Saturday, January 28, 2012

Not for helmet believers heady freedom of choice

(Photos: Amsterdamize, Flickr,
during my magical day with him, Oct 2010)

Contrary to their protestations, what counts is not what helmet believers believe but the actual evidence pertaining to protection & helmets.

Notwithstanding the fact that 'tout le monde' knows the use of helmets automatically encourages increased risk-taking behaviour, helmet believers still cling to the irrational faith that a helmet will protect you 'no matter what'! Now this would be a laughable matter if the consequences were not & had not been so dire.

$$ Why are we so willingly prepared to accept the enslavement of non-freedom brought to us by helmet believers?

$$ Why does the notion of 'zero' evidence in relation to safety not trigger our personal &/or collective alarm bells?

$$ Why am I feeling so gloomy about it all?


  1. Why? Because the the majority support for helmets mostly comes from non-cyclists. What is needed is to turn the label "dangerous" back onto motoring and a clarification of the difference between the meanings of "risk" and "danger." While cycling around cars is "risky" that risk can be managed, but driving radiates "danger" outward against others & this must be the target of all cycling campaigns. No shooter would be allowed to wield a firearm like motorists are allowed to wield their cars. Licencing only works if it is enforced. If licenece conditions are enforced, then helmets become unnecessary because the undesirable motoring element become unlicenced or jailed.

    1. I feel less gloomy already reading your comment! - goodstuff

  2. Kerry from MelbourneJanuary 30, 2012 at 2:13 PM

    I've been surprised. In my local bike group, the support for helmet laws is (sadly) very high. But then, those people who are still cycling (20 years later) are mostly those who accepted helmet wearing. (In my experience, in places like London where there are no helmet requirements, still about 75% wear helmets. I would think that if Australia dropped helmet laws, helmet use would probably level to about that amount, given similarities of the general lack of safe cycling infrastructure and aggressive motorists.)

    Motorists love helmets because they believe helmets will save anybody they hit when they are sending texts and not paying attention and they won't have to live with the guilt of killing somebody. Politicians love helmets because it is a quick fix for safety and a no-cost alternative to building safe infrastructure.

    The actual benefits and risks are pretty much irrelevant in these cases. Belief and denial are much stronger motivations. Cognitive dissonance - discomfort caused by holding conflicting values/beliefs where denial provides relief.

    1. - all true but how can we change this entrenched regulation when we so willingly accept 'non-freedoms' with gusto?

      What to do? - however all that aside it's good to read your comments because of late I've been feeling somewhat 'Eeyore-ish' about it all!!

  3. I am a cyclist and I wear a helmet; in fact, i recently jumped on my bike and felt somehow strange, like i do in a car when i don't have a seatbelt to put on or when my cycling shoes are missing and i can't clip in. Then i realised i had forgotten to put on my helmet.

    Now this is probably not what those who hold the anti-helmet ideology, who read and write on this Blog, want to hear but i'll tell my story anyway.

    On two occasions i have been with friends on a social ride when somebody has crashed, one on wet railway tracks and the other clicking my hind wheel and coming down on the inside lane of a two lane major highway. Fortunately it was early Sunday morning and there was no car in the lane.

    The point of this story is that, on both occasions, my friends whacked their heads/helmets on hard bitumen and absolutely shattered their very highly rated helmets. One did go to hospital in an ambulance to get checked for concussion and came out later that morning clear and the other managed to recover on the spot after a lengthy rest and fluids.

    I can state categorically that had either of them NOT been wearing their helmets it would have been their skull that was shattered and not their helmet. Neither of these accidents was due to people acting wreckless because they felt safe wearing a helmet. They are both serious seasoned mature adult cyclists for whom personal safety is number one when we are on our bikes. We know that motorists aren't aware of how dangerous cycling is because of them so we take care to protect ourselves.

    So yes, for some of you wearing a helmet may feel limiting, and I understand that. However, now that I'm about to turn 65, I find I've grown very fond wearing my helmet. What has helped that, and this has nothing to do with laws, is that my two friends still ride and we still enjoy each other's company. For me it is far preferable to keep wearing my helmet each day and, had one or the other of these two people died that day, no longer be with us. Ride safely...

    1. Dear Eric,

      While I do not in any way wish to minimise the worry you and your friends would have experienced, I really do not think you can say as you do that had either of them not been wearing their helmets it would have been their skull that was shattered and not their helmet. Bicycle helmets are made of compressed polystyrene. It does not cushion the skull and it is quite brittle. It only requires a fairly small impact to shatter it. A human skull is very different. It is simply not logical to say that a helmet shattered ergo it would have been your skull.

      Every day people across the world ride bicycles safely without mandatory helmet laws. In some parts of the Netherlands (Groningen in particular), 50% of all journeys are made on a bicycle. Nobody wears a helmet there. It is simply unnecessary to mandate wearing them. More than that, it is bad public policy.

      If helmets were not mandatory you would plainly continue to wear one. Many people around the world make that choice. You are perfectly entitled to do so and nobody would suggest you shouldn't. But is riding a bicycle really so dangerous that it requires the government to intervene and make helmet wearing mandatory? When you consider the proven negative effects of the law, is such a public policy worthwhile? More people suffer head injuries from falling off ladders than they do falling from bicycles. What do you think the reaction would have been if there had been calls for mandatory helmet wearing on ladders after Molly Meldrum was injured? They would have been ignored - as they should have been for riding a bicycle.

      Keep wearing your helmet if you choose but please do not support it being mandated for everyone else.

    2. Thanks for dropping by, Eric, and many apologies for not getting back to you sooner - notwithstanding Edward has said everything I would have liked to said only he's said it more eloquently and succinctly!

