Dutch scratching head over helmets
11 January 2011. The long and proud Dutch tradition of riding without helmets is coming under challenge from trauma surgeons in the Netherlands who want something done about the level of head injuries in children and adolescents.
Each year about 26,000 children and adolescents are treated in hospital emergency departments in the Netherlands after bike crashes. About 2000 are hospitalised and 30 will die.
According to TraumaNet AMC, a joint venture of hospitals in and around Amsterdam, many of these crashes result in head injuries.
The trauma specialists say that helmets would reduce the risk of head injuries by 63 to 88 per cent, particularly in children.
As someone who has spent a lot of time in the Netherlands this subject is very interesting to me!
There seems to be some pressure from some in the medical fraternity in The Netherlands to encourage children in the 4-8 year old category to wear helmets but I can tell you there is no way Dutch people will ever make helmets compulsory for people older then that. I would not be exaggerating in saying that you would have as much chance of forcing a Dutch person to wear a helmet as you would in prohibition of alcohol in Australia. I'm not talking about the lycra guys on weekends (They wear helmets), I'm talking about the everyday people using a bike as a means of going to school, shopping, going to work, etc.
Now think about it. The reason this is an issue in Holland is because a huge proportion of 4-8 year old kids ride to school either on the bike with parents or cycling alone with friends. How many 4-8 year old children ride to school in Australia? In the village that my family comes from, EVERY SINGLE CHILD RIDES TO SCHOOL. And there are over 1000 kids at that school. They don't even have school buses there, it's not needed.
Now for young cyclists (up to 8) I think it's a good idea to wear a helmet. They are a bit more clumsy and not fully aware of the dangers in traffic. However I feel we need some perspective here. I estimate that at least 70-80% of school children either ride or are riden to school every day in Holland. Keep in mind they ride to school, back to home and many kids also ride home for lunch as well in Holland (therefore 4 cycling trips just going to and from school every weekday!), not to mention weekends, going to sports, friends etc. The Netherlands has a population of around 16,000,000 and lets say that 'children and adolescents' number around 20% of the population. That means that there are at least 2,4000,000 'children and adolescent' cyclists (using 75% participation). This means you have a 1 in 80,000 chance of dying on a bike as a child or adolescent if we use the 30 dying a year statistic.
Now let's have a look at car crashes in Australia. If we have a look at this article - Aussie Car Crash Stats you will see as a driver you have 1 in 12,500 (2005 stats) chance of dying in a car. Therefore according to my rough calculations, as an Australian driver YOU HAVE 640% MORE CHANCE OF DYING AS AN AUSTRALIAN DRIVER THAN BEING KILLED AS A CHILD OR ADOLESCENT ON A BIKE, RIDING EVERY DAY IN THE NETHERLANDS. Sorry for shouting, thought I'd like to get that point across. Just in case the point didn't sink in...640%!
Let's face facts, The Netherlands has by far the highest AND safest rate of cycling in the developed World. If we are serious about getting people on bikes than we need to stop putting our head in the sand and learn from the masters of bicycle advocacy and safety. Stop the child murder
wow Paul that is interesting.
What are the factors (other than helmet laws) that make the cycling culture so integral to the Dutch community?
I guess that lycra clad cyclists and thousands of $$ bikes are not the majority as they appear to be here. But there must be other things . . .
Firstly for so many children to be out on their bikes parents must feel that they will be safe. I know even 15 years ago here my mother was chastised (by other mothers) because she let my 8 year old brother travel on the bus to school on his own.
In the Ntherlands what are the relative costs of cars/ public transport, given your tax levels are so high, I assume people have less to spend on non essentials, so saving money by biking may be more of a requirement? Inherantly people will use the easiest option and if traffic costs or travel times are slow people will look to other options. In London and other big cities this is the public transport system. Why in the Netherlands is this the bike? Are cars/ parking expensive, is there in sufficient public transport, has the government diverted funds from both of these to put into cycling infrastructure?
Does weather play a factor?
Also Denmark is very flat?? No where to get a great downhill speed greater than 70km/hr like our hills provide? As you said above only lycra clad riders wear helmets so what are the average speeds of those that don't?
How dense is the population housed? Adelaide is a very sprawled city so the distances travelled are much greater than they are in European cities of similar populations (I know I used to live in the UK).
