16 July 2009

Kissing Toronto's Bicycle Culture Goodbye

monkey finger
Well, that was that, perhaps. Toronto's blossoming bicycle culture is at risk of being pedalled back into the stone ages because a city councillor is proposing mandatory bicycle helmet laws for all ages AND bicycle licencing/registration.

Michael Walker is the name of the councillor and he, like many car-centric, uninformed politicians before him, is doing his bit for promoting cars and killing off the growth of a carbon neutral, life-extending transport form - bicycles.

His proposal was seconded by another councillor, Suzan Hall.

Walker doesn't seem to be aware that bicycle helmets are designed for protecting a head from non-life threatening injuries in solo accidents under 20 km/h. He seems to think they are some kind of wonder drug that can protect heads from collisions with cars, trucks and rogue meteors. He doesn't seem to realise that the societal and health benefits of a cycling population far outweigh the benefit of helmets.

Here's the pdf of his motion. His shocking disregard for pedestrian safety is alarming. I cannot see any reference to helmets for pedestrians in the motion.

As it's been seen all over the world, mandatory helmet laws kill off cycling. 20-40% fewer cyclists as a result. And fewer cyclists means an increase in health care costs, pollution and the continuation of a car-centric society. Bullying people who choose a healthy transport option serves no good purpose.

Here you can see the unfortunate results of Canadian helmet laws so far. Not much for Toronto to look forward to.

Here's a radio interview about the proposal from CBC:
http://www.cbc.ca/mrl3/8752/toronto/ondemand/audio/jul02bh_TOR.wma. Hilariously, in the URL there is the word/name ONDEMAND. In Danish "onde mand" means "evil man".

I'll never understand why politicians like him, or like the Danish Socialist Peoples' Party propose laws without considering ALL of the science. Thorough political groundwork is a rarity, it seems. This man is a poster child for The Culture of Fear Inc. Actually, he's probably a shareholder.

Regarding his proposal for bicycle licencing, Copenhagenize.com has written about this folly before. Right here.

Toronto... it's been lovely watching your bicycle culture grow. You have been a progressive city in many areas.

Shame it may all have been in vain.

Via: Biking Toronto, thanks to Joel.

39 comments:

Joel said...

Tack så mycket Mikael. Hoppas allt är bra.

workbike said...

The first part ready like a whiny child that isn't getting their own way any more: 'Cyclists are getting in the way of cars: Let's make life more difficult for them'
I'm expecting more of this as cycling increases and driving becomes less economically attractive and politicians come under pressure from motoring lobbyists to restore the status quo.

Kevin said...

I live in Toronto. Rest assured that this motion has zero chance of being passed into law.

Walker and Hall fall into the category of "the usual suspects." They are pandering to their Neanderthal base, who are in their accustomed state of denial about their impending extinction.

I, along with hundreds of other cyclists, was in Toronto City Council chambers when the motion was passed to take away a car lane on Jarvis Street and turn it into two bicycle lanes. The pro-car opposition had a snazzy yellow t-shirt, which adorned exactly four bodies. Yes, cyclists were in the overwhelming majority, and the bike lanes passed.

As with all politics, a key driver is money. The car interests have lots of it, the cyclists not so much. So they will always be able to purchase one or two municipal councillors. But right now we have an absolute majority on Toronto City Council, and are working hard to keep it that way after the 2010 Toronto municipal elections.

Anonymous said...

I ran into (not literally) a high school teacher friend the other day who, when he saw my bike and my strange helmet, (I've added a floppy brim) told me this cautionary tale.

When he started teaching in Woy Woy (Central Coast NSW, Australia) ten years ago, there was flourishing bike culture. "It was almost like Holland," he said. "Then, in came the helmet law and now no one rides."

I'd noticed that this flat sea side suburb, full of retirees was strangely devoid of bikes, but I never knew the reason.

Good to read that Kevin thinks a helmet law has no chance of passing in Toronto. Mike Rubbo

Kim said...

