28 December 2009

No Helmets for Urban Cyclists in Israel

Tel Aviv Cyclists, by Thomas Schlijper.

Last year Israel implemented an all ages helmet law for it's citizens, despite the fact that helmet laws appear to becoming less popular over the past couple of years.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation has now decided to support a bill that would modify the law to exclude adults cycling in urban areas from being forced to wear a helmet, The Jerusalem Post reports.

Israeli Coalition to support helmet-less bike riding within cities

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation threw its support on Sunday behind a bill which would remove the requirement for adults to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle in the city.

The bill, sponsored by MK Sheli Yehimovich (Labor) repeals part of the Helmet Law which was passed last year. Instead of requiring a helmet for intra-city riding, Yehimovich's bill would leave that decision up to the adult rider. Children, those riding off-road or those biking between cities would still be required to wear a helmet.

"Riding a bike in communities and especially in cities significantly reduces traffic congestion, parking difficulties, air pollution and accidents. Requiring helmets drove many people away from their bikes and back to their cars because of the hassle of wearing a helmet and carrying it around," the MK said in a statement.

"In Paris and other European cities, there are wonderful programs which provide bikes for transport and no one requires a helmet there. Tel Aviv has also signed a contract to station 2,000 bikes around the city but the project has been held up because of the Helmet Law. Moreover, the law is unenforceable and the police have said they do not plan to even attempt to enforce it," she added.

The bill hasn't passed just yet. There are three votes in the Knesset to come. Nevertheless there are signs that rationality is returning to our species.

The problem that helmet laws pose for bike share programmes is not new. Australia is pondering what to do with this contradictory mix. Mike Rubbo, the documentary filmmaker, tries to get to the bottom of it at his blog. We've posted about Israel and Australia previously regarding helmets and bike share.

Spain is one of the only other countries to distinguish between city and countryside. Spain implemented an all-ages helmet law in 2004. It doesn't, however, apply in the following situations:
- cyclists riding in towns and cities
- cycling during periods of extreme heat
- cycling up steep hills
- professional cyclists

Besides that, the law is rarely enforced.Source.

Hungary has, in their recent amendments to the Highway Code included a helmet detail regarding speed limits.

If you're cycling outside of cities and want to ride 50 km/h or more, you can do so if you wear a helmet. If you don't wear it, you're only allowed to ride 40 km/h. Source: this post, in the comments.

Strangely, when viewing the Jerusalem Post article, there was an advert under the article that read:
Pedal Power: Learn the basics of biking with pro-advice, confidence-building drills, and a training plan developed by Cooking Light expert Gin Miller (Cooking Light)

Nothing to do with this post, but it's just humourous.


Gregwh said...

The helmet saved my ass once and I was going about 1.6 KPH... granted it was on ice. I fell backwards and my chess rating would have definitely been lowered by a thousand points minimum.

Mikael said...

Saved your ass? You were wearing it wrong.

Sue 'sans' helmet said...

Merry christmas to you! - re the post on Israel, with its implications for Australia, all well and good but i think there should be no helmet laws period!

With regards to the mention of children, as a parent I chose for my children, as I chose for myself - I would have felt really guilty insisting that my kids wore them especially given that I think helmets are really bad news! I resent governments thinking that they can step in and 'parent' my children.

I've launched an on-line petition on my blog - http://freedomcyclist.blogspot.com/ - and I seriously hope our governments don't fluff around when they come to repealing the helmet laws with any varying provisos for children, or urban areas, or weather, or shared pathways or any other daft reason beloved by bureaucrats - helmet laws are dangerous for anyone, anywhere, anytime - we need to just get rid of them!!

Happy New Year! - love your blog so much!!

LGV said...

Tel Aviv seem very welcome !!!

Michael said...

It's interesting that so soon after passing a helmet law, the Israelis are looking for ways to rescind it.

