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Minister rejects call for helmets to be made compulsory for some cyclists in Netherlands

Report commissioned by government says children and older cyclists should wear protective headgear

Children and elderly people in the Netherlands should be required to wear cycle helmets. That’s one of the recommendations of a report commissioned by the country’s infrastructure minister in a bid to cut casualties among road users, but she says it is very unlikely to become law.

The minister, Melanie Schultz van Haegen, asked the country’s Road Safety Research Foundation (SWOV) to draw up suggestions to improve road safety because the government believes it will not meet road safety targets, reports nltimes.nl.

The government has said it wants to cut the number of road deaths to 500 and serious injuries to 10,600 by 2020. In 2013, the latest year for which statistics are available, those figures stood respectively at 570 and 18,800.

The report outlined 18 measures that it believed would help reduce the casualty toll, among them the requirement for children and older people to wear helmets while cycling, as well as moped riders.

It also said that voluntary usage of helmets should be encouraged among other riders although it acknowledged such a measure was likely to prove unpopular.

They would also doubtless be rejected by campaigners, with evidence from territories where partial or full compulsion has been introduced such as Australia or some parts of the United States being that cycle use falls once it is enforced, and therefore has a detrimental effect on broader public health.

According to SWOV's report, the deaths of up to five children, and five older people, could be saved each year by 2020 if helmets were compulsory, with a fall of 140 and 225 in the number of serious injuries for the respective groups.

But the minister does not believe helmets should be compulsory for bike riders. “I think it should be an optional,” she said. “It is questionable whether a helmet really helps, sometimes it can also cause more damage.”

Other recommendations contained in the report include stronger enforcement of speed limits, reducing the drink-drive limit, fitting autonomous emergency braking systems to vehicles to detect cyclists and pedestrians, as well as improving lighting on cycle paths.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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12 comments

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Ride2Wk | 8 years ago
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Funny how the Dutch allow people to burn their brains out with drugs but will consider forcing them to shield their brains with helmets  21 Whether it's drugs or helmets, people & parents should decide for themselves as long as they don't directly harm others.
Learn from the Australian example and do NOT introduce helmet laws for any age group regardless of what the insurance & car companies, narrow minded brain surgeons & helmet advocates say.
In other news already on Road.cc today Arni has been pulled up cops on a share bike. You really don't want that in your country.
I have a medical exemption in Australia and I've been pulled up twice a day sometimes by police who have no idea about road safety or how ineffective "Esky lids" can be. Most of the time the police are OK about it but many of them are the stereotypical anti-cyclist bully boys using the law as an excuse to harass cyclists & even kids.

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skull-collector... | 9 years ago
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How about introducing the pedestrian as well as driving helmet?

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Ush | 9 years ago
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Anyone able to translate the Dutch? I was wondering what the real meat of this report is based on. I skimmed the references and did not find any of the recent literature about helmet effectiveness that I recognized.

I certainly did not see the 2013 Goldacre & Spiegelhalter BMJ paper which concluded that both the individual and population-level benefits of wearing helmets were "contentious" and "epistemologically challenging".

I wonder upon what particular research this Dutch transport ministry press release is based for their unusually strong specific claim?

http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f3817

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tomturcan | 9 years ago
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It's certainly true that people who bury their heads in the sand won't benefit from wearing helmets

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Kim | 9 years ago
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Lets by clear about the motives behind this move, it is not about safety, it's about aggressive marketing of plastic hats. Look at who really benefits from helmets laws, it is not people riding bicycles.

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dafyddp | 9 years ago
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If there was a proper political will, I'm sure the mobile issue could be tackled through technology. I'm sure we could develop a protocol that prevents mobiles working above certain speeds unless cradled.

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pmanc replied to dafyddp | 9 years ago
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dafyddp wrote:

If there was a proper political will, I'm sure the mobile issue could be tackled through technology. I'm sure we could develop a protocol that prevents mobiles working above certain speeds unless cradled.

Of course the problem is this would stop passengers legally using phones.

One solution (which seems perfectly reasonable to me) is a system which takes a photo of a car with a phone being used in it, so a person can check if the driver is holding the phone in question. Of course some papers have played to the usual drivers' sense of entitlement when reporting this:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/11394125/...
...pity the poor "hard-pressed" motorist being "spied" on.

