TEDxCopenhagen - Mikael Colville-Andersen - Why We Shouldn't Bike with a HelmetJun 10, 2021
Transcriber: Diana Khakimova Reviewer: Capa Girl Thanks for calling me young! It's really great to be here. Hanging out with TED: The Good Life. Those three words probably mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I have my own personal factors about what the good life means to me and my family. One of those things is bicycles or rather people on bicycles. A symphony of human-powered movement across the urban landscape. It's a big part of what I do. Promotion of urban cycling in cities around the world. This is the era of lists, measurements, ratings and indices.
And it's interesting to see how we try to determine where the good life is lived. Not long ago, it was done with simple lists of the richest countries in the world, the poorest countries in the world, the richest cities, and the poorest cities. Money was the key factor in determining quality of life. Now, as we all know, things are very different. Now we have things like the happiest country in the world survey, which continues to baffle and confuse the Danish people, year after year, placing it in the number one spot. I still do not understand. The lifestyle magazine Monocle developed an index of the most liveable cities in the world a few years ago, using an interesting combination of statistical parameters and personal tastes.
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tedxcopenhagen mikael colville andersen why we shouldn t bike with a helmet...
And this is the a... It's not working. Gentlemen? -- The list of the twenty best in the world -- (Laughter) The most liveable cities of 2010. Now, I am completely impartial when I say that any liveable city is worth it for its well-equipped bicycles, a large number of bicycles in the urban landscape. . And if you look at these cities... You're looking... Now, there you have it... It's interesting to note that 12 of these cities, including the top 8, have respectable levels of bicycle traffic, of cycling citizens on their streets.
bikelanes and streets. Most other cities are trying, they are doing what they can to restore cycling as a means of transport as it used to be in cities and towns around the world.
I didn't really push that. But this is really a modern slogan of these "livable cities." It's like we're trying to redefine what our cities should be and trying to get back to how they used to be and, in most cases, how they should be. One thing's for sure: can you tell me where to point this? (Danish) One thing is for sure: cycling is in fashion all over the world. The bicycle is back. Cities and towns around the planet are trying to encourage people to choose cycling as a means of transportation, and provide them with the necessary infrastructure to do so.
That was a preview. (Laughs) It's really a no-brainer. They really are the most obvious things we can do, the bicycle is the most powerful medicine we have, the most powerful tool, the most effective tool in our toolbox for the reconstruction of our livable cities. There can be nothing that stands in the way of promoting urban cycling. Or could there be? Curse! There was. Welcome to the culture of fear. There are many books and essays written on the subject by people much smarter than me. I can guarantee it. The German sociologist Ulrich Beck wrote, more than 20 years ago, that once homosapience are no longer hungry, they are afraid.
It probably doesn't mean we're all scared shitless because you just had lunch, but I cut my finger on the sushi box and I heard about the bacteria today, so I'm a little worried. The Norwegian philosopher Lars Svensen wrote that fear has become that feeling that controls the public. Cultural fear is many things, but the most powerful example of cultural fear is this almost pornographic obsession we have developed with security teams. Never before have we lived lives as safe and free from danger as we do now in the Western world. And yet, cultural fear has developed a kind of, I don't know, bubble wrap society.
I'm pretty sure cultural fear can exist on its own, but it really becomes all-powerful for the simple fact that if there is something we can make people afraid of, there is a long line of people waiting to make money. Out of that. Fear is lucrative. Fear is big business. One of the strangest, and perhaps most extreme, examples is this. This is the protective
helmetagainst impacts. thudguard.com I couldn't have made this up if I tried. This is a real product available online as we speak from the UK. These are
helmets that children should wear, "should", of course according to those who sell them, at home, sitting face down, playing in the living room or in the kitchen.
I think their motto is "learning to walk in a world of hard surfaces." They called out all kinds of scientific facts... (Laughter) To me this really is... the ultimate example of the slippery slope we're on. Is this really where we want to be heading after 250,000 years of homosapiens? (Laughs) I don't know. Another example... Another example is close to home. Apart from the Netherlands, Denmark is the safest country in the world for cycling. It has never been as safe to do so as it is now. So it was a little strange to me to see this recent wave of
bikehelmet promotion in this country.
