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Mr. Bridges, open this gate. Mr. Bridges, tear down this wall!

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood by the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin and called on Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, to take down the wall cutting off Berlin’s east and west halves.

A photo of a photo which also includes a photo. The black and white bit is the Brandenburg Gate at the end of World War Two. The colour bit is what the gate looks like today.

In 2017, I’m calling on the Minister of Transport, Simon Bridges, to take action. I could have called this post “let’s get rid of mandatory helmet laws in New Zealand” (and I’m not sure comparing Simon Bridges to Gorbachev, or me to Reagan, does either of us any favours), but let’s roll with it for now – at least it gives the post titles some variation.*

Back in September/ October 2016, I took a holiday to Europe, visiting Germany (Munich and Berlin) for the first time.

Germany is the country that gave the world Mercedes, Volkswagen, BMW, Audi and Porsche. It’s the country famous for its no-speed-limit autobahns, which I remember being told about in reverent tones growing up – probably one of my strongest wired-in memories to do with Germany.

Germany today has a very different zeitgeist. I was struck by the popularity of cycling in both cities (and also by the great quality, well used public transport, but that’s a story for another day). I found the contrasts so striking that I started writing this post while I was still in Berlin, and I’ve stuck with the title that came into my head then. Because if Germany, this famous automotive country, can make cycling so popular then New Zealand can do the same. Because in Munich, Berlin, and every other great cycling city around the world, hardly anyone wears helmets.

People on bikes by the East Side Gallery, one of the few remaining remnants of the Berlin Wall and decorated with street art.

Berlin today is ranked as one of the top cycling cities in the world, #12 in the Copenhagenize index. Munich is now outside the top 20 of that index, but still regarded as a very cycle-friendly city. There are bikes everywhere in Berlin, at least in the more tourist-friendly inner parts of the city. There’s a widely available bike share scheme, run by DB Bahn (who also run the public transport).

100 metres from where I stayed in Berlin, there was a cycle school – a little cycling track, mocked up with miniature street signs, cycle lanes and different turning scenarios. In Berlin, all primary-school children take a cycling safety course.

People on bikes in Berlin

People on bikes in Munich (where helmets seemed a bit more common than Berlin)

Cycling in New Zealand

New Zealand, of course, has more vehicles per capita than almost every other country in the world (712 vehicles per 1,000 people; Germany has 572). Germans make the cars, but they don’t drive them anywhere near as much as Kiwis do. Cycling in New Zealand has become a fringe, marginalised activity, although this is getting better. Cycling rates have dropped precipitously since the 1980s – they’re now climbing again, but off a very low base. With cycling, there’s safety in numbers. The lack of cyclists in New Zealand means that drivers aren’t looking out for them, so our accident and fatality rates for cycling are well above those of European countries, despite our policy of mandatory helmets.

New Zealand’s government has been quite forward-thinking on cycling in the last couple of years, launching the Urban Cycleways Programme and also spending more on cycling out of the National Land Transport Fund (of course, it’s still a tiny percentage of the overall fund). The cycleways programme was an inspired piece of policy: it provided some funding, but also leveraged this as a way to encourage councils to invest in cycleways. Costs now get split between the Urban Cycleways Fund, the NLTF, and the local council.

I think it’s quite appropriate that the cycleways programme uses funding from outside the general transport funding sector. Looking at the costs and benefits from cycling, the biggest benefits are actually health-related, and nothing to do with transport. Ideally this could be recognised by funding some cycling initiatives out of the health budget, but at least they’re coming from outside of transport.

Of course, if we make helmets optional, we’ll get much better value out of these cycleway investments – there will be more people cycling and using them. Plus, there’s much less need for helmets on cycleways – serious cycling accidents are overwhelmingly caused by collisions with cars and other vehicles, not falling off the bike.

Cycling and Health

The direct costs of cycling are pretty straightforward – it’s the amount being spent on infrastructure, whether it’s cycleways or token splashes of paint on the roads. As for indirect costs (externalities), cycling arguably has less than any other travel mode. Cyclists aren’t hurting anybody.

The benefits are a bit more complex. Like public transport, cycling helps to mitigate congestion – so car users benefit from having faster, more reliable travel times. Cycling also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Then there are the health benefits of cycling. Quoting from a 2014 paper which modelled potential cycling investment in Auckland (emphasis added):

Our findings suggest that the most effective approach would involve physical segregation on arterial roads (with intersection treatments) and low speed, bicycle-friendly local streets.

We estimate that these changes would bring large benefits to public health over the coming decades, in the tens of dollars for every dollar spent on infrastructure. The greatest benefits accrue from reduced all-cause mortality due to population-level physical inactivity.

Overall, the authors estimated that a $630 million investment in cycleways and “self-explaining roads” (traffic calming etc) would get cycling mode share to 40% by 2051, and give benefits of more than $13 billion, with a benefit:cost ratio of 24:1. Pretty good really. And we’ve found so far that the benefit:cost ratios for cycleways, at least the ones getting funded by the Urban Cycleways Programme, are often an order of magnitude higher than what we get for roads.

So, riding a bike is good for fitness and keeps you healthier for longer. At the New Zealand level, if more people cycled we’d have a healthier population, with lower mortality.

