TEDxCopenhagen – Mikael Colville-Andersen – Why We Shouldn’t Bike with a Helmet


Translator: Diana Khakimova
Reviewer: Capa Girl Thanks for calling me
a young man! It’s really cool to be here.
Being hanging out with TED — The good life.
Those three words probably mean a whole lot of different things
to a whole lot of different people. I have my own personal factors
for 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 cityscape. It’s a large part of what I do. Promoting urban cycling
in cities around the world. This is the age of lists, of measuring,
of ratings, and indexes. And it’s interesting to see
how we try to determine, where the good life
is being lived. Not long ago,
It was done with simple lists of world’s richest countries,
world’s poorest contries, richest cities,
poorest cities. Money was the key factor
in determining quality of life. Now, things are much different
as we all know. Now we have stuff like
the world’s happiest nation survey, which continues to baffle
and confuse the Danish people, year after year
by placing them number one. I still don’t get it. A lifestyle magazine Monocle has developed a world’s
most liveable cities index a few years ago,
using an interesting combination of statistical parameters
and personal taste. And this is the a — It’s not working. Gentelmen? — The list of the world top twenty —
(Laughter) Most liveable cities for 2010. Now, I’m completely biased
when I say that any liveable city’s worth its so
well-featured bicycles, great numbers of bicycles
on the urban landscape. And if you look at these citiest — You are looking at —
Now, there you go — It’s interesting to note
that 12 of these cities, including the top 8, all have
respectable levels of bicycle traffic, of citizen cyclists
on their bike lanes and streets. Most of the rest of the cities
are trying — they’re doing what they can to re-establish the bicycle as transport
as it used to be in cities and towns all around the world — I didn’t actually press that. But this really is a modern catchphrase
these “liveable cities.” It’s as though we’re trying to redefine
what our cities should be like and try to return to how they used to be
and in most cases — were meant to be. One thing’s for sure — Can you tell me where to point this? (Danish) One thing is certain the bicycle
is hot all over the world. The bicycle is back. Cities and towns around the planet
are trying to encourage people to choose the bicycle
as transport, and provide the infrastructure
necessary for them to do so. That was a teaser.
(Laughter) It really is a no-brainer. It really is the most obvious things to do, the bicycle is the most
potent medicine we possess, the most powerful tool,
the most effective tool in our toolbox for this rebuilding
of our liveable cities. There couldn’t possibly be anything standing
in the way of promoting urban cycling. Or could there? Damn!
There was. Welcome to the culture of fear. There are great many books and essays
written on the subject by people far more clever than I am. I can guarantee that. The German sociologist Ulrich Beck wrote,
about over 20 years ago, that once homosapience
are no longer hungry, they become afraid. Probably doesn’t mean that we’re all scared
shitless because you’ve just had lunch — But I did cut my finger
on the Sushi box, and I’ve heard about bacteria today,
so I’m a little bit worried. The Norwegian philosopher
Lars Svensen wrote that fear has become that feeling
that controls the public. The cultural fear
is many many things, but the most potent
example of the culture fear is this almost pornographic obsession
we’ve developed with safety equipment — Never before have we lived lives so safe
and so free of danger as we do right now
in the Western World. And yet the culture fear
has developed a kind of, I don’t know,
a bubble wrap society. I’m quite sure that the culture fear
can exist on its own, but it really is made
all powerful by the simple fact that if there is something
we can get people to be scared of, there’s a long line of people
waiting to make money off of it. Fear is lucrative. Fear is big business. One of the more odd, and perhaps,
more extreme examples is this. This is the thud guard helmet. thudguard.com I couldn’t’ve made this up
if I’d tried. This is an actual product
available online as we speak out of the UK. These are helmets
that children should wear, “should” according to the people,
of course, who are selling them, in the home — Sitting on their bums, playing in the living-room
or in the kitchen. I think their slogan is ‘learning
to walk in a world of hard surfaces’. They called all sorts of scientific facts —
(Laughter) For me this really is — the ultimate example
of the slippery slope that we’re on. Is this really where we wanna be headed
after 250 000 years of homosapiens? (Laughter) I don’t know.
Another example — Another example
is close to home. Apart from the Netherlands
Denmark is the safest country in the world in which to ride a bicycle.
Never before has it been so safe to do so
then it is right now. So for me it was a bit bizzard
to see this recent wave of bicycle helmet promotion
in this country. And when it started
I became sincerely curious. I knew nothing about it.
I decided to check out the facts for myself. This is what I was taught to do. To my surprise, it didn’t take me
very long to figure out that bicycle helmet doesn’t have a very impressive
track safety record, scientifically. Scientists, the scientific community
has been completely split, for years, on the subject. Fifty-fifty, down the middle.
