
The regulation orders the compulsory wearing of a protective helmet that is properly fastened and fitted while riding a bicycle or being carried as a passenger.
Traffic department officials will be meeting soon with chief magistrates to decide upon a suitable penalty for breaking the helmet law.
An Arrive Alive provincial spokesperson in the Border Area was unclear as to whether wearing helmets was compulsory for cyclists when asked by the Daily Dispatch, but he said he would "obviously prefer it to be so".
Border Cycling's Kevin Vincent said that he had had "a suspicion" that the law had been passed last year, but had "heard nothing about it".
"Nothing's been published and steps should be taken, not just by our local traffic department but nationally, to start warning people of the law."
South African Cycling Federation officials body chairman Craig Hawtrey said that international cycling rules had prescribed the use of helmets for racing cyclists since the beginning of last year, and he welcomed the introduction of the same law for leisure cyclists.
"Helmets are usually brightly coloured, making the cyclist more visible on the road.
"But helmets are expensive so if it is compulsory to wear them they should be made more accessible."
Helmets priced at a local cycling shop ranged in price from R95 to R1250.
The head of the department of trauma at Red Cross Children's Hospital in Cape Town, Professor Sebastian von As, said that the wearing of helmets for children will reduce the number of deaths caused by head injuries associated with being knocked over or falling off a bicycle.
Injuries such as a fractured skull can cause underlying brain damage and bleeding, leading to death.
"One of the biggest killers of children under the age of 18 worldwide is trauma and head injuries," said Von As.
"Obviously wearing protective gear like a helmet will reduce the number of accidents."
He cautioned parents not to be blasé about where children wear their helmets.
"Nearly all accidents happen close to home and the majority are within one kilometre radius of the home. There is simply no excuse not to wear a helmet."
Arrive Alive offered the following tips to cycle safely with a helmet:
Always wear cycle helmets to prevent head injuries;
Replace any damaged helmets for maximum protection. Helmets must fit properly to be safe; and
Helmets only work once. If a helmet has been in a collision that required the inner lining to absorb shock, buy another one! Even though the damage may not be visible, the shock absorbing qualities may be deadened.
[ Information has been compiled by Taralyn Bro for an Article in the Daily Dispatch]