The next step: making helmets optional

Now, let’s have the conversation around helmet laws. Looking at the international picture: New Zealand’s compulsory helmet laws make us an international outlier. The evidence on their effectiveness has been mixed at best. Yes, helmets can reduce the severity of head injuries; but they’re also a barrier to cycling uptake.

We don’t know for sure in New Zealand, because the research hasn’t been done. But here’s my personal view. If we got rid of the law that says you have to wear a helmet while cycling, we’d have more people on bikes. This means car drivers will pay more attention to them, and drive more carefully. As such, it’s not clear whether the rate of serious head injuries (and in the worst case, deaths) would rise or fall. It depends on which effect dominates – cyclists being less likely to wear helmets so getting more severely injured, or drivers being more alert around cyclists. I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter effect wins out.

But here’s the thing – even if the latter effect doesn’t win out, it’s probably still a good idea to get rid of the law. Because there are all the other benefits from cycling to consider too – a healthier, fitter population, plus the congestion and emissions benefits. Those benefits are likely to be much greater than any ‘net’ cost from having more cyclists injured.

We’ve got an unusual split of powers in New Zealand:

  • The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) funds the costs of accident injuries. Every time a car slams into a cyclist, it’s ACC who pays for it. Understandably, ACC is all about doing things that reduce the risk and severity of injury (helmets can help with the latter, and don’t help and may even hurt the former). As noted above, it’s not clear whether making helmets optional would be better or worse for this.
  • The Ministry of Health handles the remainder of the public health system. They should be very interested in things which boost the general state of health among New Zealanders, such as cycling.
  • The police are responsible for enforcing the helmet law. It’s positive to see that cops aren’t fining cyclists as often as they used to, but ultimately they’re still giving out fines because that’s what the law says.

ACC and the Ministry of Health are more or less separate, with separate departments and different Ministers. The police are also separate, of course. These different organisations may have differing views on cycling and helmets, given their different responsibilities. We need a consensus-builder (a Gorbachev or perhaps a Bridges?) to bring the parties together and make, the right decision to give the best outcome for society.

Mr Bridges, it’s time to open this gate, and let the cyclists through. In order to get the most from the Urban Cycleways Programme, to encourage cycling as an everyday activity, and to unlock the health benefits, we need to get rid of the helmet law and make helmets optional.

* It also seems kind of unnecessary to have gates, walls and Bridges all mentioned in the title, but such is life

94 comments to Mr. Bridges, open this gate. Mr. Bridges, tear down this wall!

  • One of the many problems with mandatory helmet laws is that they add a critical barrier to successfully running a bike share scheme. And bike-share, in cities, is hugely valuable, converting many short inefficient, street clogging car trips into efficient healthy space-saving ones. It is also a perfect fit with Transit; extending the reach of stations, addressing the first/last mile issue. And the safety record record of bike-share schemes are incredibly impressive (see link below). The fiddly and deal breaking helmet law is robbing Auckland of this possibility just as we are investing in the infrastructure to make it really valuable… Say optional for 18+, hey if you’re allowed to vote, you should at least be able choose your own hat…

    http://www.businessinsider.com/why-citi-bike-has-zero-fatalities-2016-6/?r=AU&IR=T/#the-bikes-are-slow-1

  • mfwic

    Have they marked the spot by the wall in Berlin where Jack Kennedy famously said “I am a jam doughnut” ?

    • No they haven’t, because the supposed gaffe was invented by American journalists and unknown in Germany. In german, ich bin *ein* Berliner is perfectly correct when speaking figuratively as Kennedy was. Note that he never said that he was himself a Berliner, he was saying that men across the free world were proud to say “I am a Berliner”.

      Also curiously, a Berliner doughnut isn’t called a Berliner in Berlin, only in the west of the country. They call them Krapfen or simply doughnuts.

      • mfwic

        I am really disappointed to learn that. Before I could dislike Kennedy and everything he turned US politics into but I could laugh at him too. Now I can only dislike him.

      • Given their famously poor sense of geography which they later resolved through the invention of GPS; could it be Kennedy in fact imagined himself in the West of The Country?

        That due to an aberrant speech writer he actually intended to look forward to the day when the world and all it’s people were proud to say.

        We are all Jam Dognuts.

        Just throwing it out there.

        Ps. I would have liked to up vote both mfwic and his counter factual but there is no button for that.

        There’s no call to go crazy and introduce the emoticon although perhaps the helmet and a bald head would be an appropriate alternative.

  • Donald Neal

    There seems to be some historical irony in compelling New Zealanders to wear helmets when Germans won’t.

    By the way, Berlin’s public transport isn’t run by DB Bahn. That would be special-purpose outfit usually called BVG. DB Bahn are the passenger division of the main national rail operator.

    • DB does run the S Bahn and regional lines, although under the BGV/BVV umbrella. Like in AKL where transdev runs the trains but on contract to AT.

      • Donald Neal

        The bicycle operation is national in scale and operated by a national organisation, not specific to Berlin and operated by the city’s public transport provider, as the article states.

    • mfwic

      It’s a little known fact that Germans were the first to where helmets on bikes. Unfortunately they chose the Pickelhaube which resulted in a very high pedestrian casualty rate and was later banned by the Weimar Republic.

