What Stops People from Cycling? – Freestyle Cyclists

It’s generally agreed that “not feeling safe” is the biggest single reason that people give for not using the bicycle for transport.  The second biggest reason is “compulsory helmets”. These two are closely related – making helmets compulsory, even promoting them, reinforces the belief that cycling is dangerous.

The Victorian Transport Accident Commission (TAC) provided a response to a question on notice from the Senate Enquiry into Personal Choice and Community Impacts stating that 28% of respondents who had ridden a bicycle in the last 6 months cited “dislike wearing a helmet” as influencing their decision to ride a bicycle. Their evidence to the Enquiry, along with others, can be viewed in full at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Personal_choice/Additional_Documents. Note that the TAC evidence includes sections of three documents, the third of which includes this survey result (search on “helmet”).

Research into Melbourne Bike Share (chart above) found that 25% of people didn’t use it because they “didn’t want to wear a helmet” while 9% cited “Safety Concerns”.

In “The possible effect on frequency of cycling if mandatory bicycle helmet legislation was repealed in Sydney, Australia: a cross sectional survey” (University of Sydney), it was found that 22.6% of people would ride more if they could choose whether or not to wear a helmet.

The Cycling Promotion Fund (industry group) found that 67.1% cited “unsafe road conditions”, and 52.5% cited “speed/volume of traffic”, while “Don’t like wearing a helmet” affected 16.5%.

A West Australian government survey in 1993 found “…of adults … (n = 254), 28 .0% of adults from the Perth sample, and 25.0% of adults from the country sample, reported they would cycle more if they were not legally required to wear a helmet (p 19)”.

When the South Australian Royal Auto Association surveyed their members, they found that 27% would “cycle more” if there were no helmet law.

In other countries, where laws require children/youths to wear helmets, their use of bicycles declined significantly (one example).

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory partially repealed their helmet law in 1994, giving people a choice not to wear a helmet on off-road paths and footpaths. Note that footpath riding is legal in NT.  From 2011 Census Journey to work NT
“Alice Springs had the highest cycling figure (5.4%) and Darwin the second highest (3.1%) of similar sized Australian regional cities.”
Darwin has the highest figure for any Australian capital city.

6 Comments

  • Brian says:

    I can’t agree with your implication that not feeling safe is somehow strengthened because helmets “reinforce the idea that cycling is dangerous”. I use a bike and use a helmet. It makes sense but in no way does it lessen my appreciation that cycling is dangerous because of the simple physics involved. As soon as you start moving your body an impact at speed can cause serious injury. If you get hit by a fast moving car the situation is bad but if you hit a tree at speed it also is bad. Have a look at the prangs in the Tour de France peleton to see all sorts of bodily injuries not caused by cars but by the fact that bike riding is dangerous. However living is dangerous. There are plenty of opportunities to get injured in all sorts of enjoyable activities. Using appropriate PPE (like helmets) is just part of reducing risk.

    • We agree with your assertion that speed is a risk factor for injury. In fact, as we point out on our page http://www.freestylecyclists.org/study-of-bicycle-helmets-reveals-how-dangerous-they-are/ people in the Netherlands wearing helmets are far more likely to report to hospital with head injuries than those without – the difference is speed. Comparing everyday cycling for transport to the Tour de France is like comparing driving around the suburbs to F1 racing. Maybe all car drivers should wear full fireproof suits and full face helmets like F1 car drivers.

      Experiments have been done which found that cyclists rode faster down a hill when wearing a helmet. Risk compensation is a fact.

      In any case, the law on helmets is counter-productive despite any benefits from wearing helmets because as we point out elsewhere on this site, the health benefits lost because people cycle less due to the law, outweigh the most optimistic claims for benefits of increased helmet wearing.

  • When surveys and concrete quantitative data support anecdotal evidence about the decline of cycling in Australia since the introduction of the MHL, it surely is a sign for those with influence to cater for this demographic that is effectively being withheld from cycling because of an arguably draconian law that seemingly does more harm than good (at least in terms of participation levels).

    If people are more likely to ride bicycles if there is not MHL, then make it so. Sounds simple enough on paper. Of course, bureaucracy gets in the way time and time again..

    #claimthelane

  • Steve Taylor says:

    I agree with Brian … cycling is, whether we like it or not, associated with risk. We can fall off of our own accord, or someone (or something) can cause us to fall off. That MHL’s make people perceive cycling as having risk is actually a good thing – it is reality. But hopefully for those who really enjoy cycling it is an acceptable, and manageable, risk.

    The study that this website relies on in another post indicates 16.7% of people don’t cycle because of MHL’s. But in reality this is one factor only since the stats add up to 370%!! I’m not saying they are lying, but it is ingenuous to rely on just the 16.7% statistic alone – there are more factors that dissuade people from cycling (eg weather, convenience, not having a bike, etc) and when combined become insurmountable for some (especially not having a bike!). Additionally, the University of Sydney study quoted above was co-written by a media contact for FreeStyle Cyclists!! I’d like to understand which came first – the study or the role of media contact.

    Helmets are head protection, and they cannot prevent injury in all circumstances. But for very many circumstances they can mean the difference between a serious head / brain injury and a mere headache – I know this from experience. It’s not just about “falling off” – there’s also tree branches, low overpasses, magpies, etc . That people apparently choose not to participate in cycling because they perceive a risky activity as having risk is really up to them; the risk stays essentially the same whether they are required to wear a helmet or not, and I doubt for most their perception is really driven by MHL’s. My view is they combine a variety of reasons not to cycle, with MHL’s just being in the mix; they may be just as inclined not to participate due to other factors even if MHL’s were repealed.

    On a side note, I also think there’s a problem in promoting an activity without dealing with the risk issues; if we repeal MHL’s, we would still be advising people to wear helmets wouldn’t we? (Maybe not by some when “even promoting them reinforces the belief that cycling is dangerous”). Isn’t it immoral not to tell people what these risks and dangers are and how they can mitigate at least some of these?

    And that’s where I have problems when activist sites make statements like “making helmets compulsory, even promoting them, reinforces the belief that cycling is dangerous” . Cycling is risky if we are to be truly honest, but the risks can be largely mitigated – we should focus on how cycling can be safer if people take to correct precautions rather than create a false impressions that it’s totally safe, or reinforcing a false view that it’s MHL’s alone that cause most people not to cycle.

    • Editor says:

      The best survey on this is quoted in Hansard by the Senate enquiry, 28% of respondents to Victorian TAC cited helmet law as putting them off cycling.

  • Editor says:

    “Promoting an activity without dealing with … risk”. Here’s the European Cyclist Federation on the subject: https://ecf.com/what-we-do/road-safety/ecf-position-helmets . The EU commission (government) policy is to leave promotion of helmets to the manufacturers because government promotion of helmets leads to decreased cycling which does more harm than any good that increased helmet wearing might do.
    There is a study on UK data that finds risk of head injury is greater (per trip) from walking than from cycling. You might like to research it and let us know the URL so we can add it to our facts page. Cycling is not particularly risky but it depends what type of cycling – speed appears to be a big factor in causing head injuries, not all cyclists go fast.
    Nowhere do we say that “MHL’s alone cause most people not to cycle.” You can find a lot of material on this site about what needs to be done to encourage cycling in addition to reforming helmet law. Helmet law is one of the things that discourages cycling and it’s one of the few things that can be fixed without even an Act of Parliament, or a dollar spent.

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