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Why aren’t more kids cycling to school?

CYCLING IN AUSTRALIA: In 1970, nearly all young people in Australia walked, cycled or took public transport to school or university (84%). Few travelled by car (16%). Fast forward to 2011 and most children…

Children are far more likely to cycle if their parents do. carfreedays

CYCLING IN AUSTRALIA: In 1970, nearly all young people in Australia walked, cycled or took public transport to school or university (84%). Few travelled by car (16%). Fast forward to 2011 and most children are now driven to school.

So what has changed in the past 40 years? What can we do to get more children cycling to school? And why does this even matter?

National data are no longer available but in Melbourne, nearly four times as many young people are being driven to school than in 1970. Cycling levels are at an all-time low of 2.6%.

In fact, Australian children are among the most chauffeured young people in the developed world. Out of the total distance 10-14 year olds travel, walking and cycling is used for 33.5% of the distance in the Netherlands, 14.4% in Switzerland and 13.8% in Germany.

In Melbourne (again, there is no national data), it’s 4.6%.

Is this trend a cause for concern?

There are many reasons why cycling to school (and other local destinations) is better for children than sitting in a car.

Physically active children are healthier, happier and more socially connected than sedentary children. And most Australian children don’t get enough physical activity to reap these benefits.

Children who cycle to school are also likely to have:

  • improved mental health and social wellbeing
  • increased IQ and educational attainment
  • greater independent mobility.

The community benefits from:

  • reduced traffic congestion
  • environmental sustainability
  • community liveability
  • reduced chauffeuring duties for parents.

Primary school students consistently say they’d rather ride or walk to school. They say it’s fun, they like travelling with their friends, and it makes them fit and healthy.

Car travel on the other hand – which is their least preferred way of getting to school – is considered “boring”, it means “you have to sit still”, you “don’t get any exercise”, and cars “make bad gas in the air”.

In the 70s, nearly everyone rode to school. LAX2PRD

It all sounds positive, so why aren’t children cycling?

Many parents would also like their children to be able to walk or cycle to school, but feel they shouldn’t.

What stops them? Whether real or imagined, parents worry about:

  • trip distance, which is supposedly greater in Australia
  • traffic hazards
  • “stranger danger”
  • the inconvenience of cycling compared to being driven.

Some of these reasons don’t hold up to close scrutiny.

Take trip distance. In Victoria, the median distance from home to school is 2.1 kilometres for primary school students and 5.4 kilometres for secondary school students.

Most young people can easily cycle these distances, and in high-cycling countries they do. In Denmark, cycling is the most common way to get to school for distances up to three kilometres. Cycling rates remain substantial for trips up to and beyond eight kilometres.

Australian kids are happy to walk approximately 500 metres or less to school, but distances greater than this have parents reaching for the car keys.

The convenience of car travel is a major constraint on riding to school. In Australia, car travel is prioritised over getting around by foot or by bicycle. This is partly because the road environment feels (and to some extent is) unsafe for walking and cycling. Parents respond by driving their children increasingly short distances that are potentially walkable and rideable.

In a number of affluent European and Asian countries – such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Japan – cycling is prioritised over car travel in built-up areas. As a result, cycling can be faster and more convenient than driving. Safety also improves: urban areas become places for living, rather than thoroughfares for cars.

If we want school bike racks to be full again, we need to change the way we see cycling. melaphantastisch

Riding to school is dangerous, right?

Safety concerns are a key reason many Australian parents don’t let their children walk or cycle to school.

Actual injury risk is only part of the picture. Australian parents risk being blamed (and feeling personal guilt) if their child is injured cycling or walking to school.

This is because in car-oriented countries, such as Australia, it is considered the responsibility of parents to keep their children safe from cars by keeping them in cars.

In high-cycling countries it is the other way around. The operator of the vehicle that has the potential to cause the most harm has the responsibility for avoiding harm. The onus is on drivers to prove no-fault when in collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.

In societies where “everyone does it”, independent travel to school is not deemed to be “risk-taking behaviour”. In the same way, travelling long distances with children in cars (which is as risky as short tips by bicycle) is not seen as “risk-taking behaviour” in Australia where it is common practice.

These legal and social factors in high-cycling countries help to protect children from injury, and parents from social blame and personal guilt.

“Trust in others” may also be an important factor in whether children get to travel independently. High-cycling countries tend to be among the more equal societies. They have higher levels of trust, social cohesion, and involvement in community life, and lower levels of violence than countries with high levels of income inequality.

These factors reduce risk and allay parents’ concerns about their children’s unsupervised use of public spaces. Because of this, children get to cycle more.

carfreedays

What can be done to get more kids to cycle?

Despite the introduction of some school-based active travel programs, the number of children riding to school is actually declining.

The way children travel is strongly influenced by transportation infrastructure and policies in the area, and by the travel behaviour of adults. In most countries with high rates of cycling to school, everyone rides bikes more often.