But it's not surprising because Bike share, which is at stake here, brings in whole new bunch of interest groups who can see the huge benefits of hassle free bikes all over a city.

These are tourist boards, chambers of commerce, forceful folks who are not going to let compulsory helmets get in the way of a good thing.

Hopefully, these new stakeholders may prove a match from that other group, those who are always trying to protect us from ourselves, the Nanny staters.

I hope this proves true here in Australia too where there are two Bike share schemes supposedly on the way, but no clear helmet solution in sight.

I'm just surprised that the Israeli solution is to exempt cyclists within the city. Is a city that well defined?

If so, what about people who live outside it's limits but want to commute into town? Do they wear a helmet for the first part of the trip and then take it off when crossing city limits?

And what about all those suburbs and towns which would like the freedom too?

Seems to me, it's better to base the exemption on the type of bike being ridden.

The sit-up bikes in the photo are, as a type, so much safer since you clearly see better and are seen better, that a good case can be made for them being exempt.

Moreover the posture, they create is so distinctive, so different from the hunched over speed mode, that they are easy for the cops to separate.

This demarcation has also the benefit of precise and positive targeting.

All bike share bikes are this type of sit-up bike. Secondly, by favoring sit-ups, authorities will be making them more popular which, it turn, will lead to more bikes being used for transport, the ultimate goal.

This is because, as European riders prove, this type of bike with its accessories, mudguards, lights, enclosed chain and carry rack, is the ultimate utility vehicle.

So, you do two things at once, you enable Bike share, and you nudge your bike culture in the good direction.

The racing types wont mind. They love wearing helmets. It's part of their look.

Mike Rubbo

Just a cyclist said...

@Mike Rubbo

I have to object against your road bike aversion. Not so long ago most road bikes came fully fitted with fenders and not seldom even with rear racks. However, with modern frame designs and materials, the fitting of mudguards and racks is practically impossible.

In defence of road bikes it should be mentioned that they indeed allow for a fairly upright posture and, most importantly, actually provides for more than one sit posture, which is ergonimically advantageous, especially on longer rides.

Green Idea Factory said...

@Mike Rubbo and others: Seems that that MK simply picked a clever... no really a pragmatic point of demarcation. Anyway you look at it helmet promotion/requirements by cities, national governments or NGOs is simply anti-cycling and anti-urban.

These entities should at least just be unemotionally pro-choice and present a couple or few different viewpoints, no matter what their official policy is (if they have one at all). Unfortunately organizations at the national level such as the Danish Cyclists Federation or local ones like Transportation Alternatives in NYC fail in this regard.

But in regards to Israel and many other places, the bottom line seems to be that police won't enforce the helmet law. That encourages stupid and destructive discussions, e.g. with this partial appeal in Israel, we'll have a couple getting ready for a bike ride to the next city and arguing about wearing helmets or not because the cops might see them, etc. It induces a kind of a "cycling mental self-censorship" (!?) and does nothing to benefit the health of the body or the place in which it dwells.

Sue 'sans' helmet said...

I agree with 'Just a cyclist' & 'Green Idea Factory' that it's irrelevant in what position you ride a bicycle - it's a matter of choice and it comes down to civil liberties. My partner is committed to his drop handle bars! - he's also pretty partial to his helmet too and good luck to him! - it's totally a matter for him. The whole point is we should have a choice in this dubious area of technology and marketing! Therefore mandatory helmet laws in their entirety ought to be repealed with no special provisions, exceptions or exemptions - otherwise we're just behaving like the quoted 'nanny staters', dictating what we think is best.

It only complicates matters by encouraging partial helmet law obligations - we should be free to choose full stop!

Herve said...

Well, it shows that the Isreali govt is a lot smarter than the Australian govt.

After 18 years whith a failed policy, the Autralian road safety authorities are still at the stage where they are trying to deny that they made a mistake.

