17 February 2011

Australian Call For Motoring Helmets

Click for larger, readable version. Opens in new window.

One of our readers in Australia, Peter, sent us this article written in 1989 by Alan A. Parker. It's an interesting backward glance to the days when Australia were debating mandatory helmet laws.

The latter half of the article is interesting. In it, the author discusses motoring helmets and, indeed, calls for them. I found this bit to be enlightening:

"There is an embarassing silence from the police and the police unions about their willingness to enforce bicycle helmet laws but, in the closing days of 1987, they went public with the proposal that motorists should wear helmets which they regard as a worthwhile change in the law that they are prepared to enforce."

Hadn't heard that one before. That the police went public backing motoring helmets. A little piece of the puzzle falls into place.
Helmets for Motorists - bilisthjelm
Our article from back in May 2009 about Australian motoring helmets - "The World's First" - produced by Davies Craig was greeted with chuckles at first. Until we started looking into it and discovering that motoring helmets have been taken seriously, as we wrote about later.

But the question of WHY Davies Craig would start producing them has remained vague. We were aware of studies showing the benefits of motoring helmets from the late 1990's but Davies Craig were selling theirs in the late 1980's. A company wouldn't invest in a product like this unless there was a good reason. So it's interesting to learn that motoring helmets were on the agenda and that the police, at least for a while, were backing their use.

Davies Craig, on the box, say that they had spent 3 years developing the motoring helmet so the subject must have been topical for a while.

With that, said, the author questions self-enforcement of helmet laws. He was, it must said, correct. Over 20 years later, the police in most Australian cities may ticket cyclists for riding without, but it's not a priority by all accounts and often it is the exception. Except in Melbourne where urban cyclists are constantly hunted down like vermin.

The author calls for equality, saying that bicycle helmets are perfect for car occupants and he even proposes making them a standard feature in new cars:

"The design rules for all new cars should be changed so that all new cars come with a complement of bicycle helmets with built-in clips to conveniently store them, on the back seat or under the dashboard, so as to minimise the inconvenience to motor vehicle users."

He also hits the bullseye when he writes that:
"It is very difficult to take politicians and car driving safety experts seriously when they know so little about head injuries that they don't wear a bicycle helmet in their own cars. I have been wearing a bicycle helmet for ten years because it protects me yet I have never seen any of the hundred or so big-mouthed helmet advocates, who don't ride bicycles, wear a helmet in their car. I wonder why?

Perhaps the Cain government should set an example and have all MPs and government drivers wear helmets?"

The big-mouthed helmet advocates are still out there and still driving without helmets so little has changed on that front apart from the names and faces.

In all the time we've been writing about the issue of motoring helmets I have never heard any good excuse why we shouldn't promote them. From anyone. Even the cycling helmet advocates avoid the issue like the plague.

Even though the issue of motoring helmets could be the singlemost potent weapon in the bicycle advocacy arsenal.


kfg said...

I still don't get the whole "motoring helmet" thing in respect to the fact that perfectly good motoring specific helmets have been available from the automotive department of any decent department store since the late 50's.

The microshell "road" bicycle helmet offers so little protection that it can't even come close to meeting any motoring standard - or even equestrian standard.

Cycling For Beginners said...

Better not mention these too much, or the nanny-state nervous nellies will start looking into mandating those -- and then walking helmets and stair-climbing helmets will be next!


andrewlevitt said...

A Philadelphia perspective: biking here is 26x more dangerous than a place like Copenhagen, and I wear a helmet in recognition of the very real increased risk. Biking with a helmet here makes me feel more comfortable, not less.


Amber said...

And Adelaide!! We also get hunted down like vermin. I have been fined and stopped by police many times for not wearing a bike helmet, even when riding through a park on a bike track. It is just their excuse to not have to put in decent bike lanes. This is their way of 'protecting' cyclists. It makes me so angry!!! (Dont get me wrong, I love my city passionately but in this regard it drives me crazy!!!)

