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        Showing posts with label culture of fear. Show all posts
        Showing posts with label culture of fear. Show all posts

        06 November 2017

        Traffic Safety Orgs Speak for Themselves - Not the Rest of Us

        Classic traffic safety organisation narrative. "Stop cycling".

        By Stephanie Patterson
        With Mikael Colville-Andersen

        In the diverse world of traffic planning, advocacy and various movements for liveable cities, there is an odd group of outliers who broadcast conflicting messages. While “traffic safety” organisations seem like a natural part of the gallery and of the narrative, upon closer inspection they exist in a communication vacuum populated exclusively by like-minded organisations. There is little correlation with those organisations who advocate cycling, pedestrianism or safer streets. The traffic safety crowd are in a world unto themselves, with little or no accountability for the campaigns they develop or the messaging they broadcast. They are often allied with insurance companies who clearly take comfort in working with others who embrace scaring the population at large through constructed fear.

        In many ways, they are a classic subculture, with strong hints of sect-like behaviour. The English sociologist Roy Wallis argues that a sect is characterized by “epistemological authoritarianism”. According to Wallis, “sects lay a claim to possess unique and privileged access to the truth or salvation and “their committed adherents typically regard all those outside the confines of the collectivity as 'in error'”.

        The American sociologists Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge assert that "sects claim to be an authentic, purged, refurbished version of the faith from which they split". They further assert that sects have, in contrast to churches, a high degree of tension with the surrounding society.

        We thought it appropriate to do a little communication meta-analysis of their techniques of the traffic safety subculture.


        “If it is going to make any meaningful contribution to the reduction of danger on the roads, our criminal justice system needs to recalibrate away from the prejudice that motoring is innocuous and cycling dangerous and towards controlling the behaviour of those imposing greatest risk.”

        Martin Porter - QC, personal injury lawyer and Author of the blog ‘The Cycling Lawyer’ made this statement in relation to a recent manslaughter charge that was issued to a cyclist in London who collided with a pedestrian, resulting in her death.

        The final conviction of “wanton and furious” cycling brings up the question of how different road users are treated and perceived. Would someone driving a car receive the same level of punishment? Not likely.

        Along with the legal system, traffic safety organisations are integral players in shaping how we view road users all around the world. The first thing we noticed was how all these organisations seem to ignore one of the key messages required to truly make roads safer.

        Lower the number of motor vehicles on the road, and slow them down. We call it Ignoring the Bull here at Copenhagenize Design Company.

        Anyone who works in traffic planning or advocacy will find the lack of focus on the obvious to be rather bizarre. As it is now, the campaign language and programs promoted by the traffic safety organisations unabashedly victimise the individual (primarily pedestrians and cyclists) rather than speak out about the dangers of motorised vehicles. They also tend to ignore the one most obvious solution to lower road fatalities – a drastic reduction in the number of motorised vehicles on the road.

        Even a nine year old can figure it out that this is the only way to go:

        However, the traffic safety organisations have settled upon strategies that are as uniform as they are blatant in their support of the status quo. As the following images show, these trends are not limited to countries who have high numbers of road fatalities, but in fact the same rhetoric and messages can be seen globally.

        (Left) Road safety Australia, again victimising the individual and making being a pedestrian a dangerous activity. (Centre) Road Safety Campaign in Spain - 1998, a good way to turn people off walking (Right) More Australian victim-blaming without addressing the problem.

        The influence of road safety organisations clearly extends to municipalities, inviting them into their echo chamber, from where they point their fingers at the non-motorist population.

        Signage in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen sends people on a wild detour and instructs them to cross at the designated crossing, putting motorist convenience above that of pedestrians and cyclists. A local response (right) clarified the municipality’s intentions with the added text: “Frederiksberg loves cars more than you”

        Just take a look the recent ETSC Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) Conference held in Brussels in June 2017. The speaker list only represented the views of the car industry and road safety organisations which support it. Talk about an echo chamber.

        Speakers from other disciplines and with different points of view on methods of change, such as experts in user behaviour, strategies about behaviour change, and advocates of increasing alternative transport modes were absent as they always are. A diverse selection of opinions would include people who are not interested in maintaining the car-centric status quo in our cities, so why invite them?

        Whilst the organisations’ messages and actions vary based on their country or region of reference, there are common threads which we can see in a number of the road safety organisations campaigns, including:

        - Consistent use of the car industry’s favourite phrase, traffic accident, rather than fatality or crash. The rise of the hashtag #crashnotaccident hasn't penetrated the walls of their echo chamber.
        - The use of the phrase vulnerable road users without any corresponding reference to dangerous vehicles
        - Programs indirectly or directly implying that walking and cycling are dangerous and freely using classic Culture of Fear techniques to scare cyclists and pedestrians
        - Anti-distraction programs
        - Anti-drink driving
        - Anti-speed programs

        Their baseline is clear. Cars are here to stay - everyone else either get out of the way or bubble wrap yourself. What this communication subculture doesn’t talk about is rather telling. Basically anything that would brand cars as the problem - or reducing the number of cars.

        We don't know how many of you are aware that the United Nations declared the grand Decade of Action on Road Safety in order to tackle traffic deaths. Actually they declared it back in 2011. Have we saved millions of lives together, as they claimed we would? Nah. What has happened since? Lots of expensive campaigns from highly funded NGOs but absolutely no reduction in the number of traffic deaths worldwide.

        We analysed the communication narrative used by a number of traffic safety organisations and present some of them here.

        FIA Foundation
        (Left) Series of graphics by FIA. None of them call for a reduction in the number of cars that kill. (Bottom center) FIA's helmet campaign. (Bottom right) Children with their shiny new FIA helmets. 
        (Top center and right) Images from the #staybright campaign insisting that pedestrians and cyclists dress up like clowns

        Meet The FIA Foundation (slogan: For the Automobile and Society). They are the advocacy arm of the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile, who run the Formula 1 races. Their foundation is an international body funded by industry but also supported by heavyweight NGOs, UNICEF, UN Environment, the World Resources Institute and Save the Children. An organisation with this level of funding and recognition behind it should be leading the way in traffic safety, including sending the most effective messages and implementing the best programs to reduce fatalities. But they don't. Their primary focus is on glossy graphics telling everyone to bubble wrap themselves.
        Unfortunately there are a number of unsaid things which we believe are key in combating the issue of road fatalities, including:

        - Proposing any attitude change to the existing transport norms.
        - In car centric cities – saying that we need to change our urban design to de-prioritise motor vehicles and make active transport a viable transport option, not just a recreational activity.
        - Warning people about the inherent danger of driving a motor vehicle. Focusing on the fact that cars and cities don't work well together and that your risk of dying and/or killing others is remarkably high. Instead of scaring people away from bikes and walking, focus on inciting fear of driving
        - In all seriousness, promoting and mandating motorist helmets, as the Australian government has recommended.
        - Programs which restrict car usage or make driving more difficult.
        - Campaigns for alternative transport options as the norm
        - Campaigning for investment in alternative transport infrastructure

        It's a tough sell. These organisations like FIA are clearly not interested in behavioiur change, but rather a continued acceptance of the car-centric status quo.