Based on the well-researched 'safety in numbers' factor, with a 40% drop in the number of cyclists caused by the helmet law, the number of injured increases by 36%. The minor benefits brought by helmet doesn't compensate for that, as shown by the increase in cyclists injuries & deaths after the helmet law. Injury statistics show an increase in cyclists injuries in the order of 30%, consistent with the 'safety in numbers' rule.

As the evidence shows, it's not that hard to figure out that safety has been made worse by the compulsory helmet law. Except for the Australian govt agencies. Wake up mate!

Considering the infrigement on civil rights caused by this law, it's rather ridiculous to stick with it.

Kiwehtin said...

For Gregwh-

Looks you were going at the equivalent of a very slow walking speed: 1.6 km/h = 44.444... cm/s. According to Wikipedia, average walking speed is approximately 3.6–5.4 km/h, i.e. 1–1.5 m/s. An average biking speed may be in the area of 20-22 km/h, which raises the question: were you biking or walking when the helmet saved your hindquarters? I normally do fall on my behind or arm when walking on an icy sidewalk, but granted I could hit my head and get a concussion doing so, just like the movie star who actually died as a result of slipping and hitting her head while standing on a ski slope earlier this past year.

As a postscript to this, over the past month or so in Montreal, there has been a rash of reports of pedestrians crossing the road receiving serious head injuries when being hit by a car. Without a touch of facetiousness, and in the interest of honest, impartial evaluation of the dangers of wearing or not wearing protective headgear in various situations, I suggest you consider the fact that a helmet could just as well be an ass-saver whenever you find yourself walking across a street, or through a parking lot/garage, or indeed walking, jogging, or running on an icy sidewalk...

kfg said...

". . .the movie star who actually died as a result of slipping and hitting her head while standing on a ski slope . . ."

It is important to note that the movie star suffered NO external head injury, even though she died from brain injury. It isn't necessary to hit your head to suffer brain damage.

A helmet wouldn't have helped in the least. There was no impact within the range of a helmet's ability to mitigate.
In order to have a mitigating effect at hard impacts they have to have a threshold below which they do nothing and smacking your head on the inside of your helmet is like smacking your head against a wood beam.

In most cases where people believe a helmet saved their life there was no difference between their head hitting the ground and their head hitting the inside of their helmet.

The movie star had a bit of bad luck. It happens. It happens in ways that no amount of protective gear can do anything about. At some point the protective gear itself becomes the risk.

Get used to this idea and start enjoying life instead of worrying about death.

Kiwehtin said...

Actually kfg, in case you got the wrong impression, I'm with you on this. I am continually amazed by the cluelessness of the "a helmet saved my/someone's life" genre of argument that is supposed to somehow prove you need them for biking. Yet there is nothing particularly dangerous about cycling compared to any other way of getting around that would make the arguments more convincing than they would be for any other mode. That's why I put up the points I did, to (hopefully) make the earlier poster think...

kfg said...

". . .in case you got the wrong impression. . ."

Not at all. If anything I appear to have given you the wrong impression. I was extending your post, not taking issue with it.

The movie star's death is being used as a lever to try to force skiers into helmets, even though her unfortunate accident is one that no helmet could have prevented and the examiner said so.

The same thing happened to bicycle racers when a rider traveling downhill at nearly 100 kph crashed and was killed. Even though the examiner noted that no helmet could have prevented his fatal injuries it was used as an excuse to force the riders into helmets.

The riders resisted for some years, knowing the whole thing was ridiculous and nothing to do with their safety. but the insurers must be mollified, a politically correct face be presented to the public . . . and cycling products sold.

Little known to the public is that the helmets most of riders wear are special products that don't even meet the accepted safety standards for casual street use. It's all for show; most of the public assuming the riders are using the highest performance gear because there is a need for it.

The fact of the matter is that most racers know they could use something to keep from breaking their collarbones (been there, done that), not their heads.