Mikael you say that you'll "never understand why politicians like him, or like the Danish Socialist Peoples' Party propose laws without considering ALL of the science." Could it be that they believe that in the words of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: "A lie told often enough becomes truth."

All we can do is to keep exposing the lie.

To quote another: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Mahatma Gandhi.

If we all keep at it we will win.

James from Bc said...

Hey fearmongering blog, your facts are ridiculous.

Your link about "the unfortunate results of Canadian helmet laws so far" is preposterous.

A 30% drop in cyclists in BC since helmet laws were introduced? Hah! That's the most ridiculous stat I've ever heard.

I agree that licensing would probably have that effect, but helmets? Get out of here. If only this were the case, seatbelt laws might have discouraged driving.

joe said...

Thanks for picking up this story from the BikingToronto Forum :)

Anonymous said...

James from BC, I was in Vancouver (the Kitsilano area, and downtown) in June and despite helmet laws, probably half of the bike riders, or maybe even more, were helmetless. Apparently there is little enforcement apart from the occasional campaign at one end of a major bridge.
So it's not easy to say what effect the BC helmet law has had, as it's so seldom enforced.
/Martin

Sean said...

I think a better motion would consider what causes accidents and work to prevent those things from happening. Is poor infrastructure to blame? Violation of traffic laws? Poor behavior such as not signaling stops and turns or riding without lights at night? If so, address these issues. This is the mature approach, but it's not easy. It takes hard work.

lou said...

What a load of shite! I live in Melbourne (AU) and would gladly wear a helmet whether is was compulsory (which it is) or not.

I've had two bike accidents (one my fault, one someone else's) where my head would have been mush had I not been wearing a helmet. Do not underestimate the damage that a slight knock to the head could cause.

Anyone that says they are deterred from cycling because they have to wear a helmet is a moron. Good. I'm glad they're not on the road. Fewer helmetless cyclists means less drain on the public purse due to an increase in head injuries.

You can throw out any stats you like. People choose not to ride a bike because sitting on their arses and making excuses seems so much more satisfying. Lack of dedicated space on the road and a culture of righteous and aggressive car drivers is what really puts me off. Perhaps the attitudes are different in Copenhagen - we do have our safest bike lane named after your town (pity it's only about 800m long).

Perhaps one is worried that the chicness of one's coiffure might be tainted by a helmet?

Jason said...

Man, I want a big print of that photo.

Emar Tino said...

Columbus, Ohio joins the ranks of the helmet-law jurisdictions. http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2009/07/16/bikehelmet.html?sid=101
Notice the quote that helmets can prevent 88% of brain injuries and that the fact they work is "irrefuteable".

As for the suggestion that helmet laws just keep morons off the road (since anyone who won't wear a helmet is a moron), I would point out these morons do not just sit at home: they drive a car instead. So by having a helmet law you have put all these "morons" behind the wheel where their impaired reasoning skills will endanger many more lives than just their own when on a bicycle.

And helmets cannot be equated to seat-belts. Aside from the scientific differences in what each does and how each is supposed to work, a seat-belt is an unobtrusive device built in to the automobile. It is not an extra item, sold separately and required to be carried by the rider or left outside, exposed to the elements.

Kevin Love said...

Councillor Walker is the one who suggested that all bicycles in Toronto be licensed. Another wacky idea that has zero chance of passing, but that gets him ink in the press and energizes his extreme right-wing base.

By the way, his strategy is working. His press strategy seems to be "call me a moron as long as you spell my name right." In terms of name recognition, he has become one of the most well-known councillors.

Zed said...