        Global Health Observatory statistics from 2013 showed over 200,000 traffic fatalities occurred in both India and China. Between 30,000-50,000 fatalities occurred in Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria and USA. Some of the countries with the highest rates of fatalities based on population size were Thailand, Iran, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and United Republic of Tanzania – all with fatalities between 15,000 and 25,000. We have taken a more in depth look at a few organisations across; INDIA - one of the countries with highest number of road fatalities, USA - the worst performing developed nation in terms of number of fatalities, and finally DENMARK - a country with low number of fatalities and generally good alternative transport options.

        India. The country with the highest number of traffic fatalities of any nation annually.

        With a fast growing economy, India has the opportunity to make wise infrastructure investments that improve its cities for its people. Lack of rules, crazy fast driving and cars being seen as indicators of social improvement, are all reasons why the road safety organisations are suggesting modifications to the existing infrastructure rather than addressing a change in attitudes to motor vehicles in India overall.

        Due to the lack of diversity within the road safety authorities we see the same rhetoric over and over again. This recent #ipledge campaign wastefully uses highly influential cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar to spin the same old narrative. Pledging doesn't save lives.

        #ipledge campaign by Aster saferoads based in India

        Arrive Safe
        This is an NGO who claim to be‘working with road safety to promote sustainable transportation India’ but it does not mention bikes at all in any of its activities and proposals to increase road safety. In its Road Safety Manual it provides instruction to road users including basic rules, how to drive safely and so on across 190 pages of the 200 page manual. The final 10 pages briefly mention the benefits of choosing another transport mode and how to look out for pedestrians, bike and rickshaw riders. Same old, same old.


        A particularly gruesome example of the City of Phoenix spreading fear and victimising bike riders in one of their road safety campaigns.

        Of all the developed countries in the world, the US is by far the worst performing in terms of road fatalities and injuries. Estimates from the National Safety Council recorded road deaths for 2016 at over 40,000, making it the deadliest year in nearly a decade. A study by Juha Luoma and Michael Sivak found several contributing factors to the US’ high road numbers of road fatalities. These included generally high speeds driven, low seat belt usage rates, high drunk driving rates, however the biggest reason:

        Americans drive a lot and far and don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

        We also know that vulnerable road users are increasingly making up the numbers of the death tolls. Car users’ share of road deaths in America fell from 42% in 2006 to 36% in 2015, while fatalities outside of cars (people on bikes, pedestrians and motorcyclists) rose from a quarter of the total to a third. So what are the road safety organisations doing to address this issue? All this shows is that cars are getting safer for those inside of them - but not at all for those outside. Mandatory external air bags on cars would be wise.

        Department of Transport DOT
        To be fair, the nationally run road safety authority has as of 2015 implemented the Safer People, Safer Streets: Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Initiative and the Mayor's Challenge which encourage cities to improve streets for all people across seven different criteria. However, the same organisation stumbles by victimising policies such as helmet-first bike riding initiatives, ignoring reducing car usage and the danger of being behind a wheel - even if you are a safe driver.

        AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
        Motoring organisations love traffic safety organisations for maintaining the status quo and placing focus on the dangers of transporting yourself in anything other than a motor vehicle. The AAA, like others around the world, focuses solely on either increased investment in road infrastructure or improved driver conditions. Research papers such as Safety Benefits of Highway Infrastructure Investments might have been a bit more valuable if it also took into account modes of transport other than cars and didn't spout off old-fashioned engineering "solutions".

        The American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association aims to be a leader in traffic safety education strategies. Alas - none of their strategies include choosing another transport mode when possible. Please start by educating people with some basic facts - fewer cars on the road, fewer deaths and injuries.

        We’re not saying stop educational programs about safe driving - just give people a rounded education which presents all the facts.


        FINLAND - The Finnish Road Safety Council

        In Finland, this fear campaign from the Finnish Road "Safety" Council hit the streets in 2019. The poster reads: "Having ice cream without a cone is like riding a bike without a helmet". They have other goofy slogans like "Snapchatting without a filter is like..." You get it. They probably clapped their hands and giggled at how clever they thought they were when deciding upon this campaign. 

        But like all the rest, they do nothing to work towards drastically reducing the number of cars in Helsinki or other Finnish cities. They stick to victim blaming without any science harmed.

        DENMARK - The Danish Road Safety Council

        So while we have looked at two countries with particularly abominable road fatality levels, we can also be critical of road safety programs in countries with better track records. Denmark's road safety organisation R?det for Sikker Trafik (Road "Safety" Council) recently released this video as part of there “use two seconds more” campaign- a fairly violent way to scare cyclists off their bikes. At the same time they continue to promote the wearing of a helmets in Denmark - compounding the message that bike riding is dangerous. Just another example of road safety organisations using the Culture of Fear in favour of the car. Classic.

        This organisation uses the same tactics as others in their private club. They have little scientific understanding of bike helmets and, instead, copy/paste info they recieve from like-minded colleagues in Sweden and pass it off as their own. They claim to be against mandatory helmet laws but this recent document would suggest that they are gearing up for helmet laws. Aligning themselves with the likes of an American, Jake Olivier, in order to continue their branding of cycling as dangerous. Broadcasting with all the arrogance they can muster that a "meta-analysis" is conclusive proof only reveals they know little about the science.

        This is also an organisation who advocates cutting down roadside trees for "safety" instead of vehemently advocating for lower speed limits. Indeed, they have no mention of the European trend of establishing 30 km/h as a baseline speed in cities on their site. They are, like all the others, totally disconnected from the current trends.

        (Left) ("Keep an eye on the side roads" painted on cycle tracks, without any corresponding messaging for motorists on those side roads who are obliged by law to stop. (Center) 2017 campaign urging people to "use two extra seconds" at the intersection so they don’t get killed - instead of campaigning for existing infrastructure designs to keep cyclists safe. (Right) A 2017 helmet promotion campaign aimed at college students, together with an insurance company. Classic tactics.

        Three other campaigns in Denmark aimed at dressing pedestrians and cyclists up as clowns with reflective clothing instead of limiting the destruction caused by motorists. 

        Campaigns for reflective clothing are also increasing in The Culture of Fear, despite a limited amount of science on the subject. No corresponding campaigns are in place for cars, even though black cars are more likely to be involved in accidents.

        All the negative campaigns blaming cyclists and pedestrians for not equipping themselves with body armour and christmas tree lights would be more credible if the same effort was placed on motorists and cars. Traffic safety organisations can improve the message they are sending out to their citizens if they even the playing field and state in no uncertain terms how dangerous cars are in cities and how dangerous they are, generally. The culture of fear needs to be flipped on its head.

        The Hiearchy of Hazard Control as applied to urban cycling. Bubble wrap solutions are the last resort.

        While of course speed, drug and alcohol consumption, distracted driving, and badly designed roads can worsen the impacts, let’s not dance around the basic facts if cities and nations truly want to achieve Vision Zero. Providing an even distribution of alternative infrastructure options for people is clearly a key factor in making this change, but it also needs to go hand in hand with honest road safety initiatives that don’t misinform, misrepresent, or scare.

        In short, as it is now, if these traffic safety organisations are only speaking to themselves, backslapping each other at closed conferences, and arrogantly exaggerating the effect of their tired, last century campaign strategies - as well as being so completely disconnected from the rest of us working to improve city life around the world - do we have to listen to them or give them any credibility?

