Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bosnia and Herzegovina Repealed Their Bicycle Helmet Law!

With the recent repeal of their mandatory all-ages bicycle helmet law, Bosnia and Herzegovina has become our best model for similar efforts. Congratulations to all their citizens and visitors for the return of the freedom to ride bikes normally, without a helmet.

Mandatory bicycle helmet laws undermine efforts to increase bicycling by making bicycling seem more dangerous than it is, then putting the blame on cyclists if a crash does occur. If we expect more people to ride bikes, these laws must be removed from the books. Such repeal efforts usually seem impossible because of the emotional, overblown rhetoric that caused their passage in the first place. Mexico City is one rare example of a successful total repeal. Israel is a partial example by repealing at least the adult portion of their law. But there were no nationwide total repeals. Until now!

Join with us in celebrating this important victory by forwarding this post and reposting the press release from the Centre for Environment, pasted below:

Repeal of obligatory bicycle helmet law in Bosnia and Herzegovina

After six long years of campaigning for the abolition of the compulsory wearing of bicycle helmets in Bosnia and Herzegovina the Centre for Environment welcomed the adoption of the Law on Amendments to the Law on traffic safety on the roads of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With exceptional joy and pride we can confirm to all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina that they can now choose whether or not they want to wear a safety helmet. We would especially like to thank Mr Zoran Andric from the Ministry of Communication and Transport of Bosnia and Herzegovina who proactively informed all stakeholders as well as gave us opportunity several times to explain our facts and figures that were against obligatory bicycle helmets. The conduct of the representatives from this ministry during the public hearing process and decision making is a model for all public institutions. 

Tihomir Dakic, Transport Program Coordinator at the Center for Environment: "This is a major step towards greater and easier promotion of the use of bicycles as a means of transport. It returns the focus from reducing the consequences of crashes, to minimizing the causes of traffic crashes. Since 2006 until now cycling was incorrectly presented as a dangerous activity. In fact the health benefits of the daily use of the bicycle outweigh the traffic risks by around 20:1.  Now it is up to the local communities to pay more attention to the traffic regulation, demotivation of the use of motor vehicles, promotion of healthy ways of movement and reducing air pollution. We invite all those who stopped using the bicycle due to the helmet law to return to it, to respect traffic rules and enjoy all the benefits that cycling provides. "

Milenko Dzever, Associate for roads and licenses at the Agency for Traffic Safety of the Republic of Srpska: "On behalf of the Agency we welcome the changes to the Law, and we wish to note that Article 102 does not prohibit the wearing of helmets, but gives the choice to people whether they want to use it or not. Of course, we recommend that children wear helmets until they master riding a bicycle well enough. So far the old article of the Law discouraged bicycle use, and it should be the opposite, to discourage users of motor vehicles, especially in urban areas. Since the motor car is still seen as a status symbol in our country about 80% of trips are made by personal motor vehicle. This urgently needs to be changed. By investing in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure for the local community we will significantly improve traffic calming, increase the level of traffic safety, which in turn will significantly improve the health of people and economic development of local communities".

About changes in the law in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they said:

Ceri Woolsgrove, expert on traffic safety, the European Cyclists Federation, Brussels:

"European Cyclists Federation (ECF) believes that cyclists should be able to choose whether to wear or not to wear helmets and reflective vests. We do not agree with the mandatory use of helmets and reflective vests. We welcome the excellent work of the Centre for Environment, a member of the ECF that highlighted this important issue representing the interests of cyclists to the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Cycling is not an overly dangerous activity and brings tremendous health benefits for individuals, and has a positive effect on the environment and society as a whole. Defending cycling in all its forms, helmeted or non-helmeted, is important to the development of cycling and the use of all its benefits. We welcome the work of the Ministry of Communications and Transport for allowing citizens the freedom to choose their clothing with which they want to ride a bicycle. We also expect that the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina contribute to facilitating the development of safer traffic, especially for cyclists and pedestrians".

Sue Knaup, Executive Director of the international association One Street, Prescott, Arizona, USA:

"Bosnia and Herzegovina has set an important precedent with this repeal. Any law that mandates the wearing of helmets or other articles, criminalizes the use of bicycles as an efficient and affordable means of transportation. We at One Street applaud this important repeal and look forward to showcasing Bosnia and Herzegovina as a model for jurisdictions ready to remove their own unjust laws against bicycling."

