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Time to review helmet laws?

Is it time to rethink our mandatory helmet laws? That was a question asked by TV3’s Story last night.

Story Helmets

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.

Auckland urbancycleways map 2015-18

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.

Story Helmets Poll 2

The Associate Transport Minister no changes are planned but I wonder if his boss think we should change them?

John Key on Bike 1

and

231013 News. Photo : Chris Skelton / Fairfax Media The Rimutaka Cycle Trail is officially opened on the Esplanade in Petone where the trail starts. Pictured Prime Minister John Key

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?

110 comments to Time to review helmet laws?

  • Matthew W

    I wonder if John Key’s aides got in trouble in the second photo from the bottom for not telling him he could wear dress shoes and a suit. He’s obviously brought the idea back to NZ with him.

  • Matthew

    I can’t see helmetless cyclists winning the argument (even though they should) in the current climate of cyclist-hate that NZ and NSW is going through at the moment, stoked by wanker politicians, and promoted by the likes of the Dominion Post. It’s bloody hostile out there. It’s all too dumb, disheartening and disappointing. Motorists have all the political power (and bucket loads of public cash) and at the moment they are rubbing that in everyone elses’ noses.

  • GL

    For a mountain biker or a road cyclist out training absolutely. However, if you are tootlling along to the shops or work, the only reason to gear up in hazard protection gear is because of hunks of metal hurtling along at 50 k . Change the attitude as well as provide separated cycle lanes so everyone can feel safe and be safe. No need for helmets I’m that environment.

    • Kevin

      Tootling can be just as dangerous. The second accident I had was a low speed affair in the 15-20kmh range. A car failed to give way at a roundabout and knocked me off my bike sideways. End result was my head made contact with the raised roundabout kerb hard enough to split my helmet.

  • Early Commuter

    Reposted from another thread
    why are helmet laws “nanny state” when speed limits are “good”
    Both are mechanisms to reduce the consequences of an accident, are they not?

    If you say cyclists don’t need helmets, why do drivers need safety belts?

    • Brian

      Poor analogy. If driving was good for your health and safety belt laws reduced driving creating more disbenefits than the benefits of the safety belt laws then you might have a point.

      But they aren’t so you don’t.

      • Bryce P

        Seat belt use was relatively low until the magic retractable belt came along.

      • JimboJones

        Also there is definite proof the seat belts and lower speed limits save a lot of lives – I’m not sure helmet laws save that many.
        Would you think it was nanny state to make helmets in cars compulsory – that would also save lives.

    • Post is about helmet laws, and their effects, not helmets. Helmets; great, helmet laws; hopeless.

      • Nick Lovett

        Totally agree. Wearing a helmet = Great Practice
        Mandating helmet laws = Terrible policy
        Same goes for lots of safety measures, bells on bikes, high vis, flashing lights etc. All great to use, but if you try and make them legally mandatory, it’s a disaster.

        • Mandatory on bikes in Belgium: Lights, reflectors on the front, the back, your wheels and pedals, a bell. Doesn’t prevent anyone from buying a bike. You need these things anyway if you want to cycle around safely.

          On the other hand you definitely don’t need a bike helmet. Note the lack of massive carnage in the Netherlands.

          • frood

            Same deal in the Netherlands, you get fined for no lights at night, and every so often the police crack down.

            It doesn’t stop people biking, even though many have no lights, and many more have tiny little keyring lights that cost nothing and only just make you visible.

            Of course, buy a good bike and you’ll get dynamo lights that don’t even turn off except when you stop, even during the day.

        • I think in the case of reflectors, and lights at night, this is case of being good for others as well as the cyclist. Driving at night when you encounter a cyclist on the road wearing dark clothing with no reflectors or lights is quite worrying (even worse when it is raining or snowing), I don’t won’t to hit someone but if I can’t see them it becomes that much harder to avoid them. I’ve also had some close calls as a pedestrian where bikes have no reflective lights at night. But I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any study that suggests requiring these things stops people from cycling, do you have any?
          It seems all bikes in NZ come with a reflector on the back, so not having them is more about people removing them.

          • Well. http://www.bikebarn.co.nz/bikes/city-bikes/2015-merida-crossway-300.html

            I bought my bike a few years ago, IIRC the picture accurately depicts what you’re getting. No reflectors at all.

            One of the biggest risk for a bicyclist is getting hit by a car. Suppose you are driving a car at night and there is a bicycle in front of you. Reflectors in the pedals create a very recognisable pattern and movement if you approach the bicycle from behind. Reflectors in the wheels achieve the same from the side.

            Lights are necessary to be visible from further away at night, in rain or fog. And they allow pedestrians and other bicyclists to see you.

            All of the above are mandatory in Belgium, and it is highly unusual to see a city bike in a shop which is not fitted with all of these. So it’s safe to say there is no negative impact on cycling.

            (btw. another recommendation is getting mud guards. Getting a properly equipped bicycle is such a PITA over here.)

      • Early Commuter

        So…

        “Driving slow, good, speed limits, hopeless”
        “Safe cars, good, WOFs, hopeless”
        “Looking before you cross tracks, good, level crossing warnings, hopeless.”

        If something is good, it should be legally mandatory.

        • mfwic

          Do you want broccoli mandatory as well?

        • Sailor Boy

          ““Driving slow, good, speed limits, hopeless”
          “Safe cars, good, WOFs, hopeless”
          “Looking before you cross tracks, good, level crossing warnings, hopeless.”

          If something is good, it should be legally mandatory.”

          Well cycling in place of driving is good for your health, therefore anyone carrying less than 200kg of stuff should be legally required to ride a bicycle.

    • Dan C

      Why don’t we make helmets compulsory for motorists? It would save allot more lives than making cyclists wear helmets.