      We're big people, Eric, and upon the non-existent evidence pertaining to bicycle helmet safety & bicycle helmet law, if I don't want to wear a helmet I shouldn't have to!

  4. I feel eeyoreish about the whole thing myself, for 2 main reasons.

    Firstly - I regret the opportunity missed 20-odd years ago for us to drown this stupid law at birth by simply ignoring it. Remember how when VCRs (I think we were calling them VTRs at the time) first hit the market, all the TV stations used to issue dire warnings about how taping TV shows was illegal, and anyone caught recording Dynasty or The Rockford Files would be fined or thrown in the clink? Everyone just ignored it, and it went away.

    The same thing could have happened with bike helmets. We all could have said "Who do they think we are? A bunch of kindergarten kids? Riding a bike is not dangerous" and just kept on riding without. But we are Australians, aren't we? And Australians might tape a TV show or two in the privacy of their own lounge room, but they sure as hell won't risk being seen breaking the law in public, because then they might get ticked off by a policeman and most Australians would rather do a headstand in 2 feet of wet cow dung than endure a stern word from an authority figure.

    But if we'd all just carried on regardless, and held our nerve, the cops couldn't book all of us, and pretty soon they'd have written the law off as a bad job.

    But now it is too late.

    Secondly - I'm eeyoreish about it because deep in my heart, regardless of certain encouraging signs, I know we will never get it repealed. No government - federal, state or local - in this joint is going to risk being the one that steps up and makes helmets optional, because the first time some knucklehead goes over the handlebars and brains himself on a lamp post, every newspaper journalist, blogger, indignant letter writer, concerned parent, talkback radio host, outraged suburbanite and elfandsafety freak in Australia will be all over them like a cheap suit. Notwithstanding the fact that the same thing might happen to thousands of helmetless motorists and pedestrians every year.

    1. Sadly, Scott, part of me has to agree with you - let's hope we're unnecessarily 'eeyorishly' wrong!

    2. Sadly Scott, I feel a bit eeyorish about this too. I did try to ignore the law when it first came in, but nothing prepared me for the vehemence with which the Victoria police enforced the law. I was stopped over forty times in the first two and a half years, and that was while averaging about 20km a week in a quiet country town. I would actually date the extinction of Australian larrikinism and free spiritedness as 30th June 1990. I can't seriously entertain any notion of a nation of free spirited people if they accept being bullied into wearing silly hats to ride a bicycle. The earnestness and humourlessness of the helmet zealots also gets me down.

      I too share your realization that no government is likely to repeal the law as they will certainly be blamed for the first unhelmeted death. Never mind that they have avoided the blame for all the helmeted deaths of the past twenty years. No, we are not rational creatures when it comes to this sort of nonsense. Its for this reason that I have always thought our best hope was through the courts. There is now certainly enough evidence to convince a reasonable court that compelling a population to wear helmets when cycling makes the activity more dangerous, on a population wide level. The difficulty is using this for a significant finding in a court which is at a level to set precedent. Sue has gone a long way on this road. I really don't know what the next step is, but will have to remain hopeful that I will see some progress in the next few years. Our exposure to international scrutiny, the undoubted rise of utility cycling in limited trendy suburbs, and the flop of our Melbourne and Brisbane bike shares might all help. You have fashion coming on side in Sydney, though not unfortunately in Melbourne.

      Meanwhile, I will continue to ride outside the law, feeling frustration, anger and contempt for a society that has allowed itself to fall victim to such moronic and childish state bullying.

  5. What are the consequences if a cyclist refuses to wear a helmet,is fined, refuses to pay the fine and continues to not wear a helmet? If that person repeatedly ignores the fines what would the consequences be? Would they go to jail/prison? A helmet law is brewing in my city.

    1. It would depend on the particular jurisdiction. The "conscientious" prison option has largely been closed off here in Victoria. I'm not sure if driving licence suspension is an option - they threatened me with that 16 years ago and I got an ombudsman's ruling that that was beyond their power. This may have changed. What made me pay one fine was the (real) threat that the sheriff's office would forcibly enter my home and seize goods to cover my "debt". That would have cost me in replacement goods a great deal more than the accumulated fine and costs, so I paid up.

      I don't know where your city is, but cannot urge you too strongly to fight, fight and fight. Once the law is in, it will have bizarre and lunatic consequences, and you'll never get rid of it.

  6. I have heard about a dozen cases of cyclists who don't pay the fines ending up in jail, including several children and a pregnant lady.

    For example:
    In the Northern Territory last year, a 15-year-old Aboriginal girl was strip-searched and spent a night in a detention centre for not paying a fine. Her crime was not wearing a bicycle helmet.

    In another case a 12-year-old boy, faces three months in the Darwin detention centre for failing to pay $2,000 (£444) in fines - also for not wearing a bicycle helmet. Ricky was originally given a $25 (£10) on-the-spot fine by police which he threw away. The fines increased over three months until a warrant was issued for his arrest. His grandmother said she could not afford to pay the fines. "I feel everything is wrong with the system," she said.

    The first West Australian ever jailed...
    for riding a bicycle (without a helmet)

  7. I live in Holland and when I was 4 years old I got my first, hand-me-down, bike and I have half a century of cycling in urban areas behind me. The number of accidents I've while riding may be 4, the number of tumbles I've had while walking, always sober: about 10 with 1 concussion when slipping on the pavement and banging my head against a wall. I didn't wear a helmet at that particular moment!

    Too bad there's no easy fix for the present: there's generally an attitude-problem with with motorists in most countries, with very few exceptions. Politicians should have a good look at Denmark and Holland and emulate what's been happening there. Repealing any helmet-law would be a start; riding a Dutch Oma while wearing a helmet makes you look like a dork.