Spokes(Wo)Man

Scared of traffic ? No bike infrastructure ? Too Far ? Helmet hair ?

 

Fuck it, ride anyway

Cycling Fallacies 101

Hmmm, here we have a pictorial drawing depicting in illustrated picture format the global Stalinist regimes with mandatory helmet laws for cyclists. 

The map of Australia is actually wrong; it should show our Northern Territory as a helmet-free mecca. Mind you, they don't have speed limits for cars either, so we're talking frontier territory. They're utterly, utterly mad up there.

In NSW, Australia there's also a massively punitive fine for riding without a foam and plastic hat, so we're extra lucky.

Clearly Australia has superior research skills and/or thinner-skulled citizens because look at us ! We are right and the rest of the world is wrong.

How likely is that I wonder ?

Let me just issue a trigger warning to the entire continent of Australia;

!!!! WE ARE NOT A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE !!!!

I tell you what Australia also has that the rest of the world does not - two failing bike-share systems. Melbourne and Brisbane hold the dubious honour of being the only two bike-sharing schemes largely ignored by both tourists and locals, despite the fun, the avoidance of traffic congestion and the huge benefits to the environment and health of riders. Sydney hasn't even bothered to try and implement one.

Hmmm again. Class, do we see any correlation ?

Pro-helmet advocates (many of whom don't even seem to ride bikes) think that protesting cyclists are simply anti-helmet.

Undated founding meeting of pro-helmet zealots @RACSurgeons

Undated founding meeting of pro-helmet zealots @RACSurgeons

And some are. But what a lot of us are anti-MANDATORY helmet LAW.

There's a big and significant difference. Which the pro-helmet lobby tend to ignore, coz anything more complex is inconvenient for their smug press releases.

Without a mandatory helmet law, many, dare I say most, long distance commuting cyclists in Australia would continue to wear a helmet; we ride down scary-busy main roads, we go at high speed, we travel longish distances. And of course cyclists out on training rides or long distance groups rides would probably continue for the most part to wear helmets too.

But those same people, who will wear a helmet to ride an hour to work, will then want to pop up to the shops for a coffee or a loaf of bread on the weekend, or want to ride around a park or a bike track with their kids; those same people want the choice as an adult to determine whether a helmet is necessary on that trip or not.

We don't want to be forced to wear a helmet if personal circumstances suggest the ride would be safe without one.

That's where we want to be trusted as adults capable of making a choice about what's best for our personal safety in those specific circumstances.

You know, like motorists and pedestrians are trusted to do.

Here's another cheery pictorial.

Let's hone in on the accidents and assaults...

772 combined deaths of car and van occupants

227 pedestrian deaths

39 cyclist deaths

On the numbers it seems like making cyclists wear helmets isn't as pressing as making car and van occupants wear them. I can hear every motorist protesting and scoffing at that - but what's so different about a non-driver making a driver wear a helmet, vs a non-cyclist supporting a cyclist being made to wear one ?

Hey, maybe we could have a mutual "back the fuck off and mind our own business" pact ?

31 people fall off ladders and scaffolding and die ? Make them wear helmets !

227 pedestrian deaths ? Helmets !

3 kids per week in Victoria sustain injuries from falling from prams - mandatory pram helmets !

I'm not arguing about the efficacy of a helmet - I haven't done that research (yet).

I'm just saying it's massively inconsistent and hypocritical to make cyclists the sole-focus of a mandatory helmet law.

But you be the politician who introduces a bill to make pedestrians and motorists wear helmets; you wouldn't be re-elected and you know it. And that's a powerful motivator for the type of politician we have in Australia.

The OTHER reason the mandatory cyclist helmet law makes me want to punch someone in the throat is that this spurious arguments acts as smoke and mirrors for the above gutless politicians.

No plastic and foam hat is going to save me from being hit by a tailgating driver, by a truck or bus who doesn't indicate but turns across my path anyway.

Making us wear helmets for our "safety" is an excuse for not providing us with proper infrastructure.

And if you don't wear a helmet and are hit by a car ? The attitude from the driver be all "Where's your helmet" as if by not wearing one, you're completely abrogating them of their responsibility not to drive a 1 ton vehicle like a lunatic.

A high rate of helmet usage is simply an indicator of poor or non-existent infrastructure.

This week the national media jubilantly, and in some cases smugly, published - front page most of them - a study by two Australian scientists which was presented at the international injury prevention conference Safety 2016 in Finland. I can't imagine anyone sat still to hear a couple of scientists from the world's least bike-friendly country talk about helmet safety, but maybe it was raining outside at the time. Or the bar was closed. Who knows. Here's some of their waffle;

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/bike-helmet-review-throws-cold-water-on-sceptics-theyll-likely-save-your-life-20160914-grg5mo.html  

Mind you, one of the study's authors offers a blatant peace-making overture which has been ignored in every piece of news coverage about their 'findings' ...

Dr Olivier stressed helmets were designed to only protect the head.

”The bicycle helmet is not a panacea for cycling safety,” he said.

The best strategy was to avoid injury or fatality was crash avoidance, including bike lanes that separate cyclists from vehicles.

Unfortunately the separated bike lane message has been completely ignored by the international pro-helmet lobby. At least I'll get my money's worth from my mandatory helmet from banging my head against a brick wall talking to these muppets.

In other news, I have just completed a study which shows that bullet-proof vests prevent 70% of bullet-related injuries in those wearing them. 

The whole thing has been very - unhelpful - to the debate. Mandatory helmet use is proven to have a negative impact: it discourages people from cycling, reducing the societal benefits of  a healthier, more active population.

The effect of good infrastructure cannot be ignored: the Netherlands – which is the safest country in the world for cycling, with the widest demographic of people who cycle – and was just voted best country for driving by their motorists - also has the lowest rate of helmet use.

Ages eight to eighty ... I'll send you $5 for every helmet you spot on an adult ...

Other studies have shown that where there are mandatory helmet laws, fewer people ride bikes, getting less exercise and the general population are less healthy and more people die earlier from other causes. Pop back to that cute starburst diagram above, of causes of death in Australia, and count how many deaths were attributed to respiratory illnesses, obesity, diabetes ? How many behavioural disorders ? How many of those might have been avoided if we were simply a healthier society ?

One study calculated that "the benefits of cycling, even without a helmet, have been estimated to outweigh the hazards by a factor of 20 to 1."

Anyone who truly cares about cycling safety should campaign for infrastructure, first and foremost.