More Australian children will cycle to school when their mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers and friends use a bicycle to get around.

To get kids riding, we need urban environments that are more appealing for cycling, and convenient, fast and safe for all people who ride bikes.

Other things that encourage high cycling-to-school rates include:

  • providing plenty of cycling infrastructure (including secure bike storage at schools)
  • car-parking restrictions at schools
  • school policies and programs that promote cycling and discourage driving to school
  • compulsory child cyclist road safety education and training
  • national and regional child bicycle safety campaigns
  • reducing speeds (this includes environmental modification, 30kph speed limits and signalised crossings in most areas, including very low speed limits outside schools)
  • legislation that assumes driver responsibility in an accident involving a child cyclist or pedestrian.

High and increasing levels of driving children to school are not the inevitable by-product of low-density urban living in affluent countries, as some people would have you believe. Instead, they are the predictable outcome of urban planning, transportation and road safety policies that promote car use and constrain walking and cycling.

With the right conditions, policies, education and encouragement, more Australian children would undoubtedly be happy to help reduce the number of cars “making bad gas in the air”.

Read the rest of Cycling in Australia.

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  1. Jonathan Lovelock

    Semi Professional Cyclist; student.

    Why aren’t more kids cycling to school?

    Helmets.

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    1. Raphael Grzebieta

      UNSW Australia

      In reply to Jonathan Lovelock

      Very good article Jan. I fully concur that the main reasons for more children not cycling to school is the lack of safe cycling infrastructure and cars travelling in excess of 30 km/h. Any impact speed above 30 km/h will usually result in a fatality or serious injury.

      I have triplet boys (30 years old now) and when they were going to school there was no way we would let them cycle to school amongst all those motorised vehicles often travelling in excess of 60 km/h. However, they did walk to and…

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    2. Chris Steffanoni

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Jonathan Lovelock

      Helmets is without reasonable doubt responsible for lowering the number of kids riding. Particularly high school students who view them as "uncool".
      As a professional cycling coach I think the parent barrier is extremely high for both primary and secondary aged school kids. It is a constant battle I fight, encouraging parents to allow their teenagers out onto the open roads for training sessions.
      There appears to be two main concerns for the parents.

      1. They view cyclists as "sitting ducks" just…

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    3. Kathy Francis

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Raphael Grzebieta

      Raphael, you criticize me for unsupported opinions and comments. My anecdote about my son being fined and stopping riding is both true, and no different from your own anecdote about how you didn't let your boys ride to school thirty years ago. These are personal observations in both cases, and never intended to be "research".

      Yes, it is an opinion that teenagers hate wearing helmets, but I have yet to see any published evidence that uptake of helmets amongst teenagers is large. And the bike…

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    4. Alan Todd

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Raphael Grzebieta

      I would have let this one go through to the keeper, only there is something a bit patronizing and dismissive in the tone, as in "raise their bare heads and muddy the discussion with their unsupported opinions and comments".

      I had formed the view that The Conversation was a forum for polite and intelligent exchange of ideas. Not being a publicly funded peer reviewed academic should not exclude an intelligent voice from the debate.

      When Australia became the first (and almost the last) country to…

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    5. Kissindra

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Alan Todd

      the last point you raise is an interesting one. Over the last 6 months I've noted an increased reporting of attempted child abduction, with stories from across the country being filed.

      I'd be interested to look at the stats and see if this is a reflection of an actual increase, or an increased in media coverage. If the later then I wonder if it is connected to breakthroughs in the Daniel Marcome case.

      There is no doubt the perception is of increased risk in any case.

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  2. Colin MacGillivray

    Architect, retired, Sarawak

    Excellent article.
    In New Zealand local authorities are trying to promote "walking buses" as well as cycling. In surveys there, another reason for parents driving their kids to school is given: parents regard this as "quality time" with the children.
    Amazing but true.

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  3. Kathy Francis

    logged in via Facebook

    Jan, I'm surprised you need to ask this question.

    Last time my 17 year old son rode a bicycle he received a $149 fine for riding without a helmet.

    A couple of months later he got his drivers license and now he drives whenever he can.

    Teenagers hate helmets. They also hate being harassed by the Police. As most of them have been stopped for this offence they have all given up riding. The bike racks at the local High School have been empty now for 21 years.

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  4. Rob Crowther

    Architectural Draftsman

    Apart from helmets being a major obstacle, there is also broken glass on bike tracks and bike theft and damage.

    We did have our kids ride to school but I am pretty good at tyre repairs and we used bikes that had been dumped on the verge where we made a working bike from several broken ones.

    Apart from teaching the son about simple mechanics, it also resulted in something no one wanted to steal.