        Probably not. We can wonder, however, why they continue to recieve funding to broadcast flawed messages without any positive results and zero accountability.

        Fluorescent in Traffic
        Remember your reflective clothing in traffic.

        30 January 2017

        Bike Helmets - Something Rotten in the State of Denmark

        I took part in a radio debate last week. Four guests and a journalist. In that forty-five minutes, I experienced a number of things including, but not limited to, the anti-intellectualisation of our society, emotional propaganda, alternative facts, manipulative and selective choice of facts, The Culture of Fear and the negative branding of cycling.

        You might expect I was on American or Australian radio. Nope. I was a 12 minute bike ride from Copenhagenize Design Company’s Copenhagen office - at Denmark’s national broadcaster, DR, on their flagship radio channel P1 Debat.

        The occasion was a debate about bike helmets. The week before, a Danish media personality, Mads Christensen, tossed out a remark on a television programme about how he let his kids decide for themselves, at the age of eight, if they wanted to wear a bike helmet or not. His comments were simply based on rationality about real or percieved dangers in society. Nevertheless, they generated a great deal of debate on social media. A journalist and radio host, Bente Dalsb?k (The Journalist), decided to allocate 45 minutes to the subject.

        Mads Christensen (The Rationalist) was there, of course. Also invited were Klaus Bondam (The Bike Advocate), head of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation; Torben Lund Kudsk (The Motorist), head of the Danish car lobby NGO, FDM; and yours truly.

        I don’t often engage in discussions about bike helmets in Denmark and try to avoid them in other regions. I feel that it distracts from our work at Copenhagenize Design Company in designing infrastructure for cities. Like Chris Boardman - former pro-cyclists and policy advisor at British Cycling has said on BBC.com, "You're as safe riding a bike as you are walking," (a helmet is) "... not in the top 10 things you can do to keep safe."

        I did this TED x talk in 2010 about The Culture of Fear related to bike helmets in order to NOT have to talk about it all the time.

        This article by Howie Chong entitled Why it Makes Sense to Bike Without a Helmet is also well worth a read.

        What has shocked me is that the debate about helmets is at such a primitive level in this country. Even in hard-core helmet promotion regions elsewhere in the world, I can engage in discussions at a much higher level. The hysterical social media reaction to comments like those by Mads Christensen would be balanced by people aware of science and practicing rationality. Not so here in Denmark. The reactions were overwhelmingly hysterical and ignorant. Not to mention completely unworthy of a well-educated nation like Denmark.

        The 45 minute interview started with context, where The Rationalist explained his side of the story. He repeated his statement about rationality and risk assessment. When mountain biking the woods, he and his kids wear helmets. When cycling to the shops in the world’s safest bicycle nation or whatnot, he doesn’t and he allows his kids to make their own call. Sounds like an intelligent approach.

        Like almost everywhere else, kids have a higher risk of head injury in cars and in playgrounds and for adults, cars pose the greatest risk followed by being a pedestrian, being at home, gardening, etc.

        Yes, life remains dangerous, although we live in a safer society than at any other point in the history of homo sapiens. The Culture of Fear, however, is the bogeyman. We can still construct fear of anything - including cycling. And wherever we can scare people, there are products to be sold to them.

        After The Rationalist outlined his point of view in the radio debate, The Journalist started to gather points of view, starting with The Bike Advocate. Klaus Bondam stated his organisation’s standard position. They strongly recommend helmets but are against legislation to make them mandatory. I pointed out that The Bike Advocate is the head of the only national bicycle NGO in Europe that actively promotes helmets.

        It was then my turn to present my point of view. How science should be respected, how manipulating selective facts is fundamentally wrong. I did what I could with the short answering time allocated to me by The Journalist but I could see early on in the interview that it was rigged in favour of The Culture of Fear. Which made it a loooong 45 minutes.

        All the strategy for one-sided debate was present. The Journalist threw out a statistic about how 60% of head injuries could be avoided with a helmet. No, not 60% of ALL head injuries - she only meant bike crashes. The Bike Advocate threw out another select statistic. With the looks on their faces when they did so, you really sensed that they felt they were nailing the debate.

        The Journalist didn’t bothering questioning the statistic or the context of it in order to provide the listeners with a bigger picture. The Bike Advocate looked all pleased with himself at being able to quote a researcher name and the year of the study. While science is under fire in Trump’s America, there is another category that is equally detrimental to any debate. The One Study Argument. Just cast one study that produced one statistic into the debate and wham. You are portrayed as an expert. People who don’t know more about the subject have no response. Pity those poor fools. Let them bask in the glory of your One Study Argument greatness.

         That is not how science works, however. The bigger picture is more important.

        Why is the debate at such a primitive level here in one of the world’s great cycling nations? The answer is simple. Lack of information - or rather a strictly controlled and manipulated information flow. In the Danish context, we must examine the tightly controlled information flow. Like you, wherever you are whilst reading this, we have a road safety NGO in Denmark. They call themselves The Danish Road Safety Council - R?det for Sikker Trafik (The Safety Nannies).

        Via Yehuda Moon - http://yehudamoon.com/

        This NGO is the puppet master controlling the flow of information about bike helmets. They have mastered the art. By doing so, they also contribute to the anti-intellectualisation of Danish society. They select one or two studies that adhere to their strict ideology and present it like the word of god to the masses. If individuals question it, the stats are merely repeated. The “60%” stat that The Journalist found and presented in the studio is their current one commandment carved in a stone tablet. It originates with the Norwegian Transport Economic Institute (T?I) and dates from 2004. It is perfect for them. It is a Scandinavian source from a fancy-sounding institute. Ironically, T?I has published other helmet-related studies since then and few would fit Sikker Trafik’s ideology. Better to ignore them and stick to the stat that works.

        You don’t need to explain WHY climate change is a hoax. You just have to repeat it ad naseum. Much the same communication strategy as The Safety Nannies employ and hand off to lazy journalists and pundits. It is a sad, flawed strategy that only fans the flames of anti-intellectualisation in any society but if you look at it, it is a brilliant strategy from a communication point of view.

        The Safety Nannies started their bike helmet promotion in the early 1990s in Denmark. Since then, cycling levels have continued to fall, which is what we have seen in many regions around the world. Danes are cycling more than 30% less today than in 1990. (If we got that 30% back, we could save over 1500 lives a year because of the health benefits of cycling, according to Professor Lars Bo Andersen of University of Southern Denmark, the most published academic about the health benefits of cycling)

        The positive aspects of having a cycling population are rarely presented in the current debate in Denmark. They are not sensationalist enough for journalists, apparently. In the middle of the interview The Journalist held up a printed out photo that she harvested from Facebook of a woman with a head injury. It was like a image version of the One Study Argument. “See?! Look at THAT...” End of debate. Showing photos of tens of thousands of people lying in hospital beds suffering from lifestyle illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, etc, due to inactivity is considerably less glamorous and have no place in sensationalist journalism.

        Another old chestnut was presented in the studio. 17,000 people visit a hospital each year as a result of a bike crash. I tried to put that number into context. The average in Denmark is 20,000, so I had calculated based on that number.