  • Ricardo

    Lets deal with some of the statements above. Firstly ( I spend a month each year in Germany) the brighter cyclists (my German friends and I) do indeed wear helmets. Secondly Germany does not mix traffic with cyclists except where absolutely necessary (cycle tracks outside of central city low speed areas are generally not part of the roads), and thirdly NZ vehicle ownership does not necessarily relate to vehicles on the road at any time, or km driven (many countries average more km/head than us), the simple reason being that many people in NZ have more than one vehicle, we have 5, for 2 drivers, all registered, and for different utilization, as do most of our friends, and as common sense will tell you, we can only drive one at a time, with both of us often in the same vehicle.

    Please also note that Germans build AND drive their cars – same number of km per day as other European countries – see: https://setis.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/reports/Driving_and_parking_patterns_of_European_car_drivers-a_mobility_survey.pdf

    It’s quite a read but you’ll find the relevant information.

    Germans travel great distances but due to decent roading and minimal restrictions get there quicker.

    • Nick R

      That might be your experience, but in the German city where I spend most of my time (Göttingen) nobody wears helmets, cycling is the primary form of transportation, and the cycle lanes are on street almost everywhere.

      Most streets don’t have them at all, just the aeterials. The one exception to that is a cycleway that links an outer village to the city proper, which gives a shortcut across the fields.

    • I cycled across Germany to Berlin as part of a larger cycle tour from London to Berlin via Switzerland and back via the Netherlands. I saw very few people riding with helmets anywhere in Germany except sports cyclists, wearing the lycra kit.

    • That’s not a representative survey – it shows the Germans driving more than 50 km a day or 20,000 km a year! New Zealand is around 9,000 km a year per capita, from the MoT’s vehicle fleet statistics.

      The official German stats are here https://www.bmvi.de/SharedDocs/DE/Publikationen/K/verkehr-in-zahlen-2016-2017.pdf?__blob=publicationFile although someone with better knowledge of German, Google Translate or navigating the English version of that website will have to dig out the figures. My impression from other sources is that they’re somewhat below 8,000 km per capita.

  • Ricardo

    Continuing German comments – Further to this in the graph contained in: http://www.economist.com/node/21563280 – it is evident that Germany isn’t far behind the US in km driven.

    In Germany cycle speed limits at intersections are 10km/hr,, there are fines for wearing head phones, fines for not using cycle tracks (i.e. being on the road when a track is available), riding on footpaths and riding in pedestrian zones. Helmets are compulsory for those under 13 (policed differently depending on city). And there are large fines for using a mobile whilst cycling (which makes sense). German cycle deaths around 370 per annum.

    Another interesting read is: http://www.citylab.com/commute/2016/01/germany-launches-its-national-bike-autobahn-cycle-network/422451/

    – even the Germans realize that cycling is weather based. Of particular interest is the comment that the new cycle path will not relieve pressure on trains.

    To move forward we need facts, not hearsay or using political angles as facts.

    • I think 13 would be a good age for mandatory helmets. Teenagers are often very particular with their hair and I think would be much more likely to bike to school if helmets were not required.

  • robert

    Bit of a red herring ,Helmets are not the reason my family will not use bikes ,it is the lack of safe roads or adequate cycle lanes. By focussing on helmets ( which I think most people are used to helmets anyway ) only distracts from the main issue of getting safe cycle infrastructure in place.

    • Nick R

      This is my main issue with the idea that if we remove helmet laws more people will cycle, and when we have more people cycling it will be safer because cycling becomes normal and expected.

      I agree with the latter part, just not the first. My view is people, as a general rule, don’t cycle because it does not feel safe. Building the right infrastructure will make it feel safe. Slowing down local streets will make it feel safe. Those things will get more people cycling.

      But will removing helmet laws make people feel safe? Probably not as long as we don’t have the infrastructure, and don’t have the right street conditions.

      • Sailor Boy

        “But will removing helmet laws make people feel safe?”

        Yes; mandatory helmet laws reinforce the public perception that cycling is a dangerous fringe activity requiring specialist safety equipment.

        • Nick R

          Well to be fair it is currently a dangerous fringe activity. The fact is in Auckland currently cycling is still very uncommon (although growing quickly), and it is indeed currently substantially more dangerous per hour of exposure than walking or cycling. As supportive I am at improving cycling in Auckland, we are talking about improving of a very very low and marginalised base.

          That is my point, removing helmet laws would be an obvious step once cycling is no longer dangerous, and no longer niche. But will removing helmet laws make cycling safer if we don’t do the other stuff first? Or will it create a false sense of safety without changing the reality?

          Anyway, won’t slit my wrists if the law is changed, but I think so much time and effort is wasted talking about helmets when we should do the basic stuff first.

          • GlenK

            Simply comparing cycle crash rates with other travel modes is not helpful without appropriate context; you are not comparing the same populations or road environments. For more detail on this, have a look at my paper about this – https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/9716.

            But regardless of relativities, all of the numbers in question are REALLY SMALL, so it’s like comparing the risk of a meteorite falling on you vs the risk of a plane falling on you – I don’t lose sleep other either of them. In NZ, a person has to ride on average for 20,000 hrs before experiencing a significant injury where a helmet might be handy. In terms of fatalities, the figure is over 2 million hours of riding per fatality (and 90% of those people were wearing a helmet). How many hours would you typically bike in a year?