And when it started I felt sincere curiosity. I didn't know anything about that. I decided to check the facts for myself. This is what I was taught to do. To my surprise, it didn't take me long to realize that, scientifically, the bicycle helmet doesn't have a very impressive track safety record. Scientists, the scientific community has been completely divided, for years, on the issue. Fifty-fifty, in the middle. If you look at it this way, if a bicycle helmet were a vaccine or a medicine, there is no way you would come close to being approved by the Ministry of Health, there is simply not enough evidence.
Now, it's been over two and a half years researching this topic and damn, do I need a new hobby? I can tell you right now. When you literally come from a background, you know, reading scientific reports is not very fun. But the things you have discovered are surprising. I mean, there's an ocean of science out there, but, you know, there are actually scientific studies that show that the risk of suffering a brain injury is higher when you're wearing a helmet and that you're 14% more likely to suffer a brain injury. accident. with helmet on. These are not things we hear about too often to show us the bigger picture.
The way these helmets are tested. Well, actually, the industrial design of the helmets, first of all. My son helped me with this. . From an industrial design perspective, I found that these helmets are designed to protect the head from non-life-threatening impacts in solo accidents under 20 km/h. We can all hear that that rules out getting hit by a car, so please don't do that. Whether you use it or not. It's interesting the way they are tested in the laboratory. They are tested only for impacts to the crown of the head. They are not even tested for impacts on either side.
And, in reality, the test they undergo in the laboratory is nothing more than a simulation of a pedestrian falling and hitting their head on the sidewalk. Then I thought, 'Wow.' It's true. Well, you know, wouldn't that really make them ideal for pedestrians? I was surprised to discover that pedestrians are at higher risk of head injuries than people who ride bicycles. You know, I'm surprised that the Danish Road Safety Council doesn't have campaigns for the use of helmets for pedestrians. I was shocked. So I made one for them. (Laughter) (Applause) The PDF is freely available for download, at no cost to the taxpayer.
It works better in Danish, but it says: "A walking helmet is a good helmet." And, if we're on a slippery slope, then that's probably a very good idea. But the thing about fear culture is that it doesn't really care about facts or science. They're a nuisance. They distort ideology. and they can't help but make a lot of money either. So I thought, you know, hey, helmets for pedestrians, haha. What about helmets for motorcyclists? Maybe motorists should wear helmets? Wouldn't that be funny? Wow, I was surprised when I found out that drivers' helmets are actually being invented, and in all seriousness.
They might even have invented it. The Sweeds toyed with the idea, of course, the Sweeds in the 1960s. But in the late 1980s, the TOG helmet went on the market and the company, after selling it and producing it, said, "Enough is enough." In 2001, Adealide University and Monach University in Australia did it after an Australian government study showed that that country could save up to 400 million dollars a year in reduction of injuries and deaths, reduction of social harm, as it is called, if everyone in the cars wore protective helmets even with seat belts and airbags... (Laughter) Does anyone here you have one?
Have you ever seen them discounted in the supermarket? Have you ever been offered a free one when buying a car? No! God, that could be logical or rational. Another preview, sorry. I have discovered it. Well, I didn't find out, but the helmet industry is actually very interested in everyone buying their products. You know, it's no surprise. there. I discovered that one of the biggest promoters of helmets is the insurance industry. Even in this country. Again, no need to think about why. What I did discover was that the automotive industry is one of the main promoters of bicycle helmets.
And because? It's simple. Actually. The bicycle is a real and immediate threat to the dominant car culture in our cities. And the reason you have never been given the opportunity to purchase these great products is because the automotive industry doesn't touch them. They stand out in the marketing of their products. And, you know, if... You know it would be a catastrophe for car sales if we started telling people, "You know what? Driving a car has been shown to be statistically incredibly dangerous, and we eliminate that false sense of security that people have about their cars. If word got out that 1.2 million people a year die in car accidents around the world.
More than 40,000 in the United States alone. If you think about it, it's one World Trade Center every month, year after year. But no, no. People would stop buying cars, drive them less, might start using public transport or, um, God forbid, take bicycles in our cities. We can't allow that. Of course not. If we apply logic to the culture of fear, which is not something that happens very often, then that could be the first time... This is what we would be doing. Instead of telling pedestrians and cyclists: 'Take care and be careful', instead of campaigns like these recent ones from Denmark, precisely, which put the responsibility on vulnerable traffic users, attack the problem at the root.
