Tuesday 9 August 2011

Dutch cyclists talk about helmets and bicycles

Paul van Bellen, who organised the Australian study tour earlier in the year, made this video on his last day in Amsterdam.

These reactions are similar to that of the waitress who we interviewed in an Assen restaurant during their tour:

Dutch people typically can't see a need to wear a helmet for everyday cycling. Cycling is seen as an inherently safe activity and the whole population takes part every day. Cycling is not associated with danger. It shouldn't be, because even here where people cycle so much, cycling is not nearly the most risky activity that most people are involved with on a daily basis.

The fact is that in this country, where there are more cyclists than any other and where cycling is common amongst a wider demographic than any other country (which means it includes more of those who are more vulnerable. i.e. the very old and the very young), the average person can expect to live several thousand lifetimes between fatal head injuries while cycling. i.e. other causes of death are thousands of times more significant than are head injuries while cycling.

If you're thinking of campaigning for helmets, keep these facts in mind. It's not cycling which is dangerous, it is the motor car. If you live in a country where cycling is more dangerous than it is here (and that's every country outside of the Netherlands) and you wish to make cycling safer, then you should address the danger at source, following best practice from the Netherlands. That will achieve far greater health benefits for your population than will imposing rules which will make cycling less popular and thereby undoing many of the great health benefits which come due to cycling.

Rather than looking at this in a one-dimensional way and missing the big picture altogether, doctors in the Netherlands take a rational approach. They prescribe cycling to keep people healthy because the huge benefits outweigh the small risks.

To discover more, book a study tourPaul is the Gazelle importer in Australia


Frits B said...

The man who restores old bicycles said he would of course not wear a helmet on those bikes because it wouldn't fit in with the times, "you cannot put it in the scene". He was right. I saw the movie E.T. last week and noticed that none of the boys riding their BMXes, in California, wore a helmet. The movie dates from 1982. Not that long ago.

Anonymous said...

When in the seventies and eighties, because of the oil crisis and the rising concern for the environment, countries started to toy with the idea of reintroducing the bicycle as a serious transport option, the car industry struck back with the bicycle helmet.

Yes, the bicycle helmet and bicycle helmet laws are sponsored by the car industry.

Even in the Netherlands. Here's a link to the webpage of Honda, where they tell us how they have giving a school free helmets, how they are lobbying for a helmet law so 'everybody can be safe' and how helmets will 'safe your life' (when you are struck by a Honda, I suppose).


Don't be misled into thinking that helmets are actually sold because they serve a purpose other than scaring people into cars and shifting the blame from an impact from the car to the wearer ("who should've been wearing a helmet").


Anonymous said...

On a related subject, I came across this petition for "car safety hats" the other day: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/4737

Michael S said...

"Only Germans wear a helmet." and "In Germany it is obligatory to wear a helmet" Both statements are wrong. Bicycle helmets are not mandatory in Germany and the average rate in 2010 was 9%, in 2009 it had been 11%.

It is true though, that more and more lobbying is done to increase helmet use.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sorry, I said Honda, but I meant Volvo (cars, shmars.. They all look the same to me).

Car helmets might even be useful, since quite a lot of people die each year from headinjuries inside a car, even with airbags and seatbelts. But of course, no car helmet law will EVER find its way in legislation. The car- and oil industry will see to that.

If people were to wear a helmet inside a car, they might get the vague idea that driving might not be as matter-of-fact and SAFE as they always thought it to be. They might drive LESS.

No... the car and oil industry will never stand for THAT.


Anonymous said...

Helmets save lives.

Maarten said...

This tells you everything you always wanted to know about bicycle helmets (although you might not agree with his assessment as to which cities have a reasonable level of cycling).


Maarten said...

@Anonymous: I think you should be more specific: what type of helmet saves lives? Motor helmets: sure. Firemen helmets: definitely. Miners helmets: certainly. Helmets on construction sites: yes. Bicycle helmets: not designed to do so.

You might want to take a look at this cartoon. Warning: it is from Denmark.

WildNorthlands said...

I see that the "a view from a cycle path" blog is carrying adverts for British Cycling.On clicking on the ad what do I see? - lots of pictures of cyclists wearing helmets. Hypocritical or what?

Maggie said...


It was in the mid '90s that California passed a state law requiring cyclists under the age of 18 to wear a helmet.

Montrealize said...

"When in the seventies and eighties, because of the oil crisis and the rising concern for the environment, countries started to toy with the idea of reintroducing the bicycle as a serious transport option, the car industry struck back with the bicycle helmet."

Extremely important information that not enough people know about...

David Hembrow said...

Simon: Clearly you've not read much of this blog. If you had, you'd have noticed that I rather like cycle racing and often have photos of racers wearing helmets.

What's more, if you look around enough you'll find photos of me wearing a helmet too.

Would you be happier if the British Cycling ads appeared only beside those articles ?

It's all about context. There is a world of difference between riding for sport and riding to the shops for your supper. No hypocrisy needed.

Micheal Blue said...

Thanks for posting the video.

Steve said...

Very enjoyable video and the cartoon linked by one of the comments is worth a peek

Anonymous said...

@Michael S

Yes, the German helmet-rate is just 9%, but I see where the comment "Only germans wear helmets" come from:
When cycling in places with many german tourists (Limburg, Zeeland, etc.)you'll notice that nearly everyone of them wears a helmet. It's pretty typical to see someone cycling with a helmet and say "look, a german"

Nina said...

I actually went went cycling in Australia and they made me wear a helmet, so I did. Then I went to New Zealand and didn't put one on. I was stopped by the police! When he found out I was from the Netherlands he decided not to fine me.

Anonymous said...

One day I had just put my Moulton back together and set it down on the road to test ride it. I ALWAYS wear helmet and gloves but this time decided I was just going down the road to "try it".

Hop on - immediately jams - back wheel was not tight - end up hopping down the road with my palms on the asphalt.

In Boulder CO - turn right on red - look over shoulder to check I have the lane - bike stops dead in pothole - faceplant with helmet on so I am still here but with broken arm.

Maybe they don't have hills and bad roads in the Netherlands. maybe unlike Boulder they don't allow clowns with dogs on the bike path either.

Chris P

Unknown said...

Actually it was very interesting the response as to "why do you cycle" - and speed (vs public transport), cheapness, lack of car parking, and general convenience always mentioned first - with only a few mentioning environmental benefit and NONE mentioning fitness!

Whereas in Australia esp among urban planners and academics, it's the latter two reasons often used to argue for more cycling.

A reminder of where our priorities actually should lie if we're to make cycling more mainstream. The fitness and enviro benefit are a "derived benefit" if you get the rest of the incentives right for utility cycling.