          • TheBigWheel

            Exactly GlenK. Nick R says “…once cycling is no longer dangerous” but as your stats show, cycling is not dangerous. It’s sometimes perceived as dangerous, especially by people who don’t ride bicycles. Sailor Boy’s comment that the mandatory helmet law reinforces that perception is reasonable. The trouble is people don’t perceive the inactivity associated with driving instead of cycling as dangerous, but as the stats show, time and time again, that’s a far greater risk. That the (unintended) effect of the law has been substitute driving for cycling is perverse and tragic.

          • Regardless of absolute numbers of dead people, in most parts of Auckland, you’re cycling in an environment where you have to be constantly on edge, where a lot of drivers don’t really tolerate you, and where a small mistake can cost you your life.

            That’s an extremely unpleasant way to spend your time.

            Also the linked paper suggests that cycling to work is in fact 3 to 5 times more dangerous than driving to work.

          • KLK

            “It’s sometimes perceived as dangerous, especially by people who don’t ride bicycles”.

            And as my old boss used to say when lecturing me on less than professional behavior, “perception is reality”.

            I don’t particularly like helmets and would prefer it to be optional, but I tend to agree with Nick R that this would be tinkering around the edges and would not have a material impact on increasing numbers. Safe, separated and useful infrastructure would (and already is).

          • KP

            @Roeland “Also the linked paper suggests that cycling to work is in fact 3 to 5 times more dangerous than driving to work.” And taking the bus or the train is about 3-5 times safer than taking a car… and the time spent in a car is 99% correlated with the rate of obesity… which is correlated to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, one of the largest causes of early death in New Zealand.

            I think THE issue cyclists have to improve is the perception of safety. The near miss project from the UK found that the average UK commuter cyclist can experience up to 60 ‘very scary’ incidents annually, but would only face a serious accident threatening their life once every 8,000 years.

            It’s patently obvious that to increase cycling numbers the emphasis must be on making cycling Feel safer. Helmets don’t do this and there is evidence that helmets can actually increase the hazard.

  • Dave

    One question re helmets – what is the difference between a cyclist or motorcyclist hitting a brick wall at 50 km/hr? Motorcycle helmets are way more safer than cycle helmets, but even so I suspect the motorcyclist would still sustain injury, why tempt fate with no helmet? In your article you emotively state “Every time a car slams into a cyclist,” – which is probably just as true as ” every time a cyclist does something dopey and hits a car, truck, whatever”. The point being, no-one knows when bad shit is going to happen. Smart motorcyclists put all their gear on every time, (ever seen the minced meat of the ones who ride shorts and t shirt and then come adrift?) so wouldn’t it be smart for cyclist to put on any protection they can?

    • GlenK

      A critical difference is that motor bikes can easily do 50 km/h, and indeed 100 km/h. Most people biking struggle to even do 25-30 km/h unless they have a nice downhill or e-bike to help them. It was notable in Europe that some of the people most likely to have helmets on were the roadies who were more likely to be pushing 40 km/h, i.e. they probably had done the risk assessment and realised that their speed made it worthwhile putting on a helmet. But the person tootling down the street at 15 km/h, probably not so.

      “wouldn’t it be smart for cyclist to put on any protection they can?” – you could make that same argument about a person walking, driving, playing sport, standing in a shower, climbing a ladder, etc; all of these things can lead to head injuries but only one of these things has a mandatory law. Here’s my favourite analogy: melanoma kills about 40 people a year in NZ I think, and so it’s a very sensible idea when outside to consider wearing sunscreen and a hat. Some schools and workplaces might even make it a requirement of their personnel, but it would be a brave politician that made it mandatory for anyone outside to have to wear sunscreen and a hat.

    • Generally speaking things like these are legislated for when non-compliance leads to costs covered by the rest of society, this was the case when motorcycle helmets were made compulsory, same with seatbelts. However, I’m not sure the burden of head injury costs from cycling is in the same league as motorcycle costs, and is somewhat counter balanced by the benefits from a more active population.

      While I will probably continue to use a helmet when riding, I don’t see why it is my business whether someone else does or not.

  • Matthew

    As a particularly targeted cyclist, I have been nudged of my preferred transportational device more than a few times. My bike has suffered much more than I ever have, and it does not wear a helmet (although being largely metallic you could argue that its resistance is built in). My legs have been damaged a few times, and I face planted once a fair while ago, a helmet doing absolutely nothing to protect that part of the head. I think that bicycle helmets, flimsy as they are, are largely ceremonious, and a nice little bonus for the manufacturing and retail companies to add a kicker to a bicycle sale. The underlying issue is that drivers in this country are not good with cyclists, not surprising given that cyclists have been ignored for so long, and that a driving test I imagine does not pay much attention to this. With the current development of a cycling network, with separate pathways, cycling will become inherently safer, and the helmet will become less and less easy to justify. Also bridges are good (not when preceded by Simon), walls are bad and gates (when preceeded by Bill) made this blog possible 😉 Happy Friday y’all

  • Ari

    I just can’t find this a convincing argument at all.

    I cannot see any related correlation between helmet laws and cycling volumes. When I’m on the road I would always wear a helmet regardless of the law. I honestly can’t see why suddenly everyone will cycle because helmets are no longer compulsory. The roads are still dangerous. Besides, I couldn’t care less if there were more cyclists on the road because of a law change.

    The biggest argument to keep the law is ACC. As long as i’m paying for your accident costs, you better wear that damn helmet even if it doesn’t save you from that truck running you over.
    It is funny though because a potential argument for removing the law is the health benefits from more cycling could outweigh the accident costs. There isn’t enough data in this regard.