        If 18% of the population of Denmark ride a bicycle to and from work or education each day, that is 1,008,000 trips a week, Monday to Friday. Multiply that by 300 work days a year and you get 302,400,000 trips by bike. We’re not even including the trips to the supermarket, cafe, cinema, etc.

        If 20,000 trips end in a crash and a hospital visit, that means you have, in Denmark, a 0.0066138% chance of crashing and going to the hospital. The vast majority of those injuries are minor and the person in question is back on a bike in, at the most, a couple of days. Motorists, by the way, end up in hospitals much longer when they get injured in their preferred mode of transport.

        According to the City of Copenhagen who endeavour to battle this Bicycle Misinformation War whenever they can, I have to cycle to work for 2800 YEARS before I get injured.

        So where was The Bike Advocate during this onslaught of manipulation and alternative facts? Was he deftly and professionally countering all the arguments about cycling being dangerous? You would hope so. He was, however, all over the map, sending conflicting messages about cycling.

        The Safety Nannies broadcast the number of 20,000 cyclists visiting hospitals to anyone who will listen. They are not content with that, however. They invented “m?rketal” - or “dark numbers” as a way of further constructing fear about cycling. Cyclists also get hurt but DON’T visit the hospital and those dark numbers are an unknown. Yes. Cyclists who ARE OKAY and who have bandaids in their home after a minor mishap are now being used in the massive branding of cycling as an undesirable transport form.

        The Bike Advocate presented the listeners with this concept of dark numbers. Instead of defending cycling from the onslaught, he helped polish the rifles and load the ammo. A little later, he threw in a mix of neutral and positive angles to confuse anyone who was listening. There was no clear agenda from Denmark’s national cycling NGO. They refuse to acknowledge what most other cycling NGOs in Europe know - that merely promoting helmets is detrimental to cycling levels.

        Personally, I am sceptical when shopkeepers promote helmets. The Cyclists’ Federation has a bike shop. Several people in the industry cancelled their memberships back in the day when they opened a shop. The criticism was that an NGO for cycling should not promote one product over the other and remain neutral.

        In another twist, we still have emails in our archives from late 2007 and early 2008 when The Safety Nannies started their hardcore, emotional propaganda about bike helmets. What tipped it for them was that they convinced the Cyclists’ Federation to get on board. Colleagues from our industry informed me that the latter were promised influence and access to future funding if they joined the helmet brigade. They continue to deny this to this day.

        In Denmark, everything started with The Safety Nannies and their manipulated alternative facts are largely unchallenged by a society slowly dumbing down. Trump didn’t invent Trumpism, he just excels at it. Trump is merely a product of societal development. The same techniques are present everywhere. Interestingly, like Trump, The Safety Nannies in Denmark do not like being contradicted. They have actually spent time emailing journalists in Denmark and abroad about… me. Engaging in attempted character assassination with journalists and editors. Trying to discredit me. It is amusing. It only helps getting science printed and distributed. It also shows that their case is weak. You don’t go to all that effort if you are confident in what you are saying.

        Current helmet wearing rates in Copenhagen are at 11%.

        As we have come to expect, the debate also featured comments about “doctors and nurses say that...” Yet another technique in the debate. Who can doubt a medical professional?! They fail to realise that while those doctors and nurses excel at fixing people, they receive information about prevention from the same sources as everyone else. The one-way communication street from The Safety Nannies sends the same manipulated facts to doctors and nurses, too. Trust the medical professionals to make you better. Doubt the sources of their prevention advice. And notice that it is the trauma staff who get the best press. The doctors caring for those with lifestyle illnesses never get the same spotlight.

        The debate wandered into cyclist behaviour and the others agreed readily that “something has happened… cyclists are behaving more badly than ever before”. This is as amusing as it is wrong. Cyclist behaviour is largely unchanged for at least 120 years. There are countless articles, letters to the editor and editorials about cyclist behaviour over the past century. Not least this satirical piece by Denmark’s most loved satirist, Storm P..

        Perhaps it is time to realise that cyclist behaviour can only be changed if we stop forcing them to adhere to traffic rules and traffic culture designed to serve the automobile. We sending badminton players to play with ice hockey rules. It has never worked so it is time to think differently.

        We have shown time and again with our Desire Line Analyses that behaviour among our cycling citizens is fine. Only 5% of cyclists smash through the traffic rulebook. Which is on a par with pedestrians and motorists.

        A recent poll in Denmark outlined how ignorance of a topic can have dangerous consequences. This is a society where The Safety Nannies have a monopoly on the information about cycling. Danes were polled about whether they want a helmet law. A majority said yes. You don’t get that result in many places anymore due to the balance of information in the debate. Except in Denmark. The Safety Nannies and The Bike Advocate have been pushing helmets hard. Now they are under fire for not supporting a bike helmet law. They have shot themselves in the foot.

        It was a tough room. Countering emotional propaganda with an arsenal of science and rationality is difficult. I was in the line of fire as the others did what they could to continue this branding of cycling in Denmark as dangerous, using all the techniques we know from around the world. I tried to highlight facts like the Australian government’s study about motoring helmets, but to no avail. I just hope some listeners got the point.

        I didn’t get to industrial design, unfortunately. People have been led to believe that a bike helmet can withstand a meteor strike. They have never been informed that a helmet is designed to protect the head in non-life threatening, solo accidents under 20 km/h. Or that helmets are tested in simulations that resemble a pedestrian falling - which makes them perfect for… pedestrians and people in their home.

        "A walking helmet is a good helmet"

        Nor did I get to say that most serious head injuries are not a result of a lateral impact, but rather a rotational impact. Something bike helmets cannot deal with.


        More people drown in Denmark each year than die in bicycle crashes. There is a missed financial opportunity there. Let’s pass laws making life vests mandatory within 2 metres of water. 35,000 Europeans die each year in cars. Think of the money to be made if we imported these from Australia (it is a real product).

        It was a depressing debate session in that radio studio. Daily Mail tactics from The Journalist. Vague, conflicting and confusing messaging from The Bike Advocate. The Rationalist had his say, which helped, but at the end of the day, the sheeple will lean towards the strong-flowing current of misinformation from The Safety Nannies.

        You may recall that The Motorist was in the room, too. He didn’t say much. He didn’t need to. Would you? You have a national radio program completely trashing your main competitor. Car sales are at a four year high in Denmark. Just stand there and let them do it.

        I cycled back to the office and continued to work on our projects with cities who want to copenhagenize themselves. We’ll keep on keeping on. Designing their networks and infrastructure. Exporting the Copenhagen model. It is a good, transferable model. It is working to transform cities around the world. Embrace it. Everything else coming out of Denmark regarding negative branding, helmet promotion and The Culture of Fear… ignore it.

        Go talk to the Dutch. Start with this article about Dutch Rationality Saving Childrens’ Lives.

        In Denmark, we're heading down this road:

        30 May 2015

        Hacking a German "Safety" Campaign with Rationality

        Nice with a bit of activism and rationality on a Saturday. Thanks to our reader Jochen, who sent us some photos from the streets of Germany in reaction to a campaign from the German Ministry of Transport, above. Next to a photo of Darth Vader the text reads: "The saga continues, thanks to the helmet. Works in every galaxy. And on the bicycle."

        This set cyclists and activists to task.

