Southerly by David Haywood

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Southerly: Bob's Top Five

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  • David Haywood,

    George Darroch wrote:

    I think that comment here has missed a lot of the most important parts of the debate (or rather non-debate, as most issues aren't discussed in any form). Apologies to David if any of these issues were covered in detail, I couldn't get the file to open.

    I didn't want to touch the whole 'do helmets actually work' question, because it's just too murky and contradictory for me (although I think that your decision not to wear a helmet is fair enough -- despite the fact that I've made the opposite decision).

    But I discussed all the other points that you've raised RE: the compulsory cycle helmet law.

    If only it were so simple.

    Quite. It rather reminds me of the prohibition law in the USA. A well-intentioned law designed to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour associated with drunkenness, that actually had exactly the opposite effect. Very anti-intuitive but very real in its outcomes.

    And though I don't want to get into the whole 'do helmets actually work' question, it does seem utterly astonishing that (as far as I can see) no-one has properly tested bicycle helmets, i.e. put lots of accelerometers and micro-load-cells on the head of a crash-test dummy (or a cadaver, if you prefer) and put it through a bunch of 'real' bicycle accident scenarios. As an engineer, this is the first thing that I would have done.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    As a mad biker racer from years back, I was an early wearer of a fullface helmet. I started with a pudding bowl, cork lined fabric chin strapped thing and finished with a thick fullface, fibreglass beasty.

    It is obvious that the thicker the helmet the less decceleration on the brain.

    And from George:

    There is research that indicates, but does not prove, that helmets significantly increase the risk of rotational injuries. A direct collision with the ground gets turned by a helmet, and significant head injury results. Rather than "saving your life" in that awful collision, as an ED doctor might surmise, it could be doing you harm.

    You may be interested in this nice bit of physics. A cunning trick which may just make a difference

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1582 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    No, that's not what I was saying at all -- quite the opposite. I assume that you're just messing with my brain now?

    I thought you said you accepted that they did in fact protect the cyclist. If you don't, why do you wear one?

    But cycling (with or without helmet) just isn't that dangerous.

    I know, I wasn't siding with the doctor in question. I think the case that helmet laws make cycling seem more dangerous than it is are more tenable than "OMG! Bad hair!"

    So if a car runs into you, and the passengers suffer head injuries, and they weren't wearing crash helmets (and, by the way, the evidence that crash helmets reduce injuries in motor accidents is overwhelming -- that's why racing-drivers wear them), would you feel the same way? That the irresponsibility of the passengers in not wearing helmets has done you harm?

    You make a very good point. Has anybody talked about making cyclists wear crash helmets? They seem less protected than people in cars somehow. But maybe actually they are not. And then why not car passengers? It might turn people off cars, so think of the health benefits!

    (Compulsory safety belts didn't do the trick. Although I always like to note that in Naples when the law was passed they sold t-shirts with a fake safety belt drawn across it.)

    (I love Naples.)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Compulsory safety belts didn't do the trick.

    Really? My reading says they slashed the death rate. There are a lot of intuitive bads about roads. Straight roads good? err..no. Crooked roads are the safest. Straighten them out and speeds go up. Driver falls asleep. Boom boom. Seat belts better. Yes...but...driver has increased sense of safety and suddenly average speed increases. ABS? Same thing. 1/2MVsquared. Powerful stuff.

    The other BIG thing that has saved deaths are the crumple zones on cars. Again the physics says that give me those extra few cms and I save another 10g in deceleration. Must be good for the brain and body.

    I had a colleague who reckoned there should be a spike on the middle of every steering wheel. Reckoned that would focus one's attention on where they were aiming.

    I remember a guy in Auckland way back in the 70s who insisted on wearing helmets in his car and insisted the passengers did the same. He made the TV and the paper. Mocked he was. But probably decades ahead of his time.

    A thought. I have noticed the helmets that are used for snow boarding are a lot fuller in head cover. Often thought if that design was followed up a bit it might be useful.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1582 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Andrew,

    Somebody told me recently about a surgeon who tastefully referred to cyclists as "donors"

    I believe the medic in question was referring to motorcyclists as donor cycles. And I'm pretty sure it was an article in The Listener.


    & Ross Mason - I'm pretty sure Gio was referring to compulsory seatbelts not putting people off using cars.

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 894 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    giovanni tiso wrote:

    I thought you said you accepted that they did in fact protect the cyclist. If you don't, why do you wear one?

    We must be talking at cross-purposes here!

    What I said (or certainly meant to say) is that the studies indicate that the negative health consequences of stopping cycling (i.e. coronary disease, diabetes, etc) are much greater than the negative health consequences of continuing to cycle without a helmet (i.e. slight chance of an accident).

    To quote again from the author of what seems to me to be the most comprehensive and authoritative paper on this subject (de Jong, 2009):

    ... only under extreme, theoretical circumstances do mandatory helmet laws not end up costing the healthcare system. Head injuries must be a substantial proportion of bicycling injuries, few riders must abandon their bikes due to helmet laws, and the health benefits of cycling need to be low

    You can read an article about this paper at New Scientist.

