Monday 6 February 2012

Keeping child cyclists safe

Two stories from our local TV:

As is usual for Dutch villages, De Groeve is connected by cycle-paths to the nearest town. The existing cycle-path was quite good. I was very impressed when I first rode along it in 2008.

There was really just one problem with this cycle-path. At night it was not well enough lit for parents to feel that their children were safe riding to and from school.

Press the button to make the lights
brighter. There's also a counter
A few months ago something new was installed. The new lights will operate at night time at half power, but passing cyclists can press a button at either end of the route to switch the lights onto full power for enough time to ride the 3 km distance. This measure reduces both energy consumption and disturbance of night-time wildlife due to the lights. If it's successful, the same system will be installed at other locations in Drenthe.

Grotere kaart weergeven

Grotere kaart weergeven

We already have other wildlife friendly lighting, such as green tinted LED cycle-path lighting at several locations in Assen.

However, all is not completely rosy for child cyclists in the Netherlands. These days they're involved in an increasing number of crashes, mostly single rider crashes, or cyclists colliding with one another. The reason why ? Perhaps it's due to mobile phones:

Meanwhile, According to a press-release from the Stichting Consument en Veiligheid, more Dutch children are having accidents with their bikes due to more of them having mobile phones and more of them using those phones while cycling (please note that as pointed out in the comments, not everyone agrees there has been a rise in danger and the Stichting has itself been criticised for being alarmist. I have learnt not to read much that I read in press releases about cycling).

Of course, every one of the children who is interviewed says that they behave perfectly and it's everyone else and not them. All the children being interviewed claim to be extremely careful and don't use their phones while cycling, though one admits to listening to music.

No-one wants children to be in danger, so extra safety lessons are being given in order to try to convince children not to use mobile phones while cycling to school. This is perhaps not entirely a bad thing.

Both of these videos demonstrate one thing quite clearly, though. It's normal in the Netherlands for small children to cycle to school, in daylight, at night time, in the summer, in the winter. Mostly they do this unaccompanied by adults (on average this is by the age of 8 and a half). In order for this to happen it must be safe enough for children to cycle without parents becoming overly worried about their childrens' safety. The literature that children are given does not emphasize helmets and reflectives as these are remarkably ineffective in increasing all three types of safety in comparison with working on sustainable safety measures.

Not only do childrens' bikes have
dynamos, so do their textbooks. A
day after writing this post, I
spotted my daughter studying this.
Almost all the bikes in the videos are fitted with dynamo lighting systems so that the lights are always present, reliable, and never have a flat battery. I recently wrote a comprehensive guide to selecting, installing and trouble-shooting dynamo lighting.


christhebull said...

In Bristol, there are some decent off road paths linking the UWE Frenchay "mothership" with nearby suburbs. They are, however, unlit, and are also used by pedestrians (who obviously don't tend to use lights). This includes a wide, but unlit, underpass beneath the M32.
Some of the routes through Hyde Park in London are lit.

The narrow pavement cycleway along Filton Road is lit by very tall street lighting columns for the road itself.

Anonymous said...

Pah! What is all this nonsense? Haven't you crazy Dutch learnt anything from us Australians? Helmets are what you need.

Once the few cyclists left are all wearing helmets, you'll be able to say with confidence that those cyclists colliding with one another because of mobile phones would have been dead had it not been for their helmets.

You know it makes sense.

Amsterdamize said...

David, the Cyclists Union found that Consument & Veiligheid utterly misrepresented the data & used hyperbolic assertions in their press release. Fietsersbond's Theo Zeegers dove right in & set the record straight. In general the Cyclists Union has a suspicion that C&V actively/purposefully tried to advance the notion that children need to start wearing helmets.

Here's Theo's post: 'Statistics & the truth'

Amsterdamize said...

apparently that link got mangled, here it is again“forse-stijging-van-ernstig-hoofdletsel-bij-jonge-kinderen-na-fie

Anonymous said...

