Helmets 'may be deterring cyclists'

Last updated 08:21 23/10/2008
BRADLEY AMBROSE/Taranaki Daily News
ON YER BIKE: Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven yesterday mused on the effects of the helmet law.

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Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven might want a safety helmet himself after wondering whether ditching the helmet law would get more people on to bicycles.

Speaking at a New Zealand Traffic Institute forum yesterday, Mr Duynhoven raised the question of whether making helmets compulsory was discouraging people from cycling, saying there was a high number of cyclists in countries in which helmets were optional.

He suggested that more people might ride bikes if they did not have to wear helmets, then back- tracked, saying that did not mean he supported a law change.

"I wonder if we never had helmets what our cycle population might be ... I'm not advocating getting rid of helmets, I'm just saying I wonder what the social effect of helmets has been."

Bicycle helmets were made compulsory in New Zealand in 1994 and have been credited with saving numerous lives. However, some studies have suggested the health benefits may be negligible because of the number of people turned off cycling.

Rebecca Oaten, of Palmerston North, who advocated for helmets to be compulsory when her son Aaron suffered serious brain damage after being knocked from his bike in 1986, said she was appalled by Mr Duynhoven's comments. Her son was now 35 and needed constant care.

Ms Oaten agreed more people would ride bikes if they did not have to wear a helmet "but how many of those would end up brain-damaged or dead?

"People who aren't for safety helmets really should come and spend a week with us, just to see the effects of riding without a helmet."

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- The Dominion Post

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