Calls to repeal the helmet law in New Zealand

Cycling Health New Zealand

This site is interesting as it presents a broad range of common-sense arguments, taking the perspective of public health. This is broader than the narrow perspective that helmet zealots insists on, claiming that their exaggerated estimates of helmets effectiveness is all that matters, while ignoring the increase in accidents and injuries, and the decrease in public health from discouraging cycling.

Some New Zealand politicians have privately admitted that the helmet law is a failure, and that they wouldn’t mind if it fell quietly into oblivion.

This article highlights how the debate has reached the mainstream media in New Zealand, following research  published by Colin Clarke in the New Zealand Medical Journal in 2012.

It is an interesting approach to increase awareness of the harm done by the helmet law. The loss of health benefits from the reduction in cycling contributed to 53 premature deaths per year. This undermines the helmet believers classical emotional argument: “if it only saves one life”. Despite being unproven, it still fools people.

One cyclist association, the Cycling Advocates’ Network has denounced the helmet law as a failed experiment doing more harm than good, calling for an independent review.

The New Zealand government seems a little bit open minded. They are honest about the limited capabilities of “helmets”, but still don’t acknowledge the harm that the helmet law has done to cycling levels and cycling injuries.

Many comments below the article highlights that many people are aware of that the law has been counterproductive. Some comments suggest that the helmet law is not strictly enforced.

This research is also reported in this article, that mentions an earlier research done last year by the Transport and Health Study group, an independent British society of public health and transport practitioners and researchers.  It is called Health on the Move 2, a book aimed to be “a clear and comprehensive account of what would constitute a healthy transport system.

This is not primarily about cycling. This group of researchers cannot be labeled “anti-helmet”, as some people like to denigrate those who dare to question their beliefs.

The section on cycling can be found here. It is a summary of the recent research on helmets and the helmet law. The report is written in a neutral tone, yet you can sense the frustration of the researchers here:

The failure of mass helmet use to affect serious head injuries, be it in falls or collisions, has been ignored by the medical world, by civil servants, by the media, and by cyclists themselves. A collective willingness to believe appears to explain why the population-level studies are so little appreciated. …. 

The disconnect between received wisdom and the facts is stark.

These are strong words for a group of researchers for whom cycling is not the core focus. It is no surprise to those who have been trying to get helmet zealots to pull their heads out of the sand. It can be frustrating to get people to admit that their cherished beliefs could be wrong, and that they made a mistake, especially when they have no incentive to do so.

It is positive to see such articles in the mainstream media. It shows that the media is starting to pay attention to what is really going on, rather than to pander to common prejudices. New Zealand may not be far from repealing this counterproductive law.

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