Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Note to Australia from Amsterdamize: "You're on notice"

(Images: Amsterdamize, Flickr "PS 'helmut' is not a typo, but slang for plastic placebo")

[Totally the best thing I did asking Marc from Amsterdamize for thoughts on the aussie media's toxic love affair with helmet promotion...and his thoughts are so good I'm posting them in their entirety because the message is stark and necessary and fearless - we are not going to be watching the Dutch cave into misleading and deceptive helmet promotion like we feeble Australians did.]

by Marc Van Woudenberg, Online marketing strategist, photographer, proprietor of, Bicycle Ambassador

Recently, Australia's Bicycle Network Victoria published their version of the 'news' that bicycle helmets were 'heading to Holland.'

Aside from the fact there's no country called 'Holland', BNV failed to mention (let's call it that) that the "road safety authorities" responsible for this scheme (handing out thousands of helmets and fear mongering booklets to elementary school students) are anything but 'authorities'.

Instead we're dealing with a private(!) Health & Safety organisation that teamed up with a tiny energy and petrochemical company called Shell.

This should ring a bell.

It further claims that "Australian research on the reduction of brain injury is well known to Dutch 'authorities'", but that "local cycling organisations and most Dutch continue to oppose the promotion of helmets.".

Allow me to dismiss this false framing and broken record.

Dutch authorities (central government, provinces and municipalities) work closely together with highly sophisticated publicly funded cycling organisations and research institutes with a long and validated track record. This relationship was established over the course of three to four decades, dealing with the ramifications of post-war transportation policies.

From 1955-1975 the Dutch national cycle rate plummeted by over 75% due to the rise in car ownership, implementation of car-centric policies and the subsequent marginalization of people on bikes.

The canary in the coal mine of this demise were the children. By 1975, annually 450 children died while on their bike, killed by cars. The Dutch people found this to be unacceptable, organised and changed the course of history with the 'Stop The Child Murder' campaign.

It went national.

It got the public and political support and eventually generated a concerted effort to make the roads safe for all, by changing road infrastructure and urban design in favour of its functions, not just one particular mode of transportation.

Consequently, and through trial and error, the Dutch discovered all the correlating benefits of these measures and re-establishing the country's cycle legacy: growing cycle rates, rapidly declining injury and fatality rate, liveable streets/cities, improved commerce, greater health and happiness.

As Dutch planners and engineers say: "Building bicycle infrastructure is a no-brainer. It's more expensive to *not* build it, it's the only kind of infrastructure that has a return on's become an economic decision."

The results are in: the Netherlands can now boast about having the highest cycle density, the highest cycle rate and the highest participation rate in the world…*and*…

…the lowest casualty rate (by a very wide margin) at the same time.

Did we get rid of cars? Of course not. Dutch car ownership and use is up there with all the other industrialised nations. It's just not an either/or proposition anymore. For the foreseeable future the car will have its place. Just not all of it.

This country has concluded that road safety for cycling is achieved by creating a people-friendly environment, build for purpose (for all ages) and in which the vulnerable road users are prioritised and protected. The Dutch philosophy boils down to: 'Cycle safety is not a goal, but a requirement'. That, and they spotted the elephant in the room, the bull in society's China shop, if you will.

The actual Dutch authorities (central government and the aforementioned cycling organisations) have found that bicycle helmet promotion, laws and helmets themselves are highly counter-productive, ineffective and thus unnecessary.

Australia should stop chasing its tail, stop sustaining its confirmation bias, stop fighting symptoms, stop marginalising and (victim-)blaming people on bikes, start looking at the root causes and own up to it. It's definitely worth losing (political) face over.

Just ask any Dutch person…

...or child.


  1. A magnificent summation and inspirational post! Bravo!

  2. Thanks for exposing BVN's lies. I can't believe that group is such fascist on helmets. Their page also says 77% of crashes in Sweden are single vehicle; implying infrastructure is a waste of time? Of course, Australia it's almost exclusive on roads. Are they implying the fault is nearly always cyclists? It must be if Sweden there's so many single vehicle crashes. I'm not sure BVN's problem. Maybe they are stooges to the government, trying funding.

    1. Hey warriorfactor, I think you're definitely on the money - ludicrous behaviour on the part of BVN - thanks for the link!

  3. The Dutch road safety research body is SWOV. SWOV formed in 1962 and was instrumental in informing the infrastructural changes now evident in the Netherlands. This is what SWOV has to say about helmets in the Netherlands:

    'Any cyclist involved in a cycling crash, or who has a fall whilst cycling, runs the risk of head or skull injury; 30% of serious injuries to cyclists are head or skull injuries. Wearing a bicycle helmet reduces the severity of the injury. As serious head or skull injuries are the most frequent injuries amongst young casualties, the use of bicycle helmets is promoted in particular for children in the Netherlands. For more information see SWOV Fact sheet Bicycle helmets).'


    Seamus Gardiner

    1. Seamus, why would anyone interfere with a paradigm that works so well aka cycling in the Netherlands? - how can you defend this ridiculous drive to change behaviour there?

      This is helmet promotion at its very worst - blatant propaganda and the insidious start of danger creep. I hope the Dutch recognise it for what it is and stamp it out pretty quickly, and guessing from Marc's sentiments, I'm guessing that is their current modus operandi.

      Madness - we Australians have the worst safety record out, and Bicycle Victoria is trying to teach the Dutch how to suck eggs - sigh

    2. I have read the Dutch version, but they only concluded that a helmet gives you less severity for several injuries (and more on another injury).

      It also warns that there is possibility for a greater risk to get injuries, but that is a subject which needs more research.

      Further it stated that there is a big possibility that bicycling is reduced when helmets are more used (not even promoted). But more research is needed for the effects and the scale of the effects.

  4. Its actually helmet promotion at its very best. No-one at SWOV is advocating for helmets to become mandatory in the netherlands (at least that is not the official position). It is not Bicycle Victoria that have said this, it is SWOV - the Dutch road safety organisation. It is the Dutch trying to teach the Dutch about cycling safety.
    What the Netherlands road safety body is stating is that helmets mitigate against head injury severity. As children are both more likely to suffer a head injury then they are the cohort most likely to benefit from wearing them.
    Not liking helmets does not reduce their efficacy.


    1. No, Seamus, Bicycle Victoria is referring to VeiligheidNL, *not* SWOV, and they misrepresent them as 'NL authorities'. They are not.

      Oh, and SWOV: don't believe e'thing at face value. Over the last few years, on EU level SWOV have been working closely with VeiligheidNL to push/advocate for all age(!) helmet laws. In NL they're responsible for backing that highly questionable helmet project in Zeeland (and now VVN is also jumping on the bandwagon, following in ANWB's footsteps). If you would have been following SWOV closely for years like I have, you would have seen that they're shifting gears in the background to make helmet laws a reality. Regarding the children's 'vulnerability'. That's also been debunked, fair and square (click the last link in my article). Efficacy: smarter people than you and me have shown their utter limitations to be in any way effective in relation to how they're 'advertised' and promoted.
      Follow the money and things will start unravelling.

  5. Interesting, the link you cited has no bearing on the protective benefit (or otherwise) of helmets or the vulnerability of children in road accidents. Anyway, I'm curious as to the comment 'Follow the money and things will start unravelling'. I love a good conspiracy theory.



    1. No conspiracy theory or conspiracy for that matter, Seamus! - just protest against usual 'flat earth' stuff continuously pedalled to jittery public