What is perhaps most distressing to me is that I have anecdotal evidence that the helmet makers themselves are now lying to the new generation of racers (who have never raced when they weren't required) about how helmets work to convince them that their substandard helmets are effective, using the evidence that shows they AREN'T to do it!

And as most pro racers have little to no understanding of engineering or physics they appear to be getting away with it.

Herve said...

It's really sad to see how this helmet issue has been hijacked by helmet manufacturers for their own profit motives.

Some governments seem happy to go along with the lies because they can give the (false) impression that they are "doing something" about safety. Much cheaper than building cycle paths, isn't it?

It's a shame. Not only because it is counterproductive in terms of safety, but because people discouraged from cycling are pushed into cars, a more expensive & polluting mode of transport that doesn't provide any of the health benefits than cycling does.

Once you do the sums of the health care cost, you realise that not only people lose out but also the govt loses out.

The only 'winners' in this scam is helmet manufacturers, with the complicity of some misguided governments.

tedsfiles said...

I sympathise with the argument no helmet law would be a net win for public health, but I cringe for the few who do come off their bike. I've come down once striking my head on the road, and once smacking my head into a bus. Would it be better to head butt a bus with a helmet or without one? I didn't experience any twist force in my head. The bus was stationary. I got my wheel stuck in the tram tracks of Market St San Francisco.

Herve said...

What makes this topic difficult is that many people simply ASSUME that a helmet would have made a difference.

Some fall with their helmet on, the helmet typically breaks apart on impact (which means it didn't absorb much of the impact at all), the person walks away with a few bruises and ASSUMES that a helmet saved their life.

Others fall without a helmet, get a few bruises, and ASSUME that a helmet would have made a difference.

Not many people get to experience the same accident with and without a helmet.

In reality, helmets make very little difference. They are only designed for low-impact hits, where you will get away with a few bruises either way.

Keep in mind a bicycle helmet is only a thin layer of polystyrene It can't do that much in an accident.

The difference between the minimal protection provided by helmets and what people ASSUME a helmet can do is a big part of the problem.

Of course, helmet manufacturers advertising and other propaganda don't really help people to understand what's really going on.

Herve said...

I will add that misleading perceptions about helmets are not accidental.

Helmet manufacturers, in some countries assisted by misguided govt agencies, use scare tactics to make people believe that cycling is dangerous unless you wear a helmet. That's a lie, but they don't care.

Helmet manufacturing is a great business. It costs a few $ to make a helmet that sells for $50. Such high profits can be "re-invested" in lobbying govts, funding phony consumer groups like "Safe Kids" in the US, or putting misleading advertisements to scare people, especially targeting children parents.

Such lobbying has been very successful at pushing for mandatory helmet law in many states in the US.

Helmet manufacturers make profits while everybody else suffers.

It becomes totally absurd when govt agencies participates in this scam, while footing the higher health care bill of their misguided policy.

Herve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

A link to a discussion about the proposed law (in Hebrew):

kfg said...

"Would it be better to head butt a bus with a helmet or without one? "

Although it obviously doesn't make any intuitive sense to you, the bus may actually be softer than the inside of your helmet.

In fact, the inside of your helmet may well be harder than your head, so even though you are wearing a helmet, your head is still the first thing to yield.

And if the helmet liner does not yield it offers no mitigation of brain trauma; and this is what is often observed to happen in real world impact events - a brain injury (including fatal ones) from head butting . . . the helmet.

They aren't magical devices that prevent your head from butting something - a helmet IS something.

henrylow said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
spag said...

About Hungary: neither bicycles nor the police can measure bicycle speed, not too much in the case of an accident either.

So the fact that now we have 4-5 speed limits on cycling has not much to do with cycling, and more to do with degrading the quality and therefore the respect of the highway code in general.

Off-Topic: the new Highway Code brought other changes, too: it's great that cyclists can now use ride in the centre of a lane and not on the right edge, it's not so great that now all bike infrastructure is compulsory, even if it shared with pedestrians (and not cleaned, maintained, etc).