Before the campaign started the paragraph about bicycle helmets in the Law adopted 2006 was:

“Article 102
Riders of bicycle, bicycle with a motor, light motorcycle or motorbike and persons transported on those vehicles must wear protective helmets while riding.“

During these years the police rarely fined cyclists, but they started to lobby to integrate better definition of bicycle helmet wearing as well as impose reflective vests.

Then police and transport safety experts lobbied for defining it further to protect cyclists and Ministry of Communication and Transport changed it in 2010 to this:

“Article 102
Riders of bicycles, mopeds, light motorcycle, motorcycle, tricycle, light quads or quads and persons carried on those vehicles must properly use safety helmet while riding, and in the period from dusk to complete dawn, as well as during the day in case of low visibility, cyclists must use reflective vest.“

This was the moment in which we started to investigate all Laws on traffic safety from different countries and soon we found out that we were “The worst”.

We spent countless hours and days over six years lobbying with no funds, only huge enthusiasm and energy to repeal this most serious negative impact on cycling promotion.

Then, with the help of the authorities noted above, this was the result of our struggle:

“Article 102
(1) The rider of a moped, light motorcycle, motorcycle, tricycle, light quads and quads, as well as persons transported on these vehicles must carry on his head buttoned protective helmet.
(2) The rider of the bicycle during the period from dusk to complete dawn, as well as during the day in case of reduced visibility, they need to use reflective vest or reflective appropriate equipment that provides adequate visibility of the rider or the bicycle.”

We succeed to exclude the word “bicycle” from paragraph (1) and the protective helmets became history. Meanwhile in paragraph (2) we added second part after reflective vests to allow a choice of ways for making us, cyclists, more visible and with more comfortable accessories.

For more information contact Tihomir Dakic at tihomir.dakic{at}czzs.org or visit Centre for Environment's website at www.czzs.org.


#   #   #

Monday, September 19, 2016

Bike Helmets Cannot Prevent Brain Injuries

Perhaps the most deceptive misconception that bicycle helmet manufacturers and proponents like to see in the media and from public (even if they avoid making the statement themselves) is that bicycle helmets prevent brain injuries. Those who profit from helmet sales and those who genuinely believe they are saving lives by pushing bike helmets often prompt these lies by emphasizing that helmets “can” prevent “head injuries.” Note that a cut to the scalp is a head injury. Brain injuries are different, though most readers don’t make the distinction.

Many supposedly scientific studies readily skew data to force their intended outcome of showing bike helmets do protect brains, but each of these have been debunked, usually finding that deaths were from other causes and data sets were lopsided. But many people simply want to believe that helmets prevent brain damage, even though no such device on the outside of the head can prevent the brain from impacting the inside of the skull. Our brains are suspended in fluid. Upon impact, whether the skull is protected or not, the brain will hit the skull. Simple physics.

Unfortunately, we must look to other activities where helmets have been tried in order to find sincere efforts to question their use or at least effectiveness. Here in the U.S., the National Football League (NFL) has been forced by injured players and their families to admit that no helmet can stop concussions. Instead, they are finally engaging a concussion protocol that takes players out of the game after a blow to their helmeted head.

The article linked in the above paragraph about the NFL notes that there could conceivably be a helmet that lessened brain injury but the design would require 15 inches (38 centimeters) of foam wrapping the entire head. Another potential design could mimic single-use motorcycle helmets – full head, heavy shell – and even their manufactures admit they cannot prevent brain injury. We can safely assume that most cyclists will not want to wear such a helmet, especially since the risk of a cyclist banging their head is no more likely than that of pedestrian’s and far less likely than those is cars.

The latest sport to ditch helmets is boxing. This interests me because I have recently taken up the sport and love it. I learned last week from our coach that we need to focus our punches on our opponent’s head. And yet, the Olympics banned headgear for male boxers this year citing an increase in concussions since headgear was made mandatory. They show that boxers began leading with their head more, similar to studies that show an increase in risky behavior by helmeted cyclists. I also wonder if the increased diameter of the boxers’ heads increased potential for contact, much like a bike helmet increases the chance of a cyclists’ head hitting the ground or the object they collide with.

