A near-brush with The Law [Warning: Censored – for Adult Viewing Only]

I’ve decided to experiment: I’m going to ride my bike sans helmet and see what it feels like and what happens.

Look Mum! No Helmet!

I was prompted to do so after reading this information about cycling and helmets. Normally a law-abiding citizen, it feels a bit scary and naughty, although I understand that the worst that can happen is that I receive a fine by a cop doing his or her job. I also pay health insurance, so felt that any expensive results would be mine to bear.

I have to say, though, that it feels fantastic – so comfortable, so convenient. And I perceive myself to be quite safe since I am a reasonably skilled and confident rider, I obey the road rules (including stopping at red lights), and I don’t go so fast that if I fall off I’ll hurt myself much. I am also a defensive rider, staying wide of parked cars, use clear hand signals, stay in the designated lanes and stop boxes, and have a big fantastic fibre-optic blinking rear red light which is on all the time. I do wear a sun hat, which is good sun-sense, and also is a head covering of sorts, so that I am not a big distraction to others on the road who are not expecting to see flowing locks aloft.

So far, 2 months into my experiment, I have had one comment, from a car passenger in the back of a van on the other side of Moorhouse Ave. I have ridden past traffic cops in cars, and cops on the footpath – once even riding on the footpath (oops, mild legal transgression) towards an officer on foot coming my way. As we passed, she looked right through me.

The real test of nerve came yesterday – 3 high-viz traffic cops, with 3 high-vis cop cars, all together in the same place, looking for errant road users along Ferry Road.

I’d noticed them there last week – they had pulled up some Hapless Cycling Youth in a beanie, no helmet and he wasn’t enjoying himself. I was in my car, driving the other way – poor sod.

But today it was my turn. As I approached, one of them moved into the road way and I mentally prepared to receive my grilling.

Stop! You don’t look quite right Miss!

I even slowed down to get ready for a graceful dismount and show a highly co-operative demeanour. Then the Meerkat in me Took Over – I should Sit Tall, keep my Eye on the Distant Goal, and Ride On. So I did. He looked right through me. As I passed along, I waited for the inevitable Waaeeyooooowaaeeyoooooo signalling a Low Speed Chase.

Ride Meerkat, Ride!!

I rode as Fast as the Wind, looking neither to the Left nor the Right, overtaking, undertaking, breathtaking and …. Whoops, those Meerkat Fantasies sometimes get Out of Hand.

Nothing happened. Tacet. Whew. That really was a Meerkat Moment.

7 thoughts on “A near-brush with The Law [Warning: Censored – for Adult Viewing Only]”

  1. I confess I’ve been more and more tempted myself recently. As a recent import I’ve wondered how aggressively the local constabulary enforce the helmet law — I certainly see more people riding without down here than I did in Wellington.

  2. My view of the matter is that there’s nothing wrong with wearing a helmet (if that is what you choose to do), but there is everything wrong with making it compulsory.

    In the bad old days of the Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA), 100% of their keeping cyclists safe efforts went into increasing the helmet wearing rate. Compare that with Holland, where you will hardly find an adult who wears a helmet, and where authorities focus on those issues that keep cyclists from having crashes in the first place. And what is the result of all of that? In New Zealand, the crash rate for cyclists is six times that of Holland’s cyclists.

    What do I conclude from this? If the objective is to keep cyclists safe, then focus on the things that are effective. Helmets are not one of them.

  3. I’m not convinced about the logic with this argument. If there is ‘scientific’ evidence, i.e. with research and validation then I would very much like to see it. There also appears to be a mis-application of cause and effect. Do we really believe that Dutch cyclists are safer because they don’t enforce helmet wearing? Why does that law have anything to do with enforcement of other road traffic rules regarding cyclists.

    I wear a helmet, and a high-viz vest and have lights because I’d rather err on side of caution with MY safety. These things help to avoid and mitigate risk and injury. I also cycle in a defensive mode to ensure drivers are aware of my presence and modify their driving to take account of me. I subscribe to the view that there are drivers out there have no regard to my safety.

    I’d like to have the police take account of cyclist safety in their interpretation and enforcement of the law. If cyclists are seen to only choose to comply with laws they see fit to, then is it any surprise if other road users do exactly the same also? Cyclists that don’t wear helmets, ride at night without lights, jump junctions, ride the wrong way down streets, etc, etc give all cyclists a bad name and take the public off our side when we want road laws for our protection enforced.

  4. Hello John, I have not said that Dutch cyclists are safer because they don’t enforce helmet wearing over there. What I did say is that Dutch cyclists are safer because their authorities have for decades (since the early 1970s, to be precise) focused on those things that will result in increased safety for cyclists. One of the most effective things that one can do is to reduce speeds in urban areas. All over Europe, 30 km/h speed limits that apply area-wide are rather common. And the main roads that have higher speed limits have facilities for cyclists where they are physically separated from traffic.

    See what I mean?

  5. The scientific evidence around helmet effectiveness is very conflicting. There seem to be a million scientific papers where is argued that wearing a helmet is beneficial and an equal amount of papers arguing the contrary. A the end of the day it is a personal choice about safety.

    Most scientist agree that helmet laws discourages people to cycle. As cycling has proven health benefits it would be great if we could find ways to keep cyclists safe without forcing helmets on them. I think Holland is a perfect example that proves that cyclists can be very safe without a helmet because the infrastructure provides adequate safety to cyclists.

  6. Hi John

    4 reasons why wearing a helemt should remain a personal choice:

    1. Riding a bicycle is a healthy activity and people who do so regularly, live longer, on average, than people who do not ride bicycles. Cycling should be encouraged.
    2. Cycling is inherently safe. Laws that make the wearing of helmets compulsory (or any safety equipment, for that matter) present the message that cycling is dangerous and in turn, act as a barrier to people taking up cycling.
    3. Wearing a helmet may of course, reduce the risk to an individual of suffering a head injury in a crash. This logic applies to all activities. But for cycling, that risk needs to be weighed up against the potential to discourage people from participating in such a healthy activity and efficient form of transport. The negative impact of mandating for helmet use is that it undermines the benefits of lots of people cycling slowly like #wheeledpedestrians.
    4. A compulsory helmet law is a convenient smokescreen for inaction on making our roads safer for all users. Safety will come with more people cycling, slowly. And more people will cycle if the transport environment is safer. A combination of reduced traffic, reduced speeds and an allocation of space to people on bicycles will achieve that goal. Unless you are participating in a high risk, sporty event, the wearing a helmet while cycling needs to be/remain a choice.

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