This morning on Breakfast TV, the hosts spoke to a cycling advocate who wants the waering of cycling helmets to be made optional. The first reason given for this change is that less people cycle now because they have to wear cycle helmets. I’d like like to see the evidence for this as it sounds like this could simply be a correlation not a causation.
Another reason given was that in cities in Europe cycle helmets are not compulsory. However, as the advocate noted, they have a different, more relaxed, cycling culture in European cities. If we want helmets to be optional in New Zealand then surely we would change the culture first, not the rules?
Over 15 years ago I spent a year in Oulu, Finland. Very few people wore helmets including myself. However, the cities infrastructure made this possible. Cycle lanes meandered through pine forests separate from the roads. When they did run along side roads they were completely separate and reasonable wide pathways. Also most cycles were not designed for speed but more for comfort. In such an environment, the greatest hazard a Finn faced was a New Zealander inclined to move to the left instead of the right on approach.
Contrast this to cycling in New Zealand. Cyclists dodge in and out of traffic, sometimes at quite high speeds. Drivers fail to check their blind spots for cyclists. Our roads contain pot holes capable of dislodging a cyclist and propeling him or her into the path of the nearest car or truck.
Another argument given for making helmets compulsory is that already there are cyclist who choose not to wear helmets, so why not make it optional instead of fining them. I wonder what would happen if we extended such an argument to wearing seatbelts in cars, or paying taxes?
No, I don’t think cycle helmets should be made optional at all. Not without at least first changing the New Zealand culture to one more likely to improve cyclist safety.