Let’s hope that bicycle helmet manufacturers and proponents will soon follow American football and Olympic boxing in admitting that their product cannot prevent brain injuries. It’s time for more honesty on this topic!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Are Bicycle Helmets Holding Us Back? A Great Article

This recent article from Momentum Magazine is written by a U.S. public official who dared to notice helmet-free cyclists in Europe, then ride without one when he returned. For that simple, personal choice he was chastised and reprimanded. Too bad he didn't have one of these buttons:

He was also inspired to research and write a great article about the bicycle helmet problem in North American. Please take the time to read it, and enjoy.

Are Bicycle Helmets Holding Us Back?

Written by: Shaun Lopez-Murphy

Three years ago when I was the Bicycle Coordinator in Minneapolis, MN, I became involved in a controversy over a bicycle helmet – or lack thereof. After a trip to Europe, where I had ridden with the non-helmeted masses in three of the safest bicycling nations on Earth – Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands – I had declined to top my noggin.

I didn’t realize it but I had become one of the first U.S. public officials to question bicycle helmets openly, telling the local newspaper in an interview, “I just want [bicycling] to be seen as something that a normal person can do … you don’t need special gear. You just get on a bike and you just go.”

Locals immediately criticized me. The pro-helmet cry was passionate and full of concern over traumatic brain injuries, which is not unusual when bicycle helmet policy is debated. Soon after, I was told to start wearing head protection while bicycling on the job.

Continue reading...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bike Helmets Least Effective for Safety

Today's article on Tree Hugger jumps on a ridiculous bike helmet ad by the American Auto Association (always good for botching bicycle safety).

The great thing about this article is that the author offers a far better way to look at bicycle crash prevention--construction zone safety. Here's an excerpt:

"...So on a construction site one makes sure that there are safe routes, protection from dangerous equipment, picking up the crap and keeping everything in good order, and lots of fencing to keep people who are not construction workers away from those who are. Then there is education and training of the workers, strong enforcement of the rules, and good maintenance of the tools..."

Nice insight.

But whenever I read an article about bicycle helmets, even if it starts off showing how ineffective helmets are, I wait until the end to rejoice. For some sick reason, authors of articles that expose the truth about bike helmets, tend to wrap them up with a guilt-ridden paragraph or two stating their ingrained opinion that cyclists still should wear a helmet no matter what the facts show.

Not this one! To my joy and relief it ends with this:

"...If the American Automobile Association was really concerned about cyclist safety, it would be telling its members to slow down; it would be supporting the installation of bike lanes even though they might lose a driving lane here and there; they would work to get people out of giant pickup trucks and SUVs with big flat fronts that are disproportionately deadly, and they would support Vision Zero campaigns. But instead we have this."

How refreshing.

Read the article and enjoy!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Concussion, the Movie

I watched the recently released movie, Concussion last night. It’s a nice, fictionalized story about the man who revealed the debilitating results of repeated head trauma in American football. It’s certainly worth watching for the storyline, but as a fan of American football, I was disappointed with the lack of detailed information. The film includes nothing about the steps the National Football League has taken to try to prevent this problem. Perhaps this is because the film is only about this man and the time during his discovery.

However, the film did offer a few benefits for the bike helmet problem. For one, it was refreshing to spend two hours amidst a topic that is encased in helmets, without the slightest assumption that helmets would offer anything toward a solution. There are many scenes showing football players slamming their helmets together, which hint at the helmets actually worsening the problem.

There’s even a scene where the doctor shows his girlfriend the problem by holding out a sealed glass jar that contains water and an egg as he explains that a human brain floats loose in fluid. He then shakes the jar repeatedly to demonstrate what a football player’s brain goes through. Of course the egg breaks. I very much appreciated this as a needed twist from the misuse of eggs in terrifying children into wearing bike helmets.

Anyway, I can recommend the movie as good entertainment, but don’t watch it expecting to garner many gems for fighting bike helmet laws or promotions.

Sue

Friday, March 4, 2016

Bicycle Helmets – Today’s Bloodletting

(I wrote this article seven years ago. So sad it remains relevant today.)

Bloodletting seems a distant absurdity to us and yet, just a few hundred years ago, we lost George Washington because he trusted its rhetoric over logic when he agreed to it as treatment for a nasty cold. With only a few quiet voices protesting the countless deaths caused by bloodletting, the practice continued well into the 20th century. Today’s bicycle helmet promotions and laws hold an alarming resemblance to the pronouncements used by the bloodletters. When an illogical practice is presented as the only means of safety and dismissal of the practice is equated to certain death, even the most brilliant leader can succumb to its absurdity.