I'm an avid cyclist, and have been for decades. I got my first helmet the day after my first run in with a vehicle. Helmets should be mandatory, why the hell would anyone oppose this. As for licensing, again great idea. Most cyclists on the road have no idea how to ride, disobey all rules, don't have lights or reflectors, and are plain careless. As a noted point, take note of how many cyclists do shoulder checks when swaying in and out of traffic. My guess is 1 in 10, which is likely on the high side. Cyclists need to take responsibility for themselves and others on the road. Activism is all cool, but it stops when you are hit and die. Take care on the roads everyone, and happy cycling.

mikey2gorgeous said...

@lou - firstly, no-one is saying you shouldn't wear a helmet. What we are objecting to is COMPULSORY helmet laws.

The medical costs of obesity related illness is immense. Stroke, heartattack, diabetes, amputation... our health services are now preparing for a massive increase in these diseases in the coming decades. It has been shown that cycling can increase life expectancy - even for people who are active in other sports.

Also there is the 'safety in numbers' concept. The more cyclists - the safer cycling is. It is a very real concept in road safety. The drop in numbers when laws come in (demonstrated over & over in official statistics from every place it has happened) is between 30-50% but the drop in accidents is much lower - cycling becomes more dangerous for those left on their bikes.

One point not often mentioned - many many women will NOT ride a bike if they have to wear a helmet! This is not mysogynistic, just fact (ask my wife!!!!) :D

It is very important for our society to understand the full impact of helmet laws. It is a deeper subject than it first appears

Mikael said...

James... if you don't like the stats, please discuss them with the scientists, researchers and bicycle advocates at the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation from whence they came.

Lou: your "a helmet saved my life" anecdotes are bullshit simply because you cannot prove they did. Also, a helmet is only designed to protect the head from non-life threatening injuries in solo accidents under 20 km/h. Read "A Helmet Saved My Life" right here to see how brainwashed you may be.

Zed: helmets should be mandatory? that's bizarre. there is nowhere in the world where helmets have reduced the number of head injuries. They're simply not designed to do so.

If you are so eager to wear your helmet, please extend your 'logic' by wearing them as a pedstrian, when you're in a car and please don't forget your lifevest whenever you're on the beach or in the swimming pool. These activities are more dangerous than cycling. Hell, gardening is more dangerous than cycling.

until you do all those things, your helmet propaganda is of little use.

Mikael said...

for an australian perspective, read the australian website cycle-helmets.com and here's a mathematical assessment of what helmet laws cost australia

Anonymous said...

I certainly agree that licensing cyclists is ridiculous and would be likely to put an uptake on cycle use.

As for the helmet issue, I absolutely disagree. I lived in Vancouver before, during and after the institution of helmet laws, and with the exception of some whining (similar to this blog post) everyone got on with things just fine and there's evidence that a lot of injuries have been avoided. Of course, some people still don't bother with helmets, just as some people childishly don't bother to wear their seatbelts.

Please answer: why *wouldn't* you wear a helmet? Is it the cost? I'm betting that's not it. Do you honestly find it that difficult to carry around a helmet or lock it to your bike? Would that really stop you from biking? Because if so, that's kind of sad.

Anonymous said...

Sorry: I certainly agree that licensing cyclists is ridiculous and would be likely to put a chill on the uptake on cycle use.

Mikael said...

i'd like to see this evidence.
why wouldn't people wear helmets? personally, here's my reasons:
- i'm a good cyclist, like most cyclists in the world are.
- there is no conclusive evidence that they work, from anywhere in the world.
- they are not designed to save lives.
- cycling isn't dangerous - gardening, among other activities, is more dangerous.
- wearing a helmet gives you a higher risk of brain injury, neck injury and a greater chance of being in an accident. i wouldn't dare putting myself at that kind of risk.
- if i wore a helmet and followed the logical route, I would wear one when walking, driving, taking a bath. plus wearing a lifevest on the beach and in swimming pools.

Mikael said...

oh, and for the record, this helmet scepticism is rather widespread. it is shared by the European Cyclists' Federation, as well as the cyclist federations in Holland, Germany, France, belgium, great britain, ireland, etc etc.

Just a cyclist said...