        Billboard in Bonn: "Now I'm single... thanks, helmet."
        Photo: Jochen 

        In a country where only about 10% of cyclists wear plastic hats, the Ministry of Transport decided to chuck some taxpayer money into a campaign. A lazy move from politicans whose ignorance about the importance of encouraging cycling, building infrastructure and the health benefits of a cycling population has now been broadcast to the planet. They are basically using taxpayer money to advertise how ignorant they are. There's the first problem with their campaign.

        The choice of Darth Vader is as strange as it is awkward - for the Germans. World War II Nazi helmets were the direct inspiration for Vader's helmet, as you can read here:

        "Costume designer John Mollo took it from there, fusing elements of various real-life uniforms associated with war and evil. To design Vader’s infamous black helmet, Mollo looked to the black, shiny headgear Nazis wore during WWII."

        One might argue that Mr Vader is not exactly an appropriate role model. One of the first things his mentor, Mr Hitler, did when assuming power was make Germany's largest cyclist organisation illegal. (they were also socialists, which was handy).

        The Ministry also willfully ignores the advice of the European Council of Ministers of Transport in 2004 - which included the German Minister of Transport at the time - in a report entitled National Policies to Promote Cycling:

        "[...] from the point of view of restrictiveness, even the official promotion of helmets may have negative consequences for bicycle use, and that to prevent helmets having a negative effect on the use of bicycles, the best approach is to leave the promotion of helmet wear to manufacturers and shopkeepers. The report entitled 'Head Injuries and Helmet Law for Cyclists' by Dorothy L. Robinson, Bicycle Research report No. 81 (March 1997) shows that the main effect of the introduction of the general helmet law for cyclists in Australia was a drop in bicycle use."

        Even research from the German Hannelore Kohl Stiftung was happily swept under the rug:

        Be sure to check www.motoringhelmet.com for more reasons why driving with a helmet is a good idea. It links to our blog articles about the subject.

        Imagine. The Ministry of Transport in Europe's largest country completely and utterly Ignoring the Bull in Society's China Shop.

        But hey. Shortly after appearing, billboards around Germany that featured the Darth Vader campaign began to feature added text. The Force is strong within the rational Jedi fighting for liveable cities...

        The saga continues in Bonn. This billboard now reads: "I have dandruff. Thank you, helmet."
        Photo: Jochen

        Bonn: "I am a monster. Thanks, helmet."
        Photo: Jochen 

        And from Frankfurt: "Works in every galaxy. And on stairs."
        Photo: Heppo

        Frankfurt: "Works in every galaxy. And in the shower."
        Photo: A friend of Jochen Erdelmeier

        Frankfurt: "Works in every galaxy. And while doing housework."
        Photo: Heppo

        Frankfurt: "Works in every galaxy. And in cars."
        Photo: Heppo

        Frankfurt: "Works in every galaxy. And while walking."
        Photo: Heppo

        14 October 2013

        Promoting Cycling Positively - Now with Proof

        Copenhagen Crowd
        One thing we've being going on about here at Copenhagenize for six years is the importance of promoting cycling positively to the great untapped well of potential cyclists. The 99%, if you will.
        Two years ago, Copenhagenize informed you about a research project that was funded by the national bicycle fund entitled Effective Bicycle Promotion - Development of methodology to determine the effect on messages regarding marketing of bicycle traffic. We had teamed up with Thomas Krag Mobility Advice to investigate how promoting cycling with positive imagery was more beneficial than using images involving fear or perceived fear. 

        Two years on, the results of the study are in. Have a read. And now, more than ever before, endeavour to sell urban cycling to the 99% with positive messaging.

        Bicycle Marketing Messages: What Matters. 
        The report, collated by Sidsel Birk Hjuler and Thomas Krag, reveals some of the most important ingredients for the creation of successful cycling marketing campaigns. 

        Whilst the choice to ride a bicycle is primarily influenced by our knowledge of the physical space around us (distance, infrastructure, weather), we are heavily influenced by our emotional responses to media and marketing. Our research allowed us to unpack some of the ways in which consumers responded to cycle-focused marketing, and revealed a number of important results. For example, we discovered that an image of a cyclist wearing a helmet had a negative marketing effect on cycling, yet has a stronger positive marketing effect on cars than a typical car advertisement. Furthermore, when safety messages were included in the marketing campaigns, they were considerably more effective when the advert focused on the cyclist as an individual, as opposed to discussing the overall risk of cycling. Take a closer look at what we found: 

        Background and methodology

        Many campaigns for behaviour changes, including increased cycling, have been introduced, and later evaluated (Prochaska et al, 2008; P. Hyllenius et al, 2009; Merseyside LTP Support Unit, 2010). We have wondered however, to what extent such campaigns should include messages related to bicycle safety, and whether these messages may have an adverse effect on cycling (see for example, Utility Cycling, 2013). 

        Whilst it may seem logical to carry out a variety of campaigns with a range of messages, and evaluating the effectiveness of campaigns afterwards, this method would be too time-consuming, and too-costly to implement. Other issues such as media publicity around a serious cycling accident, or an intensive car marketing campaign may attract public attention and influence the campaign’s outcome in an unpredictable way. 

        To conduct our research project, an alternative survey technique was used in order to analyze the respondents’ opinions. Respondents were presented with pictures without text, in order for us to report opinions using VAS scales (Visual Analogue Scales) with different statements given at end points, as suggested in the literature (for example, Wewers et al., 1990). Opinion scores and average opinion scores all fell in the interval 0 to 1 (0% to 100%), with 0 corresponding to the left VAS-scale end point and 1 corresponding to the right end point. In all cases, opinions related to the four modes of transportation - bicycle, car, bus and train - were included.

        These six pictures as well as a neutral (blank) picture were used in the survey.

        For our study there were 6 pictures used, all representing typic messages, as well as a blank picture (Neutral) included for reference purposes. The six pictures (Leisure, No helmet, Helmet, Accident, BMW, and Traffic Jam) are shown in the image above. Each of the respondents saw only one of the pictures, which appeared on the top and bottom of every page of the survey. These images were not explicitly explained, but were simply integrated into the layout of the page. A total of 3,500 responses, 500 per picture, were received and analyzed. Respondents were residents of Danish urban areas, and the survey was delivered by Epinion (Denmark). 


        Unsurprisingly, we found that the pictures had an influence on the average opinion scores, and that the picture-induced differences were statistically significant (P-value of the null hypothesis was typically less than .02 for the highest and the lowest average opinion scores). 


        "Fingerprint" (distribution) of opinion scores on experiences for bicycles, cars and buses and average opinion scores versus picture for the same transportation modes. The fingerprint shows the share of respondents who have indicated a specific opinion score. A top at the right hand side of the fingerprint reflects that many respondents agree to the statement on the right end point of the VAS scale.
        A central opinion when it comes to marketing is that the (expected) experience of the various modes of transport. End points on the VAS scales were ‘I do not like traveling by...’ and ‘I enjoy traveling by...’. The experience opinions, thus, are related to enjoyment. Bicycles and cars proved to be surprisingly similar in this context, with many high opinion scores, with cycling having the highest average opinion score of all transportation modes. 
        For cycling, the picture of the BMW (quite surprisingly) and the leisure picture (less surprisingly), gave the highest average opinion scores. The BMW-picture also had a positive impact on car experience, while - for all other modes than the bicycle - both the accident picture and the picture of a cyclist wearing a helmet gave the highest average opinion scores. This indicates that typical safety messages (e.g. ‘always remember to use a helmet’; ‘Cycling is dangerous’) have an adverse effect on bicycle marketing.

