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Dump silly helmet law say cyclists

Dump silly helmet law say cyclists

Cycling Health, a new group which lobbies for safer cycling, has strongly criticised New Zealand's compulsory bicycle helmet law.

The Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) is currently reviewing the Road User Rules which include the bicycle helmet regulation.

Cycling Health spokesperson Patrick Morgan said the law had failed and should be abolished.

"The law has failed to make cycling safer. The number of head injuries per cyclist has not decreased since the law despite increased helmet wearing rates.

"The LTSA is fond of pointing out that the number of cyclist head injuries has decreased by around 20% but they fail to mention that the number of cyclists has decreased by around 30%."

Other reasons for dumping this silly law include:

1. The law is poorly thought out The government introduced the helmet law in 1994 without proof of helmet effectiveness, without community consultation, bypassing democratic principles and standards, and without considering other factors such as that there would be a decline in cycling. The Government was reacting to an emotional campaign based on a freak accident.

2. No scientific support The key scientific studies quoted in support of the law have been proven flawed, usually due to limitations in their data or methodology.

3. Anecdotes prove little 'My helmet saved my life' anecdotes prove little about the effect of enforcing helmets on an entire population, notwithstanding the tendency for people to exaggerate their claims. Anecdotes can be a compelling emotional argument for individuals to choose to wear helmets, but do not constitute the scientific evidence which should be a prerequisite to legislation.

4. Helmet wearers may be more at risk of injury Some studies have suggested helmet wearers to be more likely to strike their heads and/or have an accident. There appears to be a rational explanation for this. Wearing a helmet increases the size and mass of the head. Helmet wearers, like all groups subject to safety interventions, are susceptible to risk compensation a well-recognised and accepted problem, i.e. helmet wearers cycle more dangerously because they feel safer. (Consider a trapeze artist who tries more risky stunts when using a safety net.)

5. Bicycle helmets may increase some kinds of brain injury Studies of the mechanics of head injury show that one serious cause of brain injury is rotational forces, which helmets can do little or nothing to prevent and may actually worsen.

6. Helmets may reduce scrapes, but are not designed to protect against serious injury Helmets have little benefit in a severe collision with a motor vehicle. Bicycle helmets are certified only for simple falls up to about 20 km/h. Helmet promotion tends to exaggerate the effectiveness of helmets, and consequentially has probably reduced their effectiveness through the effects of increased risk compensation.

7. The helmet law has diverted attention from proven safety measures The government has concentrated on enforcing an ineffective law rather than proven safety measures such as traffic calming, road engineering, skills training and cycling facilities. Helmetless cyclists in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark are much safer then helmetted cyclists in New Zealand. Countries considering introducing mandatory helmet laws look at New Zealand as evidence of why NOT to have a helmet law.

8. The law blames the victim The helmet law attempts to mitigate the effects of a crash but does nothing to reduce the likelihood of that crash. The helmet law "dangerfies" cycling by making it seem more dangerous than it actually is. Cycling is a safe, healthy activity. If we are serious about improving road safety, let's focus on dangerous driving, badly designed and maintained roads, and unskilled cyclists.

9. The law is inconsistent and discriminatory If a mandatory helmet law makes sense, why not demand people in cars to wear them too? Head injuries kill far more motorists than cyclists. (On a sad note, Possum Bourne wore a helmet while racing, but not on the day he had his accident. He died of head injuries. Why is no-one calling for a helmet law for motorists? Because it's politically unacceptable.)

10. The law is widely ignored A bad law that is ignored weakens all laws. Police have better things to do than ticket cyclists.

Mr Morgan said Cycling Health is not opposed to the wearing of helmets. "We are opposed to their compulsion. Individuals should have the right to choose whether or not to wear a helmet without undue interference by the government."

Mr Morgan said the role of government should be limited to advising its citizens, without bias, about the pros and cons of helmets; rather than compelling their use by law while feeding false or faulty information to the public and brushing any negative effects under the carpet.

So why does this matter?

Official and unofficial surveys have consistently shown an average 30 per cent reduction in cyclist numbers on New Zealand roads, reinforcing anecdotal evidence that many people are discouraged by the law and have either given up or cycle less often.

Similar declines have been recorded in Australia and the few other jurisdictions in the world where mandatory bicycle helmet legislation has been tried.

The consequences of declining cycling numbers are reduced fitness levels and increased health problems.

Competing activities such as television, video games and computers seem to be safer but their sedentary nature causes obesity, increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and depression.

An Auckland study in 2001 showed that one in seven children is obese. In 1994, about 1,500 deaths in New Zealand were attributed to inactive lifestyles. In comparison, an average of five children die from a bicycle-related injury each year.

Cycling is easily integrated into daily routines and is cheap, practical, non-polluting and fun.

The British Medical Association decided against advocating the compulsory use of helmets as the health benefits of cycling outweigh the costs.

Mr Morgan said well-meaning people believe the helmet law keeps cyclists safe. However, the evidence in New Zealand and overseas shows it increases the risk of accidents and injuries, discourages cycling and harms the overall health of the population.

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