It feels good to cycle for several reasons, one BIG reason, at least for me, is that I feel that I look good when I'm on the bicycle. An enforced helmet law would thus most certainly remove this incentive for me to sit on the saddle.

I might also add that it would remove an issue that appears instrumental for many a ego: there would be no opportunities left to patronize those bareheaded bastards.

Anonymous said...

If bicycle helmets really do save lives, and motorcycle helmets are even safer than bicycle helmets, shouldn't our nanny-state compel wearing those in lieu of bicycle helmets?

Put me down with Mikael: mandatory cycle helmet laws are based on bad science, are ill-advised, and harmful to bike ridership.

Jytte's dreng.

lou said...

Re: Last night a helmet saved my life
Mikael, taking into account your liberal borrowings from the CRAG website (a tinpot little website run with obvious bias towards the helmetless and last updated in 2004 - when the statistics post-introduction of mandatory helmet laws suited them), Can you evidence that not wearing a helmet would have prevented me from injury, given the same impact under the same conditions?

A bonus of sentience is the ability to perceive pain - in all its degrees - although subjectively. What I'm asking you to accept, is:
1. that I can gauge the difference in the force of an impact (a pat on the head versus a punch to the face); and,
2. An impact of reasonable force would have been required to break my helmet in two at the point of impact.

I can look back and subjectively say that it hurt, that it would've been much worse had I not been wearing a helmet, that my head would have been covered in scabs like the other parts of my upper body that skidded across the road (how un-chic!), and that the helmet reduced the force of impact because it satisfied the 'solo accident under 20km/h' rule, leading to...

Re: 'a helmet is only designed to protect the head from non-life threatening injuries in solo accidents under 20 km/h'
Doesn't that cover most commuting cyclists? If you're conceding this is true, then what's the problem with helmets?

Re: If that's the case, should I be wearing a helmet when I do the gardening?
Yes, if you garden in a crouched position with your legs around a metal object going faster than 5kph, while drivers - with limited knowledge of your existence - dart around you, people walk in front of you and car doors are opened in your face. Pruning roses requires speedy reaction times, I'll admit. The same goes for the 'helmet in the car' argument. You're not exposed to impact in the same way and under the same conditions as a cyclist, so why make the comparison?

Re: Safety in numbers
The bare bones of the argument is about head + impact Vs. head + helmet + impact, coupled with 'Why would you choose not to wear a helmet, regardless of whether it's compulsory or not?'

Re: Women won't wear helmets.
Why? Are they afraid their vaginas will catch on fire? As a woman, I can say that this is a daft argument, not even worth discussing.

lou said...

Re: Bike helmets Vs. Motorcycle helmets
Different kinds of helmets for different kinds of needs and impacts.

Re: I'm not riding a bike if I have to wear a helmet.
Get over it. Other people already have.

Re: Cycling as a cure-all for society's medical woes.
A sedentary lifestyle, combined with a diet of sugar and saturated fat is responsible for obesity-related illness. Don't fancy riding? Go for a walk. If you're motivated to increase life expectancy via bike riding, why not increase it that little bit more by wearing a helmet?

Re: The statistics or Mine are better than yours - Melbourne, AU (mandatory helmet laws introduced 1990), as an example.
I use data gathered from reliable sources, not crackpot advocacy groups like the 'Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation' (a.k.a. cyclehelmets.org - you can call it by any other quasi-scientific name. A turd is still a turd). The Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006 census (as quoted on the Bicycle Victoria website - N.B. Not crackpots) reported a 42.5% increase in bicycle commuting in Melbourne from 2001 to 2006. I don't think helmets are providing much of a barrier to rider uptake.

Re: I'm a good cyclist
You might be, but others - especially those new to cycling - might not be

Last but not least: context
I'm aware that my cycling experiences are wholly different to yours. Australia is not Europe. Our cycling infrastructure is different, attitudes are different, driver awareness is different. We have a higher road toll compared with other developed countries (and almost twice as many road deaths as the safest country, the Netherlands, coincidentally a bike-friendly mecca).

