27 April 2010

Growing Resistance to Helmet Laws?

Do I dare say that there is a growing resistance to helmet laws? It would seem so. There is more media attention of late on the subject.

And then there's this quote:
"We are the safest and healthiest human beings who ever lived, and yet irrational fear is growing, with deadly consequences — such as the 1,595 Americans killed when they made the mistake of switching from planes to cars after September 11. In part, this irrationality is caused by those — politicians, activists, and the media — who promote fear for their own gain."
Dan Gardner, Canadian author of "Risk"

Here's a few bits and pieces from around the world:

English Bay: Loggishness
Here's an article from MetroNews in Vancouver.
Nanny-state helmet law may hurt cycling - by Derek Moscato - 26 April 2010
Brad Kilburn can’t be thrilled to be an outlaw in British Columbia. But the avid cyclist has become exactly that since last year.

Kilburn, you see, no longer wears a helmet while riding his bike. The Richmond resident, who has commuted to work by bicycle for the last 26 years, has come to the realization that mandatory helmet laws are actually bad for cyclists and Metro Vancouver’s cycling environment.

“It’s too bad well-intentioned individuals have harmed cycling advocacy by forcing riders to wear helmets,” he told me. Kilburn also maintains the same law is hampering Vancouver’s attempt to set up a bike sharing program.

He’s not alone in his assessment of helmet laws as more hindrance than help. In 2007, Saskatoon’s city council rejected a bylaw that would require bikers to wear helmets. One councillor wisely cited Canada’s obesity epidemic as a reason to distance the city from punitive measures that would discourage folks to get on a two-wheeler.

This is not to say that cyclists shouldn’t wear helmets. Most should — especially children, and those who ride in heavy traffic. But forcing riders to wear head protection in every circumstance has had the effect of killing any spontaneity and enjoyment from cycling.

Not only do helmets give some riders a false sense of security, they also send a message to motorists that cyclists are somehow better protected — and less vulnerable — in the case of a collision.

Sadly, the law is symptomatic of the nanny-state mentality that is so pervasive today.

Last September, Colin Clarke, a bike safety expert and former coach with the British Cycling Federation, published a detailed report entitled “Evaluating bicycle helmet use and legislation in Canada.”

According to his report, “helmet law effects in Canada appear to have resulted in the public being fined, subject to police involvement, loss of cycling health benefits and a reduction in civil liberties, as well as additional accidents and longer hospital stays for head injury.”

Canada, his research concludes, should emulate the cycling culture of the Netherlands, where helmet laws are unnecessary because of “good cycling facilities or wide on-road cycle lanes that avoid high speed and heavy vehicle traffic.”

Sadly, the sensibility that exists in Holland and even Saskatoon has yet to prevail in B.C. And that means cyclists like Kilburn will have to continue riding on the wrong side of the local law.

Derek previously wrote an article about how the province's helmet laws were a hindrance to Vancouver's plans for a bike share system.

Meanwhile, Down Under, Sue Abbott continues to push for, at the very least, a debate about Australia's restrictive helmet laws. Here she is with her MLA George Souris in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, with a copy of the European Cyclists Federation campaign brochure "Ask me why I cycle without a helmet".

Sue, you may recall, was ticketed for riding without a helmet and decided to fight the ticket. The first judge ruled against her, but when she took it to the next judicial level, the judge quashed her conviction. While the appeal was dimissed, she is no longer a criminal, doesn't have to pay the fine and her unexpected half-victory is important.

I first blogged about Sue here, then here, then here.

Cycling at the summer house in Sweden.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, a Swedish politician, MP Camilla Lindberg has proposed a motion to the Swedish parliament - Riksdagen - for repealing that country's child helmet laws on moral grounds. A bold and brave move as well as a necessary one in The Age of Obesity.
Thanks to Erik from Ecoprofile for the Swedish link.


Anonymous said...

I cycle without a helmet here in Australia and it is difficult and scary... because of the aggressive police.

In the past two weeks I've been stopped by police three times and been told to walk it, until they're out of view that is... they can't run that fast.

I'm sure they think:
"First step - helmet-less cyclists, next step - anarchy!"

None of them could actually be bothered giving me a ticket.

After reading (and I urge everyone to read it) the excellent article by WJ Curnow (2008) entitled 'Bicycle Helmets: A Scientific Evaluation', I am satisfied that bicycle helmets are, at best useless and, at worst, more dangerous than not wearing a helmet.

The states here in Australia were bribed into introducing these laws despite any evidence of their efficacy in return for road funding which was certainly not spent on bike lanes... what a joke. None of them have the balls to revoke the law now...

Go Sweden!


Dr Paul Martin
Brisbane, Australia

Mark said...

I'm glad that people around the world are questioning some of the dumb 'sticking plaster' rules that are applied around the world, especially compulsory helmet legislation. But we must be on our guard, the island of Jersey, a part of the UK which self-governs, just passed mandatory cycle helmet laws for the under-18s (and only narrowly voted against helmet laws for adults too)


I am sure they are not the only country with this coming up on their statute books....

Anonymous said...

bike helmets are going to become compulsory in Italy as well. Another country where cycling has been popular for ages, going down the route of "specialistic" clothing and useless safety regulations. I do wonder how much the helmet manufacturers have to do with this?

Edward said...

Thank you for this type of update Michael and for highlighting the work Sue is doing here in Australia.

juillet said...

Great that you added that article in about Vancouver. I'm from Surrey (suburb of Vancouver, although it's quite all the same more or less) and it sucks how we have to wear helmets all the time, although I definately understand the importance of it.

It's more like we want to be safe because there have been a lot of accidents from drivers where bikers have been hit and have suffered a lot, and it's occurred a lot because we have helmet laws now. When I see pictures of people in Europe, I do think them more fashionable...

Anonymous said...

i'm personally hoping this bicycle helmet law will see a war on the police in general. As well as australian politicians and the medical establishment who are also.behind it. The human rights atrocities committed by the general publics complicity with these clowns has gone on for far too long.

Evan said...

I put on my seat belt when I get in my car, and I gladly put on a helmet when I get on my bike. It's not the law where I live, but I wouldn't be opposed if it was.

Jukka-Pekka Keisala said...

Why is it so horrible to wear helmet?

Mikael said...

The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation can help explain, Jukka-Pekka.

Morten Lange (Reykjavík) said...

Recent news :
Italy's FIAB blocks mandatory helmet law.

Story by Edoardo Galatola and Mircea Steriu: Italian Helmet Law Repeal.pdf

See : http://ecf.com/3677_1

and (in Italian)

2010-06-08 (8th June 2010)

Anonymous said...

well, in ROmania it's not compulsory to cycle with helmets..For now..