        Notably, the average opinion score for travelling by car was higher after seeing the helmet picture than after seeing the BMW picture. 

        Risk Perception 

        "Fingerprint” (distribution) of opinion scores and average opinion scores versus pictures for general risk and experienced self-risk for cyclists.
        Although the general risk of cycling (‘Cyclists have no risk’/‘Cyclists have a high risk’) has a high average opinion score, the respondents’ experienced self-risk (‘When travelling by bicycle I am not getting hurt’/‘travelling by bicycle I am very afraid of getting hurt’) has a lower average opinion score and a totally different distribution (‘fingerprint’) of the scores. 
        As far as the general risk of cycling is concerned, the accident picture increases the average opinion score the most, while the BMW and the leisure picture lowers the score.
        The pictures’ influence on the self-risk is about the same, except that most pictures here give a lower score than the neutral picture.
        If one’s goal is to address safety issues while still wishing to promote cycling, these results indicate a good reason for focusing on the cyclist as an individual and leaving out general references to the risks of cycling.
        “Fingerprint” (distribution) of opinion scores and average opinion scores versus pictures for the image of bicycle and car.
        Respondents were also asked about their opinion on the appearance of users of the various modes (whether the users looked good or not), as well as whether a given mode strengthened or hurt their own image. These questions are difficult, as many Danes find image to have no relevance, and several opinion scores fell in the middle of the VAS-scales. Nevertheless, the overall outcome was clear: Cyclists are found to look better than users of other modes, and the bicycle is also the mode which strengthens the respondents’ own image the most.
        In contrast to what was found for experience, the helmet picture was found to be favorable to the average opinion score of appearance as well as the image of cyclists, compared to the no-helmet picture. The same tendency was found for car users. The BMW picture, on the other hand, reduced the average opinion score for cyclists’ appearance and increased it for car users’ appearance.
        Values and bicycle helmets
        Some final questions in the survey – with no possibility to go back and correct responses to previous questions – were asked on the values - health, comfort, well-being, freedom, control, rapidity/speed and quality of life - of the picture shown. The accident picture received very low average opinion scores, while the helmet picture attracted higher opinion scores than the no helmet picture on all values. This reflects a high public acceptance of bicycle helmets in Denmark. Wearing a helmet is voluntary, but wearing rates around 25% have been reported (R?det for Sikker Trafik, 2011). (Ed: Copenhagenize Design Company's own research, however, indicates that the number is 17%, based on an all-day observation of 16,631 cyclists, and not just a count in the rush hour)
        When indirectly asked however, other tendencies are revealed. In the appearance and image opinions mentioned above, the net effect is close to zero, as opinions on car users are shifted roughly the same from helmet/no helmet pictures as the opinions on cyclists.
        The opinions on experience show a clear negative net-effect on cycling from the helmet versus the no helmet picture. So even though respondents declare themselves very positive towards helmets, a picture of a cyclist wearing a helmet makes them express themselves more in favor of other modes.
        In spite of an apparently - and recent - high public acceptance of bicycle helmets in Denmark (due to shock-horror emotional propaganda), picturing helmets has an adverse effect on bicycle marketing. The same is true for a picture of a bicycle accident. From a bicycle marketing perspective (encouraging more people to use bicycles) such messages should be avoided. If safety issues need to be addressed, focus on the cycling individual is preferable for general statements on the risk of cycling.
        Want to read more? 
        More information on the project and our results can be found on www.thomaskrag.com.
        Picture credits
        Leisure: iStockphoto, file #9116292, order no 20044837. No helmet and Helmet: Copenhagenize Consulting. Accident: ZNS – Hannelore Kohl Stiftung, Germany. BMW: BMW, Denmark. Traffic jam: Sidsel Birk Hjuler.
        P. Hyllenius et al. (2009). MaxSumo – Guidance on how to plan, monitor and evaluate mobility Projects. URL: http://www.epomm.eu/docs/1057/MaxSumo_english.pdf (accessed on 23.06.2013)
        Merseyside LTP Support Unit. Merseyside Cycle and Short Trip Evidence Study. Final report. 2010. URL: http://www.letstravelwise.org/files/570773362_Annexe%2008%20-%20Cycle%20&%20Short%20Trips%20Study.pdf (accessed on 23.06.2013)
        Prochaska, James, et al. (2008). The Transtheoretical Model and Stages of Change in Health Behavior and Health Education – Theory, Research and Practice. Edited by Karen Glanz, Barbara K. Rimer and K. Viswanath. Jossey-Bass.
        R?det for Sikker Trafik, 2011. Markant stigning i brugen af cykelhjelme. Website. URL: http://www.sikkertrafik.dk/Aktuelt/Presse/Pressemeddelelser/Markant-stigning-i-brug-af-cykelhjelme.aspx (accessed on 23.06.2013)
        Utility Cycling (Wikipedia). 2013. URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utility_cycling (accessed on 23.06.2013).
        Wewers ME, Lowe NK. A critical review of visual analogue scales in the measurement of clinical phenomena. Res Nurs Health 1990; 13(4):227-236.
        The Authors
        Sidsel Birk Hjuler is Master of Arts in Urban Culture and Aesthetics. Besides this project she has worked for Copenhagenize Consulting, for BirkPlusPabst and is currently working for the Municipality of Elsinore, Denmark.
        Thomas Krag is Master of Science, is previous managing director of Dansk Cyklist Forbund and currently director of Thomas Krag Mobility Advice.

        04 March 2013

        Culture of Fear Meets Science on the Pistes

        Gressoney La Trinité:  Orange
        We got sent a link to a page from the Danish Consumer Council (Forbrugerr?det)about ski helmets. It was interesting reading because of a confusing mix of Culture of Fear (for profit) and the science of helmets. And much of it is a mirror of the rhetoric about bicycle helmets. Ski and bicycle helmets are even compared.

        The article starts with the standard emotional propaganda in the first few lines:

        Ski helmets can reduce the number of injuries by up to 60%, BUT roughly half of adults ski without head protection.
        Would you ride 40 km/h on a scooter without a helmet? If you answer no, then why ski 60 km/h down a piste without a helmet?

        Right there we can see the ideology shining bright. Go for the emotional juggler. Project fear and guilt onto the reader so that their perception is manipulated for the rest of the text.

        Usually, the rest of the text continues in the same vein - you've all read this kind of stuff before. This article, however, embarrasses itself involuntarily.

        According to statistics, head injuries are not the typical reason that a ski holiday ends up in a hospital. Concussions made up 9% of all reported injuries last season. This is a rise of 5-6% from the year before.

        So... head injuries are not typical injuries. Um. Okay. But head injuries are up? From the season before last to last season, there was little dramatic increase in the number of helmet wearers, and yet head injuries are up? Boy, that sounds like Risk Compensation at play. Are people feeling protected so they go just a bit faster?

