Saturday, 25 October 2008

Harry and the helmets

After twenty years (give or take) of compulsory bike helmets, Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven is wondering if the helmet laws deter people from cycling. They probably do; after all, people in Europe cycle in huge numbers and don't wear helmets, and commuters want to arrive ready for work with minimal fuss. And Japan's mothers on their mamachari bicycles carry groceries and kids in huge numbers, with hardly a helmet to be seen.

There is a move to encourage cycle friendly cities world wide, and in these cities there probably is not a need for helmets. The cyclists have enough numbers to ensure motorists can't ignore them, the traffic lanes are sorted to accommodate them, and the cyclists are mostly low speed commuters.

But in New Zealand it's different. Our population is much more dispersed than in Europe, cities have only a few bike lanes, drivers feel that they should go first and everyone else should give way, many cyclists are riding at higher speeds for fitness, and we don't have the concentration of commuters to force motorists to be take their turn.

Personally, I'd wear a helmet anyway. These photos show a helmet I was wearing in July 2007 when I was hit by a car. I was unconscious for 10 minutes and the helmet was broken into three or four pieces. If I hadn't been wearing it, I would have added a fractured skull to the fractured pelvis and crushed vertebrae which made the second half of the year so difficult. I still have very minor signs of concussion, mostly just a bouncing sensation after riding in a lift; I hate to think how my cognitive functions would have been affected if my skull had taken an unprotected blow.

Yes, that's blood on the pads. The force which smashed the plastic shell and the foam must have been considerable - it's a good thing my skull didn't have to dissipate that force!

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