How to wrap a child or an adult in cotton wool

8 09 2012

Yes it is true that the cotton price is currently dropping, but it is still so expensive to wrap a child in cotton wool. You can’t watch them all the time, but hell, they might climb a tree, play in some mud, pull the tail of a mean-arse dog, whack each other over the head with a stick (and yes it could take an eye out), or more likely in this day and age get run over by a reversing 4WD in a driveway.

Well now, thank goodness, there are Thudguards to keep the little buggers safe:

Thank the gods. She’s now safe from enjoying a dangerous childhood.

So instead of enjoying the rough and tumble of a traditional childhood, they can stay safe in their antiseptic rooms watching brain training DVDs whilst their parents are busy racing their older siblings from ballet class to soccer practice to liquor store in their 4WDs.

And whilst the funny hats may be a sad indictment of their parent’s poor ability to judge risk, and their potential guilt if something went wrong, I don’t think it is much different than the mandatory bicycle helmet law in New Zealand.

(My most fun childhood accident involving a bicycle involved stacking it into a rose bush as an 8 year old, and bugger the helmet, I should have been wearing an inch thick kevlar jacket and trousers.)

New Zealand adults lost the ability to make the decision for themselves as to whether, when riding a bike, to wear a helmet or not in 1994 because of the tragic story of Aaron Oaten and the driven crusade of his mum Rebecca.

Aaron was struck and thrown from his bike by a car on the Pioneer Highway in Palmerston North in 1986. His head hit the gutter and Aaron suffered terrible injuries and became a tetraplegic. He sadly died two years ago. His mother, who obviously loved him and I do not wish to belittle her or understimate her dedication, cared for him for all those years and campaigned relentlessly for mandatory helmets. I too probably was riding a bike to school that day in 1986, my first year of high school, and I would have been without a helmet, so yes it could have been me, or one of my friends in that position.

But making helmets mandatory because of that accident was an emotional response, and not necessarily a rational one.  It is the wrap them in cotton wool response.

Why picking bike helmets, and not cars as the target of her fury I don’t know. It was the car that threw him from the bike.

I don’t think the mandatory bike helmet law is an appropriate memorial to Aaron. A more fitting memorial would be the Pioneer Highway shared path for cyclists and pedestrians:

Real bike safety is under the wheels and not on the head.

and extending it south-west to Longburn and north-east of Botanic Road where it stops at the traffic lights:

There’s plenty of room on Main Street, Palmy to extend the cycleway

The 20th anniversary of the mandatory helmet law is coming soon. Judging by the empty bike racks at every school in the country it has utterly failed. It’s time to reexamine the law, and instead of using emotional arguments or relying on anecdotal evidence we need to ask questions and get scientific data about bicycle participation rates for children and adults, for head injury rates (reduced more by people not cycling at all than their helmets) and what adults really think about being wrapped in cotton wool to assuage the guilt of motorists. If it is true that real cycle safety is what’s under the wheels and not wearing an ice cream tub on your head, then why don’t we build quality Dutch style infrastructure for cyclists, and why don’t we slow down the cars, and get the drunk drivers permanently off the road? Mandatory bike helmets may have the unintended consequences, of not only reducing cycle participation rates and making bicycling seem more dangerous than it really is, but pretending to be a real solution for improving cyclist safety and therefore real safety improvements never get implemented.

It is a bit like all these curbs on smoking, a little bit more strict each time. It just wastes time, before we get to the point we really need to get to; a full ban on smoking in public.

Mandatory helmets on bicycles are the wrong answer. Let’s chuck out the law and start afresh, not ignoring the bull that is the biggest danger to cyclists are motor vehicles.



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