Mikael said...

26x? where does THAT stat come from? please link. i'd be interested in reading it.

if wearing a helmet keeps you on a bike, fine. if NOT wearing a helmet keeps you on a bike, fine.

Traffic in North American cities is so civilised compared to other countries - and yet north americans wear helmets. (well, 50% of the cyclists anyway). THAT is the power - and the result - of four decades of marketing cycling as an 'extreme' sport.

what we go on about here (at the ORIGINAL 'ize blog :-) ) is the folly of promoting them.

Feel free to watch this TED talk about The Culture of Fear and bicycle helmets.

wearing one INSIDE cars, which is actually what this post is about, is of course recommended.

Mikael said...

But while we're on Philly... how are the cross town bike lanes working out? I blogged about Mayor Nutter opening them a while back.

Dave said...

@Mikael - I'd believe the Philly claims. Take 2007 in Oz for example:

The state of NSW had a 1.2% modal share, population of 7.2M and 14 deaths which gives approx 44.4 cyclist deaths per 100M journeys.

In Copenhagen with 37% modal share, population of 1.9M and 5 deaths, that gives 1.95 deaths per 100M journeys and a comparative safety difference of 22 times. (Sydney itself would be even worse with modal share of 0.7% but I only have fatality data by state).

Not a perfect comparison (I'm assuming the total journeys per person are the same in each country) but illuminating never the less.

The source data for this can be found in the following publications

Dave said...

@kfg Bike helmets make way more sense for motorists than cyclists.

If you are hit by a car while on a bike, a helmet will do very little to spare your brain as it decelerates from, say, 60kph to 0 in 3cm of foam.

If you are hit by a car while driving, a bike helmet will be much more effective because its role in deceleration occurs after the car's crumple zone (70cm+) has dissipated much of the force. That means when you smash your head against the windscreen or crumpled canopy, the velocity of your head is much much lower than in a car/bike collision.

An interesting study here that found bike helmets for motorists could reduce serious head injuries by up to 40% - much more effective than airbags.

dothebart said...

Bicycle helmets are here so less blood gets sched across the road. Somebody has to clean up the mess afterwards, you know? Don't be selfish and protect surrounding predestrians from your blood.

Calimero with Sombrero!

Corey said...

Strange, I always feel safe and calm riding in Philadelphia, especially in Center City. I was living off of Pine Street when the Pine-Spruce lanes went in, and it's really done wonders to reduce traffic speeds and increase livability. Nearby Lombard is like a racetrack by comparison.

kfg said...

Dave - Decent seat belts are considerably better than airbags as well, and no car comes equipped with them. What's more, the existence of the crappy ones makes it difficult to install proper ones. In some places it may not even be legal.

And I'm afraid I'm just as dubious about arse pulled statistics regarding bicycle helmet affect in motor vehicles as I am about their affect in cycling. The empirical evidence shows too high a complete failure rate, never mind getting into issues of actual efficacy.

Get a Bell 500, it's made for the job; or better yet a Star. Back it up with a HANS device. When things go wrong in a car it can get very violent in a hurry.

jdlvtrn said...

NYTimes Sports section today had an article on helmet use (non cycle): mentions how wearing a helmet is known to encourage riskier behavior. I rest my case.

Anonymous said...


I believe it. Would this guy have done the same if he wasn't wearing a helmet? I doubt it.

The automotive equivalent of Australian cyclists are race car drivers... and with that comes all the BS & chest-thumping.

yewenyi said...

I vaguely remember the motoring helmet discussion, I was quite young at the time. Maybe we should have a campaign here in Sydney (Australia) and get cyclists to start wearing helmets when travelling in cars. The discussion of equestrian helmets is also enlightening. I never wore a helmet while riding a horse on my grandfather’s farm, though I did hit a tree once at speed with my head. Luckily it was a very rotted branch and just crumbled.

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