    If I were to argue for changing the law I would probably argue for helmets for those under 13. Anyone older can decide for themselves the risks of not wearing one.

    IF I could easily prove that the law suppresses cycling, then I would approach it entirely from a cost/benefit perspective.
    More cycling equals a healthier population which means less healthcare spending on obesity related disease. This means more spending on other health issues.
    More cycling equals fewer cars on the road, less congestion, less need for more roads so less spending on roads.
    More cycling equals less importing of foreign oil and a better balance of trade.

    The trick is proving that a simple law change can get more people to cycle. Which I doubt.

    I have recently taken up cycling to the train station as part of a my commute and I can see how woeful cycle facilities are. I think the low cycling rates is directly related to the lack of safe cycling facilities. You need more money spent on cycle infra. It’s that simple.

    • Doubt all you like, but the evidence is strong, the correlation in timing is near perfect, and the consistency of fall in use across the places stupid enough to pass the law; 100%. Yes there are other factors too, but it definitely works to suppress up take.

      You are absolutely right that the answer is separate riding infrastructure, so it is important to understand that the law, when and where it was applied in NZ and Australia, was precisely in order to avoid investing in bike routes; it is intended to ‘fix’ the safety issue cheaply. It is an entirely victim blaming idea, and ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. The idea is to survive a crash not avoid one. In this is is entirely wrong-headed and an abject failure. Injury and death rates per rider increase post helmet law. Not the reverse.

      So: Helmets are great, mandatory laws are bollocks.

    • conan gorbey

      “The biggest argument to keep the law is ACC. As long as i’m paying for your accident costs”

      ACC is a no fault system. If you believe you are paying someone else’s accident costs you don’t understand the principles behind it at all.

      • Waspman

        Yep, motorcycle ACC levies are huge because bikes are dangerous but the only difference between both forms of two wheeled transport, levy wise, is motorbikes have licence plates. Hence they can recover the costs. Push bike riders pay nothing.

        • conan gorbey

          If we go back to the no fault principles of the scheme I’m not sure what the relevance of your point is.

          • Waspman

            As Ari said ” The biggest argument to keep the law is ACC. As long as i’m paying for your accident costs, you better wear that damn helmet even if it doesn’t save you from that truck running you over.”

            I have no idea what the relevance of “No faults” has except to say that two wheels is a risky proposition and because of that motorcyclist’s get smashed by ACC to pay back the money that ACC either pay out or hold for motorcycle related accidents or risk in this “no faults” scheme through registration levies. ACC can do this because you must register a motorcycle and it must have a licence plate and if you don’t pay you get taxed again through fines and demerits on your drivers licence. And this is on top of the levies your motorcyclist pays in petrol and as an employee anyway even if they had no motorcycle.

            Cyclists do not pay a cent like motorcyclists for their accidents through targeted levies such as registration and fuel and yet the risk I believe is about equal. Actually they don’t pay for infrastructure either through fuel taxation like a motorcyclist does but that is another argument.

            Therefore the relevance is some pay for this “no faults” scheme and others do not and it appears the ones who don’t as per Ari’s reply are the ones wanting to be even less safe!

          • conan

            In general ACC treats accident victims equally and doesn’t apportion blame to one party, nor seek to recover costs from the at fault party. The system overall will charge more where it can if you engage in something that statistically is more expensive for the scheme.

            In the at fault system in most countries generally insurance and litigation sort out who the at fault party is and they pays for health treatment, lost income and property damage. Given a majority of car versus bike accidents are the drivers fault under such a system cyclists would actually be ahead in aggregate.

          • KP

            Oh dear God Waspman. Motorbike owners pay about a third of their average ACC costs and those costs are about a hundred times higher than a bicycle rider’s ACC costs.

            People who ride bicycles pay $1.21 per hundred dollars earned into the ACC earner account which pays for non work related injuries (from the no fault ACC insurance scheme). Considering 80% of injuries to cyclists in motor vehicle/bicycle collisions are caused by motorists then the removal of the right to sue introduced with the ACC act is probably of significant benefit to motor vehicle owners.

            This is really basic stuff.

        • wayne

          Cyclist do pay for ACC. Cycling is classified as a recreational sport by ACC, just like anyone who plays sport. These payments come out of the earners premium that every PAYE tax payer has deducted from their pay.

          • Waspman

            So do motorcyclists pay on top of all the other ACC levies they pay. That is the point, cyclists dont get hit with the add on levies.

            And Oh my God KP, its really basic stuff that not all cyclists are little angels and are perpetual victims who are blameless in incidents. Most people at my work have had push bike crashes resulting in injury, many were lone accidents not involving any other vehicle and the near equal number of motorcyclists have had far fewer. This is not an academic study but a real world snap shot.

            Plenty, when it comes down to it have some contribution to their plight. Many get mauled in the slowest of incidents not involving a motor vehicle just as often simply because their bikes have no lighting to use in poor light to see where they are going, have ancient brake designs made for weight saving and therefore cannot stop safely, have useless thin tyres and prehistoric designs that do not include suspension all of which lead to a lethal lack of grip and stability and control on a road. Add to that most do not have any protective clothing to save their skin and God help them when their head touches the ground at any speed from the height of a bike.

