Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: When "common sense" isn't

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  • BenWilson, in reply to John Armstrong,

    I would be interested to look at the evidence for that.

    This one contains evidence of a correlation between helmet use and passing distance.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8314 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to BenWilson,

    the introduction of helmets corresponded to a massive decline in cycle usage here and in many other places, and that low numbers cycling is a major risk factor, it’s really silly to make mandatory yet another thing that will stop people getting on bikes.

    Bollocks. Introduction of mandatory helmets coincided with massive changes to vehicle availability: abolition of import quotas, huge introduction of cheap Japanese imports. There was also a significant rise in "stranger danger" terror leading to parents driving their children to school rather than having them walk or bicycle. When bicycling isn't a regular activity when you're a child, it's certainly not going to be one when you're a teenager or an adult. Toss in that a car could be purchased on the earnings from a part-time job, and you were going to see a perfect storm against riding bicycles. The helmet law might have been the final nail for a few waverers, but when people still have to get around and public transport became even less effective and affordable during National's reign (courtesy of which Auckland's public transport is still fucked) I'm going to call bullshit on your assertion that it was all down to the helmet law that suddenly people stopped riding bicycles.

    What I will agree is that the decline in cyclist numbers makes it more dangerous to be a cyclist. Evidence from the UK that wearing hi-viz in situations of good visibility is, at best, no better than wearing ordinary clothing (and may be worse) also reveals that drivers who aren't expecting to see (motor)cyclists may quite literally not see them. Their brains don't compute the foreign object. More cyclists means it's more expected to see them.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3898 posts Report Reply

  • Juha Saarinen, in reply to Lilith __,

    Yes. Killing someone on a bike doesn't carry much in terms of sanctions.

    Since Nov 2006 • 523 posts Report Reply

  • John Armstrong, in reply to JackElder,

    Yep, as you say, it's a minor pain. I'll happily concede that. But, so what? So is getting sweaty on the way to work, finding a place to lock the bike up in town, locking and unlocking, headwinds, slow leaks etc etc. If we are honest, there is lots about biking that is a minor pain. I am just surprised that for some people putting on a vest seems to represent some kind of line in the sand beyond which biking is no longer viable.

    Again, not arguing for compulsion, just pointing out what looks like a wee imbalance between the actual level of inconvenience and the response to it.

    Hamilton • Since Nov 2007 • 126 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Wain,

    I only started wearing a bike helmet years after the law changed... because I was sick of cops chasing me... because I wasn't wearing a helmet!

    Seriously, it seemed to set cops off like nothing else. The number of risky rides I had to outrun the fuzz...

    IMHO: helmets don't stop death. You hit the road or a car with your head, you're fucked. Making cyclists wear helmets is a bandaid... cycle lanes is the answer, and decent penalties for the drivers who actually infringe.

    This morning a car gunned past me at about 5 centimetres away from killing me - if I'd swerved even a little at the wrong time I was toast. Seriously considered following the shithead and punching his lights out at the next red light... but he got a green. Probably for the best all round...

    Since Nov 2006 • 135 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    Bollocks.

    Note that I used (quite carefully) the word "corresponded". That is most certainly true. So:

    I'm going to call bullshit on your assertion that it was all down to the helmet law that suddenly people stopped riding bicycles.

    ...you'd need to link to where I made that assertion. I'd say it's a contributing factor, though, and quantifying that would be very difficult.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8314 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to BenWilson,

    Ask yourself the same question, but replace “ground” with “dashboard” or “windscreen”

    Seatbelt. Replace above with "B-pillar" and you've suddenly encountered the offside T-bone's dirty little secret. Curtain airbags aren't just a gimmick for the sake of marketing.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3898 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to Lilith __,

    And yet hitting cyclists is already against the law. Why is everyone angry with cyclists for getting injured and killed?