        According to statistics from Denmark's Ski Union, the total number of injuries are two per 1000 ski days for skiiers. Head injuries make up about 15%. In other words, the risk of a head injury is one per 3000 ski days - or one head injury every 400 years if someone skiis for one week each year.

        So I have to ski for 400 years? Personally, I've probably skied about 400-500 days in my life. While I love the thought of skiing for 400 years, I don't know many people who will.

        The potentially dangerous brain injuries make up one injury for every 14,000 ski days and 94% of them are concussions.

        Okay. This is rare information. Normally, the phrase "brain injury" is happily chucked around in the rhetoric without any differentiation in order to scare and confuse. Yes, a serious concussion can be life-threatening and dangerous. Most aren't. I've had several in my life. None whilst skiing or cycling, but hey, that's just me. This article that started out with a scary paragraph is turning out to be rather informative.

        Snowboarders have a bit higher risk of head injury than alpine skiers and children under 18 have more than double the risk.

        Does that mean kids have to ski for 200 years - before they're 18?
        The Helmet protects partially
        Ski helmets aren't built to withstand direct impacts in speeds over 20 km/h. Measurements at several destinations have shown that the average speed on the easier pistes is around 30 km/h - and much higher on the medium and difficult pistes. If a head hits a tree, rock, other skiers or chairlift poles at high speeds, the helmet offers no protection.

        Hang on... rewind to the first paragraph. I thought they were fingerpointedly telling me that I needed a ski helmet at 60 km/h. Now they're telling me that it won't really do anything for me. I'm so confused. Interestingly, as I'm sure you all know, the same limitations apply to bicycle helmets. No direct impacts and keep it under 20 km/h.

        The helmet's benefits are limited to minor head lesions like scratches and cuts on the scalp and minor concussions.

        Sounds like a bicycle helmet again. Actually, it sounds like something everyone should wear in the home and certainly in the car. But hey... they were throwing around all manner of confusing stats on "brain injuries" and concussions, weren't they? Again... I'm confused.

        In all collisions, the helmet protects in glancing collisions and protects against getting hit by ski edges and other loose objects, just like it protects when your head hits a hard snow surface and when you tumble off a t-bar lift.

        Which, we assume, means it protects against hitting your head against the cupboard door or if you slip in the shower. Or if you're out gardening. Good to know.

        The Ski Union recommends helmets
        The International Ski Union - FIS - recommended a couple of years ago that all skiiers and snowboarders use a helmet. FIS based their recommendation on a Norwegian study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study showed that using a helmet reduces head injuries by 60%.

        But isn't the FIS a sports organisation? You know, professionals going super fast in order to win medals? A far cry from Citizen Skiers. Kind of like the forms you have to fill out in America to ride through a park at low speeds. Based on this logic, why doesn't the company behind Formula 1 car racing recommend motorist helmets? FIS based their recommendations on one study. Were there others? What was the collective result of the different studies? Why base it on just one? Here the information dries up.

        FIS also deals with cross-country skiing. You'd think that these athletes would be better off wearing helmets if they protect against tumbling onto the ground and getting a glancing blow by a ski or other object.

        Also, is the FIS sponsored by a helmet company? Duh. Of course they are.

        The helmet's strength is a compromise between strength and comfort. If ski and bicycle helmets had the same strength as motorcycle helmets, nobody would bother wearing them.

        So a motorcycle helmet is better since a ski or bicycle helmet is just a question of comfort more than protection?

        Every second adult skis without a helmet
        Here in Denmark, experts used to only recommend helmets for kids and other risk groups like young men with an aggressive skiing style.
        Denmark's Ski Union recommends helmet use, especially by kids and youths and if you participate in high-risk snow sport competitions and training in the snowboard park and off-piste, but the Ski Union doesn't support a helmet law.

        Yes, you said that bit about every second adult up at the top. Just slapping in another guilt trip for good measure, are we? Interestingly, the Danish Ski Union has an entire page telling people how safe skiing is. "It's dangerous!... Uh... no it isn't..."

        No law yet...
        A law can be a reality in the future. Both in Italy and Austria children under 15 have to wear them. In Northern Europe there is no law, but many places let children use the lifts free if they're wearing a helmet. Therefore, it's rare to see a child without a ski helmet in Norway or Sweden.

        And yet the children are transported helmetless in automobiles on winter roads without helmets. Odd logic.

        Dealers that the Consumer Council have spoken with think that half of all adult skiers ski with head protection and for children the number is close to 100%. The reasons include the fact that the pistes are groomed for high speeds, so that even weaker skiers can ski faster. And many people traverse the busy pistes. Conditions that increase the risk of collision.

        Traversing a piste? Isn't that just called skiing? And the risk of collision... the article told us all about that farther up.

        Ski with care
        Collisions on the pistes cannot be avoided if everyone wears protective gear, but by showing responsibility for yourself and others. Respect your technical level, be aware, adjust your speed to the conditions and keep your distance from other skiers.

        THAT took us by surprise. We were totally expecting the whole article to end where it started, not with this sensible, rational advice.

        While the article DID start out with the usual verbal diarrhea from the safety slash profit crowd, we are left wishing that all "advice" about skiing - or cycling - provided the reader with rational facts and statistics so that the individual was able to make up their own mind instead of merely being subjected to fear rants.

        It's a hard slog at this point in our society, we know that. The Culture of Fear has a firm grip. Sitting in the café at a small Swedish ski resort - with five or six measly, ten turn pistes - an hour and a half from Copenhagen, I was amazed to see so many people sitting there with their jackets off and their backs protected with Terminator-like back shields, like they were characters in a wintry Call of Duty-Black Ops 2 level. Having bought into the fabricated gear myth presented to them at every turn.

        What you can mine from this article is the fact that if you put a helmet on your kids when skiing - to get those free lift tickets - you can just use their bicycle helmet if they have one of those. Save some money right there. Just don't let them use them at the ice rink, because bicycle helmets (and ski helmets we figure) aren't allowed at some ice rinks... Yes. We're confused, too.

        07 September 2012

        Dutch Rationality Saves Childrens' Lives

        Next Generation
        It started with a tweet from my colleague Angela from Mobycon in the Netherlands the other day:

        Happy to read less and less children are injured or dead on our roads. A big 'thank you' to all who contributed to that! #safety #NL

        That sounded great. She sent me the link to the research and I saw that it was another colleague, Theo Zeegers, from the Fietsersbond - the Dutch National Cycling Organisation who was the author. He was kind enough to translate his article into English.

        Theo - like the Fietsersbond in general - is a wonderfully rational person and one of the leading minds on the science of cycling and of bicycle helmets. He's always an inspiration to talk to.

        Basically, as you'll read below, casualities among child cyclists in The Netherlands is at an all-time low. It's often difficult to penetrate the dark cloud of The Culture of Fear with rationality but Theo does so here.

        Bear in mind that helmets are virtually non-existent in The Netherlands. The Dutch know more than any other nation on earth that safe infrastructure and traffic calming are the only way to improve cycling conditions, save lives and to encourage people to ride bicycles.

        Casualties Among Child Cyclists The Netherlands - The facts
        by Theo Zeegers, Traffic Consultant, Dutch Cyclists’ Union (Fietsersbond)

        The debate about the safety of children on bicycles erupts frequently in the media.
        Usually it is implicitly assumed that children on bicycles are highly vulnerable. The figures indicate that this is not the case.

