helmet law

Thanks Max Key – for being an ass.

Hmmm

Seems obvious, really.

I’d like to suggest that Thursday 27th October 2016 become a permanent marker of the health of cycling in Auckland. The day the NZ PM’s son inadvertently made the world a better place by being an ass. I want it to be like a digital time capsule. I want it to be a point in history that we can use to measure any future success against. The day that we will look back on and marvel at how enlightened we have since become.

I also want it to be the day the NZ Police realise that motorists using a phone while driving are the real problem and should be the focus of their attention and that a #wheeledpedestrian riding without a styrofoam hat is the least of their worries.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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Ask me why I cycle without a helmet.

3 Little Birds

We are not against individuals choosing to wear helmets, however we are against mandatory helmet laws and shock-horror helmet promotions.

So say the European Cyclists’ Federation. And that’s an advocacy group we can trust on these matters. This is an advocacy group that is able to see the big picture with clarity and rationality. Unfortunately, it is a culture of fear that dominates, not rationality. Of course, the motor industry fully understands how it is financially lucrative to allow and encourage that kind of fear mongering.

If there was any rationality in arguing for the merits of helmet use, the car industry would also be promoting helmets for motorists. After all, 1.2 million people die annually in car accidents crashes. That’s about one third of the New Zealand population being killed every year. Meanwhile, the unfettered freedom to drive continues. And besides, if preventing deaths was a core objective, tobacco would have been legislated out of existence long ago.

It is the ‘outlier’ status and distorted perception of cycling that is the issue. Helmets do a fine job at reinforcing these realities.

I have learned to be way more scared when my teenage son gets into a car with his mates than when he chooses to be a pedestrian on wheels and cycle without a helmet. That’s rational.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat.

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If the helmet is the solution, then the wrong question is being asked

It's asking a lot of a piece of plastic covered polystyrene.

It’s asking a lot of a piece of plastic-covered polystyrene.  (image via google)

It was a helmet like this,

that the young nurse was wearing,

when she swerved to avoid,

the door being opened,

by the motorist getting out,

of his parked car,

that led to her,

being run over,

by a truck,

on a busy road.

R.I.P. Jane Bishop.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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The simple 4 point argument for why bicycle helmets should not be compulsory.

Helmet Freedom

Helmet Freedom

  1. Riding a bicycle is a healthy activity and people who do so regularly, live longer, on average, than people who do not ride bicycles. Cycling should be encouraged.
  2. Cycling is inherently safe. Laws that make the wearing of helmets compulsory (or any safety equipment, for that matter) present the message that cycling is dangerous and in turn, act as a barrier to people taking up cycling.
  3. Wearing a helmet may of course, reduce the risk to an individual of suffering a head injury in a crash. This logic applies to all activities. But for cycling, that risk needs to be weighed up against the potential to discourage people from participating in such a healthy activity and efficient form of transport. The negative impact of mandating for helmet use is that it undermines the benefits of lots of people cycling slowly like #wheeledpedestrians.
  4. A compulsory helmet law is a convenient smokescreen for inaction on making our roads safer for all users. Safety will come with more people cycling. And more people will cycle if the transport environment is safer. A combination of reduced traffic, reduced speeds and an allocation of space to people on bicycles will achieve that goal. Unless you are participating in a high risk, sporty event, the wearing a helmet while cycling needs to be/remain a choice.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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Look abroad for inspiration to build a vibrant city cycling culture.

blah blah

Incongruous: this aint no genuine hipster.

Here’s a reminder of why we should be looking beyond Australia for inspiration for growing a cycling culture. This is the kind of imagery you get when you have a country that, like New Zealand,

1. has a compulsory helmet law and,

2. is dominated by sports cycling.

When we see this kind of marketing, it becomes abundantly clear that it will not be the bicycle industry that will be leading the way towards a cyclised city. What’s even more disappointing is that the image comes from Smith Journal; a publication that promotes itself as something “for curious minds and offbeat thinkers”.

The creation of a vibrant cycling culture is achieved by deliberate and well considered government policies backed up by substantial infrastructural and marketing investment. It doesn’t happen by chance.

This is not to suggest that we don’t look to Australia for inspiration. We need to look everywhere for ideas of how to do it, and how not to do it. It’s quite likely that everything about the European model will not translate directly into New Zealand. I have also heard it argued that the European model is too ‘foreign’ for New Zealand tastes. But you only have to look at the transformation in New Zealand cafe culture over the past decades to see that change for the better is possible.  We want to show and be shown what is possible, and discover the steps that were taken to make it possible.

The creation of a vibrant cycling culture is achieved by deliberate and well considered government policies backed up by substantial infrastructural and marketing investment. It doesn’t happen by chance. If cycling is to be accepted by the wider non-cycling public as an essential and valuable part of a city’s transport mix, politicians and the non-cycling public need to be convinced of the merits of investing in #wheeledpedestrian cycling. That’s why the message needs to be spot on.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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Some of my best friends are cyclists.

Please excuse the childish attempt at parody.

The interaction with the police officer in the above video came at the end of the Bike to the Future ride that was organised by some of the Gen Zero crew. Between 300-400 people rode their bicycles along K Rd and Ponsonby Rd in central Auckland in support of calls for the installation of a separated cycle path along K Rd. It was a great event and it was particularly encouraging to see such a wide variety of ages as well as many women participating.

I have chosen to highlight the short conversation with the police officer because I think it speaks volumes for the state of our fledgling bicycle culture. I paraphrased her words because it reflects that it was actually more of a monologue than a dialogue and that she was totally absorbed with issues of helmets, cyclists’ safety and traffic flow. That moment was not an appropriate time to broaden the discussion. But broadening the discussion is something that desperately needs to happen. Progress towards making this a great city for people rather than cars, depends on it.

And as I keep repeating, and will continue to repeat, the conversation needs to be broadened from being just about bicycles. It’s about the kind of city we want to live in. Having people in ordinary clothes, riding around their city on sit up bicycles sans helmet is symbolic of a vibrant, energised city. It was very apparent that the police officer had no idea of that concept. She has been taught at police school that the law requires cyclists to wear helmets and it’s a safety thing. Cars are normal, bicycles are not. The gulf in understanding is as wide as ever.

If you are still unsure with what the issue is that I am I am trying to highlight here, please take a look at the my opinion piece that was published in the NZ Herald a while ago. My hope is that sooner or later there will be more willingness to accept this reality. That we, the chosen few who want to see more people riding bicycles, are viewed as a minority, a special interest group. In an environment where the car enjoys such physical and cultural domination, anything outside of that realm will inevitably be deemed as not normal, regardless of how irrational that is.

I don’t keep making this point because I want to bring the party down. There is plenty to love about riding a bicycle in the city already. I had that in mind when I was making this video. But I keep drawing attention back to this issue of perception because if we could achieve a critical mass in understanding and accepting this reality, we could start planning how to counter this problem and start to devise strategies for growing the number of wheeled pedestrians. It’s all about getting our messaging right and starting to make real progress towards a creating a genuine cyclised city.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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