Regardless of whether they are compulsory or not, why not hedge your bets with a helmet?

Mikael said...

I often think I should charge rent on this blog for providing a soapbox for these pseudo religious, neo-fundamentalist rantings from people who have a full subscription to The Culture of Fear Inc and who are so desperate to advertise their propaganda and personal fears.

On the other hand, it continues to amuse me to no end.

Cycle Helmets and Other Religious Symbols

Anonymous said...

Lou (and a couple others) asked "Regardless of whether they are compulsory or not, why not hedge your bets with a helmet?" These folks feel that wearing styrofoam on one's head is absolutely no problem.

Could one of them please explain why they limit their advice to cyclists? Or to put it another way, to explain whether they wear such a helmet while jogging, motoring, climbing stairs, climbing ladders, walking on city streets, doing carpentry... in fact, all the rest of their lives?

I'm American, not Canadian, so I'm more aware of American statistics. But it's clear that bicyclists make up fewer than 1% of America's head injury fatalities. That leaves 99% shockingly ignored by these helmet fans! What's more, in conversations with brain injury therapists, I've confirmed that they've seen almost no cyclists; their clients are injured otherwise.

Bicycling is not a significant source of serious head injuries. That's true whether you count injuries per year for the whole population, or injuries per hour activity, or injuries per mile cycled.

Please, let's stop pretending riding a bike is a death-defying activity! It's bad for society and bad for the environment.

And please, do explain what you wear on your heads when, say, you climb a ladder. Be honest now!

didrik said...

@ all the posters who angrily advocate for helmets and ask, "why wouldn't you wear one."

What I don't understand, and what makes me sad to see, is the anger and sometimes downright hatred within the cycling community.

From everything I've ever studied on cycling, it is "safe". Yes, people get injured, yes they sometimes die, and yes, sometimes they get head injuries. But this is not a raging epidemic. It is part of the chance you take in living--even if you wear a helmet. This is what Mikael is saying by pointing to gardening and such.

What I have never understood is, why can't people who want to wear a helmet for a little extra protection (or a lot, whatever you believe to be true) just let others be? Wear your helmet and just be happy that you feel safer. My not wearing a helmet doesn't make you "wrong" or "a sissy". Why do helmet wearers want to make me out to be "wrong". Why the anger?

Do you really think that cyclists are taxing the health care system more than others? I see posts on cycling blogs where some helmet wearers want to take health benefits away from those who don't wear helmets. Why not take them away from women who have children after the age of 40 (very common these days in the States). How about people who eat at McDonald's and the like? Eat any refined sugar lately? They are burdens on the system too. Where do you draw the line on something like this? I'm just out enjoying life on a bicycle in my baseball cap because it makes me feel free and happy. Am I really the scourge of society? Maybe we should have a credit system. Would that be ok with you? Since I don't drive a car, I'm not taxing the government or public coffers in other ways so I get extra medical credits.

As a cycling community, what do WE gain from this conflict? I understand why the Automotive Defense League would want to make us out to be evil, but why would cyclists hate other cyclist? I would think that one would be happy to see more cyclists on the road regardless of their headgear. But this doesn't seem to be the case. Why is that? Is this some kind of displaced fear or anger?

We can throw stats back and forth all day about whether bike helmets work or not. But it seems to me that riding a bike is reasonably safe both from my personal experience and from the entirety of the data on this issue.

All of us have the same underlying goal: more livable worlds on a human rather than mechanized scale. Fighting to get everyone to wear a helmet is just diverting energy away from that goal. Why do some cyclists spend their energy on this?

didrik said...

Sorry, the first line should read , "or ask..." not "and ask..."

Morten Lange (Reykjavik, Iceland) said...

