Statement of recommendation to Vancouver team concerning helmets
From a discussion on the World City Bike Forum: see http://www.forum.worldcitybike.org
Here you have a draft of my proposed position on this topic. I attach some notes and references, including a selection of the excellent comments received here in the last days.
Please let me know if you agree/disagree – perhaps best to me in private via eric.britton@... – and any changes that to your mind will improve this statement. It’s a very important position that I think needs to be taken here. To my mind it should be a necessary condition of the project. Otherwise I fear for its integrity and success.
I shall post the final version to the group here.
Thank you very much.
Should Vancouver require helmets for new city bike system?
Paris, Wednesday, 6 February 2008
1. MY RECOMMENDATION:
2. The British Columbia Bicycle Helmet Law (attached) should be amended to provide exemptions for users of the new public bicycle service.
3. The wearing of helmets by program participants and indeed all cyclists should be encouraged, but not mandatory.
4. However helmets should continue to be mandated for children below fourteen (who will not in any event be authorized to use the new service) and sports cyclists.
5. If this exception is not made, it is my professional view that the project will fail, and thus should not be advanced beyond the present pre-study stage.
Managing Director, EcoPlan International
New Mobility Agenda
Paris Europe: 8/10 rue Joseph Bara, 75006 Paris, France. T: +331 4326 1323
USA: 9440 Readcrest Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90210. T: +1 310 601-8468
2. SUMMARY BACKGROUND:
During the last decade of the last century a slowly growing number of cities and public authorities around the world started to build and expand leisure cycling paths and trails. The greater part of these new facilities were built in areas that did not have a strong bicycling culture and where for many reasons few people actually used bicycles for daily transportation (and those who did often found themselves in high risk situations with mixed traffic the norm).
These expanded leisure facilities naturally brought in more cyclists, with the result that there were more accidents of course and these often became news items. As a result in a number of places in North America, Australia/New Zealand and northern Europe well-meant laws were passed mandating the wearing of helmets for all cyclists. (It being, by the way, a lot cheaper to pass a law than to make the public investment necessary to ensure safe cycling for all in and around d the city.)
The case for wearing helmets was largely approved by medical authorities and a number of cycling organizations at the time, on the grounds that a good helmet does offer protections from certain types of accidents. If all the assumptions are born out the case for these “partial assessments” looks pretty convincing, reality however moves in other ways. Once you step outside of the partial assessment assumptions, the real world data is uncertain and ambiguous. T(he references and discussions summarized here make this point clearly and without ambiguity.)
It only took a few years for other views to emerge. Among other things it was pointed out that (a) not all helmets are actually good enough to provide that needed protection; (b) more often than not they are not properly adjusted to do the job they are supposed to; and (c) in any event the clash between cyclist and motor vehicles are of such a level of violence that the helmet is rarely of much help in such cases.
More than that, some studies started to show that mandating helmets actually work to reduced cycling, a finding which is consistent with the observation whereby any additional barrier to using a transportation option works to reduce demand. This brings about corresponding losses in healthy activity, kinder and gentler cities,
Moreover, let us consider what happens in cities with heavy use of cycling for daily transport within the city limits. I offer the examples of cycling in cities across the Netherlands and Denmark, the two main cycling capitals of the world, as well as in the various city bike projects that are coming on line in places like Paris, Barcelona, Lyons and a rapidly growing number of other cities around the world.
None of these cities mandate helmets, and if you go out on the street and look you will see few helmets. You will see some and this is, in my view, a wise but entirely personal choice.