21 June 2009

Danish Bike Helmet Law Defeated in Parliament

My son is no longer at risk of being labelled a criminal!

This slipped under my radar while I was out travelling - ironically out promoting cycling positively. A Danish political party - The Socialist People's Party proposed a bike helmet law for children under 12. And right here in the world's safest cycling nation where it has never been so safe to cycle.

I posted about this party's position previously here on Copenhagenize.com and their four Safety Fetishists; Pia Olsen Dyhr, Anne Baastrup, Karina Lorentzen Dehnhardt and Ole Sohn [with Morten Østergaard from Radikale Venstre providing extra Orwellian Newspeak]- put the law proposal through the political machinery, ending with a vote on May 28th, 2009.

The Socialist People's Party, together with a small party called Radikale Venstre [they're probably just happy someone asked them out to play] voted For and the rest of the Folketing [Danish Parliament] voted soundly Against.

For: 21
Against: 90
Abstained: 0
Absent/Playing golf, etc: 68

A victory for common sense and rationality.

It still boggles the mind how The Socialist People's Party didn't bother to do their research. It's rare to see laws proposed on such a fantastically thin background. The backbone of their proposal was rhetoric and fearmongering. And this from a party that claims to work for increased cycling in Denmark.

I really hope there aren't many law proposals in the Parliament like this that are such an amazing waste of time and taxpayer's money. Here's an interesting analysis of why a law like this just doesn't fly.
Long John
Non-criminals enjoying the joy of the bicycle in the world's safest bicycle nation.

The primus motor behind the proposal, Pia Olsen Dyhr, wasn't any more well-prepared for her moment in the democratic spotlight as when I exchanged emails with her previously. She actually said, recorded for all eternity:

"The Danish Cyclists Federation [DCF] and The Danish Road Safety Council have made splendid campaigns over the past couple of years. Nevertheless, the number of children cycling hasn't risen."

No shit, Sherlock. There's a reason they call them scare tactics and fearmongering. They... uh... scare people. Parents become fearful and don't let their children cycle. We've seen it before in Denmark and we're seeing it again.

Promotion and legislation go hand in hand and have the same negative effects on cycling. People stop doing it, with all the negative health aspects involved.

Pia Olsen Dyhr doesn't realise this though:
"...Look, for example, at New Zealand where there is an all-ages helmet law. The year after the law was passed, the number of cyclists fell a little. The year after it rose again and was higher than before the law. [...] This is at least one scientific study that shows that there is absolutely no truth to the claim that people will stop cycling."
- Cycling in New Zealand decreased by 22% after the helmet laws according to the New Zealand Household Travel Survey.
- Here is Dr Dorothy Robinson's Cost-Benefit analysis of New Zealand's helmet laws [PDF].
- Here is another cost-benefit analysis - Taylor M, Scuffham P - 2002 - in Injury Prevention [PDF].

And once again, let's mention Professor Piet de Jong's mathematical template for determining the negative costs of helmet laws.

The Danish Minister of Transport, together with the Ministers of Transport for all the EU countries [The European Council of Ministers of Transport], published a report in 2004 [National Policies to Encourage Cycling] wherein it says, among other things, that:

"...from the point of view of restrictiveness, even the official promotion of helmets may have negative consequences for bicycle use, and that to prevent helmets having a negative effect on the use of bicycles, the best approach is to leave the promotion of helmet wear to manufacturers and shopkeepers.

The report entitled 'Head Injuries and Helmet Law for Cyclists' by Dorothy L. Robinson, Bicycle Research report No. 81 (March 1997) shows that the main effect of the introduction of the general helmet law for cyclists in Australia was a drop in bicycle use."

I'm pleased that the law was voted down. As Karsten Nonbo, MP for the Venstre party said in Parliament:

"We can try and imagine that if we pass this law making it illegal not to wear a bike helmet, what would that mean? Well, it would mean that children would always have to wear a bike helmet in places where the traffic laws apply. In other words, children would have to wear a bike helmet in camping grounds, they'll have to wear bike helmets on the sidewalk, they'll have to wear bike helmets on city squares, they'll have to wear them everywhere because it became law. I am quite sure, as the Minister of Justice also said, that many people will stop cycling."

He added later something that is seen all over the world:
"It's amusing that often it is people who don't cycle very often who bring these things to the table"

Well said. Although this debate in Parliament revealed one important thing. That many politicians in this country are shockingly lacking in information about bike helmets. Not only the Safety Fetishists from The Socialist People's Party who took it one step further and manipulated their 'research' but many of the others. It was as though the Danish Parliament was put to the task of discussing something just as odd as revising the Laws of Cricket.

This whole bike helmet issue is so new to this country and the only place they can get they information are from the car-centric Danish Road Safety Council and the vague, almost uninterested, Danish Cyclists Federation.

Let's look abroad shall we. The UK's National Cyclists Organisation, CTC, previously succeeded in lobbying against a similar law and published a brochure that they sent to politicians in which they wrote 7 reasons to oppose a child helmet law:

1. The principal threats to children's lives are obesity, heart disease and other illnesses resulting in large part from inactivity. Cycling has a key role to play in preventing these illnesses. Less cycling through a helmet law would aggravate the situation.
2. Cycling is a healthy activity, and the likelihood of serious head injury is widely exaggerated.
3. Cycling becomes safer the more people do it. Encouraging cycling is by far the most effective way of reducing risk of injury.
4. Helmet promotion deters cycling and leads to poorer health.
5. The benefits of helmets are greatly over-stated.
6. Many other everyday activities could benefit more from helmet-wearing than cycling.
7. A helmet law would make it a crime for children to take part in a health giving activity.

You can read the brochure here - it opens as a PDF document.

As I wrote in the post about Copenhagenize at the Velocity Conference, the European Cyclists Federation printed buttons and brochures about their stand on helmets.

You can now read the brochure here. It opens as a PDF document.

At the end of the day a law criminalising children and their parents for choosing a healthy, life-extending transport option is perverse.

The Culture of Fear's encroachment on our culture - ESPECIALLY relating to Danish cycling - is not welcome and we'd be best served to repel it.

The vote in Parliament was a small stop in that direction. We're at a crossroads in Denmark. The bicycle is booming all over the world, but not here.We can either promote cycling or we can promote helmets. We cannot do both and we must decide quicksmart which direction we want to take.

For the sake of public health and The Greater Good.

Spotted recently. A "Tryg uden hjelm i verdens sikreste cykelland" sticker on a Copenhagen bicycle. Translated it means "Feeling secure without a bike helmet in the world's safest cycle nation". Rationality and common sense is returning.

- Stickers available here.
- Facebook group here, in Danish.