            Bicycles are in reality little different from 100 years ago that have not evolved with safety in mind and from start to finish are one giant compromise on safety! You take your chances on such machines but ACC don’t make cyclists pay for the risk!

          • KP

            Waspman; motorcycles are about 2% of the registered vehicle fleet yet they cost about 30% of the ACC motor vehicle account payouts. They cost an average of over $1,600 a rider.

            On the other hand, a two hour bicycle ride is 35 times safer than playing a game of rugby, 15 times safer than a days skiing and 6 times safer than riding a horse. The average ACC cost per rider is around $18 per annum. This is more than adequately covered by the average $800 contribution to the ACC earner account. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11195752

            The health benefits of riding a bicycle are estimated at over 20 times the cost of the risks involved.

            ACC charge motorcycles an additional levy because they’re extremely dangerous.

      • Ari

        Conan, your no fault point is irrelevant to what I was saying and you clearly missed my point entirely. My point was that if we pay collectively, then we are collectively responsible to each other to reduce risk and accidents. It isnt about cycling helmets, but the scheme itself. ACC is a collective scheme that generally dismisses personal responsibility and uses costly laws to enforce safe behaviors.
        If my risky actions affect you via increased premiums or personal risk, then you have a responsibility to work to reduce the collective risk to society and personal risk to yourself that I am causing. Most people would feel aggrieved if my risky behaviour is costing them money and feel entitled to have a say in my behaviour. It is very difficult to overcome this sense of fairness in order to overturn the law. Even if it makes sense.

        • KP

          We pay collectively for Health Care as well as ACC. That doesn’t give us the right to make diet and exercise a legal requirement (ignoring completely the fact that the “rate” of deaths and injuries for cyclists has increased since the compulsory all age helmet law was introduced in 1994).

    • JimboJones

      Does ACC make you wear a helmet while playing cricket? Why not?

    • Based on your logic, people should also have to wear a helmet when driving a car or walking. Yet I know of no one that is campaigning for these things, why not? Will you take up this cause?

    • KP

      Ari, do you pay for all ACC costs? Why thank you very much. Can I stop contributing my $847 through the Earners Account now?

      It would be nice if those that own motor vehicles started to contribute to the $3.4 Billion social cost of road trauma… If you’ve got any more spare dosh what about stumping up for that as well?

  • Waspman

    Coming off a push bike is no lesser a traumatic event than coming off a motorcycle especially in urban areas and I say this having done both and both can be violent and very injuring. But if I were to put my money on what is safer then I reckon you are far safer on a motorcycle because if you are sensible you will be wearing protective clothing and a decent helmet and not going to be weaving about at 20% that of the speed of motor vehicles. Indeed a powerful motorcycle is not necessarily a factor in how hurt a person gets coming off and similarly low powered, i.e. self propelled.

    Trouble is with push bike helmets is they are a weak compromise because you couldn’t wear a truly protective helmet, such as a motorcycle helmet, owing to weight, ventilation and vision.

    Given the apparent ineffectiveness of bike helmets from what I have read I think the point is cyclists (as opposed to motorcyclists) have to go into it knowing the dangers and taking their chances. In almost all cases as well cyclists do not wear protective clothing either so you may as well go out in glory rather than pretend you are protecting yourself.

  • nonsense

    Lats time I crashed my bicycle I was 13 and I didn’t wear an helmet. I didn’t die. I don’t wear helmets.
    My son is 3 years old, crashes all the time, he wears an helmet.
    My mum who lives in Italy has been riding a bicycle for 65 years and has never crashed and never worn an helmet her whole life and still goes shopping everyday by bicycle and comes back with 2 shopping bags on the handlebars and a nephew in the back seat.
    I get on my motorbike to see ho fast it will go and I wear an helmet, so at least the facial recognition at the morgue will be easier for my partner.

  • JDELH

    Why do helmet laws reduce cycle usage though?

    • Because a lot of people do not want helmets fucking up their hair. This may not matter to you but it does to others.

      It particularly limits bike share because almost no one wants to wear a shared helmet, and equally no-one travels everyday with their own helmet….

      Additionally the law emphasises that riding is a dangerous and non-free activity, which it shouldn’t be. It is a victim blaming law, suggesting it is the riders’ responsibility to survive a crash, not other more dangerous road users’ responsibility to avoid killing or maiming bike riders.

      It’s a well meant but ignorant cocktail of a law written primarily to reinforce the idea that drivers have total right to the street, and every vindication if they are careless around more vulnerable road users.

      It militarises what should be a civilian space.

      • GlenK

        When a few Coroners mused publicly a few years ago about making hi-vis clothing mandatory when cycling, I saw eerie parallels to the helmet debate in the general conversations that arose at the time. Thankfully a number of us were able to turn the argument around from “prove why mandatory hi-vis wouldn’t work” to “prove why mandatory hi-vis WOULD work” and the transport agencies recognised the folly of pursuing it further. This policy on hi-vis from the Cycling Action Network explains some of the potential unintended consequences of such a law (disclosure: I contributed to this) – https://can.org.nz/canpolicy/high-visibility-clothing-0

        • Sailor Boy

          +1, this is what irks me about the mandatory helmet law. There is no proof that a mandatory law works, and there is limited evidence that even wearing a helmet works for most cyclists. People would rightly throw their toys out of the cot if we required this of motorists.