@Mikael, You said : "oh, and for the record, this helmet scepticism is rather widespread. it is shared by the European Cyclists' Federation, as well as the cyclist federations in Holland, Germany, France, belgium, great britain, ireland, etc etc."

Helmet scepticism can also be seen in peer reviewed scientific articles published in renowned scientific journals. In debates on paper and on-line between scientists in both camps.

And in official documents from The European Conference of Transport Ministers, the Directorate of the Environment of the European Union, the World Health Organisation (not as clearly though), the UK National Children's Bureau, and The Norwegian Institute for Transport Economics. I could also mention web pages from the Swedish association of bicycle dealers.

Furthermore helmet scepticism is reflected in the dealings and decisions of several local and national legislative assemblies and in national ministries (And I do _not_ refer to religious "ministries" here :-) ).

Some of those institutions or documents convey that there is a well-reasoned debate on helmets and or reference the scientific debate, some take a stance against compulsion, some even conclude that helmet promotion is an unwise use of resources within road safety. Some focus on public health that would be lost by probable reductions in cycling, some on the unproven efficiency of helmets on a population level, some on the blame the victim fallacy, some on the helmet promotions by official bodies as a clear barrier to cycling as a benign form of transport.

lagatta à montréal said...

Kevin, I'm glad to hear the shitheads have little chance of getting this disastrous bylaw passed. There are a few such shites who advocate similar measures here in Montréal - oddly perhaps, they are inevitably anglophones (is it because anglophones read, watch and listen to more media form elsewhere in North America and are infected with the culture of fear?)

Plenty of reasons not to wear a helmet - Hot, very uncomfortable - such things give me migraine, which is not very safe - not to mention the horrible strangling chinstrap.

And yes, I want to look good, eons away from lycra-loutism. It makes me cringe when I see other middle-aged people who are obviously not athletes sausaged into such casings.

And simply ride my bicycle in normal city clothes.

The viciousness of some of the helmet-heads who would forbid me riding my trusty old Raleigh Sprite has echoes of misogyny and contempt for those of us who have no interest in pretending to be Tour de France racers while they are commuting to work...

Funny, there is a REAL problem with cyclists who don't have their mandatory head and tail lights - that is the law here, and it is never enforced. I can't tell you how many times I've passed lycra types with helmets and various sorts of "guards" and NO LIGHTS. I wonder why this is never mentioned?

lagatta à montréal said...

By the way anyone from Biking Toronto, I tried to register and couldn't as there was no visible "captcha". Understand the need to prevent spam but some of those systems make it impossible for many to sign up or log in (I use a Mac).

I mentioned helmets being hot; obviously they also get in the way of a lot of the headwear we really need in cold or rainy weather. I don't cycle in deep snow and severe ice but I do cycle most of the year.

Just a cyclist said...

No one should be required to deliver reasons for why they "choose" not to wear a helmet when cycling.
The ones who, in fact, should be required to deliver valid reasons are those who demand from others to wear helmets when cycling. The usual qualifications for such demands are controversial (declaring the bicycle to be an inherently deadly, effective remedy against murderous motor traffic, purely moral rebukings and so on) and using as their main weapons studies proving fantastic efficiency for bicycle helmets along with a huge need for them.

Having read up on this subject for a while now, I dear to say that there are in fact two kinds of scientific helmet reports: 1) The kind that establish a compelling efficiency and an immense need of the helmets on a populational level (never mentioning or dismissing any negative side effects of mandatory wearing). 2) The kind that is only capable of reporting more modest levels of efficiency, if any, while also taking into consideration existing or expected negative side effects.
The former are usually laden with methodological errors and are the ones that are exposed and critisized by the oh-so-evil cyclehelmets.org. Still, those studies are used as the main weapons to hit any skepticism right on the head.

Which kind of study to rely on and to believe in?

On the internet, the "helmet wars" is a war between those who believe and those who don't and this blog would probably have substantially less readers without it. While IRL, in the western societies, it is more like a crusade spreading its belief rather aggresively.

