Support strong for cycle helmets

By Brendan Manning

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While cycling advocates call for a review of New Zealand's mandatory helmet law, a local cycle safety campaigner says the law is preventing serious injuries.

Police have issued more than 1400 tickets to Bay cyclists for not wearing helmets in the past 10 years.

Local cycle safety advocate Iris Thomas said the law should stay put.

"Don't even go there, it's a no-brainer.

"You never know when you're going to need your helmet. I teach children and children are more likely to fall off their bike for no reason at all," Ms Thomas said.

"If you come off your bike, the odds of hitting your head are pretty high."

Ms Thomas said while some of the more laid back types in Mount Maunganui chose not to wear a helmet, she would never take that risk herself.

"I would never bike without a helmet and none of my team would either.

I don't know any cyclist who's a serious cyclist that would bike without a helmet."

Tauranga Road Cycling Club president Greg Taylor has experienced the benefit of a helmet first hand.

"In my 20 years of cycling I've had the misfortune of falling off my bike four times and three times I've cracked my helmet."

Had he not been wearing a helmet the outcome would have been much worse, he said.

"I would suggest that everybody should wear a helmet when they are on the road ... As a club we're very strong advocates of it."

Nationally, police have issued more than 85,000 tickets to cyclists not wearing helmets in the past decade.

Fourteen cyclists have died on New Zealand roads and 332 have suffered serious injuries since January last year, NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) figures show.

Two of the dead cyclists were not wearing helmets.

Bicycle helmets were made mandatory in January 1994.

Non-compliance can result in a $55 infringement fee or maximum $1000 fine on summary conviction.

Cycling Advocates Network (CAN) spokesman Patrick Morgan said the organisation wanted the helmet law reviewed as it deterred potential cyclists.

However, cycle lanes and vehicle speed reduction were more important priorities, he said.

Mr Morgan obtained an exemption to the helmet legislation under medical grounds armed with a doctor's certificate in 2004.

He only wears a helmet when he deems there is sufficient risk.

"It's kind of like if you imagine a car racing driver.

"They'd probably wear a helmet because they're doing a high-risk thing, but when you drive down to KFC you probably wouldn't bother."

NZTA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said exemptions could be given on religious or medical grounds. Nearly 150 exemptions have been granted since the law was introduced - four this year. The origins of the helmet law were widely attributed to the campaigning of Rebecca Oaten, dubbed the "helmet lady", in the late 1980s.

Ms Oaten campaigned for helmets to be made compulsory after her son Aaron suffered permanent brain damage when he was hit by a car while riding to school in Palmerston North in 1986.

Ms Oaten said a doctor at the time told her Aaron would "almost certainly not have suffered brain damage" if he was wearing a helmet. Aaron Oaten died in 2010 aged 37.

A New Zealand medical journal article published in February this year found New Zealand's bicycle helmet law had failed in aspects of promoting cycling, safety, health, accident compensation, environmental issues and civil liberties.

The article estimated the law cost 53 lives each year in premature deaths due to a corresponding reluctance to cycle and lack of exercise.

A 2011 Ministry of Transport survey found 93 per cent of cyclists wore helmets.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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