I’ve heard the most contentious issues on the internet at the moment are burka bans, gun control, gay adoption…and mandatory bike helmet laws.
I’ve decided to bite the bullet, grit my teeth and step up to the plate and into the minefield…
There was a very good article in the Sydney Morning Herald about the pros and cons of wearing bike helmets:
The argument goes that while wearing a helmet may prevent serious injuries in individual cases, the need to wear one discourages many potential riders from getting out on the bikes at all, thus losing potential health benefits.
I always wear my helmet in Australia because it’s compulsory, and would feel naked and vulnerable without it. In Holland, Belgium and Denmark, I do as the Romans do, and usually ride with the wind and rain in my hair.
Mevrouw T, a native of Amsterdam, objects to helmet wearing in Sydney. It makes her feel hot and uncomfortable and messes up her hair. She rides every day in Holland, but in Australia often avoids the bike because of the helmet business.
In years of riding I’ve had numerous minor falls, and only once landed on my helmet – (mostly my fault, failing to spot a pothole on downhill run on Great Victorian Bike Ride). My face was on the bitumen before I could even get a hand to the road, and the front edge of my helmet took much of the blow. As the surgeon in the article suggests, it probably it saved me from more extensive external injuries, but whether it prevented serious brain injury is debatable.
In Holland, anyone wearing a helmet is seen not so much as a chicken, but as a show-off. Helmets are for people who fancy themselves as Tour de France riders. They are compulsory for races and for organised group rides, but if you wear one while doing the shopping, expect some strange looks.
Last year I checked the figures on Dutch cycling deaths. Around 50 a year. That’s 50 too many of course, but a very low figure compared to the number of deaths in cars, and tiny when one considers that most of the population cycles regularly and, according to some surveys, nearly half of all trips are made on the bike.
It’s safer to ride there because the infrastructure is better – separated cycle paths, traffic signals for bikes and bike lanes on most major roads. The sheer number of riders also helps. Drivers expect there will be cyclists everywhere and know that they have priority.
So where do I stand on the issue? Until Australia gets safer cycling infrastructure I’ll keep my hard hat on while riding here. But in the interests of encouraging more cycling, I’d let those who prefer to ride without one take their chances.
STOP PRESS: Thank you, Paola Totaro for your article about cycling in Amsterdam!