Some authors of scientific articles on helmets as well as people like lou, who commented above, do their best trying to puncture any possible arguments that could be used against the almighty powers of the bicycle helmet, often attacking any issue that may question the dogm, head on. For instance, questioning the health benefits of cycling (I guess that the environmental benefits will be the next thing to draw into question).
Another example would be lou who above contemptuously dismissed the "'helmet in the car' argument" as irrelevant while in another passage declaring "We have a higher road toll compared with other developed countries (and almost twice as many road deaths as the safest country, the Netherlands, coincidentally a bike-friendly mecca)."

Considering that bike helmets have their *maximum* capacity set at forces that occur from a stationary fall sideways I have to say that its rather odd that some people here thinks that helmet laws would be better than licensing the cyclists.

Here is an open question to everyone here: If some form of a completely unobtrusive helmet is developed, like a force shield, that will have absorb just about any blow - will it end up in demands for making it compulsory everywhere everytime and not allowed to be turned of without special permission? That would only be logical.

Melbourne Cyclist said...

lou: I live in Melbourne too, and I'd happily ride without a helmet if we didn't have compulsory laws & fines requiring me to wear one.

The two major things that make cycling dangerous here are the attitudes of a lot of the motorists (aggressive, "get off my road"), and the lack of adequate infrastructure to allow us to see and be seen, whilst transitting at a decent speed.

When it comes to my safety when riding, the thing that worries me is the likelihood of being hit by a car. By which I mean a fast moving car or other large motor vehicle, who either hasn't seen me, or who definitely has seen me and has decided to scare me. If this ever happens, my pathetic little helmet is going to be sod all help - I'll die from internal injuries before anyone has a chance to look at my head.

Fortunately, I've never been hit by anyone. I've also never fallen off. I've been riding in this city for five years, and the only accident I've had is someone hitting my bike as I went across a zebra crossing, because she was watching the traffic coming and trying to get out of her side road into a gap (and it was actually just a bit of a nudge, she did see me and stop quickly once she hit my bike. I stayed on my feet). She would have hit me had I been walking without my bike though, so I don't think this counts as a 'cycling accident'.

Now, increase of cyclists 2001-2006. You're right, the number of people cycling has increased. Also though, the population of the city has increased hugely. And the traffic congestion, and packed-ness of the public transport system, have also increased hugely. People's desire to be 'green' has also increased. These last three things may well have something to do with the cycling increase. We've even had some new infrastructure built...

Fact remains though, when the helmet laws were introduced, the number of cyclists decreased. Anecdotally, I speak to a lot of people who believe that cycling is dangerous, because you need to wear a helmet. If helmets were not mandatory, if our society expected to see cyclists on the road, and welcomed them, cycling would be seen as safer, and I'm convinced more people would take it up.

Finally, safety in numbers - well documented, and again, anecdotally, the crashes or near misses I've seen / been involved in have pretty much all been of the "I didn't see you" (/"I didn't bother looking for you") variety. If we had more cyclists on the roads, people would expect to see us, and they'd actually bother looking for us - this can only increase our safety. So, if making helmets optional (maybe 'advisable', but not mandatory if you want) would increase the numbers of cyclists, I'd be all for it.

Anonymous said...

copied from the York newspaper,

No case for bicycle helmets
10:34am Tuesday 14th July 2009


By Readers' letters »
http://www.thepress.co.uk/features/readersletters/4491045.No_case_for_bicycle_helmets/



GREAEME Rudd suggests Steven Rose should wear a helmet when riding his electric bike (Readers’ Letters, July 9).

The Department for Transport is reviewing the bicycle helmet issue and I have been consulted. The main problems are that helmet requirements discourage cycling, increase the accident rate and cannot provide protection from head rotational accelerations.

Erke and Elvik 2007 (reference 1) stated: “There is evidence of increased accident risk per cycling-km for cyclists wearing a helmet. In Australia and New Zealand the increase is estimated to be around 14 per cent.”