I'm with Stevens on this. I've found an alarming amount of helmet-pushing this past year. There's Neckermann with an advert for their ensurance showing a kid with a high-viz jacket and a helmet, for instance. There's Dunea, the water company with their leaflet in which they show two kids on a bike with helmets on. There's the Dam tot Dam Fiets Classic that suddenly made wearing a helmet compulsory...
Is there a new rule somewhere that Dutch companies can no longer show pictures of cycling children without helmets, or are they using 'stock photo's' and they're using British/American/Australian photo's?


David Hembrow said...

Amsterdamize: Thanks for the Fietsersbond response. Theo is right, of course. I hadn't even realised this was about the same report as the article I'd seen didn't mention the scaremongering.

Marion: I'm not sure about the response from "Stevens". It's a bit of a generic comment. I think perhaps he's just selling stuff (coffee machines in this case) and using my blog to spam. I'm deleting that comment.

I think you're right, though, that there is more helmet pushing here than there used to be. I detect a certain amount of thinking that it's "modern" or "responsible" to wear a helmet, and I think it comes in some part from Dutch people not knowing about their position in the cycling world and thinking that the English speaking countries are ahead.

Michel from Norway said...

David, It' s the same In Danemark and Norway, scaremongering based on the interpretation of selected data!
Yesterday on Radio P4 in Danemark was a debate about youth and traffic and as usually a lot of crap, most coming from fear industry actors!
In Norway if you mention traffic safety work related to the children then you get plenty of money from banks and ensurance companies,but if you are applying for a mobility campaign, something like "chlidren on the move" for example, then it's zero!
Agree with you, helmet promotion in the Netherlands, that ' a joke :)

Todd in N.A. said...

Okay, so this is going to sound conspiratorial but maybe the U.S. auto makers can see the writing on the wall (post-peak car sales, new cycling infrastructure in North America, etc) and are trying to prevent further loss of their traditional wealth by making cycling appear dangerous. Being able to know about what happens in the Netherlands and Denmark is a threat to that and so there is likely pressure to change things there.

Frits B said...

@Marion: Don't forget the ad for "opvolgmelk" or something like that from Nutrilon, a Dutch company. Shows a parent protective of her little girl, so letting her ride a little training bike with a helmet on and climbing a rather high open contraption without one ...

Anonymous said...

You know, maybe I should start a reverse cycling promotion campaign targeted at the Dutch. They would come to the US on study tours, see the horrors of our transportation culture, and return home eager to resist negative "safety" campaigns!

kfg said...

Todd, this is going to sound conspiratorial, but I don't think it has anything to do with auto makers (although they may well be willing accomplices because it's in tune with their own agenda).

I think it is simply and exactly as it appears; a desire in some quarters to create entire populations of the neurotically risk averse to "risks" of absurdly low levels. What has been referred to as "rabbit people," because when presented with an actual threat they tend to crouch down, stay still and hope it goes away without noticing them.

Such people pose no threat to that which might threaten them.

Severin said...

"I detect a certain amount of thinking that it's "modern" or "responsible" to wear a helmet"

Same in US, as you likely know. Our progressive bike cities like Portland and Berkeley certainly push the idea it's 'smart' to wear a helmet. Or just as a motorist needs a seat belt, a cyclist needs a helmet. It's as if they are not complete without the helmet, like it's what you need to start riding, at any age!

"thinking that the English speaking countries are ahead." I first realized this with technology. Gizmos might come out first in the US but we don't seem to embrace them as quickly or easily as Europeans.. well in my experience anyway. My European friends think "America is futuristic" (or they thought this about 5 years ago when we were teens) but having had experience in LA and in Malmo, Sweden I quickly realized Malmo is much more advanced with technology in every way possible– from having automatic sliding doors at the entrances of shops downtown to the method of paying on the bus to the aesthetically pleasing lighting inside buildings.