Monday 31 January 2011

The Liddites Are Coming

Man Widdicombe has spotted that politicians in Norn Iron have opened up another front in criminalising those who are happy to take calculated risks with their own lives.

A bill to make it an offence in Northern Ireland not to wear a helmet while cycling is due to be voted on in the Assembly later.

The legislation has been proposed in a Private Member's Bill tabled by the SDLP's Pat Ramsey.

It proposes to fine anyone caught on a bike without a helmet £50.
It won't surprise readers of this blog that the issue of mandatory cycle helmet use is awash with astounding lies and policy-based evidence making from Liddites (those who advocate helmets, or 'lids', on spurious grounds), so it's deeply depressing that some in the UK are falling for the nonsense swallowed so readily by legislators in helmet-compulsory New Zealand and Australia primarily, as well as Canada, Denmark and Mexico who have also interfered dabbled.

Having said that, I was waiting for this since I knew some British political prick would take up the cause sooner or later, so I've read up in anticipation in the past couple of years. I'm sure we'll hear more on the subject, so let's have an introductory 'cycle helmet legislation 101', shall we?

Fortunately for us in the UK, there is now a large body of evidence - donated by the poor saps who currently suffer such a stupid law in other countries - which proves forced cycle helmet-wearing is a comprehensively terrible idea.

In short, they don't actually lead to any significant reduction in cyclist head injuries. Oh, a 13% reduction was claimed in Australia right enough, but considering cycle use plummeted by around a third after the law was implemented, the real result was an increase in risk. In New Zealand, the idea has been a similar disaster.

And this is what is so incredible about those who advocate such laws. We're harangued at every turn to be more healthy, more active, and to get out of our cars for the sake of Gaia, yet here they are promoting policies which have an incontrovertible record of scaring people away from riding bikes. New Zealand's experience was a fall of 22%, Denmark 30%, and in Canadian territories it varied from 28% to 60%.

From the above we can surmise that Boris Bikes - a scheme which recently celebrated its millionth hiring - would have been a non-starter if helmet laws applied here. The same idea has been spectacularly scuppered in Melbourne, Auckland and Mexico City.

But helmets must reduce injuries, I hear you say. Well, if they do, there isn't any evidence of it. The trends in New Zealand were unaffected, as they were in Australia. The helmet industry did very well out of it, though.

Of course, for anyone who understands human nature (any politicians who have got this far may as well go read Charlie and Lola or something 'cos this is going to fly way over your head) this isn't very surprising, seeing as it is easily explained by the concept of risk compensation.

In control trials prior to legislation, it was argued that those who wore helmets suffered fewer head injuries than those who didn't. Hardly a shock since anyone who willingly sticks a gaudy plastic pudding bowl on their head is going to be naturally more risk averse than someone who doesn't.

However, when those who are less worried by such things are encouraged and/or coerced into wearing a helmet which is promoted as a panacea for road safety, their attention to other risks reduces as a result. Why be so assiduous in checking the bike itself, for example, when the fail-safe insurance of a polystyrene-padded helmet is being worn?

Similarly, why should a driver care so much about a cyclist's welfare if they are already protected so comprehensively?

Bicyclists who wear protective helmets are more likely to be struck by passing vehicles, new research suggests.

Drivers pass closer when overtaking cyclists wearing helmets than when overtaking bare-headed cyclists, increasing the risk of a collision, the research has found.

Dr Walker, who was struck by a bus and a truck in the course of the experiment, spent half the time wearing a cycle helmet and half the time bare-headed. He was wearing the helmet both times he was struck.

“This study shows that when drivers overtake a cyclist, the margin for error they leave is affected by the cyclist’s appearance,” said Dr Walker, from the University’s Department of Psychology.

“By leaving the cyclist less room, drivers reduce the safety margin that cyclists need to deal with obstacles in the road, such as drain covers and potholes, as well as the margin for error in their own judgements.

“We know helmets are useful in low-speed falls, and so definitely good for children, but whether they offer any real protection to somebody struck by a car is very controversial.

“Either way, this study suggests wearing a helmet might make a collision more likely in the first place.”
So what we have being debated in Northern Paddyland right now is a law which has no proven benefit, but huge proven negative effects by way of reduced cycling and unintended consequences. There are, however, fines to be harvested if it is passed though, so even if this vanguard is rebuffed I can't see cash-starved legislatures resisting for too long.

In short, it's a daft law which is why daft politicians will implement it.

As always, the best way of reducing harm from cycling is to allow people to think for themselves and promote personal responsibility. And, as always, it's the Dutch who are humiliating we risk-terrified Brits, as gloriously illustrated by this letter to the Guardian (not published, natch) from specialist risk academic, John Adams.

Two years ago I was invited to give a lecture in Amsterdam comparing Dutch and British attitudes to risk. I complimented my hosts on having a much better cycling accident record than the British, and went on to say that I had been in Amsterdam for two days and seen many thousands of cyclists but only half a dozen cycle helmets. A member of the audience responded by saying that I had been looking in the wrong place. He offered to show me the following morning a disciplined file of children on bicycles all wearing helmets and fluorescent jackets. They would, he added, be cycling to the British school.
For shame.


johnlinford said...

Interesting post.

I cycle a lot - usually I average over 10 miles a day on the roads, and have cycled all around the country. I almost always wear a helmet (though not, technically a cycling helmet), and I have several friends who's lives have been saved by helmets, though notably not in vehicle collisions.

I am also massively opposed to it being illegal not to.

I hold this as true of anything else - I will not drive a car with passengers not wearing seatbelts, this is my choice in my car. It should not be illegal for people to not wear seatbelts, if they so choose.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Choice is the key, John. :)

Ciaran said...

Needless to say the BBC have been trying to pave the way for this nannyist nonsense for years, so it's sure to be arriving on these shores soon.

