Dutch Courage?

By August 9, 2011 July 16th, 2015 4 Comments

David Hembrow, a respected and intelligent bicycle blogger, has posted a story which includes the following film. Please read David’s post and click on the links within to learn more.

The film was recorded by Paul van Bellen after a recent study tour of the Netherlands which saw 30 Australian’s experience cycling there for two weeks. A member of  the Helmet Freedom team was on this tour.

There are some interesting observations from this small random sample of Dutch Cyclists:

  • Roughly half were women (cf 25% in Australia)
  • All women referred to ‘bicycling’ rather than ‘cycling’, an interesting linguistic distinction
  • They bicycle essentially every day
  • They do so because it is convenient, cheap & quick; it gives them freedom & joy; and least importantly for their health/environment

The Dutch aren’t compelled to wear bicycle helmets by law and almost no ‘bicyclist’ wears a helmet. When ‘cycling’ for sport they often do wear helmets as it is a very different activity to them, with different bikes; they even have a different word to describe such cyclists, in Dutch it is literally ‘wheelrunner’.

When asked why they don’t need to wear a helmet when ‘bicycling’ they state the following reasons:

  • Negative image, ruins hair
  • Too hot/uncomfortable
  • Extra hassle/awkward
  • Most commonly: they don’t fall and when they do, they don’t hit their heads. Bicycling is safe.

These are all valid reasons, despite them being promptly dismissed by many promoters of cycling in Australia as ‘superficial’ and unimportant.

What is interesting is that the (presumably) retired couple thought that countries surrounding The Netherlands had a mandatory helmet requirement, which we know is not true (see our world map). They probably believe this to be the case due to the high helmet usage rates they see there compared to The Netherlands.

Bicycle helmet use (without laws) and even fluorescent & retroflective clothing use are likely to be symptoms of an unhealthy bicycling environment and a way for riders to make themselves feel safer, despite not necessarily being any safer. We know that the helmet laws haven’t actually made us any safer as a group in Australia.

We at Helmet Freedom think that there is much needed to be done to make cycling safer in Australia, but maintaining helmet legislation is not one of them. In fact, it is sending the wrong message entirely. Cyclists who are currently cycling regularly in Australia do so in spite of the conditions – for them, wearing helmets and high-visibility clothing is something they would probably do anyway. As such they can’t understand the problem with the law and why choice is important. If the law were repealed tomorrow most of them would continue to wear a helmet most of the time, but they would at least have the choice not to occasionally.

The problem is that the law is keeping a very important group of people away from their bicyclesthe numbers may or may not be huge, but who they are is extremely important. They are precisely the sort of people who are likely to lobby for the things we at Helmet Freedom think are really important:

  • separated infrastructure where traffic is dense, fast or dangerous
  • lower speed limits (30km/h) in CBDs, residential areas and other areas where physical separation is unnecessary/impossible.
  • laws to protect pedestrians & cyclists from the cause of the road trauma
  • priority at intersections (or at least equality)
  • parking facilities that are not just located near the waste bins

Repealing mandatory bicycle helmet laws is a great way to boost demand & support for these initiatives and doing so has one big advantage over all the others….

…it’s FREE!

Make that point to the politicians, write to newspapers, talk to friends, spread the word. Go on, you know you want to… 😉


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