We would see simple campaigns like this. This is just one I made up and, you know, the sky's the limit. (Laughs) Speaking directly to motorists, I am also a motorist. I mean, I'm glad to say that, but you know what? After reading so much on the subject, I drive less than ever in my life. I was really scared from the car. Once you start looking at the stats and all that. But this would be, speaking directly to the problem, we would see an idea as simple as this: health warnings on cars... (Laughter) We would see legislation that says that 30% of the surface, each side of the car has to include the health warning. , just like in cigarette packs.
You know what's great? Each of the health warnings contained on a cigarette package applies directly to automobile traffic. We don't even have to write new texts, we just copy and paste them. (Laughs) It's true. Know. Okay, I made one up on the top left, but still... It's true. This would have a surprising social effect if this idea were to see the light. This would change behavior in an instant, I assure you. As things stand now, all over the world, we are, what I call, ignoring the bull in the china shop of society, the elephant in the china shop, as we say in Danish.
Instead of trying to control it, it sometimes seems like we have completely and absolutely given up trying to control the destructive capabilities of the automobile in our cities. Despite the oceans of science that support the idea, despite the entire catalog of ideas that exist to do it. Instead, a war is being waged against the bicycle. It sounds dramatic, but it's true: cycling has become a bad brand in Denmark over the last three years. For the first time in 125 years, the public, not least the press and newspapers up here, some of our worst offenders, are focusing on the perceived negative aspects of cycling.
I mean, let's take the year 2008 as an example. This was an exceptional year for urban cycling around the world. Cycling levels increased in almost all OECD countries. bicycle salesincreased across the board. All this also in the Netherlands, which is really the only country we compare ourselves to. It was also the first year of intense promotion of bicycle helmets in Denmark. True emotional propaganda. The result in this country: bicycle sales fell by 5%. The only place it happened! The number of recorded cyclists entering Copenhagen city center decreased by more than 10,000. More than 10,000 fewer cyclists in Copenhagen. From 2007 to 2008.
Those numbers have not yet recovered. We have seen in every country in the world that this is the main problem with the promotion of bicycle helmets: people stop riding bicycles. In every region, in every country in the world, where helmets have been promoted and, even worse, legislated, if you really want to do away with bicycles, legislate it, people are being chased away by a very, very You know, smart and life-prolonging. sustainable, carbon-free form of transportation, blah blah blah, making it seem much more dangerous than it is. We have seen it across the board in Sweden, Australia, the United States, etc.
And now here in Denmark. But not in most of the rest of Europe, because this is where cycling federations fight promotion and legislation. And well, I know these people, they know their science too. They want to see more people getting on bikes instead of scaring them away. This is a campaign by the European Cyclists' Federation. What a big difference! In this country we pedal 30% less than in 1990. If we still pedal that extra 30%, we could save 1,500 lives a year. That's a conservative estimate. Because the health benefits of cycling are 20 times greater than any risks it entails. We should do everything in our power to promote the bicycle as a means of transportation, market it positively, sell this product to people.
Historically, traditionally, knowledge and, by extension, rationality were transmitted from generation to generation by sages, tribal leaders, later by scientists or people related to scientists. These days it seems that the program is actually run by a very small group of communications consultants on personal crusades who project their personal concerns to millions of other people. And you know what? If there's something that scares me a lot, it's that. But I am optimistic. This was a bit of Naomi Klienesco and Bjorn Lomborgiano's approach to the issue, but I thought, hey, it's WikiLeaks week in the Western world, so let's just... make it public...
But I'm an optimist. . I just think that rationality, livable cities, the humble bicycle as transportation, if they aren't ideas worth spreading, then I really don't know what is. This is one of my favorite quotes about bicycles, and also my favorite son helps me here. I only have one, so... "The iron horse fills a void in modern life, it is an answer not only to your needs, but also to your aspirations. Without a doubt, it is here to stay." It was written in 1869. History really does repeat itself. The bike is back, it never really went away, but now the bike is back.
And not only is it a powerful symbol of the possibilities of transportation in cities but it is also, if we want it to be a powerful symbol of rationality, of good life and livable cities. So, I think we should just choose to go a little retro, a little common sense in our societies, and I think we should let rationality become the new black. Thank you so much. (Applause)
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