    Now, I understand 40% of marriages are broken so there is no father around to fix flat tyres and damaged bikes. Whilst women are more then capable of fixing bikes, the fact is they typically don’t – probably more to the point a single mum would simply not have the time.

    This article paints the picture that you simply hop on a bike and ride it.

    That is not the case for school children.

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  5. Chris Harries

    logged in via Facebook

    Although urban planning, transportation and road safety policies are very relevant in turning around this issue, much of this issue simply boils down to what the majority does. That is, common culture.

    Safety issues are high up in many parents' minds because walking or cycling to school is not done by many, so your kid stands out in being different. That makes us feel insecure. If most kids cycled or walked to school (even with the same infrastructure we have now), then the perception of risk would…

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  6. John Harland

    bicycle technician

    I have two questions about the data.

    What proportion of children travel to school by bus now, and what was it in 1970?

    The claimed fourfold increase in children being driven to school seems a gross under-estimate, unless that "driven" figure includes bus travel.

    My own recollection from 1967 was of just one child being driven to school of the entire school attendance. I might have missed some but it was very rare.

    On the other hand, there used to be over 300 bikes parked at the school (of around…

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    1. Jan Garrard

      Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Social Development at Deakin University

      In reply to John Harland

      John, travelling to school by public transport (including school bus) hasn't changed much since 1970. For primary school students it's about 10%, for secondary students about 40%. Rates also vary across Australia, and for urban and rural/regional areas. PT use has shown recent small increases in Victoria, but decreases in Sydney.

      There's also a lot of variation in active/inactive travel modes among individual schools over time, which might explain your experiences.

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  7. Mark Duffett

    logged in via Facebook

    While the median trip distances might not look all that high, I'm betting that 1) they too have increased substantially since 1970, and 2) they are quite a bit higher than the median distance to the _nearest_ school. This is an inevitable consequence of the relative rise in both private school attendance and 'shopping' amongst public schools, as more and more children travel past one or more local schools to get to another one, often quite some distance away. The effects of this are readily observable where I live, with the difference in traffic between otherwise equivalent school holiday and school term days being quite marked - especially on a major highway that does not carry local traffic.

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    1. Jan Garrard

      Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Social Development at Deakin University

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      Mark, unfortunately we don't have very good longitudinal data about students' trip distances in Australia. In the USA, school trip distances have increased quite a bit, but probably more so than in Australia.

      And yes, congestion due to driving children to and from school is noticeable in Australian cities and suburbs - overall, about 17% of morning peak time traffic in metropolitan Melbourne in 1999, and much more in some locations, as you have noticed. It's probably greater now.

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  8. Craig Daly

    logged in via email @mail.com

    I rode to my primary school in the mid to late 1970s and I agree most children did either ride or walk at that time. Now I drive my primary school children to their primary school. There are two things that have changed since my time: helmets (not a major issue for primary but a real issue for high school) and an increased parental perception of danger. They would also need to cross a 80kph main road, which I didn't have to do.

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  9. Richard Monfries

    logged in via Twitter

    Hi Jan

    I continue to enjoy the thoughts you put out on the uptake of cycling.

    One thing though: it's interesting that the image used to lead your article - maybe not your choice? - is of my cyber-friends in Portland, Oregon. Their blog is called 'Car Free Days', because as a family they made a commitment after returning from a holiday in Europe that a car-lite or car free lifestyle is possible. 'Car Free Days' might be in the lead on their subject in the blogosphere, but where I live (in Melbourne…

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    1. Jan Garrard

      Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Social Development at Deakin University

      In reply to Richard Monfries

      Interesting comments and great role modelling, Richard, keep up the good work!

      The risk assessment and communication literature tells us that people largely judge risk by what other people do. How many parents contemplating letting their kids ride or walk to school know the relative risks of injury for walking, cycling and driving? We tend to say "if other people are doing it, it must be okay". Some interesting recent data suggest that new arrivals in Australia coming from some developing countries with high risk of injury, but a lot of people walking and cycling, consider it too risky to cycle in Australia (where it is actually safer). This might be due to the perception that "it must be risky in Australia because few people do it".

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    2. Tim Connors

      System Administrator / Public Serf

      In reply to Richard Monfries

      But since helmets discourage people from riding, there are fewer cyclists on the road. Since there are fewer cyclists, it is not normalised anymore. So it is in the interests of all cyclists for there to be more cyclists riding -- for any given cyclist, it is now less safe because car drivers are not looking out for them in the same way we are being looked out for in the Netherlands.

      We tend to find that as the number of riders goes up, the total number of deaths and injuries stay the same (particularly…

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  10. John Harland

    bicycle technician

    There is a stark difference between educating and encouraging people to wear helmets, and compelling them.

    Apart from the valid concerns about personal rights, the process of education and encouragement in Victoria prior to mandation was particularly successful. It had achieved high and still-increasing levels of informed usage. There was sound reason to suppose that we could have achieved wearing rates similar to those achieved by mandation, and within a short timescale.

