2011 March

But Think Of The Children!

Better than no helmet…?

The death of any child is a tragedy regardless of cause but no matter what we do children will continue to die prematurely despite the rhetoric. In the 5 year period between 1999-2003, 286 children died from an entirely preventable cause …drowning (half of these were in swimming pools).

Over a similar period (1996-2001) 66 children died from being run over by the family car… in their own driveway.

How many child cyclists died over a similar period? Take a guess and read on…

The number of permanently injured and brain injured children as a result of surviving these ‘accidents’ are difficult to find but it is likely that they are higher still. Yet strangely, neither of these statistics make people view the backyard pool or family car any differently. Quite the opposite in fact, with sales of SUVs and personal pools growing.

One of the reasons why people (usually non-cycling citizens) feel that bicycle helmets should be mandatory for adults and children is that they believe that by forcing adults to wear them, it sets a good example for the children and they are therefore likely to comply. This is rather naive.

In addition to the fact that the child (particularly a teenager), out of parental view, is likely to remove the helmet no matter how ‘normal’ a parent makes it, there are other problems with their argument. Are there other things that the law restricts children, yet not adults, from doing? As a matter of fact, there are.

Children can not legally drink alcohol, smoke, have sex, vote, own a firearm, drive a motor vehicle or fly an aircraft. Adults can legally do all of these things yet I don’t see anyone changing such behaviour ‘for the good of the children’ as it might ‘set a bad example’.

It would be wrong to suggest that a relaxation of the helmet law is the same as actively increasing the risk to our children’s safety – it’s likely that they’ll be safer overall. There are far more important things to teach children about riding bicycles safely than to force them to wear safety gear – giving them (and their parents) a false sense of security.

If you double the effective head size, do you double the chance of hitting it?

So, back to your guess…

Between 1995-2000 there were a total of 61 child cyclist deaths – fewer than the number killed by the family car in their own driveway. Of these cyclist deaths:

  • 86% were males
  • 70% were failure to give way to motorised traffic, half of these at intersections

What is the real problem here? Why do we insist on treating the symptoms and not the cause?

When the dutch were faced with these issues for their children’s safety they took a different approach entirely and as a result, all cyclists were safer.

If you still believe that children should wear helmets by law, that is fine, but rather than insisting that MHL remains unchanged for ALL citizens, why not edit our letters accordingly and send your views to Government. While you’re at it… you might want to ask Government why they insist on helmets for cyclists when our nations driveways remain unfenced!

If we do nothing, we can expect nothing in return. We deserve nothing more.

On The Brink In Northern Ireland

“Any fool can make a rule, and every fool will mind it.”  – Henry David Thoreau

We recently posted a story on the proposed bill to introduce an all-age mandatory bicycle helmet law in Northern Ireland.

Like Australia in the 90s, the bill was introduced by a possibly well-meaning, but ill-informed, vocal non-cyclist.

The bill has failed to progress any further through the assembly and it is likely that it will never see the light of day again. How was this achieved? By vocal opposition from the peak cycling groups in the UK – The CTC and Sustrans. Both are strongly opposed to mandatory helmet laws – as were Australia’s cycling groups in the 1990s, and were completely ignored – and they have been successful in putting a stop to its introduction.

In Australia, things are different. Our peak cycling ‘advocacy’ groups in each state have very close ties to their respective governments and their independence is questionable. The vast majority of their work – which they do well – is to organise cycling events, sponsored principally by government.

Not one of these groups is willing to say anything negative about Australia’s mandatory bicycle helmet laws – they don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them. So instead they just shrug their shoulders and stand on the sidelines when they should be fighting for choice on the matter. They can support choice and yet encourage helmet use if they choose – it’s not an either/or argument.

How can it be that groups that support cycling in different countries can have polarising positions on the topic of mandatory bicycle helmet laws? After all, the UK & Australia are similar in all other aspects of cycling. The fact that the views are diametrically opposed should ring alarm bells… what if MHLs in Australia don’t actually make any significant difference to cyclist safety as a group?

Silly Cycle

Does my ass look big?

Does my ass look big? Image of an incorrectly fitted helmet, courtesy of http://citycyclebrisbane.com/

A few articles on Brisbane’s public bike hire scheme, CityCycle, have appeared in The Brisbane Times. The timing coincides with the Queensland Government’s Bicycle Queensland Bike Week. CityCycle is a public bike hire scheme run by JCDecaux and the Brisbane City Council. Apart from the colour, they are identical to the Parisian Vélib system.

In the first article, “CityCycle Starts With A Whimper”, the usage figures to date have been revealed. And they’re not good by any measure.