    Social Darwinism. D:<

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4155 posts Report Reply

  • Ken Sparks,

    There's nothing silly about wanting to be as visible as possible or wearing head protection when riding a bike, particularly in Auckland traffic, but to make it a legal requirement is dumb - it should be a personal choice. As we all know, many other countries don't have any dress requirements for cyclists. What many of those other countries do have is a cycling culture which is generally embraced by all road users - cyclists are respected by car and truck drivers as having little to protect themselves with and those drivers will do everything possible to avoid an accident. I think things are improving slowly here. I've done quite a bit of riding around Auckland over the years, so far without mishap and I've seen faults from both drivers and riders but I think there's a growing tolerance of cyclists - especially as there are more and more of us out on the streets. The question of what a safe distance for vehicles to pass bikes should be is tricky because for me it depends on a number of other factors - mainly speed and road layout - and to set it at a mandatory 1 or 1.5 metres would be too rigid. I do like the sound of side guards on trucks though - some of those big rigs have scared the shit out of me!
    A couple of tips for what they're worth: When the road does narrow at any point try to put yourself in the middle of the lane and make vehicles wait behind you (rather than try to squeeze past) then get left again as soon as the road widens.
    I was given a bright red lightweight running shirt for Christmas which is great for commuting on the bike. Then I change into a fresh shirt of any damn colour I like when I get to work.

    Pt Chevalier • Since Apr 2011 • 47 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Those wishing to debate the issues surrounding compulsory-helmet-wearing may wish to read this other PAS thread from 2 years ago .

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3415 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to JackElder,

    Personally: I wear high-viz when I think it’s appropriate. This morning, I cycled to work wearing a gilet (the Ground Effect Vespa, buy NZ made!)

    I've got a lightweight Nike windbreaker in fluoro green with reflectors, which I carry all the time in my pack. But for me it's neither practical or necessary in the daytime.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18707 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Juha Saarinen,

    Killing someone on a bike doesn’t carry much in terms of sanctions.

    Killing anyone through the use of a motor vehicle doesn't carry much in terms of sanctions unless you manage to do it with such clear intent that they can do you for murder. If you're pissed out of your gourd, people try to stop you, you drive, and you kill someone, you're only on the hook for a maximum of five years of sub-standard government housing courtesy of dangerous driving causing death. Get lucky and they might only pursue careless driving which is a maximum of six months.

    Brother's ex's brother was bicycling home, got killed by a car. Driver went to trial, got found guilty. Came to an arrangement with the family, but was not facing any jail time even without the arrangement because it was just not such clearly bad driving that the minuscule jail penalty could be justified. As a country we don't treat bad driving that results in death as being as serious as we would a less-egregious breach of some other social standard that had the same result (like, say, punching someone once and them tripping over and hitting their head).

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3898 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Re: hi-viz: I wear a lightweight velcro-fastening XXL vest in day-glo yellow with reflectors that goes over everything and cost me $8. It scrunches up really small in a bag or pannier. I sometimes leave it sitting on the bike when I lock it up and no one has ever pinched it. For me, it's less hassle to carry around than the wet-weather gear I usually carry.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3415 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    As a country we don't treat bad driving that results in death as being as serious as we would a less-egregious breach of some other social standard that had the same result (like, say, punching someone once and them tripping over and hitting their head).

    You're missing the importance of intention in the law, charges and sentences. When you punch someone, it's highly credible that you intended to hurt them. If you hit someone with a car on purpose it can have severe legal consequences. The car would be considered a deadly weapon, and a resulting death could be considered a murder.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8314 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    I'm not hugely in favour of severe punishment for road accidents. But I am in favour of keeping the blame where it belongs, with drivers and roads. And trying to change the drivers and the roads rather than making cyclists do everything differently.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3415 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    I’m going to call bullshit on your assertion that it was all down to the helmet law that suddenly people stopped riding bicycles.

    …you’d need to link to where I made that assertion. I’d say it’s a contributing factor, though, and quantifying that would be very difficult.

    Abstract of a frequently-cited Australian study:

    ISSUE ADDRESSED: To evaluate the effects on public health in Australia of compelling people to wear a bicycle helmet while cycling.

    METHODS: The processes of introducing compulsory wearing of bicycle helmets, evidence of their efficacy relative to scientific knowledge of brain injury, effects of compulsory wearing on public health and official actions to uphold the policy are examined.

    RESULTS: It is shown that action to make the wearing of a bicycle helmet compulsory was a response to fear of death and chronic disability from brain injury, and it was taken at a time when cycling was increasing and the risk of casualty was falling. It appears that governments did not verify the efficacy of helmets and disregarded research which found that they can increase brain injury. After the legislation was introduced, rates of cycling declined sharply with loss of benefits for health, but the risk of casualty increased.

    CONCLUSIONS: Compulsion to wear a bicycle helmet is detrimental to public health in Australia.