This was my response to what I think was their most recent babbling on the subject:

Richard Allan said...

Reading posts like this is depressing because people just do not seem to care about things like "facts" and "evidence" in favour of a pure emotional reaction.

I can just imagine trying to tell someone "You are provably reducing the number of cyclists and increasing the risk of brain damage for those who remain" and having them just not give a damn.

Snowolf said...

£50 for not wearing a helmet? They've all gone soft up there.

Firing Squad!
10 B&H!

Not wearing a helmet? Death is too good for some buggers.

Anonymous said...

The safer you attempt to make anything, the safer you have to make it. That applies to all safety matters. Removing one hazard always creates another.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

Let's face it - it's long overdue that pedestrians had some safety features installed... and they are responsible for 85% of the accidents involving cars and pedestrians after all.

I vote for fluorescent inflatable sumo suits - with a hat of course = job done...

Ashtrayhead said...

Some interesting research on this matter here:-

From personal experience, in the last 10 years I've been knocked of my bike 3 times an suffered a broken ankle, skinned knees and a cut on the shin. I don't wear a helmet as I find them very uncomfortable and the wind rush makes it difficult to hear traffic from behind.

Angry Exile said...

I blogged on the bike share schemes at the end of last November from the POV of a non-cycling naturalised Melburnian. Boiling it down there are three things about bike share schemes with compulsory helmet laws that harm the scheme. First, all the people I know who own bike helmets also own bikes, and since you can't ride two bikes simultaneously those people are not big users of Melbourne's bike share scheme. Second, all the people I know who do not already have bikes don't own helmets either, so they're not going to use the bikes over, say, the fairly extensive tram network. Third, tourists might be bike owners but will have to have discovered they need to pack their helmets before they come here, otherwise they're more likely to use the trams as well.

And guess what? I've never seen a bike share rack less than half full, and more often they've only got maybe half a dozen bikes out. Dublin's bike share scheme gets more than 3000 uses per day from its 450 or so bikes. Melbourne gets less than 200 from the same number of bikes. Dublin lets you choose to wear a helmet. Melbourne fines you $146, which is more than 90 quid at the moment. And the fucktroons here are still claiming that the reason why Dublin bikes are used half a dozen times a day each while the Melbourne ones get one use every 2-3 days is the weather we had last winter.

Ha! Have they ever even been to Dublin?

By the way, DP, a minor correction about Mexico City. They saw sense and repealed their helmet law (PDF download). We're still waiting here but it had all-party support and even the cycling community, while conceding it hurts the share scheme, mostly can't imagine it being left to personal choice. So I'm not holding my breath.

Large Melot Please said...

Here is a post tempting providence. As someone who has 27 years no claims bonus, but 2 bans for speeding, and has amassed 36 points in 32 years of driving (clean now,) as someone who is a car driver, motorcyclist and bicycle rider I think I am able to comment.

If you want to be a better driver, buy a motorbike, but beware you are 50x more likely to be killed on a bike than in a car. However it teaches you road sense, how dangerous wet roads are and to drive very cautiously and defensively. Most importantly you learn to look behind you when changing lane turning right etc, rather than relying upon your mirrors. The amount of accidents I have avoided based on that is incalculable.

Which brings us back to cycling and helmets. I did wear a helmet when cycling as I always wore a crash helmet on my motorbike. Major tempting of providence here.

Because looking behind is such as instinctive thing for me to do in all the years I cycled to work I cannot think of one incident where I was threatened. I assume the taxi/white van man was going to cut me up, I assumed the lorries were out to run me over and acted accordingly. However the people I feared most were male Volvo drivers (complacent comfort zone drivers) and women on the school run, who spend most of their on the mobile phone, applying make up and shouting at the kids. I assumed they had a death wish for me. I was quite happy for example on a road if I saw the articulated variety dismount and push my bike along the pavement or cycle along it.

In the meantime safe driving.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Thanks for that link, AE. This part says it all really.

"Removing the mandate to use a helmet is just another way that Mexico City is encouraging more people to take up cycling."

Meanwhile in NI, they've just voted to discourage cycling by passing the Bill! Idiots.

Anonymous said...

If a cyclist is wearing a helmet he is likely to behave more aggressively toward pedestrians, both on the footpath and off.

I think Boris is very much against compulsory helmets.

Won't such a law be difficult to enforce? The police are the only ones able to first catch someone and then tell him to remove the mask from his face. I don't see much chance of being caught. I walk through Manchester town centre twice every day and I have never seen a cyclist booked for riding through red lights or on the footpath.

Beware of Geeks bearing GIFs said...

Some good points by Large Melot Please...

Great post DP and it's depressingly familiar where a piece of legislation, in complete contradiciton to the way we humans behave and work best, is being forced upon us again, all for the purpose of generating yet another revenue stream.

I think I did a post on this last May, DP.

It is about being aware of risk and being responsible for your own observations, your own actions and being very aware of the other road users.

The crocodile line of kids on cycles today clad in the safety armor is so staged and peculiar. Whole roads are closed while the kids wobble back and forth - I wonder how many of them develop the skills of being an aware and cautious cyclist or whether they automatically assume the attitude that the whole world rotates around themselves for their benefit?

Roger Thornhill said...

Passing a law..a LAW about cycle helmets indicates to me two thngs:

1. The NI assembly is chock full of a combination of authoritarian do-gooders and those ignorant of the Rule of Law and common sense.

2. The NI Assembly clearly has WAY TOO MUCH TIME ON ITS HANDS

Isn't there something tricky to sort out like Mental Health, elderly care, you know, important things?

Helmets...sums it up really.

Furor Teutonicus said...

XX Bicyclists XX


Are they members of some "Cult" now then?