    It might turn people off cars, so think of the health benefits!

    We could argue about why it is that people would rather stop cycling than wear a helmet until we both die of old age -- but the fact is that they do. Yes, I think it's stupid to care that much about your hair (to give one example), but the fact is that people seem to (not me, obviously).

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    The UK figures (Office of Population Censuses and Surveys) rate tennis as four times more dangerous than cycling, horse-riding as 29 times more dangerous, and fishing as 41 times more dangerous (per capita per hour). I can't find such figures for NZ, alas.

    There was an analysis of ACC claims, claim value and fatalities in the NZMJ, but it's only of adventure activities. So cycling per se isn't included. Mountain-biking is more dangerous, but Horse Riding is still worse (where it is common to where helmets, but which don't appear to offer much protection). Fishing and Moutaineering are top of the pops for fatalities, but I assume there would be more road cycling deaths than mountain biking deaths. Perhaps if I was being good, I'd go check out ACC, as it might be the place to look*.

    *I participated in a telephone survey today asking about govt statistics. In addition to my survey keen-ness, I think the interviewer was also surprised by how much I use govt statistics. Always nice to be an outlier in someone else's data.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    I had a bit of a poke on www.statisphere.govt.nz and while I didn't find any good cycle use stats over time, it's interesting that there seems to have been a real reduction in the number of cyclist deaths between 2003 and 2006, although in the grand scheme of things they are still very uncommon. Unfortunately, that period just seems aberrant for some reason.

    And this is cycled in the last 12 months data but there is a substantial increase from 1997 to 2007/8.

    And a related point: Has cycling increasingly become an 'activity' as opposed to 'transport'? I think this applies to physical activity in general, but it seems more something a subset of people set out to do, as opposed to it being part of life. So for cycling, fewer people going to work or nipping down to the shops by bike, but more people getting changed, driving somewhere, and then starting to cycle. I also wonder if a greater proportion of modern day cycle commuters also treat it as a thing. So different clothes to cycle to work in, possibly a shower at work, and maybe more aim that the commute should fit a notion of exercise. Trouser clips are out, and lycra is in.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    The UK figures (Office of Population Censuses and Surveys) rate tennis as four times more dangerous than cycling,

    I knew it. A lifetime of tennis-aversion vindicated.

    I should clarify about the annoying helmetless lady-and-baby. The thing I didn't convey was that I was reflexively horrified for cultural reasons - i.e., I have been thoroughly acculturated into thinking "wearing a helmet = safe on a bike." So my first thought was "Police! Arrest that terrible mother!"* My second more pragmatic and logical thought was "Aieeeee what happens if they hit a pothole, of which there are a couple of spectacular specimens at the next corner..."

    But when I used to see my Belgian friend regularly pedalling along the footpath with her baby in a backpack, both of them helmetless, with the wind ruffling their excellent flaxen hair, it struck me as 100% charming and natural -- because I knew she was just practising her culture. Also, because her bike was closer to the ground, and she was on the footpath. Also, because she'd already successfully raised a pair of biking boys and was clearly brilliant at risk management.

    I do blow back and forth on this... I completely buy your science, David. I just don't fancy testing it on New Haven roads, or letting my kids test it; and in fact, they cycle more than the average New Havener already, so we're doing our bit for critical mass.

    OTOH, I could do without looking like an egg while cycling, especially when cycling home from getting an awesome haircut. And I think it is completely bonkers that my 4 year old's daycare requires them to bring their own helmet for wearing while riding tricycles... (T reports that only one kid has ever fallen off and cried; the others fall off but don't cry. I suspect most falling-off happens while cornering, due to top-heaviness).

    *(Like that time the Danish couple were arrested for leaving their baby sleeping in its stroller outside a cafe in Manhattan.)

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1471 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    But cycling (with or without helmet) just isn't that dangerous. The UK figures (Office of Population Censuses and Surveys) rate tennis as four times more dangerous than cycling, horse-riding as 29 times more dangerous, and fishing as 41 times more dangerous (per capita per hour). I can't find such figures for NZ, alas.

    Aye, this is true. BUT one the other hand there are a lot of things that no matter what we accept as our right: and one of those things is to travel safely on the Queen's Highway. And I think that the Queen ought exert herself to make sure her Highway is safe for all it's users, no matter what choice of vehicle.

    It doesn't matter what the utilitarian argument is, for the anti-utilitarian argument is more important. As a rule, the anti-utilitarian argument is told that our right to act in such-and-such a way is more important. And quite right! For I must say, no matter what, I will ride on the Queen's Highway, and no matter what, that is my right as a citizen, and the law ought accommodate that.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    Don't know what the original subject matter was, what songs my kid likes passes the time I s'ppose. And so does observing the behaviour of others on various modes of transportation, pass the time that is, or is a means of bolstering ones own sense of self.
    I just like this phrase "thoroughly acculturated into thinking".
    And thought I'd put this reappraisal of Marx and captalism's fucked up recent history here.
    Alddaily I get absorbed there often.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1656 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    As soon as I put on something else I get the request for "Racing Stop Song".