    Mandation of helmet wearing…

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  11. tom ripon

    sculptor

    bike design for kids is pretty ordinary, I had a dragster as a kid, those fat tyres, ya never found out till someone let ya try something with skinny tyres! They have always been around for adults, and there were a miniscule amount of 24" inch racing bikes, copies of the clunky ten speeds. Then Bmx and mountain bikes kept those style of bikes and tyres in fashion. Little kids really struggle on bad fitting poorly designed bikes no wonder its seen as a chore. I had to keep up with my fifth graders along busy suburban roads able to shepherd them to school, they had bikes that suited their size but also I managed to find tyres that would put most road bikes to shame

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  12. Scott Whiffin

    Ride2School program

    Like many of my generation I’ve got great memories of my journey to school (back in those same 1970s that Jan refers to) on foot by mostly by bike. It wasn’t far but gee it was fun and that sense of freedom is undimmed 30 years on.
    Back then if I’d heard described a situation whereby there might be school gate traffic jams as child after child was delivered to school in the back of a car I would have laughed.
    But sadly, and way too often, that's today's reality and the social, developmental, community…

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  13. tom ripon

    sculptor

    I raced when I was young and was used to "having" to wear a helmet, but when training spent years riding all over Vic without one. When it finally came in, I resisted for years, and copped it more than once, but I TOTALLY agree Helmets SUCK but not wearing one opens you up to all sorts of bullies. I'd rather keep riding

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  14. Jan Garrard

    Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Social Development at Deakin University

    The issue of mandatory bicycle helmet use has arisen again, so to save time, I'll shamelessly plagiarise what I wrote in response to this issue in my Conversation article on women and cycling:

    The evidence that helmets reduce the severity of head injuries in the event of a crash is convincing. Evidence for the impact of compulsory helmet-wearing on cycling participation is inconsistent (and generally lacking). This is a recent Canadian study that found no effect: Dennis J, Potter B, Ramsey T, Zarychanski…

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    1. Alan Todd

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jan Garrard

      I do think you are being a bit dishonest here Jan. To say "Evidence for the impact of compulsory helmet-wearing on cycling participation is inconsistent (and generally lacking)." is simply not true. I refer you to the Dorothy Robinson paper I cited above. The evidence from Australia is strong. The Canadian research is not really relevant, as it deals with Ontario. In that province, helmet legislation only applies to minors, and it has never been enforced. Mandation without penalty is a pretty meaningless concept. What happened there was a small dip in riding numbers, followed by recovery. Helmet wearing rates were unchanged two years on.

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    2. Jan Garrard

      Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Social Development at Deakin University

      In reply to Alan Todd

      Alan

      Please check your facts before accusing me of being dishonest. The study I cited did not deal with Ontario alone, but several Canadian provinces. The fact that an Australian study found the opposite, and that there are few other studies to draw on means that the overall evidence is inconsistent.

      Jan

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    3. Alan Todd

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jan Garrard

      Jan,
      The findings from Australia are consistent. MHL caused a significant reduction in cycling in all age groups in this country. Please also refer to the ABS figures on commuting.
      I apologise for the charge of dishonesty, however as it is barriers to cycling in Australia you are looking at, why not look at the effect of MHL in Australia. The enforcement regime is quite different in Canada, and in the case of Ontario (the largest province with juvenile only MHL) enforcement does not happen. Inclusion of findings from Ontario are therefore, if not dishonest, at least misleading in the Australian context.

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    4. Hamish Jackson

      Physician

      In reply to Jan Garrard

      Jan do know what the enforcement policy was in the other Canadian states studied in Dennis et al? One would think it would be a very important factor; Clark points out in his reply to Dennis (
      http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/16/4/219/reply#injuryprev_el_2778 ) that in Victoria 19000 fines were applied in one year after the laws were introduced. If true (his comment is unreferenced) it is not surprising that ridership fell dramatically here. I also note Dennis's conclusions the data regarding ridership decreased is also controversial.

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    5. Hamish Jackson

      Physician

      In reply to Hamish Jackson

      sorry should read "Dennis' conclusion that ridership did not decrease after helmet laws in Canadia is also controversial"

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    6. Karl Stade

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jan Garrard

      This is a good point Jan. Although I support the scrapping of MHL in favour of an informed and optional system, my own research concerning the "barriers to cycling" showed that only 3.7% of survey respondents identified current laws and legislation such as mandatory helmets as a major barrier to them cycling as a form of daily transport. It is key to note that 25.9% of participants identified cycling as one of their daily transport modes.

      Instead the main barriers were the real or perceived impracticality…

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    7. Harvey C

      Cyclist

      In reply to Jan Garrard

      "The evidence that helmets reduce the severity of head injuries in the event of a crash is convincing."