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oldstrath replied to pmanc | 9 years ago
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pmanc wrote:
dafyddp wrote:

If there was a proper political will, I'm sure the mobile issue could be tackled through technology. I'm sure we could develop a protocol that prevents mobiles working above certain speeds unless cradled.

Of course the problem is this would stop passengers legally using phones.

One solution (which seems perfectly reasonable to me) is a system which takes a photo of a car with a phone being used in it, so a person can check if the driver is holding the phone in question. Of course some papers have played to the usual drivers' sense of entitlement when reporting this:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/11394125/...
...pity the poor "hard-pressed" motorist being "spied" on.

To be honest I don't really see the problem with stopping passengers using phones.

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hexapodium replied to pmanc | 9 years ago
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The phone-detector kit is a technological folly, though.

There are two options: either it detects all mobile phone band emissions, in which case it's going to be lit up for 99% of cars with a mobile phone in them at all (because a 2G or newer phone is actively radiating every few seconds anyway, as a protocol requirement) and thus is a very expensive LED matrix sign which might as well not have a detector.

Option 2 is that it only takes a picture of phones which are distinctively "on a call", which doesn't stop you texting at the wheel. It also fails completely with 4G signals as there's no longer a distinction between "on a call" emissions and other emissions. The sign will now light up for (some) people using a phone while they're driving, but not all of them, and it'll light up for passengers as well, and people using handsfree units, and all sorts of other law-abiding behaviours.

From a "being spied upon" perspective, I have an unusual degree of sympathy here: it's a relatively well-accepted principle in English law, current GCHQ stuff notwithstanding, that the public's law-abiding activities shouldn't be documented and stored as a matter of course. This is why (for example) speed cameras only store pictures (or video) once a vehicle is detected speeding, rather than blanket recording to tape and then index-marking speeding vehicles with a timestamp. Heaven knows they would be simpler and more effective that way. Attaching a camera to a mobile phone detector unit would essentially involve either not taking pictures of lots of illegal drivers who were texting at the wheel or otherwise engaged in illegal but non-radiating behaviour (which might fall foul of the principle that the law should not be selectively enforced), or taking pictures of lots of legal drivers whose phones happened to be autonomously emitting at the time. As a side effect, the police would now be faced with a real challenge in terms of algorithmically (or manually) working through thousands of images per camera per day, and identifying 1) who was driving, 2) if they were using a mobile phone, and 3) if their use was illegal. None of these is trivial - lefthand drive vehicles would complicate 1), in-cab radios or handsfree units while in an "unusual" posture would fox 2), and 3) requires a CPS robot which, though evidently being worked on for needlessly prosecuting cyclists who stray out of a lane to avoid obstruction, seems regrettably far away for prosecuting drivers.

Automated detection of phone use is a nice idea, but it's clearly been dreamt up by someone who doesn't actually know much about phone technology and instead learned good PR and marketing skills.

As far as "what's so wrong with passengers not being able to use phones", I might point to all the people on trains and buses who seem glued to them, for all sorts of reasons. And of course any reasonably complex limitation in that sort of system can be overruled, especially in situations where it's one country versus the world. There's nothing to stop me flashing my phone with an un-gimped firmware, and indeed I expect if such a daft law were ever to pass in the UK it would be a simple five minute trip to a phone repair shop and a tenner for anyone to have the same done.

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OldRidgeback | 9 years ago
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Dutch enforcement of laws against drink driving and speeding is actually pretty good. But like elsewhere the country is suffering from the use of phones while driving. If the Dutch authorities really want to tackle cycle safety, that's a good place to start.

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burtthebike | 9 years ago
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Interesting that all the other measures considered, stronger enforcement of speed limits, reducing the drink-drive limit, fitting autonomous emergency braking systems to vehicles to detect cyclists and pedestrians, as well as improving lighting on cycle paths, aim to reduce risk. The only one which doesn't reduce risk of a collision and actually increases it, is compulsory cycle helmets, which has no history of making cycling safer.

Compulsory helmets might, and only might, save ten lives a year. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences, increased obesity, reduced levels of exercise, will kill many times more than that.

Not quite sure how such sensible people as the Dutch actually reached the conclusions of this report, and I'd love to see their working out.

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kamoshika | 9 years ago
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I'm assuming it also recommended compulsory helmets for people driving motor vehicles and their passengers  102

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