    • JimboJones

      * Messes your hair
      * Annoying if you just want to pop down the road
      * Prevents bike renting schemes
      * Makes you much hotter and sweatier
      * Makes cycling seem more dangerous than it actually is
      * Makes you look like a dick
      * Costs money
      * Feels horrible

  • Russell

    What a ridiculous article. Cycling is dangerous especially in New Zealand and human heads are not designed to hit the ground, trees or anything else hard with force. New Zealand is not Germany. Our road cycling infrastructure is poor and motorists are not accepting of cyclists. I have just returned from living for three years in China where I was one of a few people who wore a helmet. Motorists are very accepting of cyclists and both operate and live in a certain harmony. Most Chinese and lots of Westerners don’t wear a helmett but I once said to a Chinese guy I saw wearing a helmet why do you have one on. He said it is stupid not to water one which is absolutely true. The funniest thing I saw regularly was western cyclists wearing face masks during polluted weather but no helmet. I felt like saying –“idiot if you bang your head and damage your brain then the bad air getting into your lungs are the least of your worries” Cycle helmets should and must stay!!!!

  • I see that Greenlane road has sharrows in the section along the race track and greenlane hospital. Amazingly it is a whole 18 in wide so that the outer edge is only just outside the drains. This means that we have a new bike lane that is designed to force cyclists to ride in the gutter. I watched the traffic for 10 min. One car crossed it right in front of a rider, who swerved out in to the main lane. Three trucks and 2 buses passed. Impressively all three had their left tyres crossing the white line the whole time. two people in full kit wisely hung back to avoid going near one of the trucks, in rush hour traffic travelling at ~5k.

    The vision and inspiration behind new sharrows is awesome.

    have a great weekend.

    • Sailor Boy

      Which part of Greenlane is that? From GSR to Manukau Road is actually legally a *cycle lane* and has been for about 15 years. It’s terrible.

      • Mea culpa, that is exactly the section that I was looking at. I don’t know why, but I had never noticed it. Probably because it is narrower than I am wide! I must amend it to we have a well established cycle gutter that is absolutely terrifying.

  • The Real Matthew

    Another ridiculous article from the pro-cycling fraternity.

    We were told that if we spent millions on cycle lanes and created a network that Aucklanders would flock to ride, just like people overseas they said. Outside of a few loopy countries people internationally aren’t flocking to cycle and that trend has been repeated in Auckland. The numbers are just abysmal but they look good when you get double digit percentage growth.

    Meanwhile congestion has become infinitely worse in Auckland as the transport fraternity stick their heads in the sand putting all their faith in reshaping roads and instituting low usage cycle lanes. Perhaps the best bit is that cycling might produce benefits as much as 24:1!! This blog does itself a disservice when it prints such dribble.

    As for the fitness benefits, cycling a few km’s each day produces negligible fitness benefits. The cyclists gaining fitness benefits aren’t the latte swilling, moustache pruning urban cyclists!!

    • KP

      @The Real Matthew, There were about 40,000 new motor vehicles on Auckland’s roads last year (and the year before…etc). If you think the fairly minimal investment in cycling infrastructure is responsible for Auckland motorists taking longer to drive from the airport to their home than it took to fly to the airport from Sydney, then you have very little comprehension of the causes of congestion.

      If you fail to comprehend the causes of congestion, pollution and the obesity crisis, then there’s not much hope you’d understand the solution.

      • The Real Matthew

        Your argument is beyond ridiculous

        40,000 cars a year imported (less those decommissioned) so let’s build more cycle lanes!! Cycling has it’s place but it is not a substitute for vehicle usage in most instances.

        You should work for AT whose genius traffic plan for the Lantern festival was to close down every road in the wide vicinity of the Auckland Domain. Result, traffic backed up for kilometers in every direction and Newmarket totally stuffed. Rather than having fantasies about people switching to Public Transport we need to accommodate a multi-modal transaport system that includes vehicular movement.

        • KP

          There are about 10,000 used vehicles coming onto the motor vehicle register every month. There are 40,000 additional cars that enter into the Auckland road network every year. That’s a nose to tail line of traffic from Auckland to Taupo added to Auckland’s roads every year. If you think that Auckland can build sufficient roads every year to accommodate these extra vehicles then you’re more deluded that I gave you credit for.

          As far as cycle ways go, you still can’t ride from the North Shore to the CBD, so it’s not even close to being a complete network and hardly taking over the Auckland Isthmus. The estimated cost overrun of the Western Link is expected to be up to $800 million; so nearly a billion dollars being over spent on a roading solution to a non existent problem that will result in a negative benefit cost ratio.

          I’d suggest you stop whining about the absolutely minimal spending on cycle ways and start lobbying for public transit as the car first policies in Auckland transport spending has failed in enabling people to move around the city.

        • Nick R

          TRM, the reason for that traffic managment plan is because 100,000 morons all try and drive and park in the domain at the same time. Closing Park Rd and Carlton Gore Rd is a basic necessity just for the sheer volume of pedestrians alone. It is hardly some ploy to rely on PT, you’d do it even if there wasn’t a single bus in the city… and indeed all the buses get completely fucked by the traffic too.

          • conan

            Yes, further to this when they don’t close roads in every direction and offer free parking on the Domain as they did for the Anzac Day service in 2015 the roads are still stuffed and traffic was banked up in every direction.