      • Grant Black

        You are right.

        I read a study that shows in terms of absolute numbers, more motorists suffer from head injuries than cyclists. Modern cars with a bunch of airbags probably reduce this risk, but you see compulsory use of helmets in motorsports even when 5 point harnesses are used.

        Helmet use by cyclists could maybe follow the same model; competitive cyclists in races or off road mountain bikers have to wear helmets; daily commuters not so much.

    • Alex F

      Drivers don’t just need seatbelts, passengers do too. There has been more than enough cases of an unrestrained rear seat passenger being responsible for killing restrained drivers & passengers in a crash

    • Alex F

      I fully agree we need to review the law regarding cycle helmets. New Zealand and Australia are the only two countries where using them are compulsory across the entire country. Is it any wonder why cycling rates are so low here, but so high in Europe? While I don’t advocate you don’t wear one as 9 times out of 10 it will protect you from a serious head injury, there should be certain situations where it should be relaxed ie on roads less than 50 km/h and/or dedicated cycle paths and shared paths. One of the most successful bike schemes is the Barclays/Santander bike hire scheme in London, this scheme would fail if cycle helmets were compulsory in the UK.
      To encourage more ridership it will take more than just a change to the helmet law though, we need to get on with building safe infrastructure by rolling out urban cycleways, get more children riding to school, provide more incentives to cycling over driving a car, more laws protecting cyclists (such as minimum 1.0~1.5 m clearance), and ending this stupid anti-cycling stigma continually seen in our media.

    • AnalogKid

      -> EC. You need to get rid of the fallacy that reducing the mandated speed of cars is just an injury mitigation policy. 50 to 30 Km/h is is significant reduction, massively increasing the time to react to a situation. Such a reduction will prevent accidents as well as reducing the consequences of any accidents that still do happen (where the driver still doesn’t manage to raise their eyes from their smartphone in time?).

    • I hear this ‘helmet = seatbelt’ argument all the time. It’s flawed. Because a seatbelt is a restraining device designed to keep the entire human body within a steel safety cage capable of absorbing massive energies such as might be experienced when travelling at speeds that are many times higher than realistically possible on a bicycle (and when you know how kinetic energy works, the implications magnify). Whereas a cycle helmet is a foam hat. A more realistic scenario would be to consider what a seatbelt (and car) do for the entire body against what a chin strap (and a foam hat) do for the top of the head. It’s simply not a reasonable comparison.

      • Early Commuter

        It’s not flawed. People are saying we need a device, X, that mitigates the consequences of accidents (X being speed limits – what might be called an organisational technology). However people then say that we don’t need device Y that mitigates the consequences of accidents.

        Either you regulate safety devices or you don’t. Basic principle of generalisability that lies at the heart of deontological ethics (i.e. don’t say something is right only in the specific)

        • It seems that you’re missing half the argument here. If it was as simple as there is an improvement to society if everyone is forced to do something then your argument holds, but it is not that simple.

          If requiring helmets leads to people not using bicycles then it stops them from gaining health benefits of using bicycles that would then have a benefit to society (the health system). The flip side is that an individual in an accident may be better off if they were wearing a helmet. In the argument regarding seatbelts both the individuals and society (the health system) benefit when less people are injured as a result of a crash.

          • Early Commuter

            Why do helmets reduce bike use though? Instead of saying “helmets reduce bike use therefore helmets are bad” maybe dig into why being safe is a turn-off and address that causal link

        • AnalogKid

          No EC, you’re continuing with your false analogy because you refuse to accept that at lower speed, fewer accidents will happen, so your X will mitigate the consequence of accidents, but the main benefit is that X will cause fewer accidents in the first place.

  • Review the law. Good post Matt, great story Lachlan!

  • Nick R

    Who is that dork at 4:22, he’s not towing the party line! 😉

  • Dan C

    Helmets save the individual but hurt the herd.

    When the research gives you no clear direction, i think you have to leave it up to the individual to decide.

  • Kerry Wood

    Helmet laws provide a cheap diversion from real action on cycle safety,

  • Sanctuary

    Helmets should be compulsory only on shared roads with high speed (over 40kph) traffic. Also, cyclist ought to be able to legally use the footpath if a dedicated cycle way doesn’t exist.

    • KP

      Since they’re only able to reduce the force of an impact to 300 g’s from a fall from 2 metres (the equivalent of being hit at around 24 kph) and a direct impact at a speed over that exceeds their capacity to protect from catastrophic brain damage and also considering most concussions are from rotational forces (which older helmets do nothing for) and helmets need to reduce head rotation to less than 3,500 rad/m2.; it should probably be compulsory to wear a helmet at less than 24 kph and optional at any speed over that…

      • I thought these helmets were designed to protect your head if you somehow fall off your bike. Making them useful for young children when they don’t have much experience yet.

        • KP

          Ideally they should be useful for protecting your brain. That’s an increasingly complex issue as the (helmeted) American NFL is finding out. Probably best not to hit your head in the first place and separated infrastructure appears to be the most effective way to do that.

          A road safety programme that has focused on helmets has probably delayed the implementation of safe cycling infrastructure in this country.

    • At high motor vehicle impact speeds, you are more likely to die as a result of the traumatic injuries to the rest of your body; whether you wear a helmet or not is irrelevant. In my study of 90+ NZ cycle fatalities (http://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/9718), the helmet-wearing rate of the deceased was not statistically significantly different to the observed helmet wearing rates of the general population out there riding.

  • Nick Lovett

    Couple of things.
    1. Rugby, Skiing, Snowboarding, Skateboarding, Ice Skating, Uni-cycling – None of these things legally require the wearer to wear a helmet. Yet we’d all agree they would to some degree reduce the risk of head injury, so why to we pick on cycling?
    2. There are many exemptions from wearing seat-belts – Courier drivers, forklifts, people driving less than 50Kph… why can’t there be exemptions for bike share schemes? Why is the law not enforced with the same discretion as the seat-belt law?