After six months in operation (800 bikes in the system currently):

  • 250 trips per day on average
  • 1,975 annual subscribers
  • Less than a third of the 1,013 3-month subscribers have renewed

To put this into perspective, 4 months earlier  The Brisbane Institute wrote an article on CityCycle’s use. It showed:

  • 225 trips per day
  • 2,516 subscriptions (of these, 478 were daily which shouldn’t really count as they’re not ‘current’)
  • 600 bikes in operation at 60 stations.

There are a few reasons why CityCycle is not doing well:

  • Station locations (feuding between State & Local Governments in key locations)
  • Pricing Structure (deliberately priced to discourage casual use interestingly, unlike Melbourne)
  • Rubbish road environment with parked cars and speeding motorists in the CBD
  • Mandatory helmet laws

Of course, nobody will officially mention the ‘H-word’ as being an issue as they refuse to look at the facts. Every other excuse is used as a reason for the slow uptake, including:

  • Hot weather (they blame cold weather in Melbourne!)
  • Floods (a convenient scapegoat – also used to justify spending cuts on bikeways)

However a second article reveals that someone is willing to mention the ‘H-word’, the CEO of JCDecaux Australia, Mr Steve O’Connor:

“Mr O’Connor said there was “no doubt” the mandatory use of helmets constrained the use of the scheme.

However, he said the scheme was not primarily designed for tourists, but rather for commuters who would be more likely to have their own helmets.”

Vélib is not designed for tourists either…

Clearly were are not doing something right here in Australia with our public bike hire schemes. The most obvious difference between our systems and those of Dublin, for example, is the requirement for an adult to wear a bicycle helmet when riding a bicycle (on a footpath, bikepath, road or ‘road related area’ – essentially everywhere…) – despite pedicab passengers being exempt. Residents of Brisbane know they will be stopped by the police so few use the bikes without a helmet.

Message to Melbourne – Mike Rubbo

The only way this will change is if we write to Government asking for an exemption. Use our letter templates and ask for an helmet exemption for bike share bikes. Alternatively, ask for a trial exemption.

A trial exemption would allow the effects of the relaxed law to be studied. The bike share bikes are the perfect vehicle for this: they are identifiable, limited to a small central area and are only allowed to be ridden by adults. Feel free to edit the letter and send your own thoughts on the matter to Government.

Bike share bikes are too important for cycling to be allowed to fail – it will give the impression that nobody is interested in public cycling expenditure. That will bad for all of us, even those of us who will never cycle.

It’s All Relative

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Albert Einstein

Mike Rubbo & Violetta Brana-Lafourcade have recently published another excellent short film looking at the success of the Barcelona bicycle hire scheme, called Bicing.

In it they interview Esther Anaya, a Bicycle Mobility Consultant working for the city of Barcelona whose focus is on the Bicing system, introduced in 2007.

They have discovered that more cyclists on roads and pathways has resulted in an increased perception of safety – and actual safety due to the safety in numbers effect. As more cyclists travel the city’s streets, motor vehicle drivers modify their behaviour accordingly. This perception of safety can still be seen in Barcelona’s busy streets as people new to cycling opt to ride slowly on the footpath, rather than on the roads. What is Barcelona’s response to such riders? Force them onto the road? Force them to wear helmets? No. Their response is to calm & slow the motor vehicles.

She comments that if you send the message that cycling is safe by actively promoting it as such then it becomes safer. If you send the message that cycling is dangerous, then it becomes more dangerous. One way of sending the message that cycling is dangerous is to force bicycle riders to wear safety equipment – such as bicycle helmets.

Perception is Everything.

To the non-cyclist, requiring safety equipment by law sends a strong message that ‘this is a dangerous activity’. Often this will be all it takes to discourage them from taking to a bicycle. The actual level of safety is irrelevant. It is also very difficult to change this forged opinion in the public mind despite strong evidence to the contrary.

Imagine for a moment if we had to dress up like this, by law, to drive a car anywhere:

This tells me that driving a car is a dangerous activity. Guess what? It is. Yet we don’t dress like this when driving a car, despite it being much more dangerous than riding a bicycle. Nobody is calling for mandatory car helmets. Why is that?

In 2009 there were 1,052 car occupant deaths from a total of 1,509 ‘road user’ deaths (including only 31 cyclists). That is the equivalent of 2.5 fully loaded Boeing 747 aircraft crashing each year – with no survivors. Because most of the population drives and the deaths are spread out, it barely registers.

Perhaps you could write a letter asking our politicians why bicycle riders are forced to wear helmets while car occupants are not. Or send a letter asking for an exemption for bike share bikes.

Take action today and start enjoying the ride! Read more