      This assertion needs to be qualified: it is convincing to those who already believe in helmets. Many of the studies that claim that helmets are affective are affected by confirmation bias. Often, the authors have not fully checked for confounding factors, and attribute apparent injury differences to helmets while ignoring that unhelmeted cyclists had more severe accidents for example. An…

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  15. John Harland

    bicycle technician

    Jan, you still don't address the issue of mandation versus education and encouragement.

    It seems peculiar, in a forum originating in educational institutions that the idea of education seems to have so little traction.

    You cannot educate effectively in an environment of compulsion.

    Safety packages to accompany the lifting of mandation will not happen until we have mandation as an imminent political reality. Until then governments can continue to pretend that they are doing something for cycle safety.

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  16. John Harland

    bicycle technician

    sorry, excuse the accidental midedit:

    "the *lifting of* mandation as an imminent political reality"

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  17. Jonathan Lovelock

    Semi Professional Cyclist; student.

    Jan,

    Helmets come as a final last resort answer to 'protect' cyclists as opposed to adequately addressing safety concerns. Countries like the USA where helmets are not mandatory country wide for all ages suffer the same low cycling symptoms in much the same way Australia does. The final piece of the puzzle for them in killing cycling is implement a blame the victim compulsory helmet law, but at least they are a few decades behind Australia in that regard.

    When you address ( very well in my opinion…

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  18. Kathy Francis

    logged in via Facebook

    Jan,

    To put it another way, when a parent makes the decision about the mode of transport their child will use to get to school their reasoning goes something like this :

    Which is the safest transport option for my child : riding a bicycle or being driven in a motor vehicle under my supervision ?

    Riding a bicycle has become too dangerous , you need to wear a helmet these days.

    Wearing a helmet will not protect my child against neck, spinal, torso or limb injuries.

    Therefore it is too dangerous for my child to ride a bike.

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    1. Jan Garrard

      Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Social Development at Deakin University

      In reply to Kathy Francis

      Kathy

      If we applied this logic to cars we'd say "driving a car has become too dangerous because you must use increasingly strict methods of child restraints in cars - so I won't drive".

      Many factors impact on our travel mode choices - my reading of the current available evidence is that mandatory helmet laws are not a major factor.

      jan

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    2. Jonathan Lovelock

      Semi Professional Cyclist; student.

      In reply to Jan Garrard

      Yes people probably DO apply that logic but at the end of the day driving is still the easiest and most convenient form of transport. It's drive or go no where, so people choose to drive.

      You can't honestly believe helmets are not a barrier and part of the problem? Honestly?
      Why do we have to beat around the bush with these issues? Why have we allowed vested interests and misguided policy to shape the public debate of cycling in Australia.

      Your article talks of high cycling levels in countries that are famous for low levels of helmet use and high levels of cyclist safety. Why would we not pursue this also?

      To point to countries without MHLs and poor cycling levels such as the USA/Canada etc shows that repealing MHLs will not solve all of our problems which is true. But why wouldn't we want better infrastructure/education/policy making AND repealing of MHLs?

      Jono

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  19. Paul Martin

    logged in via email @me.com

    Good article Jan, however to say (in the comments) that you don't think mandatory bicycle helmet laws are an impediment to cycling is out of line with what the rest of the world's cyclists (and their cycling organisations) think.

    To all those that think bicycle helmet laws are not an issue, please honestly answer the following question:

    <b> "If cycling in Australia today was in exactly the same state and we DIDN'T have mandatory bicycle helmet laws, would you support their introduction?"
    </b…

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    1. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Martin

      This is a double-edged sword though. If compulsion were removed, undoubtedly many kids would discard helmets. The normal operations of peer group pressure alluded to by Chris Harries above would ensure that the rest followed suit. The conversation in families with parents at the more protective end of the spectrum would then go something like the following.

      Mum: "I'm not letting you ride a bike without your helmet on"
      Kid: "Fine then, I won't ride my bike"

      End of bike riding. And I very much doubt mine is the only house where that scenario would take place. The upshot is that ending legally compulsory helmet-wearing may not necessarily increase cycling among children. Compulsion will largely transfer from the law to parents, with the crucial difference of increased peer group pressure against helmet-wearing. This is not an egg that will be unscrambled easily.

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    2. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      Ah, yes... and this position conveniently helps prop up a law which, if proposed today, would be likely defeated.

      Judging by the few children that do ride to school in my local area, neither parents insisting nor the law requiring them to wear helmets will make them do so. It's about time riding a bicycle without a helmet ceased to be a crime.

      Riding a bicycle is safe, just look at the data, therefore helmet compulsion is unwarranted. Some believe that cycling is so dangerous that it requires helmet compulsion. Such people have rocks in their head if they think that wearing a bicycle helmet suddenly turns a 'dangerous' activity into a 'safe' one... This is a nonsense.

