Minister for Transport Safety's Comments on Revising the Bicycle Helmet Law

Harry Duynhoven's comments re the revision of the helmet law reported by National Radio this morning.(audio) ( Thursday the 23rd of October 2008 ).

Helmets 'may be deterring cyclists'

By Kerry Williamson from the Dominion Post

ON YER BIKE: Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven yesterday mused on the effects of the helmet law.

Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven might want a
safety helmet himself after wondering whether ditching the helmet law
would get more people on to bicycles.

Speaking at a New Zealand Traffic Institute forum yesterday,
Mr Duynhoven raised the question of whether making helmets compulsory
was discouraging people from cycling, saying there was a high number of
cyclists in countries in which helmets were optional.

He suggested that more people might ride bikes if they did not have
to wear helmets, then back- tracked, saying that did not mean he
supported a law change.

"I wonder if we never had helmets what our cycle population might be
... I'm not advocating getting rid of helmets, I'm just saying I wonder
what the social effect of helmets has been."

Bicycle helmets were made compulsory in New Zealand in 1994 and have
been credited with saving numerous lives. However, some studies have
suggested the health benefits may be negligible because of the number
of people turned off cycling.

Rebecca Oaten, of Palmerston North, who advocated for helmets to be
compulsory when her son Aaron suffered serious brain damage after being
knocked from his bike in 1986, said she was appalled by Mr Duynhoven's
comments. Her son was now 35 and needed constant care.

Ms Oaten agreed more people would ride bikes if they did not have to
wear a helmet "but how many of those would end up brain-damaged or dead?

"People who aren't for safety helmets really should come and spend a
week with us, just to see the effects of riding without a helmet."

What do you reckon?

ALan Preston.



norway.pdf918.5 KB


Its definitely could be helpful to wear a helmet.
But I agree the Helmit has increased the perception that cycling is unsafe. Mostly the people who don't want to wear a helmet don't care about safety too much. More about ease of use. What is actually the change in risk between wearing and not wearing? I would like to see the figures but from talking to a cycle expert from the UK I would think that its not a huge difference. In saying that its large enough that someone who cares about there health and safety would wear one.
What is the loss of a couple of knuckle heads going to do to average intelligence anyway. We can afford to lose them. (sorry thats me being norty).
I plan on always wearing a helmet. But I really do believe the helmet law does more harm then good through making people think cycling is inherently unsafe. When its actually just as safe as walking per distance.
I would also like to note that many people who wear helmets aren't getting any benefit anyway because they wear them wrong or wear caps underneath.
The difference in safety is less then the difference that having the amount of people on the road who are put off would make to safety.
More people on the road equates to greater safety for all.
In conclusion wear a helmet but get rid of the Law.
Just thought i'd add that anybody thats so worried about risk might want to consider not going to bed because you might not wake up. Don't eat either because you might choke. Don't stand up because you might have a nasty fall. Don't cross the road because you might not reach the other side. (me being norty again). Its amazing how easy it is to get things out of perspective. Life is full of risk but when has that ever stopped us?


Support for the bicycle helmet legislation invariably involves two misconceptions:

1) Bicycling presents a level of risk that requires protection and anybody is stupid (the old "bare head knucklehead") if they don't; and

2) Bicycle helmet legislation reduces health costs

Neither is true.

Regarding (1) Dave mentions car occupants, he is right - more than one Transport Minister in NZ has confirmed this, it would make sense for car occupants to wear helmets. (We'll skip the little detail that the very people who admit this *choose* not to do so themselves, seems most preachers in the helmet church don't actually believe their own gospel.)However we don't need to go to cars, a few weeks ago we had headlines in the media over the number of people who die from head injuries in the home - yup, more than from bicycling. And with the low numbers of speeding cars found in the average NZ kitchen, a bicycle "helmet" has a much better chance of providing meaningful benefit. (They are not designed to protect against vehicular impact.)

And then there are the pedestrians, motorists are far more efficient at slaughtering those than bicyclists - and again the helmet gospel will tell you they could also be saved by the simple donning of some molded plastic foam.Riding a bicycle is a health promoting activity, better exercise than walking, way better than the non-exercise of driving, and in medical circles - at least outside of NZ - it has long been accepted that bicycling is better than not bicycling regardless of helmets.

