A useless lawRiding a bike without a helmet anywhere in Korea is now illegal thanks to a traffic law provision that went into effect last week. The new statute is more or less a dumb law because even if a helmetless person is caught and taken to the police office, he or she cannot be penalized due to a lack of legal grounds for fines and other penalties.
Initially, the provision was added as a move to promote electric bikes. However, opposition parties’ lawmakers who were pitching for use of electric bikes without the need of a license made a compromise with the ruling party to make wearing a helmet mandatory to ease concerns about safety issues. As a result, wearing a helmet has become a requirement for all kinds of bicycles. Few cared to question the ridiculousness of penalty-less compulsory law and stamped the provision into law. The law angered bike riders after it was revealed to the public.
A ruling party lawmaker has recently proposed to tweak the provision from “One has the obligation to wear a safety helmet” to “One has the obligation to try to wear a helmet.” If the revision passes the legislature, a rider stopped by the police for riding a two-wheeled vehicle without wearing a helmet simply needs to say, “I tried to wear one.”
Bike-sharing has become popular with many local governments. But they stopped offering safety helmets after returns became rare. The Seoul government no longer leases out helmets because of the money wasted on missing helmets and since citizens are uncomfortable about wearing used helmets for hygienic reasons. Because of the new law, people must carry around their own helmets if they want to use public bikes. Fewer people will want to choose bikes over cars once wearing a helmet is mandatory. In Australia, the number of bike riders significantly decreased after helmet-wearing was made compulsory. A useless law is better without.
JoongAng Sunday, Sept. 29-30, Page 34