Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bike Helmets

I have extended family in the Netherlands and it's a common pastime to compare our two countries - my adopted America and my former, Holland.  With the blog, I've been focusing on biking, which is a pretty big deal over there as a matter of transportation, not sport.  This was a common theme from a previous post from another blogger who had sat at an intersection taking photos for an hour, and commenting about the biking culture and lack of helmets.  see post here http://carfreeinannarbor.blogspot.com/2010/10/biking-in-amsterdam.html

Today in the Wall Street Journal, there was an article about the Dutch and helmets, see article here

Getting These Cyclists to Use Helmets Is Like Tilting at Windmills

Bicycle-Loving Dutch Hate Headgear; 'We Are Not in Germany'

MAASTRICHT, Netherlands—Pediatrician Eduardo Villamor knows a lot about kids, so he wasn't surprised when his own children refused to wear bicycle helmets.
"They'd rather go to school naked," says the father of four.
Province of Zeeland - Children in Zeeland, Netherlands, received free bike helmets this year as part of a safety campaign.
The Netherlands boasts the world's highest per capita use of bicycles. It has thousands of miles of paved bicycle paths, with traffic lights specifically for riders. It is dotted with sheltered bike parking. Trains have bike compartments. Bikers get priority on most roads, and youngsters take biking tests.
Even in the frequent rain, Dutch streets are brimming with bikers. Across the pancake-flat country, bikes are a key form of transportation.

But among Holland's millions of bikers, helmets are almost nonexistent—and resistance to them is fierce. Only 0.1% of Dutch bikers wear helmets, in contrast to 15% in nearby Sweden and 38% in the U.S., according to the British cycling organization CTC.  "It's just not part of Dutch culture to use helmets," says Wim Bot, spokesman for the Dutch Cyclists Union. Advocating them for everyday use, he adds, "leads to very emotional debates."

The province of Zeeland this year launched an experiment to overcome the taunting that kids face for wearing helmets by enticing all students in 42 schools to wear free helmets. The Dutch unit of the auto maker Volvo, which touts the safety of its cars, in April started giving children free helmets. And hospitals around Amsterdam that specialize in trauma surgery recently played host to a symposium on the merits of helmets for kids.

Dutch opponents say the country's safe bike paths render helmets unnecessary and its motorists defer to bikers. Dutch riders have the world's lowest accident rate per mile, according to the CTC, and some studies suggest they also have a low rate of head trauma. Some skeptics even warn that headgear could unintentionally undermine public health. The logic here is that helmets make biking appear dangerous, and that could scare potential riders away, thus reducing the exercise they get.

I can think of at least 3 people that have had a serious bike accident in the last few years.  I always  wear a helmet and will continue to enourage my children and their friends to do the same.

Astrid  (not sure what's up with the italics!)

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