Cycling in Sydney Australia
Another generation of kids indoctrinated into the dangers of cycling:
I still find it astonishing that BNSW leads their schools programme with the helmet message. Even accepting that politically it's hard to campaign against them, and even accepting that the staff of BNSW are not familiar with the science and statistics that cast doubt over the wisdom of helmets, one would still hope that they would engage schools with a more positive message - like how much fun it is to go for a bike ride, for example.
Kid's cycling programmes are so much about 'staying safe' that it makes the whole riding bikes thing look like an unpleasurable chore.
I'm not bagging anyone who chooses to wear a helmet, MB, and my apologies if that is how it seems. I would love there to be freedom of choice, and would certainly never criticise someone for choosing to wear a helmet (although there are many people out there who openly criticise me for not wearing one).
As for kids - well, I think it should be up to parents to decide if their kids wear helmets, just as it is up to parents to decide if their kids are vaccinated.
Personally I would be wary of putting my kids in helmets because of the increased risk of brain injury from rotational injuries, because of the significant evidence that putting safety gear on your kids makes them more likely to be reckless, because kids have died whilst playing with helmets on, and because forcing them to wear helmets is likely to discourage them from using a bicycle . That's the judgment I have come to after researching this issue extensively, but it is my personal judgment as a parent. I would respect any parent for making a different judgment, and would certainly not expect nor require other people do the same as I do.
Ummm, that's a triple negative. UnAustralian...not allow..without the nanny state. We can convert two of the negatives into positives, right?
Thank you very much for the representatives of BNSW who have joined in this conversation to comment. Your contribution is genuinely valued.
I think it’s important to say that I am not bagging the work BNSW does encouraging people to ride; whether that be schools programmes or other activities. There is a lot of good work going on, and I salute it.
However, there is a significant issue that needs to be considered; promoting helmets acts as a deterrent to cycling. This has been shown in research undertaken in the UK; local councils that spend money (ironically usually form the cycling funds) on promoting and encouraging helmet use saw cycling participation levels drop, compared to council areas that undertook no cycling activity at all. We also have the data from Australia, including Professor Rissel’s latest research, that shows that helmets remain a deterrent to cycling.
Does that mean BNSW should be promoting riding without a lid? Goodness, of course not. BNSW could never promote breaking the law, even if the law is a bad one.
However, what I do see is that helmets are singled out for particular mention and focus, compared to other comparable items. It’s illegal to ride a bike not fitted with a bell, for example, but I don’t see a ‘design a bell’ competition. The correct fitting of a helmet seems to be obsessed about more than the correct fitting of the bike, or ensuring the brakes are working.
I’m certainly not suggesting that helmets are the primary focus of these programmes. But they do feature disproportionately, both in the programmes themselves and in the promotion of those programmes – the tweet that prompted me starting this thread being a case in point.
BNSW’s education programmes are very effective, and I’m sure have a positive effect in terms of cycling. I’m heartened to hear of the great results the schools programme is having. However, they are less effective than they could be; it’s like pedalling a bike with the brakes on. Sure you make progress, but something is holding you back, preventing you gaining momentum. Scaling back the helmet message (to perhaps the amount of emphasis placed on bicycle bells) would make these programmes more effective – the evidence on this point is clear.
I wrote an article on this subject a while ago. I also recommend you read this; it’s a five-part article about the danger culture that surrounds cycling written by a sociologist, complete with references and citations. The whole thing is worth reading, but the the section on helmets is particularly pertinent.
Hi James (and other BNSW staffers in our midst),
My twitter account is held under the name @thedappercycle and as you're no doubt aware I posted the 'scare mongering' comment yesterday. It seems I owe an apology for making this comment without actually knowing any of the specific details of what BNSW was saying to the children.
I'm sorry that I made this comment without first making an effort to find out more information about the course content. I'd very much like to see a video of one of these sessions so that I can make valid comments but at least until then I retract my comment as much I can (limitations with Twitter make it impossible to physically retract my tweet as far as I'm aware).
This is not an unconditional apology and I need to explain that when I read the original posting under this conversation on Sydney Cyclist I had memories come flooding back to me of being visited at school by an advocate (in a wheelchair!) who essentially said that if we didn't wear helmets we were a bunch of idiots. The year was 1990 and the great tragedy of Australian helmet laws had just begun. I can tell you that we all walked away from that day thinking twice about cycling and I'm sure the lack of cycling among my generation is largely down to well-intentioned but seriously misguided individuals such as this.
When it comes to cycling safety, there is clear and irrefutable evidence that the greater the proportion of the population that cycles, the safer cycling becomes. The evidence is also pretty clear that promoting helmet use (or, worse still, enacting a mandatory helmet law) acts to discourage cycling among a population. The conculusion for me is clear - if your goal is to improve the safety of cyclists, then it's best to talk about things other than bike helmets or for that matter safety itself.
As Paul put it so brilliantly above - the message "Safety, Safety, Safety!" is interpreted by most people as "Danger, Danger, Danger!".
The way the message was posted by BNSW on Twitter implied that there was an expectation that anybody reading the message would be impressed by the fact that BNSW were speaking to children about bicycle helmets. "Oh, how wonderful that someone is doing something with children and bicycle helmets!". I'm sorry to say that this doesn't impress me at all, particularly when it comes from an organisation which is clearly pro- mandatory helmet laws. You'll need to work harder than that; if you want to impress then start to show you're willing to rethink your approach to helmet laws.
Bicycle NSW needs to change from being apologists for the law and instead become campaigners for the reformation of the law. Reformation of the law is desperately needed to allow Australia to apply the lessons learnt since the introduction of the law over 20 years ago.
My membership to BNSW is waiting for this change in policy and I dearly look forward to the day when the organisation becomes something I'm willing to be associated with. Until then, I'll continue to comment and, where appropriate, criticise from the outside.
Critisim is always good and allows for progression. I appreciate your comments and suggestions and take these on board when developing these programs. I too, have been subject to monotonous preaching about helmet use at school which led to a negative perception and social stigma about their use. This was part of the motivation for this competition to be so engaging and fun - along with all the other schools activities we do.
Keep the feedback coming (although not so harsh next time please). Despite what you think about us we regard your feedback highly important in shaping all of our services, events and programs into more powerful, effective advoacy that gets more people of all ages on thier bikes.
How about a bike rack competition instead? The winner could have it built for their school! :)
I listened to it ;)
Here it is:
The helmet law has got more attention in the press over the last 12 months than any other cycling topic by a long margin.
Get on board Omar and start talking about it.....
Just listened to your interview Omar. I was particularly troubled by your closing remarks. I know you believe a helmet has helped save you and some of your friends from more serious injury when you came off your bikes - OK, I can't really argue on that, and let me make it clear, I don't think anyone has the right to tell you what to wear or not wear on your head.
HOWEVER, following mandatory helmet legislation in NSW the pro rata head injury rate did not decline, the overall injury rate went up, and up to 40% of cyclists gave up riding. These are measured facts (you should know your Dorothy Robinson by now). As of the last (2006) census, bicycle use for commuting purposes was still, as a percentage, lower than it was in 1986. The law has not succeeded on its own terms (reduction in head injury, unless you think reducing head injury by reducing cycling participation counts), and has had unintended yet quite foreseeable negative side effects, which still persist. More recently, against all sensible advice, Melbourne and Brisbane have tried to run bike share schemes while retaining compulsory helmets. By international standards they are a joke.
So in what way exactly has the mandatory helmet experiment NOT been a failure?