CAN and Cycle Helmet Legislation

NetherlandsCycle helmets are a contentious issue for some people and CAN has often (sometimes unfairly) borne the brunt of this contention. This page briefly clarifies CAN's position on the topic.

CAN's current policy statement states "There is evidence that mandatory cycle helmet wearing legislation is not working as intended and should be reviewed. Priority needs to be given to other safety issues such as motorist behaviour and roading improvements."

To clarify, CAN's position is not to call for optional wearing of helmets, but to review the wider effects to date of helmet-wearing legislation; the distinction is important. For example, it is entirely possible to be both supportive of the benefits of helmet wearing, whilst not supporting helmet-wearing legislation.

A reasonable analogy might be encouraging people to wear a hat/sunscreen when outside in the sun (to reduce the chance of melanomas), but not making it compulsory to do so.

Whilst to many laypeople, the benefits of helmet-wearing legislation at first glance seem self-evident and beyond argument, further investigation (and there is a lot of research on both sides of the argument) suggests that there may be unintended consequences in terms of the perception and take-up of cycling, and the subsequent health of the general population. The fact that the countries with the greatest levels of cycling and best cycling safety records do not have compulsory helmet laws also calls into question the relative priority of such a law.

Hence, CAN has suggested that the law in NZ be reviewed to evaluate whether the benefits of having compulsory helmet-wearing outweigh the costs/dis-benefits. Since the law's inception in 1994, this has never been done before in NZ in a comprehensive manner (although some studies have looked at just the crash data), and so seems to be a reasonable request.

However, such a review is not currently a high priority with CAN. When we have polled our membership in the past on helmet-wearing legislation, the response has been very evenly split for and against. In the same polling however, helmet legislation was also the lowest ranked issue on which we should be campaigning. It is clearly a divisive issue and we don't want to expend a lot of effort going around in circles on this topic.

We should point out that CAN fully supports the use of helmets when undertaking recreational cycling in difficult terrain or high-speed competitive racing. In situations like these that are likely to cause a fall from a bike (which is what a helmet is designed to protect against), it is quite sensible to wear a helmet for these riskier pursuits.

If you are interested in finding out more about both sides of this debate, we would encourage you to look at the many comprehensive websites on the topic. However, within CAN we acknowledge that we have members at both ends of the spectrum and we hope that (irrespective of your beliefs) you will continue to support CAN's overall aims to make New Zealand a more cycle-friendly nation.

If you wish to discuss CAN's position further, please contact the Chair.

UK CTC briefing on helmets.