Clarke 2007 (ref 2) lists two possible advantages of helmets compared to 13 possible disadvantages. Of the 13 disadvantages, 11 could tend to increase the accident rate compared to one advantage tending to reduce the accident rate.

Civil Liberties Australia recently published an assessment of Australia’s helmet laws (ref 3). The outcome was negative on six counts, therefore helmet laws are not justified.

The BMA concluded in 2008 (ref 4) that for fatal accidents, the force of impact in such instances is considered so significant that most protection would fail. It is unsafe to assume helmets prevent fatalities, as there is no strong evidence to support this.

The UK’s National Children’s Bureau (NCB) provided a detailed review in 2005 (ref 5) stating “the case for helmets is far from sound”.

1. Erke A, Elvik R, Making Vision Zero real: Preventing Pedestrian Accidents And Making Them Less Severe, Oslo June 2007.
2. Clarke CF, The Case Against Bicycle Helmets And Legislation, VeloCity Munich, 2007. ctcyorkshirehumber.org.uk/campaigns/velo.htm
3. Clarke CF, ‘Mandatory Can Have Unexpected Consequences, Civil Liberties Australia, 25 Nov. 2008 cla.asn.au/Article/081125BikesHelmetPolicy.pdf
4. British Medical Association, Promoting Safe Cycling, A briefing From The Board Of Science, March 2008.
5. Gill T, Cycling and Children and Young People – A Review, National Children’s Bureau, 2005.

Colin Clarke, The Crescent, Stamford Bridge, York.

Allison said...

"What we are objecting to is COMPULSORY helmet laws."

Helmets should be no more compulsory than car seat belts. I wear my brain bucket every time I ride, and for a good reason. It's all about risk management, not elimination. The law just encourages me not to forget - it's not like they enforce these things very heavy-handedly.

Asking people to wear head protection while using an open vehicle on the road is not unreasonable: after all, you ARE your head. If helmets are useless, I'm out $30. If they save lives... it's $30 well spent if I ever wipe out.

Mikael said...

so, allison... what you're saying is that you wear your helmet when walking, too, right? because your risk of head injury as a pedestrian is higher than on a bicycle.

and when you're in a car, either driving or as a passenger, because you, again, have a higher risk of head injury.

and what you're saying is that you wear a lifevest when at the swimming pool or lounging at the beach. your risk of drowning is vastly higher.

you do all these things, right? i certainly hope so.
because that would be logical.

mandatory helmet laws don't work. never have. they merely reduce the numbers of cyclists by 20-40%, with all the negative effects on public health that follow.

bruce123abc said...

I don't know if most cyclist fall into the "cool" category.

When I bike, I use a helmet. It has saved my head from serious injury (unless you can tell me slamming my head into the asphalt and sliding to a stop wouldn't have done my head any harm!)

I stop at all stop signs, obey all traffic laws and try not to hog the road.

When I drive (which I need to do for my living) I obey all the laws am careful to avoid bicycles and pedestrians.

In effect, I'm courteous and share the road.

I think I'm setting a good example and I don't see why a bike helmet should stop people from riding, because when you do get in an accident it probably will prevent your head from getting a bad knocking or very serious scrapes.

If most of you think that bike helmets aren't cool and would stop riding if helmets were mandatory, then there's some serious adjustment needed to a our culture.

I'd rather have the safe courteous riders on the road wearing helmets than a culture bike riders who do whatever they want!

I doubt a helmet law will reduce the number of safe bike riders, but who's out there going through stop signs, passing cars making right hand turns and thinking they own the road? Not the one's wearing helmets!

Mikael Colville-Andersen said...

Basically, people who insist on perpetuating myths and personal perceptions about helmets - and yet who don't simultaneously promote helmets for motorists - are really quite uninteresting in the debate.

http://motoringhelmet.com