Icelandic riders win right to choice on protective clothing

Icelandic riders recently won a reprieve from that country’s proposal for mandatory protective clothing. FEMA member BLS reports that the Icelandic government will most likely drop its plans to mandate protective clothing for motorcyclists. Riders in Iceland pointed out that almost all riders would wear protective clothing, not least due to some fairly rough weather conditions. In addition Iceland would be the only country in Europe mandating such a measure.

In the latest draft of the Icelandic traffic bill there is no longer any mention of the compulsory use of protective clothing. The bill still has to pass the parliament, but the Icelandic FEMA member BLS is confident that it will be approved without further amendments.

The position of FEMA and its member organizations, including MAG Ireland, on protective clothing is clear:
Riders should be encouraged to wear protective clothing but the final decision about what to wear and when needs to be left to the individual.

With our own homegrown proposals from the RSA for mandatory high visibility clothing still on the table, MAG Ireland spoke to Njáll Gunnlaugsson of BLS Iceland about the campaign mounted by riders in his country and what lessons can be learned from the situation there.

Njáll Gunnlaugsson of BLS Iceland

Njáll Gunnlaugsson of BLS Iceland

MAG Ireland: Firstly, congratulations to BLS Iceland for upholding the riders right to choose what they wear on their bike. Tell us a little about how the proposal for mandatory protective clothing came about.

Njáll Gunnlaugsson: Thank you. The proposal was originally introduced on the basis that it was needed to get lower customs and VAT. Soon after that, an opposition against this bill started from individual bikers and clubs which grew into a coalition.  In the original bill, an article was passed saying that all motorcycle riders must wear protective clothing at all times. The transport minister would also be able to set rules about what type of clothing was required. This was done by adding to the existing traffic laws, so everything was done in a haste on the parliament side, putting this through parliament in a matter of a few days.

MI: How did BLS Iceland mobilise riders in Iceland against this proposal?

NG: First, a coalition of 21 clubs including BLS Iceland was formed against the proposal. This soon became a high profile campaign, very visible, with many articles posted about the proposal and so on.

MI: What steps did BLS Iceland take to counter the proposals among politicians?

NG: We were able to get several meetings with members of the ministers staff, and sometimes the minister himself to explain our situation. Also, we were able to get two meetings with the parliament traffic committee. We met with individual members of the parliament too. We put together a list of arguments, which FEMA member countries helped us make, and used that list again and again at these meetings.

MI: Which actions were most effective or least effective?

NG: What really helped us in the end was the professionalism and sheer effort we put into this to make people in government positions aware of us. We pointed out that the law was poorly made and didn’t hold water. For example, no international standards were available for protective clothing.

MI: In Ireland we face proposals for mandatory high visibility clothing. What lessons can we learn from the Icelandic situation?

NG: NEVER accept laws like this without doing your homework, and by that I mean the politicians. One more thing, this fight got most of our attention & resources for the last four years or so, so many other things, good things, got put on hold because of that.

MAG Ireland extends our sincere thanks to Njall Gunnlaugsson of BLS Iceland for taking the time to discuss the issue with us.

The success of BLS Iceland in upholding the right of the rider to choose what to wear on their own motorcycle is a victory for common sense. There are many proposals put forward in the name of “safety” – such as the RSA’s proposal for mandatory long sleeved high visibility clothing for rider & pillion – for which there is no evidence of effectiveness, much less necessity. BLS Iceland has shown that such proposals  can be overturned when the evidence against them is presented in a clear, consistent and professional manner by people who are dedicated enough to keep plugging away at the issue even when the authorities refuse to listen.

MAG Ireland is opposed to the mandatory or compulsory use of high visibility clothing in any form. We stand for choice. The decision on what to wear must be left to the rider. We say simply;
“Let the rider decide”