    • Stuart

      Just to say, I think the law is enforced with discretion. In 17 years of helmetless riding since I arrived in NZ, I’ve only been stopped by the police four times and then only warned and not ticketed. In fact that’s a problem, it means that enforcement can be discrimatory. Presume I’ve been let off because I’m white and middle aged. Wouldn’t be surprised if young and brown people get ticketed.

      Also, in post it says. “No-one is really denying that helmets are good for an individual should there be an accident “. Yes lots of people are. 1. The standard they are tested to is so weak they don’t protect except at very low impact speeds. 2. They may cause different types of injury, the rotational injuries. 3. They may lead the wearer to feel invincible and take more risks. 4. There is research that motorists treat helmeted and helmetless riders differently, passing closer to the helmeted. 5. As is mentioned, dangerising cycling reducing ridership rates leads to more accidents … which happen to individuals. 6. Increase heatstroke, sunburn and skin cancer because you can’t wear a floppy hat?

      • Sanctuary

        “…I think the law is enforced with discretion. In 17 years of helmetless riding since I arrived in NZ, I’ve only been stopped by the police four times and then only warned and not ticketed…”

        Let me guess, you are white, male, and middle class? I hate to say it, but in my circles helmet laws are one of those tools in a policeman’s pocket that allow racial profiling to be “legit”.

        • Unless his post was edited after yours went up (which seems unlikely), you do realise Stuart made that exact point literally one sentence after the comment that you quoted…

      • KP

        10,000 cyclists a year since 1994 have been fined for not wearing a helmet on a bicycle. On the other hand I recently had a Police Inspector tell me that it a motorist couldn’t be prosecuted for passing too close as it wasn’t against the law… He didn’t have much of a reply when I asked him what the 140 people in 2013 who had been charged with “unsafe and inconsiderate overtaking” had been charged for.

    • Nick

      Rugby, at least at junior league levels (and a while ago, not sure if it has changed) mandated headgear for all players. As older players are starting to see similar issues to retired NFL players, although to a lesser extent, there are calls and questions as to why headgear hasn’t been mandated since the 20’s when it was first put together.

      • mfwic

        Headgear hasn’t helped in the American Football. When you wear a helmet in a contact sport the coach just expects you to hit even harder.

        • I can’t find it but I read a report about AFL and head gear and there is a good chance that protective equipment has actually raised the chance of head injury via the reason you mentioned – hitting harder.

          I can tell you from much experience with working on/near roads that motorists pass closer to you when you are wearing hi viz than when dressed normally.

  • Stephen Knight-Lenihan

    Is it useful to distinguish between why & why not individuals cycle and why & why not society wants you to cycle? Just confining to commuting: Individuals might decide on health, cost, practicality, fun, efficiency etc reasons, and are put off by road conditions, other road users, weather, length of commute, facilities at arrival destination (somewhere to park the bike, somewhere to shower, change etc), and, in addition, perhaps, having to wear a helmet. Society wants you to cycle for health, reduced congestion/efficient use of transport corridors, reduced emissions etc; and sees cyclists barriers including the above. It may be logical for society to make helmet wearing voluntary because of the apparent link between non-compulsion and higher cycling rates. However, improving facilities has led to higher cycling rates in NZ despite the helmet law, and my guess (I don’t think the research is robust enough ie variables are not held sufficiently equal, to make any absolute conclusions re helmets) is that focusing on facilities, and especially pinch-points, will lead to a critical mass which will itself generate normalisation and more cycling, while non compulsion may add to the momentum but will not be critical. And the heat generated by such a move – as opposed to doing other things – may overwhelm the benefit.
    Course on the other hand, making helmet wearing advisable but not compulsory would probably happen and we’d eventually wonder what the fuss was about.

  • mfwic

    The Lancet study used cross-sectional data from a self reported survey. So cycling might make you slimmer as they say or maybe fat people choose not to cycle. The second isn’t the type of result they like to publish.

  • Nick

    “The helmet laws are bad” argument relies on this supposition:

    “As pointed out in the piece, since the helmet laws were mandated cycling participation rates have fallen dramatically … the laws will definitely have been a factor.”

    Is there actually any causal proof or is it all correlation and gesturing? There are many reasons why cycling rates have fallen, you say right in the snipped out piece:

    “there were a lot of other changes made at time such as cheaper vehicle imports which would have had an influence”

    There are many more factors, increased awareness of stranger danger (i.e. not letting your kids go off on their own), a reduction in single income families (parents are no longer able to walk/cycle their kids to school) as said an increase in the availability of cars, a reduction in road friendliness to bikes as average speeds have increased.

    Making the cycle rate a single issue debate is short sighted and sounds a lot like the debates in the US regarding motorcycle helmet laws. Yes the speed is much higher for motorcycles, but it is still ridiculous.

    Hey, at least I can be thankful my sister was wearing a helmet when she crashed her bike. The concussion and being off work for a month was bad enough with the meagre protection it offered, it could have been so much worse with out it.

    • Greg N

      Its not posturing, a NZ context study has been done in detail by the august body of the NZ Medical Journal, they did a review of the helmet laws in a comprehensive fashion back in 2012 being nearly 20 years from their (overnight) introduction.
      Considering a NZ context and statistics before and after the law change and also with overseas countries to draw NZ specific inferences.