        • Sailor Boy

          Funny, I drove in at 8.30 pm on Friday parked in a building 5 minutes walk away and experienced zero traffic. The only people sat in queues were those who were circling for free parking.

    • GlenK

      “We were told that if we spent millions on cycle lanes and created a network that Aucklanders would flock to ride” – um, we haven’t built a cycle network yet, not even close to it. Plenty of busy roads and intersections still providing real barriers for the average person thinking of cycling. Imagine if the road network had gaps where you couldn’t drive, do you think it would be easy to drive around the city?

  • I don’t wear a cycle helmet, ever, because i don’t ride on the roads. If you ride on the roads and get hit by a car, a helmet is going to do bugger all to help. So, I ride on the footpath, and avoid all contact with cars, and live happily to see another day. And no, before you ask, it’s fine. Never had a problem with a pedestrian.

    • GlenK

      Still breaking the law technically. You must wear a helmet on a “road”, and that includes the whole road corridor, fenceline to fenceline. The definition of road also includes many other places where the public have general access, including parks, beaches, etc.

  • evanj

    There was a reason the cycle helmet laws were introduced in the first place and it wasn’t some civil servant sitting at a desk trying to justify their salary. It was a genuine desire to cut down on cycling deaths and injuries during a period when cycling was more popular than it is today. Problem is on this site we are concentrating on Auckland, where cycling never was popular, simply because of the hills (we had some of the steepest tramlines in the world). But get out of Auckland into the flatter areas and cycling was a more viable and popular means of getting around. If we are going to compare Auckland with overseas cities then we should be looking at cities with similar topography such as San Francisco or cities in Switzerland bordering the alps, not cities in the flat countries.

    • KP

      Except the rate of cyclist deaths and injuries has increased and the number of cyclists on the road declined dramatically. Complete failure. That civil servant was a loser. Period.

    • Jezza

      I don’t really care why it was brought in, I’m more interested in the fact the accident rate has gone up while cycling volumes have gone down across the country. The law was either a failure or at best irrelevant.

      Auckland having some of the steepest tram routes in the world is a red herring. Two cities in NZ, Wellington and Dunedin have significantly steeper hills, Auckland is somewhere in the middle when it comes to hilly cities. Not sure of its relevance anyway, the helmet rule would still be beneficial for cyclists in Christchurch, Palmerston North, Hamilton, Hastings and Invercargill.

    • GlenK

      Fine, here you go: Bristol, Zurich, Portland, Vienna, Seattle. All hilly cities with at least three times as much cycling happening in them as Auckland. Hills are not as big a drag as many people think they are.

    • If the genuine desire is to reduce injuries then walking and driving cars should also require helmets. Do you advocate for helmet wearing while driving?

    • The Real Matthew

      My theory on the failure of helmet laws is that helmets give cyclists a false sense of security.

      The standard of cycling around Auckland is abysmal. Cyclists are constantly breaking road rules, running red lights, not signalling, unable to ride in a straight line etc. Auckland cyclists are constantly putting themselves in the firing line through their own stupidity.

      Granted Auckland drivers aren’t great but Auckland cyclists have them covered for stupidity.

      • You have it backwards, actually. There is much more evidence that bike riders kitted out like steeplejacks actually makes vehicle drivers more reckless around them: believing them to be armoured against risk.
        This is a total mistake, of course, but happens on an unconscious level. It is doubtful that any driver thinks; ‘oh they’re wearing a helmet; I can fly past at 70kph with a 20mm gap.’ But as more dangerous driving behaviour is observed and recorded near helmeted and high-vis riders this is the best thesis accepted in the literature.

        You are safer if you look like a person than an armoured machine, on a bike in traffic. But of course safer still on a separated cycleway, on-street and off-road. And still dressed like a civilian.

      • Anthony McBride

        Car Driver breaks rules: Lol idiot.
        Cyclist breaks rules: OMG! HOW DARE THEY!?? LETS TAX THEM!!!

  • John Polkinghorne’s post about cycle regulations reminds me of my research of New Zealand’s first Cycle Traffic Act. Ostensibly the Act was “…to provide for the Formation and Maintenance of Cycle Tracks, and the Regulation of the Cycle Traffic” (1898). During the subsequent Parliamentary debate, Mr Roderick McKenzie, the MP for Motueka and later a Minister of Public Works and Mines, “…was strongly of the opinion that that was the best thing to do with the cyclists, to let them go on the road, and let them take their chance amongst other wayfarers. He agreed with the leader of the Opposition, not only that cyclists were not yet sufficiently numerous to require legislation, but he was of the opinion that in the course of a few years these bicycles would be practically obsolete. In a few years’ time they would probably have an improved motor-car, and if the cyclists were to have special roads, no doubt the honourable members for Ellesmere and Awarua, if they were members then, would want special tracks made for the motor-cars. He did not think it was at all likely the local authorities would be prepared to go on spending the ratepayers’ money for that particular purpose.” By the time of his death in 1934, Roderick McKenzie was indeed to see an ‘improved motor-car’, together with its ‘special tracks’ – all well and truly paid for with ‘ratepayers money’.

  • kelvin

    Firstly helmet will put off people who styled their hair.

    Secondly for ultra compact folding bike, adding a helmet adds bulk and inconvenience when carrying it on and off public transport as well as locking it.

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