Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Helmet Laws - the 'slickest-ever' product pitch

The problem with helmet laws is that they are 'marketing spin' that have cultivated the notion that helmets are the first and last words in bicycle safety and protection. As a result of this 'hype', the real issues that should have been addressed, such as better cycling infrastructure for cyclists and education for motorists, were conveniently masked.

It is interesting to note that in the mid 80s the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) established a helmet promotion task force (p.391,para2) whose membership included representatives not only from the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria which was unusual in itself, but bicycle retailers, helmet manufacturers and helmet importers as well - absolutely no prizes for guessing what their slant was on the importance of the uptake of helmets! In fact I would go as far to say that this was somewhat akin to having someone from 'Big Pharma' on the board of the Therapeutic Goods Administration - a significant conflict of interests and one with a 'bottom line' firmly in sight.

Helmets do not and cannot enhance safety, yet we willingly subscribe to the philosophy that once one is plonked on top of a head that helmeted cyclist is 'safe'. Do you know how many people ask me "...but what if you get hit by a truck?" - oh! god! think about it - what if! - after all, how much protection can some 'glorified coffe-cup' really be expected to provide me in the event of a connection with a great big B-double?

There is no escaping the ever-present elephant-in-the-room: helmet laws have significantly discouraged cycling and as a result there are fewer cyclists on the roads which in turn has made cycling more dangerous. The whole world knows about our predicament but our leaders obstinately refuse to acknowledge the facts. Helmet efficacy is greatly exaggerated, and largely unproven, yet because of our helmet laws we are denied the obvious health benefits, plus any additional ones with regards to de-congestion and the environment.

When are we going to recognise that our helmet laws are the culmination of an extremely successful marketing campaign - 'spin' not evidence. The government bought it because it was the cheapest option and one that they could conveniently pass on to the unwitting cyclist!

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