      You can read it for yourself here.

      for the tldr crowd, the summary they provide of their findings is:

      The following trends were observed following the introduction of New Zealand’s helmet law:

      Cycling usage reduced by 51%.
      Cyclist’s injury risk per hour increased by 20–32%.
      Estimated to have contributed to 53 premature deaths per year (due to reluctance to cycle and hence people not exercising).
      Thousands of fines are issued annually for not wearing a helmet.
      May contribute to discrimination in accident compensation and the legal processes.
      Could have contributed to environmental pollution and environmental harm (due to use of vehicles in place of cycles).
      Possibly diminishes civil liberties and human rights (by imposing a requirement to wear a helmet when several reports raise serious doubts whether they improve safety overall).

      Basically they conclude that compulsory helmet laws in NZ [and by extension Australia] have been a [dismal] failure for public/population health, reduction of ACC claims purposes and for personal health.

      There is one other summary of cycling law change in a nutshell which really covers why the law is an ass here:

      “From 100 cyclists pre [mandatory helmet wearing] law [change], about 50 did not wear one and survey information shows about 50% stopped cycling, so therefore the law has failed to appreciably increase the number wearing helmets but instead appears to have just put people off cycling”

      I think the grand social experiment is over, it has failed. Its now time for a completely different track than, just keeping on, on this one and wondering why its not working.

      • Nick R

        The paper is right in that regard, it reports trends for cycle rates and injuries following the introduction of helmet laws, but equally it could have reported the same statistics following the introduction of mullet haircuts. There is zero causal power there, you cannot attribute one to the other in either case. It’s exactly as appropriate to claim that mullets caused cycle rates to decline (I.e not appropriate).

        The funny thing about the people who draw causality between helmet laws and declinoing rates is the fact they seem to completely ignore one major factor that also occurred at the same time: traffic! The time people stopped cycling (and started getting hurt more if they still did) was exactly the same time that New Zealanders all started buying cheap cars and driving increased massively per capita, which also meant traffic filled up the roads massively at the same time.

        Occams Razor. Was it helmets what stopped people cycling, or was it the fact people all started driving and choking roads with cars that stopped people cycling?

        • Greg N

          You could argue mullets versus cycling rates dropping, but the rapid decline in cycling of school age children that followed the law change would suggest that assuming mullets or jap imports are equally the cause is clearly false.

          You can’t argue the change did effectively reduce cycling numbers by 50% in the population, in fact it basically meant all those who were already using helmets kept on cycling, and the rest stopped or never started.

          The effect is the same – reported helmet wearing went up, but only because you halved the population size and removed all those not wearing helmets from before the law change from the samples.

          In any case the incidence of cheap Jap imports goes right back to the mid 80’s very early 90s if you want to argue that case, so why did nothing happen for 4-8 years as cheap Jap cars flooded the place, then suddenly whammo cycling numbers decreased?
          And throughout the whole country at more or less the same time as the law change.

          Meanwhile nothing else changed [except the law]? Yeah right. Looks a spurious argument there Nick.

          Anyway we can’t go back in time and rerun the experiment to work out which variables had the most impact, nor do we really care.

          We have to go reversing out the things we can change now. We can’t make roads safer overnight or rollout separated cycle facilities everywhere overnight or do a hundred other things we need to do either.

          But we can change the law. Therefore logic dictates that we need to remove the compulsory-ness of helmets, as that is, without a doubt, a controllable/reversible factor in the decline of cycling we need to act on.
          We might disagree on how much of a factor it is, but you’d not argue it had an impact.

          Then we, should do the other things too. But lets collectively stop being dicks about it and realise we and Australia are not, as was assumed at the time, and ever since, world leading in cycling safety because of it.
          We were then and and are still, now, way behind the rest of the world. Who’ve all moved on.

          The world outside NZ/Australia realises that victimising cyclists with compulsory safety gear which has limited. at best, safety benefits is not the solution now (if it ever was), and are instead working on better solutions than a simple “wear a helmet” quick fix.
          The worlds too complex for such a simple one size fits all solution. And in fact, its become apparent, that many of the NZ and Aus traffic and road engineers have been using this as a crutch to not do anything else for cycling safety in the mistaken belief that helmets are the best protection available, when the evidence from everywhere else is overwhelming that cycle helmets are not in fact the best protection. Numbers of cyclist are.

          And while you’re arguing Occams razor, there is also an equally [if not more] likely argument, that the overnight law change did in fact cause the behaviour we see/saw.

          After all this law was passed through pretty much most/if not all its parliamentary stages in 1 night, with little advance fanfare it would be introduced.

          It didn’t have the usual select committee process with long drawn out arguments for/against or much review prior to the law change, no this was put on to the order paper one night and Wham. Bam, thank you [helmet lady] m’am.
          All done. And dusted. Literally overnight.

          And we’ve been paying the price for that haste ever since in many ways.

          This law was like the 5 year passport law change, someone’s belief in an “idea whose time had come”. But only us and a few other countries actually did that too, and we’ve been short changed ever since that decision by the “lets blindly follow the crowd” politicians.

          Its great they reversed out the 5 year passport law change even if most of us will have ended up with one, but its really poor they have not done likewise for compulsory helmets.

          The current MoT doesn’t profess any need [read: votes in it] to change the helmet law. I know as I asked him about this late last year.

          But like all politicians, if the polling shows otherwise, they’ll act.

        • Sailor Boy

          Funny then that the peer reviewers, trained professionals, from other institutions, significantly more experienced and knowledge than laypeople such as you or I didn’t feel that way.

        • Nick R

          Sorry Greg but you are reading far too much into data that is there, speaking of spurious!

          There is no whammo, just two data points far apart. Jap imports and traffic didn’t whammo, they built up over years. Same years as cycling declined.

          There are dozens of ways you could explain the effect, maybe children stopped cycling to school because their parents started driving them, maybe because now mum had a cheap second car? Maybe the stopped cycling because the traffic got too scary, too scary because of all the extra cars?

