Feeding a troll
I know, I know. We should let the Vancouver Sun editorial board have their fun in peace, ignore their provocative link-baiting and treat their print edition as the fish’n’chip wrapper it is.
I just thought this editorial was a nice collection of common fallacies, lined up like sitting ducks in a barrel (?) for easy pickings. Here goes:
Let’s have a mental exercise with a few simple hypotheticals.
First: You are on your way home from work on your commuter bike, running about 35 km/h down a hill on a bike path, when you lose control and find yourself flying over the handlebars. Do you think it would be better to be: a) wearing a bicycle helmet; or b) sporting your well-worn baseball cap?
1. Most importantly, no law doesn’t mean no helmets, and vice versa: having a law doesn’t immediately cease all such incidents. I can agree that in a given situation, you’d be better off in a helmet - for example, you’d also be better off in a helmet if you walked into a lamp post. That’s not a good reason for a pedestrian helmet law.
2. Totally depends how you land. Put your hands out, maybe? Roll on the grass?
3. If you’re not wearing a helmet, why are you going 35km/h downhill? Chill. Frankly, I’ll happily endorse the police pulling over speeding cyclists, before I’ll endorse them pulling over people in tuques. It’s speed that kills.
Second: Your favourite uncle wobbles off on a bike as part of his new weight-loss regime, leaving the helmet you bought him behind. Do you: a) shrug your shoulders about rights in a free country; or b) secretly wish the government made the old goat put a lid on his head the way they once forced a car seatbelt over his shoulder.
1. If he’s a wobbling cyclist in training, maybe he should be armoured up.
2. Similarly, he’s hopefully learning slowly on safe, protected routes. If he has a little tumble, the old goat can dust himself off perfectly easily. He’s not soft like you kids today!
3. He could just as easily wear or not wear a helmet, whether there’s a law in place or not. Passing an adult helmet law doesn’t instantaneously put “the government” behind every bush, “making old goats put a lid on”. The actual enforcement results of the helmet law - as we see in Vancouver - are a) police parking their motorbikes on safe bike routes at commuter times and picking off safe, slow cyclists on safe, slow streets b) police, and the media in general, ignoring other dangerous behavior that leads to collisions, and ignoring tried and true solutions to such collisions, namely infrastructure.
Three: Your seven-year-old son asks why he’s wearing a helmet and you are not as the two of you set out. Do you say: a) your head is harder than his; b) lecture him about the evils of the nanny state and tell him to take his off too; or c) sheepishly realize it might be better to set a good example.
To quote Mr C.K. “I dunno. It’s your shitty kid. You fuckin’ tell ‘em.” Are you seriously telling me you’re willing to keep cyclist numbers at unhealthily low levels, and completely block Vancouver bikeshare with all the transit and quality-of-life benefits that brings, all “because you don’t want to talk to your ugly child for five fuckin’ minutes?”
Do you vote? Do you drive? Do you enjoy a hoppy or grape distilled beverage on occasion? Did you even perhaps conceive your delightfully inquisitive progeny in an act of (whisper it) sexual intercourse?
Well then maybe you should ‘sheepishly’ realize it might be better not to do those things, to set a good example, since clearly the same rules apply to kids as well as adults.
Just to spell it out, the reason we sometimes have different rules for kids is that they’re kids: they’re not adults. They’re still learning how to be responsible. They’re testing boundaries, taking risks. Different parents and different kids have different bounds for those risks, and there’s plenty international legal variation, but most countries have some rules that apply to kids and not to adults. Indeed, many jurisdictions do have that difference for bicycle helmets (and actually the evidence of its impact on child cycling numbers is not good, but I don’t want to get into that here).
There is, of course, strong evidence that bicycle helmets can prevent head injuries.
Some would dispute the strength of this evidence, but I won’t here. Wearing a helmet might be a good idea for a given individual behaving a particular way on a particular street. Go for it. But eating broccoli is also a good idea: it’s full of iron, you know. That doesn’t mean we need a mandatory broccoli law, even if that might really help bring down our healthcare costs.
Buying and wearing a bicycle helmet is a small thing. The next generation will take bike helmets for granted the way they now accept the wearing of head protection for hockey and skiing.
1 . Skating and skiing to work is, as far as I know, still very rare, even in Canada. Sports cycling is a niche hobby, often with special equipment and so, yes, akin to hockey or skiing. Please do not confuse this with regular cycling.
Cycling simply involves a pedestrian and a bicycle. This is why it is a common every-day mode of transport globally. This is why bikeshare has been such a global success. It’s simple, easy, uncomplicated, safe.
2. If buying and wearing a helmet is such a small thing, why do you not call for everybody to wear one all of the time? While walking (because, to make the spurious sports comparison, hikers sometimes slip off mountains, you know) or while driving (because racing is a dangerous motorsport)?
3. The next generation will indeed wonder what all the fuss was about. They’ll wonder why BC (and the Maritimes, ok, I’ll give you that one) persisted in this ludicrous experiment, while the rest of the world pressed on safely without, and the evidence piled up that mandatory adult helmet laws worked directly against the stated policy goals (and obvious economic, environmental and quality-of-life benefits) of increasing cycling modal share. They’ll wonder why the Vancouver Sun wasted editors’ and readers’ time (and then they’ll spot the car ads, and they’ll understand).
They’ll also wonder why I bothered feeding the troll, and they’ll have a point.