    I have long been interested in how children value repetition (the same Wiggles song for the 183rd time; Tory Story for the 87th time), whilst adults tend to value the new and novel. I guess someone has something to say on this somewhere.

    We do suffer as parents--I learnt more than I ever wanted to know about dinosaurs and the name of every Pokemon character (my son could recite the whole 150+ of them!)

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2497 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

    Here's a summary of the latest data from the LTSA over the period 1989-2006 (unfortunately the sampling doesn't straddle the compulsory cycle helmet laws any more conveniently than that):

    -- the number of cycling trips decreased by 51% from 181 to 89 million trips
    -- the total distance cycled decreased by 29%, from 3.5 to 2.5 hundred-million km

    And don't forget that the NZ population has increased significantly over this period.

    Crap!! What disappointing figures. And the opposite of what I would have thought. Thanks, David. I am interested to know all this stuff.

    And I want to shake all these people who are put off cycling by having to wear a helmet. How can they be such wimps?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    We must be talking at cross-purposes here!

    What I said (or certainly meant to say) is that the studies indicate that the negative health consequences of stopping cycling (i.e. coronary disease, diabetes, etc) are much greater than the negative health consequences of continuing to cycle without a helmet (i.e. slight chance of an accident).

    No, I got that. I was just making the point that if you accept that so long as you cycle, it's safer to do it with an helmet, the law itself doesn't seem misguided to me. If it's turning people off cycling, it's because they've made their choice, good hair vs. longevity. I don't find this enormously problematic, even if it costs us money. That shouldn't be the paramount consideration in my view. (Otherwise you pretty quickly go down the road of "let's not cure the fatties".)

    If on the other hand you demonstrate that helmets aren't that useful for protecting you on the road, then I could get behind repealing the law on the ground that it's misguided. Since its purpose surely was never to promote cycling, rather to promote the safety of cyclists.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking,

    Paul C wrote:

    Umm Kyle, that wouldn't happen to be a relative (of mine) with the stick would it?

    Would that be Gregor?

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 830 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Tory Story for the 87th time

    I'm not sure I'd let my children watch that even once. It sounds terrifying.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1471 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    You ought to, at least once. Children love to be terrified--and it is only mildly so.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2497 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    No, it's me. The scenes with Margaret Thatcher in I can only watch from behind the couch.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1471 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    I'm not sure I'd let my children watch that even once. It sounds terrifying.

    Bound to be more than a few R18 scenes in Tory Story too...

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    Gulp! You guys are out there, just waiting to pounce! This is after I corrected a couple of construction signs downtown, which read We apoligise for the disruption

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2497 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    We apoligise for the disruption

    Goes to show that it is in fact the hardest word.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    No, it's me. The scenes with Margaret Thatcher in I can only watch from behind the couch.

    Heh. Good time perhaps to point out that the BBC's hugely useful 3-part backgrounder to Thatcherism is called Tory! Tory! Tory! .

    I should give it to you on a VHS next time you're over.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22227 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    In the 1960s & 70s, pretty well every high school kid in CHCH bicycled to school. So, the city & environs was chokka with young people on bikes.
    It didnt matter what the weather did, you rode your bike. And, needless to say but will anyway, *nobody* had cycle helmets.
    If you were brought in, in a vehicle, you were rubbished.
    After 5 years of biking from North New Brighton into Shortland Street, Aranui - and a further 2 & a bit years as a postie on a bike in Sockburn (and on the West Coast) - I swore I'd never get back on a bike.
    I havent.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    In the 1960s & 70s, pretty well every high school kid in CHCH bicycled to school.

    That's what I thought. And university students, too. A lot of us didn't aspire to own cars, in large part because they were expensive.
    I haven't followed this very carefully- but how do you tease out people's reasons for not cycling, to the point of being able to put a precise value on compulsory helmets as a factor? Doesn't it also correlate to a huge increase in cars, and car ownership, in NZ?
    And why do so many of us drive our kids to school? Mostly, I'm guessing, because of perceptions, largely unfounded, of how dangerous it'd be for them to walk or cycle.
    I'm not sure how it exactly relates to helmets (yeah, they certainly don't make cycling seem safer...) But that fear and its consequences might be the most dangerous things our kids will encounter.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2054 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    giovanni tiso wrote:

    I was just making the point that if you accept that so long as you cycle, it's safer to do it with an helmet, the law itself doesn't seem misguided to me.

    But now you've forgotten the other part of the studies that I talked about, dude -- the fact that because there are fewer cyclists on the road means that it's more dangerous for the remaining cyclists.

    This is known in the business as Smeed's law. Here's a review paper that talks about Smeed's law w.r.t to cyclists.

    Dr Dorothy Robinson (an Australian statistician) has argued that in Australia -- under a compulsory helmet regime -- the greater likelihood of an accident for cyclists outweighs the benefits of wearing a helmet.

    If this is also true for NZ (I can't find any research about this here) then your point is only half the story, i.e. it's not really much help if the same laws that make you wear a (protective) helmet also make it far likelier for you to have an accident.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

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