          • Greg N

            Maybe. Maybe not.

            But really what difference does it make? The NZ Medical journal study author looked at the facts and said compulsory helmets don’t work for both private and public health outcomes.
            I read that study and a lot of other overseas studies that amount to the same thing, and I agree with their findings, you it seems, don’t. Sobeit.

            But regardless of your position, the evidence is very much in now, and the findings are that compulsory cycling helmets do not ipso facto make it safer for the cyclists that remain on the roads.
            Because if that fact were true, the statistics would show a considerable drop in recorded cyclist head injuries, since the law change, on a per-cyclist basis given the high level of helmet wearing compliance – and they do not show that.

            Which is the exact opposite outcome to the belief that the politicians all had when they passed this law.

            In addition this and other evidence shows that wearing of helmets on their own [compulsory or not] is not on its own a significant promoter of safer cycling outcomes, but plenty of counter evidence also exists that it acts as a dis-incentive for cycling uptake and also causes other road users to behave more aggressively towards cyclist wearing helmets.

            So therefore, on a purely public health grounds, compulsory helmets is nothing more than a own goal by the law makers.

            All up, as I said earlier, the “myth” [that compulsory helmet wearing makes cycling safer] is completely “busted”.

            So do we double down and just keep the law as it is, or do we go for broke and change the compulsory helmet law, then wait and see how well that worked in another 20 years?

          • Nick R

            The difference it makes is that we have these laws in place, and removing them requires a large amount of effort, energy and goodwill to be expended. The whole debate is a huge distraction from the real issues. We know what the problems are, they are infrastructure, road design and road laws. Every minute spent preaching that getting rid of helmets will make cycling safe and attractive is a minute lost on getting the powers that be on board with real safe cycling outcomes.

            What is the outcome you are looking for exactly? The government to change the law then say “ok, done, helmets are gone, we fixed cycling now”? There are far bigger fish to fry first before burning all your social capital on a helmet law change.

  • This is an issue where I have changed my mind. The helmets are designed to mitigate a 1m drop, by crushing the Styrofoam. That is relevant and worth having if you fall off your bike on to concrete if you aren’t able to protect yourself. For this reason, I have always worn a helmet.

    However, the epidemiological evidence says that there is very little net benefit. The likely major reason is confounding with traffic policies. The countries with strict helmet laws do nothing to support utility cycling and have high-car-murders-cyclist rates. The countries with strong utility cycling have no mandatory helmet laws. The risks from utility cycling that is protected from car murder is not zero, but much lower than car related deaths.

    On balance I now strongly believe the helmet use should not be required on protected cycle paths. This isn’t a big boost because we have so few, but it would give a strong reason for many people to campaign for more!

    • Greg N

      The same goes for Anti-skid brakes – they notionally made the roads safer for all, but in actuality their presence caused drivers that had it to have more accidents and morer serious ones at that, because they braked later [or not at all], as they knew they had anti-skid brakes so assumed that they would be safer and could therefore travel faster.

      Its not the first (or the last) case where a technology advance has been negated or made worse than the previous existing status quo – because of how people perceive and react to the advance(s).

      Driverless cars may well suffer that same problem too down the track.

      But for helmets, the evidence is there that car drivers behave differently (i.e. worse) towards helmeted riders than non helmeted riders – because they “assume” that cyclists will be protected by the helmet in all circumstances so they don’t need to share with as much care as they would with a non-helmeted one.

      On that point alone, compulsory helmets make all road users less safe, so as a safety measure it is a abject failure.

  • Ari

    It is widely accepted that wearing a helmet saves lives, so the law is a no brainer. From all the research that I have looked at, there were far too many variables to account for and many assumptions made. You could argue that the decline in cycling in the 90’s in some countries coincided with the rise of TV/VHS/ Home PC/Entertainment consoles. There are plenty of other variables that could have an impact other than laws.

    If you could opt out of ACC and cover your own accident and healthcare costs, then I don’t care if you want to wear a helmet or not. It’s none of my damn business. But as long as my taxes are paying for your healthcare costs (and vice versa) it is my damn business and I totally support helmet laws for everyone, everywhere.

    • nonsense

      Agree. Also ban Rugby please.

    • Sailor Boy

      “It is widely accepted that wearing a helmet saves lives”

      It is not widely accepted that forcing people to wear helmets while cycling saves lives.

      “If you could opt out of ACC and cover your own accident and healthcare costs, then I don’t care if you want to wear a helmet or not. It’s none of my damn business. But as long as my taxes are paying for your healthcare costs (and vice versa) it is my damn business and I totally support helmet laws for everyone, everywhere.”

      Then let’s also makes helmets for drivers compulsory, fix electronic speed limiters to all vehicles, ban rugby, ban driveways, ban non-professionals from using power tools, ban running, ban Stanley knives, ban sitting as part of a desk job.

    • It is widely accepted that wearing a helmet saves lives → No it’s not. If that were the case countries like the Netherlands would have a mandatory helmet law. I thought that discussion was closed ages ago.

      For instance, the gist of http://www.gezondheid.be/index.cfm?fuseaction=art&art_id=11079 (Dutch) is:

      → One organisation concludes:
      · brain injury is relatively rare;
      · and it mainly occurs in collisions with cars, where a helmet will not protect you anyway.
      · People on mountain bikes and “road bikes” (*) are also more at risk.

      → The other concludes:
      · kids are more likely to get brain injury.
      · Helmets reduce the risk of brain injury but increase the risk of neck injury. Overall the balance is slightly positive.

      There’s some contradicting information out there, but I would conclude that kids should wear a helmet (they tend to fall off their bike more often), for older people it’s at best disputable.

