Hard headed truths about pollution

I read recently about the Vélib’ program that Paris is running and what a boon it is for the environment. Apparently Ken Livingstone is keen on making London more bicycle friendly, and cities like Copenhagen are already full of cyclists. The decrease in pollution as a result of the reduction in cars must be quite significant. What is it that prevents New Zealand cities from adopting similar, cyclist-friendly inner city roads?

Perhaps it’s not so much a supply issue as a demand issue. Perhaps fewer people want to commute by bicycle in NZ. A major factor in their decision not to use a bicycle might be the requirement that helmets are worn on the road. In Australia, mandatory helmet laws caused over one third of bareheaded cyclists to stop riding. If the figures are similar for NZ then helmet laws are actually contributing to the level of pollution in the atmosphere and congestion on the roads.

Of course, if enough lives are saved by wearing a helmet, then it might still be a worthwhile law. However, the evidence favouring bicycle helmet use seems to be ambiguous at best. Perhaps, with NZ committing to reducing our carbon emissions, it’s time to revisit our mandatory helmet requirements and ask whether they are truly a net benefit to us.

2 replies
  1. Owen
    Owen says:

    And then there are the health benefits of all those extra people riding, I have seen studies showing net benefits for getting rid of helmet laws.

    Bascially the law was introduced on the basis of emotions, not rational analysis.

    I will wear a helmet regardless, but do not see a need for complusion.

  2. rauparaha
    rauparaha says:

    There do seem to be an awful lot of studies showing that mandatory helmet laws do not enhance cyclists’ safety. Unfortunately, a lot of those studies were done on NZ and Australia following their introduction of such laws. The regulators might have been well-intentioned at the time, but later research seems to show that they were misinformed.

    As you say, it’s hard to see the law being repealed in the near future. There seems to be a widespread acceptance that helmets are a good thing and that forcing people to wear them helps us all. I don’t know why that is but, unless public perceptions change, I doubt we’ll see any change in the law.

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