Myths about helmets charm countries most where bicycling is not commonplace. In these countries, helmet rhetoric has escalated to the point where those not familiar with bicycling believe that if you so much as swing your leg over a bicycle without wearing a helmet you will smash your head open. In such places, those who ride a bike without a helmet are chided by onlookers at every turn for their reckless, irresponsible behavior.

Where did these chiders get their information? Most helmet propaganda is originally published by insurance companies, health practitioners and government agencies who have avoided countless law suits by blaming bicyclists in crashes for not wearing a helmet, sometimes even when their injuries or death did not involve injuries to their head.

While many studies have shown that bicycle helmets do little to prevent major head injuries beyond minor skull fractures and lacerations (Curnow 2001), a few poorly executed, misleading studies are the only ones to have reached mainstream distribution. The most common bit of jargon of them all is that “cycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries and 88% of brain injuries” when in fact, where helmet use is high, there has been no detectable reduction in head injuries. See this link for a good overview: http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1027.html .

Helmet rhetoric that sets bicycling out as far more dangerous than it is, is the greatest hindrance to programs for increasing bicycling. A great deal of truthful yet catchy promotions will be necessary to counter this noise. Remember, bloodletting was “common sense” for 2,000 years! One of the best examples for illustrating the truth is this fun quiz on the dangers of bicycling: http://www.bicyclinglife.com/SafetySkills/SafetyQuiz.htm

Mandatory helmet laws often follow the spread of bicycle helmet rhetoric, adding the weight of the law to the idea that bicycling is more dangerous than any other form of transportation. In fact, as you will have found in the above quiz, if these laws took a realistic approach to their attempt to prevent head injuries, all pedestrians and car drivers would be required to wear helmets as well. And, it seems, a law requiring the wearing of helmets inside the house would also be a good idea.

Helmet laws also present another barrier to potential cyclists who already see many barriers to starting cycling. Mandatory helmet laws add to this list and thus prevent many new riders from starting. These laws have also been proven to decrease numbers of current cyclists thus increasing the potential for crashes by hindering safety in numbers. This theory has been proven to show that a motorist is less likely to collide with a person walking or bicycling when there are more people walking or bicycling (Jacobsen 2003).

Bicycle helmets may provide some protection against minor skull fractures and lacerations, but they do not prevent major brain trauma that happens within the skull. In fact, because bicycle helmets are soft which increases friction in certain crashes, unlike motorcycle helmets, some studies have shown that they can cause neck and brain injuries from rotational motion (V J M St Clair, B P Chinn. 2007).

So, in minor crashes, bicycle helmets can assist in preventing minor injuries, though the potential of their doing harm in a major crash must be considered. Like bloodletting, which, in retrospect was found to have unintentionally benefitted a few lucky survivors because they were later discovered to have high blood pressure, helmets have surely prevented nasty gashes and painful skull fractures.

Bicycle helmets can be a good choice for someone concerned about minor head injuries as long as they understand their helmet’s limitations for preventing major head injuries, not unlike choosing to wear knee pads and gloves. However, some studies have shown that helmeted bicyclists take more risks than those not wearing a helmet (Pless IB, Magdalinos H, Hagel B. 2006). Thus, whenever a potential helmet benefit is mentioned, the potential of a helmet causing neck and brain injury, as well as this risk compensation, must always be included for bicycle helmets to be presented in a truthful light.

Another important point to understand is that helmets do not prevent crashes. Improved road and pathway conditions, driver and bicyclist education, better protections for cyclists and increased numbers of bicyclists through safety in numbers, prevent crashes. Too often government officials, health practitioners and insurance companies grasp at helmet laws as a quick and cheap solution that removes them from liability and the responsibility of providing quality provisions for bicyclists.

Helmet laws and overblown promotions also set in place a ready-made blame-the-victim reaction. Each time a helmetless cyclist is in a crash, their bare head becomes the focus even if the driver deliberately hit them and their injuries were not head related. Remember that whenever one of these laws is presented, it is from a knee jerk reaction, either to a recent crash or fabricated rhetoric, usually by officials seeking to avoid liability, framing the argument as making crashing safer.


Let’s replace our helmets with thinking caps. If we can agree that increasing bicycling is in the best interest of our people and our planet, it’s time to shift our promotions and policy efforts away from the illusion of safer crashing and into reshaping our communities into places where everyone knows the safety of bicycling.