Which gets us to (2) - the law has not reduced injury rates one iota. Indeed only a few weeks ago The Guardian in the UK was reporting that the Norwegian transport research have come out against compulsory bicycle helmets partly because of the observed 14% INCREASE in risk the law caused in NZ. This may seem counterintuitive, surely any safety measure is better than none? Sadly things are not that simple and whether a safety measure works depends on many factors - ranging from the protection offered (very low for bicycle helmets), the perceived level of protection (way oversold in NZ in order to support the law), the perceived level of danger (see (1) - oversold in NZ), the dissuasive factor (people stop bicycling and drive instead - similar risk of HI, huge loss of exercise, growth in obesity...), etc., etc.

If all that seems complicated consider giving someone a lifejacket and telling them it stops bullets... the result? more gunshot wounds... Give someone some molded plastic foam designed to reduce injury if you fall unaided off a stationary bike, call it a "helmet" and imply it protects against modern traffic dangers, and what do you get? Apparently a 14% increase in risk to the remaining bicyclists, some 20% reduction in bicycling Axel/CAN figure on the radio this morning), huge drop in the health of the nation, growing obesity, and a very vocal minority claiming on Kiwis are right and the Dutch, Danish, Germans, Italians, Germans, Swedish, Swiss, etc. etc. with safer cycling are all living in denial...

It is time CAN took some action, when a claim is made of a 14% increase in risk is made a response is required. Apparently we're killing our kids so the Norwegians don't have to kill theirs.


does anyone have a copy of this norwegian transport research study? I note in a summary it included australia as well as NZ. I was reading a kids/parenting  magazine the other day that claimed bike helmets save the lives of 10 kids every year which I thought was a bit odd given that usually only 6-10 people die every year on roads (mostly adults). Some actual data could be useful

Norwegian Survey

Hi Steven I have a copy of it on my desktop.  Happy to either upload a copy to this website (when I work out how) or send one to you.

 I have descover and it is further upo the page called Norway.pdf

Keith Turner

Helmets, again

Ah yes, helmets again. What Duynhoven said was actually remarkably factual. If he hadn't got a history of not actually getting around to doing anything it might be more significant what he has raised.

The key issue, which somehow always seems to get lost in this debate, is separating "is it a good idea to wear a helmet" (answer: always yes) from "is it a good idea to have a law making it illegal to ride without a helmet" (answer: much more complex but probably not). Ms Oaten certainly never seems to grasp the difference. She says "if it prevents one injury that is worth it" but fails to see that making it compulsory for car occupants to wear crash helmets would certainly save far more brain injuries in absolute numbers per year. For some reason she doesn't suggest that.

Logically the only justification for a helmet law has to be that society is better off overall (usually thought to be by reducing the costs of ACC and hospital treatment paid by the taxpayer). However British work (Cycling towards Health and Safety, by the British Medical Association, Oxford University Press 1992) shows that even with low helmet use in the UK the greater fitness cycling promotes more than offsets, on average, the risk of injury to cyclists who are hit by a wide margin. It's only because heart attacks and air pollution deaths are not tied back to overuse of motor vehicles that this is not plain as day already. If most cyclists (say 75%) wore helmets voluntarily as would be likely under a non-compulsory regime in NZ the benefits to society of getting more people on bikes by any means with any headgear would be even stronger. And as more people cycle, injury rates per cyclist go down.

But all this has all been said before and I don't expect there will be an outbreak of common sense in politicians until petrol hits $10 a litre and they have no choice.


Of Two Minds

This might seem strange from a school principal but I am of two minds about the use of helmets. In the Netherlands, Denmark and parts of Germany, which have very high cycling numbers, there are few riders who wear helmets. However they have a much better cycling infrastructure and cyclists tend to be commuters and utility riders who generally ride more slowly and in greater numbers on the road than our predominantly recreational cycling population. However I also know that a number of potential commuter cyclists are put off by the issues of having to wear a helmet and commute - my wife would be such a person. She is an avid recreational rider but finds that most commuter cycling especially going to work and back are easier if done by car. For her "helmet hair" and the lack of adequate changing facilities at her work are an issue. Not having to wear a helmet may eliminate some of this.
However as a teacher and school principal I firmly believe that children need to be wearing helmets while they are learning to ride. How long this should happen I am not sure. I don't advocate a graduated licensing system but it needs to be for a period of time long enough to learn the skills to ride safely.
Of course if we could reach a utopian situation where active transport had precedence over all other forms of transport and the city was interlaced with dedicated cycling and walking lanes and paths then no helmet would be needed.

Keith Turner


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