      Another thing worth noting: the majority of injuries (in the Netherlands) are bone fractures.


      (*) called racing bikes in Dutch. As opposed to upright city bikes.

    • charl1e

      “It is widely accepted that wearing a helmet saves lives, so the law is a no brainer. But as long as my taxes are paying for your healthcare costs (and vice versa) it is my damn business and I totally support helmet laws for everyone, everywhere.”

      Considering most head injuries are from in the home and 30% are transport related… I imagine your stance is not going to gain you many friends…

    • Ricardo

      100% agree with Ari – first bit of sense on this subject

  • Grant

    To clarify, when exactly do we need to where a helmet in NZ? What about in our own backyard or on a private driveway?

  • Jennifer

    I’m with you Matt – 95% of the time I wear a helmet as I’ve just become accustomed to wearing one and from where I start my route is a fair distance from safe cycling lanes; but if I’m heading out for a quick trip to the shops I typically don’t use one. I’m relaxed about whether helmets remain compulsory or not, probably prefer they are not compulsory as I would love to see way more people out cycling which in itself would increase safety. Except for children where helmets should be mandatory up to an age that is deemed safe enough for non-wearing to be an acceptable choice. A bit like booster seats I guess.

  • Jessica

    I’m totally against. We don’t need helmets. Yes, maybe for children. Even when you get in a accident, I think a hemet would do more bad than good.

  • Adam

    When you look at the two opinions of this, it boils down to pragmatism and vanity.

    Those who think helmets should be compulsory, typically believe it from a safety perspective.

    Those who think they shouldn’t be compulsory, at the root of it, are typically worried about hair or appearances. Sure they trot out the old lines, but every cyclist I know who disagrees with mandatory helmet laws, are all fashion conscious, while still using the same taglines in this story.

    Everyone who doesn’t cycle because of those laws either
    – Is the height of vanity (won’t perform an environmentally friendly excercise/transport solution due to appearance)
    – Has terrible judgement/perception skills (people who will perceive the same activity as safer due to having less safety equipment!?!)
    – Simply doesn’t understand the most basic of physics.

    As a cyclist, I’m frankly glad it deters them 🙂

    • Dan C

      What an absurd false dichotomy, everyone in the world is either a pragmatic smart perceptive cyclist or a vain environmentally destructive low-iq non-cyclist.

      I don’t think they should be compulsory, yet i don’t think you can say it’s for vanity. I get a haircut once or twice a year and wear a helmet every time i cycle, I even wore a helmet everyday when i lived in Europe for a decade, where most people don’t wear helmets.

      From a pragmatic safety perspective i think helmets should not be compulsory. It would be allot safer for me on the roads if there were more cyclists which there surely would be without the helmet law. With more cyclists, drivers would be more used to cyclists and would anticipate them on the road. More drivers would themselves be cyclists and would anticipate cyclists on the roads. Drivers would be used to being more cautious around cyclists, because they would see most of them as more vulnerable. More cycle infrastructure would be built.

      As a cyclist, i’m franky sad our laws unnecessarily stop people enjoying a tootle around their neighbourhoods.

    • Guy

      Adam: rubbish. Complete load of cock on all 3 accounts.

    • Adam’s comment is ridiculous in its oversimplification. The monetary aspect is going to be the biggest hurdle for many people.

      Ari: why should there not be helmet laws for rock climbing, snowboarding (the one time in my life I’ve been concussed), trampolining, painting roofs, (there’s an endless list of activities that are more dangerous than cycling), etc

  • “Everyone who doesn’t cycle because of those laws… is the height of vanity [etc.]”.

    If we followed that logic, why don’t we ban high heels? They’re bad for your feet, increase the risk and consequences of falling, and easily get stuck in things.

    We should ban open-top cars. What if they roll? The only reason to have an open-top car is so people can see you, after all.

    We should certainly make it illegal to wash your hair. Loads of people slip and fall and injure themselves in showers. Much safer to require everyone to shave their hair off regularly, so they never need to wash it.

    All of the logic people apply to why we should have compulsory cycle helmets is OK in and of itself. Helmets will reduce the severity of some accidents. When you apply these principles to motorcycle helmets, say, it makes sense.

    But for mere bicycles, it’s a question of degree. The risks are so minor, it’s way beyond the point of reasonableness. The odds of a crash are tiny, and comparable with other risks we take daily in our stride. The difference it will make in the unlikely event of a crash is also small.

    No-one lives their entire life calculating it to be the absolute safest possible, with no other consideration. That’s no life at all, really – a life spent cowering in fear of mundane, everyday things.

    The “we have to pay for their medical care” argument is also ridiculous. The person who comes off their bike, smashes their head open and needs care for the rest of their life? They paid ACC levies, just the same as you. They’re completely entitled to the care they paid for. It could just have easily been you, with some other very-low-probability but serious accident.

    • Early Commuter

      I don’t know about you Stephen but most of the open-top cars I see have this thing called a roll cage (admittedly in some cars like the Miata it’s more a couple of steel ring-type-things)

  • kelvin

    helmet law should be conditional only if people riding on roads shared with cars, not protected cycleway or sidewalk.

  • Chris Glover Kapiti Coast NZ

    I’m totally against helmet laws and pushbike helmets.
    Bicycle helmet laws discourage the safest cyclists.
    http://transportblog.co.nz/2014/08/20/act-promises-to-abolish-helmet-laws/

  • Problem with this argument, is that in NZ we are getting besotted by head protection, no matter what we are doing. Look around at the number of jobs where hard hats are now part of the corporate uniform, no matter how hazardous the situation. We are getting to the stage of having to put on a hard hat as soon as we step outside. So I wouldn’t hold too much hope over trying to roll back cycling helmet laws, which predate by many years the current head safety paranoia

  • Guy

    The problem with people wearing a helmet, is that they then “feel” they are safe. They’re not. Helmets give the wearer a false sense of protection – if you get hit by a car doing 50kph, you’re toast, whether you have a helmet on or not. Better to cycle in a manner that is much more aware, and not get hit at all. So, as Kelvin says above, cycle on a separated cycle-way, and you don’t need a helmet. Don’t cycle on a road and just think you’re alright cos you have a hat on – you’re not.

