Archive for January, 2018

Bicycling, Helmets and the Government

We’ve been in Melbourne for about 2 1/2 weeks and we’ve done a decent amount of exploring via tram. But since we picked up a couple bicycles (hats off to our LBS, Samson Cycles!) our explorations have gone to a new level.  In addition, it’s a dead easy commute from our flat to the University of Melbourne campus where I’m hanging my hat (or helmet)  for the next few months.

Cycling here as as good as one can expect from any large city. There’s a lot of traffic, but there’s also a lot of infrastructure dedicated to making it possible to get around on two wheels without undue risk. If you take time to plan your trip and pay attention, it’s not too bad getting round.

But there’s an interesting twist here in the land of Crocodile Dundee.

Helmets are mandatory for all cyclist. It’s the law in every state in the country.

And the Australian news has been covering the current debate in the U.K. to pass similar legislation.  Interestingly, the opposition to this legislation appears to be strongest in the University regions of Oxford and Cambridge.  I guess they haven’t come up with a helmet that goes well with tweed. (There’s a real business opportunity there, if you ask me).

Just last week, we were treated to a video of one of our grandson’s riding a bicycle (sans training wheels, but with helmet!). It made me realize that I’ve been riding bicycles for well over 5 decades and regularly wearing a helmet since Bell came out with their first models in the 1980’s.

Remember these?

So, the debate around requiring helmets seems a bit — academic — to me.  After all, I my livelihood depends (arguably) more than most on the contents of my skull, so it only makes sense to protect it.  Also, once I get on a bicycle saddle, I develop a  deep and abiding distrust of all people behind the wheel.  As the psychologists would tell you, it’s a learned response.

But imagine my surprise when a few months ago, someone turned me on to this TED talk, with the catchy and provocative title: “Why we shouldn’t wear bike helmets”

A quick aside: At 1:36 in the video there’s a list of the world’s 20 most livable cities, 2 are in Australia (Melbourne #9) and one in New Zealand! (The only 3 in North America are Honolulu, Vancouver and Montreal.)

Regardless of where you land on government regulations, I highly recommend this thoughtful discussion of livable cities, reasonable risk and the proper role of government.  One line in particular stayed with me, and is attributed to German sociologist Ulrick Beck:  “once homo sapiens are no longer hungry, they become afraid”.

So what’s the point? At a very personal  level, I’m torn between my libertartian leanings that say the folks should make their own decisions (and live with the consequences) and my sense that there is a role for government to promote general welfare.  And in country like Australia and the UK, part of that job is running a nationwide healthcare system funded by taxpayers. In that sense, it makes perfect economic sense to pass laws intended to keep people safer if it lowers overall health care costs (and let’s face it, traumatic brain injuries can by very expensive).

For now though, I’ll continue to wear my helmet, regardless of what the government has to say about it, because it just make sense, and I don’t trust drivers.

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January 30, 2018 at 1:44 am Leave a comment

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