    Also, these guys collect published evidence sceptical of helmet effectiveness or promotion. There’s quite a lot of it, including some looking at the impact of the cycle helmet law in New Zealand:

    Because the large increases in wearing with helmet laws have not resulted in any obvious change over and above existing trends, helmet laws and major helmet promotion campaigns are likely to prove less beneficial and less cost effective than proven road-safety measures, such as enforcement of speed limits and drink-driving laws, education of motorists and cyclists and treatment of accident black spots and known hazards for cyclists.

    Me, I’m happy with a helmet in most circumstances.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18707 posts Report Reply

  • Chopper,

    I have lights on my bike at all times. I wear high-viz clothing whenever I cycle. Use cycle lanes whenever possible? Forget it. I live in Melbourne, and there are too many nutter cyclists here, especially those like to overtake dangerously into my cycle lane and that like to cut traffic islands.leaving me no way of legally accessing the island to wait for a pedestrian crossing. The roads are MUCH safer. I use them whenever possible.

    Since Jul 2008 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg,

    If you have a spare 15 minutes you might want to take a look at this video of Copenhagen's bicycle ambassador discussing helmets and why he won't use one.

    I'll save my breath by just saying that I fully agree with him. Sure, cycling in NZ is unfortunately not the same as cycling in Denmark (or Sweden or The Netherlands), but his basic argument still stands.

    Also, no-one will take away the right to wear a helmet or hi-viz for those of you who feel that you really need them.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Abstract of a frequently-cited Australian study:

    Yeah, I was aware of existing evidence of correlation, but I thought I'd leave that to others, and just point out that Matthew came with a big fat straw man to that discussion. I do actually agree with him that there was a fairly rapid rise in car ownership during that time too, which also reduces the popularity of bikes, for a number of reasons. But that doesn't make it OK to add more factors to make them unpopular.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8314 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    So, if a cyclists are to be made to wear garish high-vis clothing, it should be compulsory for car drivers to wear dark glasses? So hard to coordinate with any other clothing, so mine spends most of its life hanging off the handlebars.

    The most useful accessory is a bell, to warn folk you are coming up behind them--and a rear-vision mirror too.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2285 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BlairMacca,

    Oh you have misunderstood, I mean I can't see why people complain about Having to wear a helmet, completely agree that they are lifesavers, it seems stupid NOT to wear one

    So this is a complicated issue. There is no doubt that in some accidents a cycle helmet can prevent head injury. Note head injury... not brain injury. Cycle helmets are NOT the same as full face motercycle helmets they simply do not provide the same impact cushioning and hence do not protect the brain nearly as much. In addition because they cause the top of the head to bulge there is some concern that impacts on the helmet cause the head to rotate in a very unusual way and may do some harm. Again unlike full face motercycle helmets.

    All that said if you are riding fast, a cycle helmet is probably a good idea. But it is not as compelling a case as for motercycle helmets.

    If you are riding slowly, e.g. taking a communal bike a kilometer along dedicated cycleways in the city centre (like real cities have) then a helmet is unlikely to make much of a difference to your own personal safety.

    It get's more confusing, aside from the increase in safety from having more cyclists on the roads, it's been shown that drivers will give you more space if you are NOT wearing a helmet.

    Without any doubt wearing a cycle helmet will reduce the damge to your head if you fall and hit your head. But how much they actually improve your safety on a bike is less straightforward.

    Personally I'd change the law to say it is illegal to SELL a bike without a helmet. If people want to use it they will. You could do the same for a Hi vis jacket.

    And note as someone who grew up always wearing a cycle helmet it just feels unnatural for me to ride without one.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3262 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to JackElder,

    movement draws the eye more than a static garment – so in terms of visibility, we might be better to concentrate on encouraging people to wear retro-reflective ankle bands or wrist bands.

    I have a really strong memory of being a passenger in Mum's car at night and really really not seeing the cycle in front of us. What we did see were the two reflectors on the pedals. Those moving reflectors saved that person's life.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3262 posts Report Reply

  • BlairMacca, in reply to BenWilson,

    Sorry I read your comment wrong, thought you meant the cyclist hitting the windshield. But what HORansome said.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • BlairMacca, in reply to JackElder,

    No and I still stand by that, I was simply stating a fact.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2007 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Just a question. Has anyone heard of an adult being fined for not wearing a helmet lately? I just wonder if the NZ police have read the same data and decided not to bother enforcing helmets for adults.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3262 posts Report Reply

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