Obviously for any kind of cultural change you need to have a critical mass doing it before it becomes the accepted norm, and we are a very long way from this. What do you think can be done to decrease the reliance on the car and look at alternatives?
Thanks for your contribution Paul, very interesting :)
The points you have raised are very important. The blog that Paul linked to addresses them all.
You say that for children to be out on their bikes, their parents must feel it is safe. That is so. It must be subjectively safe.
As to costs, the Netherlands is one of the richest countries around. People bike simply because it is the easiest option. It is cheap and usually the fastest option.
Weather is not a factor. Although it rains more in the Netherlands than it does in SA, it is actually fairly mild without major weather extremes.
The Netherlands is quite flat but not all of it. Importantly, Switzerland is, as we know, full of hills and mountains and it has a decent cycling modal share.
Density is commonly cited as a factor. While Australia has a low population spread over a very large landmass, nearly all of us live in cities. Density-wise, they are quite comparable.
As to culture, back in the 70s, the Netherlands had a similar rate of cycling to the UK. It was then that the two countries went separate ways. The Netherlands started building its now famous infrastructure while the UK concentrated on building more roads.
The points you raise, and others, are all answered here.
great blog, thanks for that.
I guess this blog is about helmets but it seems to me that regardless of helmets we should aim for a system like the Netherlands and Adelaide (with it's international cycling links) would be a great place to show it is possible.
I will always wear a helmet as I have seen first hand the tragedy that head injuries cause and even if they only prevent a percentage of injuries that is enough for me.
This argument shouldn't be about helmets at all, the legislation is in and increasing numbers of people still ride, the push should be to improve the cycle network so we can match the Netherlands.
Hi Sarah & Edward, :)
To Sarah - As Edward pointed out, David Hembrow's blog has got all the answers to your questions and answers them with pictures and videos.
This video just came up and is pretty relevant to the post I just put above and a great watch!
Sorry for short reply...it's 8.28pm on a Saturday night and I am relaxing!
Have a great weekend.... Paul :)
Still not many people have helmet in Japan. Sometimes a mother rides a bike with two kids...one is sitting fornt of mom, another one is doing behind her seat. But they have no helmets......I thought helmets should be compulsory in Japan!!!
Asami, does Japan have safer cycling facilities than Australia? I saw a photo on AC where cyclist crossing next to pedestrian crossing. In Australia, intersections are one of the more dangerous places for cyclists. With so many cyclists in the photo, I thought Japanese drivers might expect cyclists and look for them. In Australia after a collision or near miss, the driver will often say they did not see the cyclist. In Australia I think that a helmet is necessary. The Netherlands is much safer for cyclists on separated paths so helmets not needed. Are many cyclists injured in Japan?
Heather, I though Japan has not enough safer cycling facilities. Many roads are narrow and also they have not bike lane around Tokyo where I was living. But maybe Japanese drivers manners looks good. We have to go to a driving school when people want to get driver license. We CAN NOT drive outside of the driving school before getting a temporaly ones.
But just now I am searching about cyclists accident in Japan. one web site shows me about that. Cycling accidents were 175,223cases in 2001. 70% of that cases were at intersection. Maybe still many cyclists injured there.
I am interested in that subject, cycling accident in Japan, so I am studying and will report on AC board.
Vehicle and cycling injuries and deaths are often stated as so many per 100,000 or whatever of population. Then it is possible to compare Australia with The Netherlands, and Australia is not as safe either driving or cycling.
If you can find the data, state numbers of collisions, injuries, serious injuries and deaths, but also as a rate of the population. Try to determine rate of cycling collisions, but also rate of vehicle collisions. Then we might know if Japanese are good drivers (in Australia one can learn to drive from parents which is not good), and if they are like Australian drivers who say they do not see cyclists.
There is a new AC group of Look For Cyclists which will later concentrate on cycling collisions and ways that the government could decrease collisions.
Last doco i watched stated that around 15% of tokyos population commute to work by bicycle, and from what i observed while over there it was obvious that riding a bike is an "everyday activity" for most of the population, back here in Aussieland we hardly ride bikes at all, pretty sure less than 1% of our population commutes to work by bicycle.
You certainly have a higher chance of being in a cycling accident if you actually ride a bicycle.
I would assume that a city of 12million people that ride bikes would have more cycling accidents than a city of 1 million people who hardly ride bikes.