Cycling seems to be the issue of the week so far. We’ve had Skypath and the Northcote cycle routes followed by National then announced an urban cycling policy which finally seems them agree that urban cycling improvements are needed. Now ACT have joined in on the debate by promising to abolish compulsory helmet laws.
ACT’s plan to double cycle use without spending taxpayers’ money
“The National party yesterday announced a $100 million cycle-way that just happens to go through the marginal seat of Hutt South” said ACT Leader Dr Jamie Whyte.
“The Greens want to spend many hundreds of millions on cycle-ways. ACT’s contribution to this bidding war for the cyclist vote would double cycle use and cost nothing” said Dr Whyte.
“We need only abolish the law that makes wearing a cycle helmet compulsory. Since 1994, when Parliament established an instant fine of $150 for failing to wear a helmet, cycling has declined by over 50%. Overseas experience also indicates that laws making it compulsory to wear a helmet dramatically reduce cycling. This nanny state law does not even save lives” said Dr Whyte. “On the contrary, it costs lives. Before the legislation, few people died from cycling accidents and, of those who did, only 20% died from head injuries alone.”
” Research reported in the New Zealand Medical Journal (see http://journal.nzma.org.nz/journal/125-1349/5046/) shows that, over a 10 year period, only 20 Aucklanders were killed in cycle accidents and only 4 might have been saved by wearing cycle helmets. This same New Zealand Medical Journal article concluded that life years gained from the health benefits of cycling outweighed life years lost in accidents by 20 times” said Dr Whyte.
“The diminished health resulting from the reduced cycling caused by compulsory helmet-wearing costs 53 premature deaths a year. ACT would simply abolish the $150 fines for not wearing a helmet. That would save $100 million on cycle-ways in marginal seats, double cycle use and save 53 lives a year” said Dr Whyte
I don’t think that removing the helmet laws would see a doubling of cycle use primarily because it won’t do anything to address the reality that our roads aren’t safe to use. The perception of roads being unsafe is often cited as the biggest reason why people don’t cycling despite many people having bikes in their garages. That doesn’t mean I don’t think removing the helmet law shouldn’t happen, in fact quite the opposite. This post a few months ago looks at some of evidence mounting against requiring mandatory helmets.
Now if only we could pick and choose individual policies. A big step up in cycle infrastructure funding along with removing the helmet requirements would be a great combination.