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    3. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Martin

      Nothing 'convenient' about it; I'm pretty much an agnostic on the whole issue. But my wife will take a fair bit more convincing.

      However, like John Tulloch I'm unconvinced that helmets necessarily equals 'uncool'. The Stig demonstrates otherwise!

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    4. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jonathan Lovelock

      Whoever is responsible for those ads should hang their heads in shame. First against the wall when the revolution comes.

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    5. Karl Stade

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Duffett

      Wow! I thought that website was some sort of satire or parody of a road safety campaign.. then I scrolled down to look at the details and it is an official, current campaign by the South Australian Government. What an absolute abomination. It is basically telling kids that they are "screwed" if they use public transport, walk, ride a bike or anything else other than owning and driving their own private car.

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    6. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to Karl Stade

      It's obscene isn't it? It also makes a point of the helmets looking particularly goofy.

      I wrote and complained about this and received a patronisingly canned response from the organisation in question. They made no apology about the 'angle'.

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    7. Chris Harries

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jonathan Lovelock

      A few years ago I joined a parents' group to meet up with some Education Department folk (Tasmania) about the prospects for formalising and promoting a 'walking bus' for my child's local school.

      Rather stunned by their response. Too much legal liability for the department to handle. "Wouldn't it be safer to drive them to school?" ... and so forth.

      Well, we just gave up doing it through proper channels. The walking bus has since been a great success, but it's organised informally and not promoted by the school. Too much legal liability.

      I do believe the department has since come around a little bit, but it still ain't easy to do things like that through proper channels.

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    8. Chris Steffanoni

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Jonathan Lovelock

      I think that campaign is a classic! It's obviously aimed at young drivers and i'm sure they can relate to the different scenarios.
      Brilliant!

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  20. Chris Harries

    logged in via Facebook

    Gosh, the helmets issues seems to arouse strong passions.

    I do know from my long distant youth that a bike was almost an extension of ourselves, you could just jump on it ride down the road, chuck it on the ground, borrow each others bikes. An alternative to shoes. A bike was just a bike. They were simple, we fixed them ourselves.

    It's not just helmets that inhibit such free-form behaviour nowadays. What with having to mess with bike locks and special riding clothes and a demand for expensive high-tech bikes that we don't like to even get scratched, and all the other accoutrements... it can be easier to just walk instead, and I often make that choice.

    Not sure how to revert to a more casual approach to biking, but helmets are only part of the equation.

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    1. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to Chris Harries

      Only people who are susceptible to marketing tricks think they need to wear special clothing every time they ride a bike. It's purely marketing propaganda. Perhaps people deserve what they get?

      The only time I wear any special clothing while riding is when competing in road races or triathlons... (lycra, helmets, clipless pedals, etc). For all my other riding, I get on the bike with the clothes I'm wearing. If I can walk in it, I can ride in it.

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    2. Mark Duffett

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Martin

      +10 on wearing normal clothes when riding. I'm sure the profusion of lycra has an alienating effect on otherwise potential cyclists.

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  21. John Tulloch

    logged in via Facebook

    As a commuting cyclist and having ridden to school in my younger days, I wholeheartedly agree with kids riding to school. I don't believe the "uncool" helmet point is really true as there exists a plethora of helmet styles and types nowadays all (or at least 99%) Australian standard approved. I believe a need exists to shift the kids away from the "helmets are uncool" idea, towards a 'helmets are going to significantly reduce your head injuries in the event of a crash'.

    Mandatory helmet laws within…

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    1. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to John Tulloch

      John Tulloch said:
      "...helmets are going to significantly reduce your head injuries in the event of a crash"

      Be very careful here. I have no doubt that they reduce superficial head injuries but based on their manufacture, design and testing methods one would be very foolish to think that current thin-shelled, hard polystyrene bicycle helmets will *significantly* reduce your risk of serious head injuries (ie. brain injuries).

      I know what my bicycle helmet can and can not protect me from and I ride accordingly... I've not fallen since I was a child and I cycle over 10,000km per year.

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    2. John Tulloch

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Martin

      In all my years as an XC racer (not professional) and commuting on a fixie, I have developed a deep love for my previous and current helmets. They have on may occasions saved my head from what could have been a skull splitting accident. A fall from the average height in which a cyclist sits is enough (even if indirectly) to generate the momentum required to cause a skull fracture if the head lands on a protruding object i.e. gutter curb, tree root etc..

      Certainly some helmet designs will not give…

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    3. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to John Tulloch

      This last comment is interesting:

      "Its not the amount of kilometers we ride... its how hard we ride them :)"

      Cycling in Australia is far too focussed on the sporting side of cycling to the detriment of 'just cycling from A to B' cycling. It is this sort of attitude to cycling, which is now unhealthily ingrained, that has made it appear more dangerous than it is.