        Hence for future use I list the relevant facts on casualty numbers for young cyclists in the Netherlands. The source is the database of COGNOS SWOV. In all cases, the actual (elevated) numbers are mentioned. As a result, there would be no (strong) effect due to the problem of under-registration. I will consider both age 0-11 (children) and age 12 t / m 17 (youth). I use the most current data where available. As a consequence, data on fatalities date from 2010, where those on severely injured dated 2009.

        Contrary to popular belief, the number of fatalities among young cyclists is low. In 2010, two cyclists in the age group 0-11 years and 13 from the age group 12-17 were killed in traffic. That is 1% and 8% of all bicycle fatalities in 2010. That is historically low.

        Graph 1 shows the trend in the number of fatalities among cyclists children over the last 15 years in absolute terms, graph 2 in relative terms. It is clear that there is a particularly strong downward trend over this period. Especially for children under 12 years, the results are so good that further improvement are unrealistic.

        Graph 1: Trend in fatal bicycle victims (absolute) over the years for the age classes 0-11 years and 12-17 years.

        Graph 2: Trend in fatal bicycle victims (relative to all cyclist fatalities) over the years for the age classes 0-11 years and 12-17 years.

        One might assume that the decrease among the victims of cycling children is caused by the fact that children cycle less and less. The statistics on mobility in The Netherlands do not support this hypothesis. According to these statistics bicycle use increased between 2005 and 2010 among children and adolescents even slightly (MON, Ovin, CBS (2)).

        Casualties in hospital
        Graph 3 shows the distribution in the number of hospital casualties among cyclists for different ages. What stands out immediately is that the number of victims rises from 40 years on and that there is an isolated peak for young people between 12 and 18 years. The latter peak is attributed to the high bicycle use in that age group. Youngsters cycling about three times as more as children (CBS, 2010). Closer examination shows that the number of casualties among children under 11 years are the lowest of all ages. Again, children appear again particularly low scoring in the statistics!

        Graph 3: Number of hospital casualties over the different age cohorts. X-axis: age in years. Y-axis: number of hospitalized casualties per cohort year.

        The trend over the last 15 years is shown in Graph 4. There is hardly a trend, until 2001 there was a slight decline followed by a similarly weak increase.

        Chart 4: Trend of the number of hospital casualties among younger cyclists over the last 15 years. X-axis: years. Y-axis: number of hospitalized victims per cohort year.

        The number of fatalities among younger cyclists is strikingly low and this number drops significantly.

        The number of hospitalized casualties among children (until 11 years) is low. The number of hospitalized casualties among youngsters (12 to 17 years) is high, which can be explained by the high bicycle use in these age classes. Over the years, there is hardly a trend: in recent years may be a slight increase.

        Thanks to Theo for the translation.

        Cities and nations have a choice. Either they put their faith in car-centric ideology or they boldly step into the New Millenium and starting designing their cities for people instead of machines.

        If you haven't read about the Fietsersbond's idea for airbags on the outside of cars - placing responsibility in the correct place - read it here.

        Here is some contrast to show how twisted things can get when you don't take science seriously and are hopelessly glued to an old-fashioned, last century mentality.

        There was a study released in a medical journal recently - from near the bottom of the third division of the medical journal leagues - about how helmet promotion for kids has had a whopping result in reduction of head injuries in Sweden. Here's an abstract.

        What the paper doesn't tell you - or any of the Swedish press covereage - is that the number of children cycling in Sweden is falling. From over 80% in 1988 to 40% in 2009.

        And here in Denmark, we're seeing the same negative trend. The number of children cycling to school has fallen 30% over the past 15 years. In addition, the number of children being dropped off at school in cars has risen 200% over the past 30 years.

        The City of Copenhagen's Traffic Dept did an internal study a while back, looking at the body of science about helmets and came to the same conclusion of most European cycling NGOs - that the science is divided and the negative effects outweith the positive. They used Thomas Krag Mobility Advice to assist them with the study.

        The Danish Cyclists' Federation
        , who also run the so-called Cycling Embassy of Denmark, have alienated themselves from most other national cycling NGOs in Europe by willingly promoting bicycle helmets, together with the car-centric Road Safety Council.

        This featured in their membership magazine recently:

        The difference between the Danish Cyclists' Federation / Road Safety Council and other European NGOs is that they don't have any qualified researchers employed. If you're looking for the face of the Virgin Mary in your tea leaves, you'll probably end up seeing it at some point.

        They happily quote a study from The Danish Accident Investigation Board, without knowing which individuals provided the "science" on bike helmets in the study is a sign that they they found the Virgin Mary's face smiling back at them. They also trash Dr. Ian Walker's study in the process, and others. Unbelievable.

        For inspiration in promoting cycling positively and rationally, look to the people who are improving traffic safety and rethinking how are cities should be designed instead of organisations who are scaring people off of bicycles and happily stoking the fire of the Culture of Fear and worshipping at the alter of the automotive status quo.

         Look to the Dutch and other cycling NGOs in Europe. Ignore the pretenders.

        Later in the day after writing this I read the .pdf OECD report: "Cycling Safety: Key Messages - International Transport Forum - Working Group on Cycling Safety". The International Transport Forum at the OECD is an intergovernmental organisation with 54 member countries. It's a dry, sober report as one would expect from the OECD but it presents a very interesting view about helmet promotion and legislation.

        Helmet usage reduces the severity of head injuries cycle crashes but may lead to
        compensating behaviour that otherwise erodes safety gains.
        One area that has received vigorous research focus is on the safety impact of bicycle helmet usage and helmet-wearing mandates. As discussed below, these two must be treated separately.

        Studies addressing the safety impact of helmets can generally be split into two groups: those that focus on the way in which bicycle helmets change the injury risk for individual cyclists in case of a crash and those that focuses on the generalised safety effect of introducing measures (typically campaigns and/or legislation) to increase helmet usage among cyclist. The first group generally finds that wearing a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of sustaining a head injury in a crash (head injuries are among the most severe outcomes of cycle crashes) though recent reanalysis of previous studies suggests that this effect is less than previously thought (Elvik, 2011). (Ed.: Cyclists with helmets have 14% greater chance of getting into an accident, says Elvik. )

        To be clear -- these studies indicate the possible reduced risk of head injury for a single cyclist in case of an accident. The effects must not be mistaken for the safety effects of mandatory helmet legislation or other measures to enhance helmet usage.

        The safety effect of mandatory helmet legislation as such has been evaluated in far lesser studies than the individual risk in case of an accident. The safety effect of mandatory helmet legislation is a result of a series of factors:
        - reduced injury risk (due to increased helmet usage)
        - increased crash risk (due to an often claimed change in behaviour amongst cyclists
        who take up wearing helmet)
        - less cycling (leading to a reduced number of accidents and injuries, but also to a
        - higher accident risk for those who still bike)

        Whether bicyclists change behaviour, when they start to use a bicycle helmet seems very uncertain (and difficult to prove), but it is evident that mandatory helmet use might reduce the total number of bicyclists. It is also possible that cyclists who continue to bike might represent a behaviour which is different from the behaviour of those who stop biking. In the end this could very well lead to an overall change in behaviour.