  • Ari

    Very interesting discussion, especially when most kiwi’s probably support the status quo. I’d also argue they are ill-informed of the various studies out there. I can understand the various perspectives discussed here, but I still support the current law.

    Roeland: if helmets didn’t save lives, why do they exist? For fashion? I reiterate, it is widely accepted that helmets save lives. You can’t dispute it. But you can dispute their effectiveness in certain circumstances such as experienced cyclists cycling in low speed environments. My point is that helmets have a good purpose and there is a reason why a law was passed in NZ.

    Nonsense: LOL. Hear! Hear!

    Stephen: Do you understand how ACC is funded? It’s not exactly like insurance. Your levies pay other people’s costs for that year only, you don’t pay for your care unless your working during your treatment. So if you get seriously injured, my levies pay for your costs. You probably wont be working to pay levies for your own costs. I’ve paid thousands in levies over the years and have never made a claim in my life, but I think ACC is an amazing thing that helps this country as a whole. But I do agree on your point on risk ie. cycling is low risk so don’t mandate laws to mitigate non-existent scenarios.

    My point is that in NZ the community bears the costs of an individuals poor choices so we as a community must act to limit the risks of individual choice. In the US this is not really the case, same with Holland where insurance is also compulsory (I’m not sure about other countries). In NZ if someone chooses to play rugby or drive drunk or use a ladder as a platform or cycle without a helmet, then we have to bear the burden of injuries that may result from those choices. I accept that burden as doing my part as a member of the community. I’m not trying to ban driving or cycling or rugby or ladders, but I do support actions that reduce injuries such as this law. New health and safety legislation only strengthens this risk averse environment in NZ.

    Having said all this, I think there are some convincing arguments that the health care benefits of cycling outweigh the costs of inevitable injuries. I’m still not convinced, but it is a plausible argument.

    • conan gorbey

      “especially when most kiwi’s probably support the status quo”

      You just cannot say that. You have no source and some vague ‘feel’ about your thoughts on what most kiwis think on a subject are not relevant.

      • Ari

        Of course I can say that. I just did. I just asked a bunch of guys in the office and they said they supported the law even though they probably didn’t know much about the issue given that none of them cycle, but thats democracy for you. The uniformed have an uninformed opinion that still counts.

        • conan gorbey

          So you have normalised your informal office poll data against the entire population to ensure statistical accuracy? That is the only way you can make claims on behalf of ‘most kiwis’.

    • Why do we have that law? I have no idea. I’m not a politician.

      Why do helmets exist? There’s plenty of situations where wearing a helmet makes sense. Like mountain biking, or in a bicycle race. On a racing bike you have a much more upright pose, and more tendency to go down head-first if you fall. On the other hand for the typical guy cycling to work or to the shops they don’t offer much protection against broken arms and wrists, and collisions with cars.

      Same thing in a car. Rally drivers wear helmets. But you don’t wear a helmet when driving to work.

      Maybe part of the reason why only we (and Australia) ended up with that law is our lack of people who are cycling to get from A to B. A few years ago you couldn’t even buy an upright city bike in Auckland.

      • Nick R

        Plenty of other juristictions have the same laws actually, if not whole nations.. For example British Columbia, the province Vancouver is in. Vancouver has helmet laws, and increasing uptake of cycling. Other places don’t have helmet laws but had even stronger plummets in cycling rates than New Zealand, most of America and Britain for example.

  • TheBigWheel

    “Why do helmets reduce bike use though?” Well in the first instance, who cares, does it even matter why: they just do. That’s what the empirical evidence concludes. There’s a stack of peer-reviewed literature out there. Google it. Note, though that it is helmet laws, not helmets, that we’re talking about here.

    A better question to ask yourself perhaps is “why do people think helmet laws improve health and safety outcomes?” when the evidence is that they achieve the opposite. Both indirectly (fewer people cycling means more people sitting in cars means more chronic, expensive, debilitating long-run health issues) and, directly (fewer people cycling in NZ and Oz since the helmet laws means drivers less aware of cyclists so more cyclists are now killed and injured than before).

    Why did “helmet lady” feel so compelled to campaign for the helmet laws and why did the campaign get so much traction, even getting a law passed without proper parliamentary process being followed, when the outcome has been, tragically, that many more people have died as a result than if we never had the helmet law?

    • Nick R

      This is an important question to ask. There is no *conclusion* in empirical evidence, only correlations that are subject to potential third variable errors (i.e. traffic and infrastructure and the biggest possibilities).

      What I want to know is, “if we remove helmet laws in New Zealand, here and now, will we actually see any significant change in cycling rates or cycling injury”, or put another way “are helmet laws the main thing holding back mass acceptance and uptake of cycling”.

      It’s easy to compare ‘between subjects’ and look at Auckland against Amsterdam or Copenhagen, and say woo look at their outcomes and they don’t have helmets. But thats not the same as the ‘within subjects’ comparison to prove that removing our helmet laws will give Auckland the same outcomes as Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

      A better question is how did the likes of Amsterdam change to get where they are today. If you look at that, the reason for their very high cycling mode share and very low injury rate is decades of policy that sustained prioritisation of cycling in urban areas, cut out traffic and parking provisions, and reconstructed basically all urban roads and streets with best practice cycle infrastructure (or slow street designs).