      When I ride to the shops to do my groceries in my cargo bike, perfectly safely without a helmet, I'm not riding hard and nor do I have any desire to.

      When I'm competing it is a completely different story. I ride hard and fast.

      The spectrum of cycling is similar to driving.... but only when you have Formula One cars at the other end (where they have helmets interestingly).

      I personally think that many Australian 'cyclists' get a perverse thrill out of making it appear more dangerous than it is. Many people even boast about their battle scars & falls. Me? I just know how not to fall off.

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    4. John Tulloch

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Martin

      I couldn't agree more with you, people do make less than sensible choices in attempts to get more thrill out of riding (i think that is half the appeal behind down hill and free riding).

      But which would be easier and more likely... "timmy/sally ride to school sensibly and carefully today and draw on many years experience (which they may/may not have) to get you out of tricky situations" or "timmy/sally, put your helmet on and ride safe" ...?

      I know as a child and even as an adult i sacrificed safety in the pursuit of fun... its what kids and humans do.

      is it not better to have an ounce of prevention rather than a pound of cure?

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    5. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to John Tulloch

      "is it not better to have an ounce of prevention rather than a pound of cure?"

      Absolutely, which is why helmet laws are in fact very bad as they do nothing to prevent accidents occurring in the first place. Not even the helmets prevent accidents.

      I'd rather see a greater emphasis on taming the danger (motor vehicles and their drivers) than focussing on 'wrapping' the victims: slower speed limits in CBDs & residential streets (30km/h); strict liability laws; road design that prioritises cyclists…

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    6. Karl Stade

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Paul Martin

      "The danger to cyclists comes predominantly from motor vehicles. Oddly, this is used as a justification for the helmet legislation when the helmets are not (and will never be) designed for impacts with motor vehicles."

      Agreed. It is misguided that we even have a debate on helmets here, when instead we should be asking why people feel the need to wear a helmet and work towards addressing this instead? This loops back again to what many have already mentioned: vulnerable road user laws, awareness/safety campaigns aimed at motorists, improved design and provision of facilities, reduced road speeds and so on.

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  22. Karl Stade

    logged in via Facebook

    Excellent article. Great to see this has generated some healthy debate and publicity.

    From my own research I have found that most contemporary literature and research suggest that the best way to reinstate cycling as a common form of transportation in countries like Australia is to adopt the successful strategies and approaches already implemented and proven working in cycle-friendly countries like Denmark and Holland. Examples include blanket reduction of vehicle speeds in residential areas, better…

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    1. Jonathan Lovelock

      Semi Professional Cyclist; student.

      In reply to Karl Stade

      "a large portion of participants identified utility cycling to be too dangerous (40.7%)"

      Do you investigate why people believe cycling to be so dangerous?

      Surely, surely, surely, the issue of mandatory helmets plays a role here? Although I believe it is a largely subconscious level.

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    2. Karl Stade

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jonathan Lovelock

      I agree. I wan't able to gather further survey data from these participants as it was completed anonymously online (I distributed flyers with the survey info and web link to people living within the save study area). However within my literature review I did discuss the relationship of mandatory helmet laws and road "safety" campaigns on people's perceptions of danger and the fear of cycling it results in. It is certainly an area for further research and development.

      So essentially the respondents…

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  23. wilma western

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    I thought this was going to be an article about getting exercise on the way to school instead of being chauffered . It soon became a promotion of cycling as pretty well the exclusive option which then became incredibly a knock- down drawn- out tussle between the pro and anti mandatory helmet camps. Truly amazing. My own observation is that the reduction in cycling and walking to school might have a bit to do with the proliferation of two or more car families. It was a bit encouraging that the percentages of kids using public transport have stayed about the same , and at least they probably walk to the tram or station. It's good to hear about the walking bus. How many kids are like my grandchildren and madly scoot to school ?Wearing helmets too - mind you they're only primary kids.

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  24. Francis Chu

    logged in via Facebook

    Great article and good list of motivation to reconsider cycling. In addition to fun and health, I would add sense of belonging to the community and sense of independency are also important reason why kids should be cycling to school.

    Children from young won't feel very strongly about their neighborhood if they are always chauffeured in a metal box, separated from the "outside" by the window glass. When they can cycle everyday to school they will not only see, but also hear, smell and feel the area…

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  25. Marie Briggs

    parent

    I did cycle to school when I was a student, but now things couldn't be more different. I lived in a small neighbourhood and the way to school was via roads with no through traffic on them (just local). So not much traffic and level and quiet. As a primary school kid we didn't go near the main road of our suburb which had more traffic - it was just too scary. WHen I did cycle as a kids in areas with more traffic I can vividly remember that I just couldn't handle it, especially when there were…

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  26. Etienne de Briquenel

    logged in via Twitter

    Good article but at the same time a very despressing topic. As a lifetime cyclist, nothing saddens me more than the significant drop in the number of kids riding to school.

