Helmets 'deter female cyclists'

SASHA BORISSENKO
Last updated 13:00 27/02/2014
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The wearing of helmets is deterring Nelson schoolgirls from getting on bicycles, say cycle advocates.

As part of Bike Wise Month, Bicycle Nelson Bays ran a film night at The Boathouse on Tuesday night together with guest speaker, Green MP and former transport planner Julie Anne Genter.

The film, Beauty and the Bike, followed two groups of young women, one from Darlington, England where teenage cycling was scarce, and one from Bremen, Germany, where cycling was rife.

The film concluded there was a lack of political will in England to build safe cycling infrastructure.

Bicycle Nelson Bays co-coordinator John-Paul Pochin said a film of this nature was important as although Nelson had a high rate of cyclists, young females were under-represented.

Perceptions of safety deterred young people from cycling, he said.

Perhaps it was having to wear helmets that prevented girls getting on their bikes, he said.

"It is a sticking point. We know the wearing of helmets deters the number of people getting on bikes."

It was a catch-22 as either children felt unsafe to go on the roads and felt they needed to wear helmets, or the wearing of helmets acted as another barrier to getting on the road.

The irony was that with more cyclists on the roads, the safer it would be to cycle.

Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said while the use of helmets was a compelling argument, some states in the United States had similar low rates of female cyclists despite not having mandatory helmet laws, she said.

"I think you have to make cycling more safe before you consider whether to change the helmet law."

New Zealand had a low rate of women cycling because of a perceived danger, difficult routes and unpleasant rides, she said.

"If you put in place infrastructure that makes people feel safe you will undoubtedly see more people cycling."

And the benefits of cycling were massive, she said. These included reduced wear and tear on the roads, less demand for car parks, massive health benefits, congestion reduction, and money saved on petrol and cars.

"Beauty and the Bike shows that people of all ages will cycle when the infrastructure is designed for people. We can do that here in New Zealand."

Ministry of Transport land transport safety manager Leo Mortimer said helmet wearing had been mandatory since 1994.

Improving road safety for all road users was a key long term goal for the government, he said.

The investment being made in walking and cycling through the National Land Transport Programme was significant, with about $80 million for 2012-15 in for walking and cycling.

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Data gathered from the Ministry of Transport's household travel survey showed that males spent more time cycling than females for all age groups.

The ministry has not undertaken any specific research looking into reasons why there might be a lower uptake in cycling by women.

New Zealand Transport Agency acting regional director Kate Styles said good infrastructure helped to protect cyclists, but it did not work in isolation.

"We urge motorists to be courteous, share the road and to recognise that they are more vulnerable.

"While it is commendable that the media highlights legitimate safety issues around cycling, it's important to also emphasise the enormous benefits cycling offers and to not overstate the risks involved."

Funding for new and improved walking and cycling facilities in Nelson was at its highest ever, with numerous projects either underway or due to begin shortly.

"This multimillion-dollar package will further cement Nelson's status as one of the most cycle-friendly centres in New Zealand," she said.

In the last five years there had been no cycle fatalities on Nelson roads. "This upsurge in investment will help to reduce the chances of future fatalities and serious injuries," she said.

- Nelson

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