      Leaving policy, infrastructure and investment to massively favor cars at the expense of walking and cycling , as Auckland has today, but removing helmet laws will not change a thing.

      • TheBigWheel

        Yes, empirical evidence *suggests* or *indicates*. Fair enough.

        But you assert “removing helmet laws will not change a thing” without any empirical evidence! Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any instances of helmet laws being removed, and therefore a relevant body of evidence. Other than the counter-factual of course, which we do have, that when helmet laws are passed, cycling rates decrease to the detriment of both the former cyclists (at vastly increased risk of long term health) and the remaining cyclists (at slightly increased risk of trauma).

        I don’t hear anyone arguing against improved cycling infrastructure as the best or ultimate solution. Then again, that can’t happen overnight (though it could possibly happen a good deal faster than at present, through the use of temporary / low cost “trial” segregated lanes, with planter boxes etc).

        Meanwhile, the helmet law remains: if it’s a deterrent to cycling (for whatever reason, rational or otherwise) and thereby detrimental to safety and health outcomes, why not remove it?

        I get it, really, it’s a “legal thing”. Like the other obvious low hanging fruit, namely lowering the speed limit in residential side streets.

        Incidentally, there are some specific circumstances in which repeal of the helmet law very likely would lead to an uptake in cycling, for example city rental bikes.

        • Nick R

          “if it’s a deterrent to cycling (for whatever reason, rational or otherwise) and thereby detrimental to safety and health outcomes, why not remove it?”

          Well two reasons:
          1) we don’t actually know if it is a significant deterrent. it takes a lot of time and effort to change a law, effort that could be expended on the things we do know are deterrents (lack of infrastructure, etc).
          2) if we spend the political capital to ‘fix’ cycling by removing helmet laws, there may not be any further appetite for other fixes.

    • Early Commuter

      It’s a vital question, because passing a law because people are too vain to wear protective equipment strikes me as the height of absurdity

    • Ari

      “Think of the children!!!” Is how the law got passed so quickly.

      I think it would be very difficult to prove that having the law has killed many people. Too many other factors involved. It is also difficult to prove how many lives were saved because we did have the law. Those events don’t often get reported.

  • Wearing protective clothing, including cycling helmets and hard hats, is becoming ingrained in our culture. Do it often enough and it becomes second nature. I have been to some places where you can’t even step outside specially designated and marked areas without having to put on a hard hat. There seems to be no rhymn nor reason for wearing them, it’s just that everyone does, right down to junior office girls. I carry one around in the car with me, and I have to check myself to actually not put it on when I get to places where they aren’t compulsory.
    My grandchildren have been wearing cycling helmets since they started riding bikes, and they feel naked if they left home without their helmet
    No one plans to have an accident when out riding, but it’s nice to have something on your head to prevent brain damage in the unlikely event of an accident.

    • Early Commuter

      I’m inclined to believe most of the commenters here have never worked a job that requires steelcapped boots, helmets, or gloves. Well, I did for a long time and saw people slicing their fingers open and breaking their feet. Luckily I never saw a serious head injury. Easy to say “no helmets!” when you don’t see on a weekly basis what a lack of PPE can do.

      • Luckily for us, bicycling is less dangerous than working on a construction site.

        • Riding a bike is inherently safe; it is much less risky than getting in a car for example, or any of the dangerous jobs or activities where protective clothing is advised. In everyday use [as opposed to racing or training] it is much closer to walking than any other activity. It is ridiculous to stigmatise this activity with the trappings of risky adventurism or dangerous vocations.

          • Nick R

            I don’t think that is true at all Patrick. Cycling is several times less safe than driving according to the MoT: http://www.transport.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Research/Documents/Cycling2015.pdf
            (not nearly as bad as motorcycling though!)

          • Nick, you can’t use the simplistic aggregate crash risk data to compare your risk of cycling vs driving; you are not comparing apples with apples in a number of ways. See my paper on this for more details: http://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/9716. The driving risk for example includes the crash rate of mature 40-year olds driving on highly protected motorways while cycling includes inexperienced/impetuous 12 year olds riding on a busy urban street. There is a reason why we don’t let 12-year olds drive… When you slice the data you get some interesting results, e.g. cycle crash risk of 15-19 yr olds is less than their driving risk, and cycle crash risk on a non-arterial rural roads is about the same as the driving risk there.

            Most importantly, it only compares the road crash risk. If we also factor in the health benefits (i.e. life-years gained) of cycling vs sitting in your car, it far outweighs any increased cycle crash risk (which is still ridiculously small; ~1 serious injury for every 20,000 hrs cycled).

      • Dan C

        I guess you have never worked in the emergency department of a hospital. It’s easy to say no to helmets for car drivers and passengers when you don’t see on a weekly basis the horrific results of vehicle accidents.

  • Brutus Iscariot

    Cannabis consumption rates have steadily increased despite the illegality of it, therefore I find it hard to believe that the remote possibility of a fine would deter cyclists who wanted to go out without a helmet.

  • conan gorbey

    “Cannabis consumption rates have steadily increased”

    You got a source for that? This source disagrees: http://www.health.govt.nz/publication/cannabis-use-2012-13-new-zealand-health-survey

  • evanjames

    Actually, I only have steel capped boots, as does my son, who is an engineer (mechanical). I have three pairs, one for best, one for work, and the other for gardening etc. When the work pairs wears out, I cascade the best pair down to work, and the gardening pair into the rubbish and pop down to my local safety shop and buy another pair for best. These days you can buy very nice looking safety boots, and because they are designed to be worn and worked in all day, are very comfortable. Nothing to do with helmets, but seeing as how Early Commuter mentioned them, I thought I would add it to the mix.

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