Letters

20 August 2014

Copy of a letter addressed to the Prime Minister by Clinton Trass, a member of the Cycling Health Group:

From: Clinton Trass [mailto:clinton.trass@gmail.com]
Sent: Wednesday, 20 August 2014 11:35 a.m.
To: J Key (MIN); john.key@national.org.nz
Subject: cycle helmet law

Dear Prime Minister,

Given the National Party form a natural alliance with the Act Party, and given the Act Party are calling to scrap the (failed) cycle helmet policy NZ adopted in 1994, is this something you will support?

The evidence now against governments making the use of cycle helmets is overwhelming. This is why no other countries (apart from Australia) have across-the-board mandatory cycle helmet laws.

The decision as to whether or not a helmet should be worn should always reside with the individual. For matters of my own personal safety, where my actions harm nobody else – I am sovereign.

I have made contact in the past with your minister, Michael Woodhouse. To date he has refused to look at the issue (he won’t even agree to an independent review).

New Zealand cycling levels will always remain embarrassingly low so long as the helmet law remains and is enforced. Like Australia, any ‘cycle share’ schemes we try to introduce will continue to fail – an entire business model is unable to prosper in NZ and Australia yet they thrive all over the world.

In reality, we will never be able to secure and justify the levels of investment in cycling infrastructure that is needed while so few people cycle. At this stage, of the $3.5 billion set aside for transport initiatives, only $20mil is secured for the combination of cycling and pedestrian initiatives. That is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent. Yet it will always be this way unless we change things.

Repeal the helmet regulation (it does not even require a law change, it is within the ministers power to amend this regulation) and promote cycling to get the numbers up. Cycling will automatically become safer with more people riding bicycles (safety in numbers effect). Then it will become easier to Business Case more of these key cycling infrastructure initiatives (which actually do make cycling safer) as the cost-benefit analysis becomes much more viable.

On a final note, I wanted to share a letter I received from Andrew Gilligan (the Cycling Commissioner for London). I originally emailed Boris Johnson to explain our situation and seek his advice since he has been so instrumental in increasing cycling rates in London. Boris very kindly forwarded my email to Andrew, and this was his response:

Dear Mr Trass

Thank you for your email to the Mayor. He has asked me to reply. I am sorry for the delay in responding.
I am glad you agree with me that enforcing the mandatory wearing of cycle helmets is not the best approach to cycle safety.
My view is that if you want to wear a helmet that’s fine, but if you don’t that is also fine. My concern about helmets is that they reinforce the idea – which isn’t actually true – that cycling is a highly dangerous pursuit suitable only for fit people in protective gear. It’s actually fairly safe and has grown about 25 per cent safer in London over the last ten years.
There’s surprisingly little scientific evidence (I know of no large-scale empirical study for instance, though I stand to be corrected) that helmets make you safer. Common sense would tell you that they must do – but I can think of some reasons why they might not, such the fact that they reduce a rider’s situational awareness or lead drivers to give you a less wide berth. Evidence from the Boris bikes is interesting – they are overwhelmingly ridden by inexperienced and helmetless riders, and ridden more erratically than “normal” bikes too – but casualties have been low. That is partly, I think, because drivers give them a wider berth than they would give to someone in Lycra and a helmet.
CTC, the national cycling charity here in the UK, has some information about why cycle helmets should not be mandatory (www.ctc.org.uk/campaign/cycle-helmets-evidence), as does the London Cycling Campaign (http://lcc.org.uk/articles/should-i-wear-a-helmet). I hope these are helpful to you.
I wish you all the best in your endeavour, and thanks again for getting in touch.
Yours sincerely
Andrew Gilligan
Cycling Commissioner for London

How is it that the leadership in London can be so far ahead in their thinking than us on this topic?

Please lend your support. We need to put this issue behind us, realign ourselves with the rest of the world, and move on.

Warm Regards,

Clinton Trass

From: J Key (MIN) <J.Key@ministers.govt.nz>
Date: 5 September 2014 14:19
Subject: RE: cycle helmet law
To: “clinton.trass@gmail.com” <clinton.trass@gmail.com

Dear Mr Trass

I am writing to you on behalf of the Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Rt Hon John Key, to acknowledge your email of 20 August 2014 concerning the cycle helmet law. Please be assured your comments have been noted.

As the issue you have raised falls within the portfolio of responsibilities of the associate Minister of transport, Hon Michael Woodhouse, your email has been forwarded on to the office for information.

Thank you for taking the time to write to the Prime Minister.

Yours sincerely
P Robinson
Executive Assistant Correspondence Unit
Office of the Prime Minister