    I'm not entirely sure why poor infrastructure gets the blame so often. On a personal level, when I was riding to school in the 70s and 80s there was no infrastructure whatsoever. While not every modern suburb in Australia has freshly painted bike lanes, I can assure you that none of them were around in the 70s. Am I wrong here…

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  27. Marie Briggs

    parent

    Yep I guess you are wrong Etinenne. While there were no bike lanes in the 70's we didn't need them, the population of Sydney was 2 million less. There has been an increase in over 70% in the number of cars driven to work since 1976, car ownership has increased as well. All this is adding to way cars on the road.

    Can we see this? - more people, more cars, more cars being driven to work and if you live in an area like I do where the roads are the same as they were in the 1970's with no alternate…

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    1. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to Marie Briggs

      A patronising reply by 'parent', Marie Briggs. The picture is not that clear.

      While the population has increased, so has the sprawl, resulting in densities that have not changed as much over the years - certainly not as much as the population figure alone. Have the number of dwellings changed much in the suburbs? No, they haven't. If I look at the street where I grew up as a child, the houses are still the same. People living in the CBD & working there tend not to drive much at all - they walk…

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    2. Etienne de Briquenel

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Marie Briggs

      Thanks Marie. I'm actually a parent too, but I tend not to mention that on too many bike discussions so as not to be accused of moral posturing. (Not that moral posturing is my thing, but whatever.)

      I suppose the difference in infrastructure is relative to where one grew up. In the three locations where I rode to school, all of them very different in terms of density and lay-out, there has either been not much change at all or the conditions have actually improved. Car ownership in Australia has…

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  28. Marie Briggs

    parent

    Depends on where you live Paul - AS I said where I live the roads have not changed since the 70's but the traffic surely has. Most parents I know are concerned about the challanges of the level of the traffic.

    The housing dessity may be the same in some areas but the cars per household has increased and also the propensity to use the cars for travelling to work has increased, this results in more cars on main roads where kids may have to negotiate.

    Where there is urban sprawl there well may be…

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  29. John Harland

    bicycle technician

    While the sprawl has increased, the roads where I grew up in the suburbs are now four lanes crowded into the space that used to be just one lane either way. There used to be a verge to cycle on but now there is nothing.

    We didn't need "cycling infrastructure" then because we had the road verge back then.

    It is not the number of cars alone, but how they have been allowed to take over roadspace from other users. I can't imagine the milkman in his horsedrawn cart on that road now, nor the visiting…

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  30. Glenn Asquith

    IT

    Kids dont cycle because many of the schools no longer allow them too!!

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  31. Paul Loring

    logged in via email @ymail.com

    I think both the article and the comments here so far demonstrate that the underlying resistance to more kids cycling, is firstly parents, secondly some school administrators.
    It certainly isn't the kids, who from the article and the evidense it provides demonstrates the kids want to do this more than any other alternative!
    The adult resistance, both according to the article, and many comments here, demonstarte irrational adult behaviour. Adults looking for reasons not to permit their kids doing…

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  32. jim morris

    logged in via email @yahoo.com

    Of course helmets 'suck' but most young kids get driven to school because the parents have been indoctrinated into thinking there is a paedophile hiding around every corner.
    It is a scare campaign that has worked too well and I daren't even mention what 'community' instigated it to deflect attention away from themselves. Ideological obedience (PC) means wearing blinkers and getting carried away discussing only the acceptable elements of the problem.

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    1. Chris Harries

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to jim morris

      Well, Jim,

      It's easy to think there must be a conspiratorial campaign afoot, but I think we need to think of these problems in terms of what is normalised behaviour. When I went to school way back in the 1960s it was 'normal' to walk or bike to school, even through very busy streets. There's safety in numbers for one thing.

      Nowadays such parental behaviour is so abnormal the parent feels as if they are doing the wrong thing, and start to conjure up fears of what may happen to their child if they…

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  33. Marie Briggs

    parent

    Look I agree with Chris - I just don't agree that as parents we are scared pf pedophiles (although a parent was arrested for this in my child's class) or kidnap, it is the every day danger of very busy roads that small kids would have to negotiate to go to school.

    If all the bigger kids were cycling and it was the norm as Chris said then if would be easier to allow younger kids to go with them so they could travel together and the older ones could help the younger ones with traffic and make sure…

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  34. Nick Cummings

    Slack-ist

    I only half-jokingly suggest that if 'Cycling to the Shops' were to become an Olympic sport we would not be having this conversation . . .

    We would have the most comprehensive and safest cyclepaths, and some of the fittest, healthiest, most well-adjusted kids in the world.

    Speaking personally, we live 20km's away from our kids school, a journey that we currently drive. (We live semi-rural)

    If we rode on the roads either in, or out of town, the local macho-aggressive (read 'ignorant and unskilled…

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