Radio NZ Interview

Following my interview on Radio NZ on 23 Oct 2008 about compulsory helmet wearing legislation, I got contacted by a few cyclists expressing concerns about me campaigning against helmets.

For clarification, I had an interview of about 10 minutes with the reporter. When you then translate that into one sentences that gets broadcast, naturally the message gets somewhat truncated.

Here's a transcript of what did get broadcast:

"So what the minister is basically referring to is that the moment that the compulsorary helmet wearing legislation was introduced, it is estimated that the number of people cycling dropped by a good 20%."

During the interview, my main messages were:

  • CAN has been calling for an objective review of the law for a number of years. This is part of our policy statement.
  • Some of our members believe that the compulsory wearing of helmets should be revoked (I personally support that, too).
  • Most of our members agree that it is worthwhile to wear a helmet on a voluntary basis (again, I personally am in support of this, and would do it myself most of the time).
  • The main problem with compulsory wearing of helmets is that it results in a significant drop of numbers of cyclists (estimated to have been between 20% and 25% when the legislation was introduced in NZ). This is a problem because of the effect that is known as 'safety in numbers'. In short, the more cyclists you have, the safer the individual cyclist is, as motorists are more used to 'being around cyclists'. The safety in numbers effect unfortunately works the other way, too. If you've got a significant drop in cycling (say 25%), then the risk for the individual cyclist increases considerably.
  • In addition, work undertaken by the British Medical Association shows that even with low helmet use in the UK, the benefits from greater fitness through cycling is about 10 times than the risk of injury to cyclists from traffic. Or in other words, you gain much more community health from getting people cycling (even without a helmet) than not having them cycle.
  • The research that we would like Government to undertake is to compare the disbenefits coming from reduced cycling numbers and the safety in numbers effect compared to the possible reduced head injuries resulting from making it compulsory to wear a helmet.
  • In places like Holland, cyclists experience a crash rate that is six times lower than in NZ. Whilst there is a multitude of reasons for this, one of the reasons that this gap hasn't narrowed is that for a good decade, government's safety efforts for cyclists have almost solely focussed on increasing the helmet wearing rates.
  • CAN would prefer that the considerable money spent on helmet enforcement and promotion was spent on programmes with more tangible cycling safety benefits, such as driver/cyclist training, better cycle facilities and most importantly, speed reduction in urban areas.
I hope that clarifies the issue and addresses your concerns.