Motorbike accidents are a leading global cause of unnatural death. Nearly half of all traffic fatalities occur among those with the least protection: the highest observed with motorcyclists (23 percent), pedestrians (22 percent), and cyclists (4 percent). In the UK, before helmets were made compulsory, they were known as organ donors.

These days in most EU countries there is no legal requirement for cyclists to wear a helmet. There are however consequences for not wearing a helmet. Portugal tried to pass a law making cycle helmets compulsory, but due to protests it didn’t get passed.

From there on the situation becomes more complex. Searching the internet will come up with a variety of legal opinions, some say you must wear a helmet, others say not.

Licence requirements are a bit clearer

You can drive any scooter motorcycle with an engine capacity of 125 cubic centimetres (cc) or more if you:

- have a class A driver’s license (mopeds & motorcycles) or

- have a class B driver’s license with 5 years of car driving experience and are over 25 years old

You can drive a scooter motorcycle with a capacity of 50-125cc if you:

- have a category B driving license

- are over 18 years old

You can drive a scooter motorcycle with a capacity of up to 50cc if you:

- are over 18 years old (a driver's license is not required)

No mention of helmets

The association Novamente, which supports victims of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and their families, last year launched a public petition to make the use of helmets on scooters mandatory. Pointing out that accidents with electric scooters are "a serious public health problem" and that "a fall at 20 km/h without a helmet can cause serious brain injuries and death", the association is calling for tougher regulation.

It won’t happen to me

It’s a reality that when we were young we were full of confidence and believed nothing would happen to us. If only that were true. When I take my morning coffee I see young kids on e-scooters coming down the hill, at quite a speed, probably over 30 kmph. Two small wheels, unstable, and no helmet. If they come off, they stand a large chance of getting hurt, maybe quite badly. Protective clothing, dream on, a tee shirt, sleeveless of course.

According to data from the National Institute of Medical Emergencies (INEM), in 2022 there were 1,691 scooter accidents, which represents an increase of 78 percent compared to the previous year and an average of 141 accidents per month.

They point out that accidents with electric scooters are "a serious public health problem" and that "a fall at 20 km/h without a helmet can cause serious brain injuries and death"

Who should regulate?

The obvious answer is the police, but they can only enforce the law, and regarding the use of helmets on e-scooters, bicycles, and low-engine capacity scooters (50cc), the law, at best is vague. One statement from the PSP said that helmets are not required for two-wheelers not capable of 80 kmph. Who can work that out?

When the government tried to introduce a law to make helmets on a bicycle, it was dropped. If you see clubs on the road, they always wear helmets, they are sensible. Otherwise, the casual cycle rider is rarely seen with a helmet.

Take a few minutes observing when you are driving, and you will be shocked (you should be) by how many scooter and moped drivers, often with a passenger, don’t use a helmet.

I believe it’s a growing problem, look around you and see for yourself. Parents should never let their kids out on an e-scooter without a helmet, and yes, they will protest, ‘none of my friends wear a helmet’. The e-scooters are available everywhere now, even in the supermarket. No wonder the kids want one. If the government can’t act, parents should.

The argument against helmet law

I found this on the internet, it seems to sum up the argument against the law requiring helmet wear. Those against can always find an argument, I quote: “Because if it’s a question of stopping anyone doing any unnecessary harm to themselves, there are plenty of things that harm (and kill) many more people than motorbikes do every year. Smoking, drinking, and eating badly all contribute to thousands and thousands of deaths. But a cancer patient can still buy a packet of 20. An alcoholic can still buy a bottle of vodka. And an overweight person can still buy a chocolate bar. Nobody’s going to stop them. Should anyone stop them? If the government is really so keen on protecting life, maybe they should be doing more to address those things, rather than worrying about whether or not a few motorcyclists are wearing a helmet or not”.

You can draw your own conclusions from that statement.

No helmet equals high injury risk

Lack of helmet use leads to increased hospital admissions with life-threatening head injuries mandating intensive care, whereas the use of a helmet significantly reduces the severity of head injury, hospitalization duration, morbidity, and mortality. As a result, it is vital to organise public awareness campaigns on the safety benefits of wearing helmets, as well as consistent enforcement of traffic laws, to ensure compliance and a shift in views.


Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy. 

Paul Luckman