Is it time to rethink our mandatory helmet laws? That was a question asked by TV3’s Story last night.
It’s obviously something we’ve looked at before with there being are a lot of arguments for and against helmet laws and I don’t intend to re-litigate them all now. Lachlan did a good job of covering many of them in his piece. One thing I do noticed is that each side of the debate tends to have a plethora of facts, figures and studies to back up what they’re saying – although in many cases like the Story piece I wonder if sometimes there’s an element of talking past each other.
No-one is really denying that helmets are good for an individual should there be an accident and this fact has been backed up by probably countless studies like this one. But while helmets are good for an individual the crux of the debate comes down to the question of whether requiring helmets in all situations has been better for society.
As pointed out in the piece, since the helmet laws were mandated cycling participation rates have fallen dramatically, especially amongst children. I don’t think that can be completely blamed on helmet laws as there were a lot of other changes made at time such as cheaper vehicle imports which would have had an influence but the laws will definitely have been a factor. Regardless a reduction in people cycling generally means a less active population and that can have serious implications for the overall help of people. For example, a study of 150,000 people in the UK reported on just a few days ago showed that on average men who cycled were 5kg lighter than people driving to work each day while women were 4.4kg lighter. More people cycling means healthier people and that reduces healthcare costs elsewhere.
As also pointed out in the piece the one thing everyone did agree on was the need for better infrastructure to make cycling safer and therefore encourage more people to use a bike as a form of transport. The good thing is that with the government’s Urban Cycleway Fund we’re finally starting to see safe bike infrastructure being built in and around the city – although there is a long way to go and many people will be frustrated with the progress outside of the city centre. To me the long term implications of the infrastructure we’re now building and will build in the future means that this debate isn’t about to go away. By building safe routes that separate people on bikes from cars I suspect it will only further heighten calls for a change to be made.
A part of the Story piece they also ran a poll which when I checked late last night showed that over half of people want to see the law reviewed.
The Associate Transport Minister no changes are planned but I wonder if his boss think we should change them?
Personally I don’t think we should be mandating helmets for adults, especially not when there are a growing network of protected routes. My helmet usage depends on what I’m doing, for example I’m riding to work (possibly as you’re reading this) which is some distance and done mostly without separated cycleways. For that trip I would always wear a helmet but if I’m making a small local trip, perhaps to the shops then I won’t wear one, a horses for courses approach.
What do you think, is it time to review the law?