If you look at it this way, if a bicycle helmet was
a vaccine or a medicine, there’s no way you’d be anyway close
to getting approved by Ministry of Health, there is simply not enough proof. Now, it’s been over two and a half years
researching this subject, and damn,
do I need a new hobby? I can tell you that right now. When you come from
a literally background this is, you know, reading scientific reports,
is not that much fun. But it is amazing,
the things you’ve found out. I mean, it’s an ocean of science
out there but, you know, there’re actually scientific studies
that show your risk of brain injury is higher when you are
in a helmet, and that you have 14% greater chance
of getting into an accident with a helmet on. These are not things
that we hear about too often so much for showing us
the big picture — The way that these helmets are tested — well, actually industrial design
of the helmets, first of all — My son helped me out with this. From an industrial design perspective these helmets are designed,
I found out, to protect the head from non-life threating impacts
in solo accidents under 20km/h. We can all hear that exludes
getting hit by the car, so please, don’t do that. Whether you’re wearing it or not. The way that they’re tested in
the laboratory is interesting. They’re tested only for impact
on the crown of the head. They’re not even tested
for impact on any of the sides. And, actually, the test
that they go through the laboratory, is nothing more than a simulation
of a pedestrian falling and hitting their head
on the sidewalk. So, I thought, ‘Wow’ —
It’s true — Well, you know, wouldn’t that really make
them great for, you know, pedestrians? I was surprised to find out that pedestrians
are at higher risk of head injury than people on bicycles do. You know, it’s my amazement
that Danish Road Safety Council doesn’t have any campaigns
for pedestrian helmets. I was shocked. So, I made one for them —
(Laughter) (Applause) The PDF is freely available for download,
at no cost for a tax payer — It works better in Danish, but it says,
“A walking helmet is a good helmet.” And, if it is a slippery slope
that we are on, then this is probably
a very good idea. But the thing about the culture fear,
is it doesn’t really worry about facts or science. They’re a nuisance.
They clatter up the ideology, and they can’t get away of making
a lot of good money, as well. So, I thought, you know,
hey, pedestrian helmets, ha-ha What about, hey, motorist helmets? Maybe motorists should wear helmets?
Wouldn’t that be funny? Boy, was I amazed when I found out that motorists’ helmets are actually
and all seriousness being invented — I could’ve even made this up — The Sweeds played with the idea,
of course, the Sweeds in the 1960s — But in the late 1980s the helmet,
the TOG, came on to the market, the company, sold and produced it,
said, ‘Enough is enough’. In 2001, the University of Adealide
and Monach University in Australia They did so after the Australian Government
study showed that that country could save up to $400 million a year
in reduced injury and death, reduced societal harm,
as it’s called, if everybody inside the cars
were wearing protective headgear even with seatbelts and airbags —
(Laughter) Does anybody here own one? Have you ever seen them on sale
at the supermarket? Have you ever been offered a free one
when you buy a car? No! God, that might be logical
or rational — Another teaser, sorry — I’ve discovered — well, I didn’t discover, but
the helmet industry is actually very interested in everybody buying their products,
you know, there’s no surprise there. I’ve discovered that one of the other main promoters
of helmets is the insurance industry. Even in this country.
Again, no-brainer as to why. What I did discover was that the automobile industry
is one of the main promoters of bicycle helmets. And why?
It’s simple. Really. The bicycle is a real and immediate threat
for the dominants of car culture in our cities. And the reason you’ve never been given
the opportunity to purchase these fine products is that the car industry won’t touch them.
They excel at marketing their products. And, you know, if — They know that it would be a catastrophy
for car sales if we start telling people, “You know what, driving a car is proven
to be statistically incredibly dangerous, and we removed that false sense of security
that people have about their cars.” If word got out
that 1.2 million people a year are killed in car accidents
all around the world. Over 40 000
in the United States alone. If you think about that, taht’s a world trade center
every month, year in and year out. But, no, no. People would stop buying cars,
driving them less, they might start taking public transport or,
hmm, God, forbid take bicycles in our cities. We can’t have that.
Of course not. If we apply a logic
to the culture of fear, which is not something
that happens very often, so, that might be
the first time ever — This is what we would be doing.
We would — Instead of telling the pedestrian and the cyclists,
‘Watch out and take care,’ instead of, like, the campaigns
like these recent ones from Denmark, of all places, placing the responsibility
on the vulnerable traffic users, we would be attacking
the problem at the root. We’d see simple campaigns
like this one. This is just one I made up,
and, you know, the sky’s the limit — (Laughter) Speaking directly to the motorists,
I’m a motorists as well. I mean I’m happy to say that, but, you know what,
after reading so much up on the subject, I drive less than I’ve ever had in my life.
I’ve been scared out of the car, really. Once you start looking
at the statistics and what not. But this would be,
speaking directly at the problem, we would see an idea
as a simple as this one: health warnings on cars —
(Laughter) We would see legislation
saying that 30% of the surface area, each side of the car has to include
the health warning, just like on packets of cigarettes. You know what the great thing is? Every single health warning
on a pack of cigarettes applies directly to car traffic. We don’t even have to write new texts,
we just copy – paste them. (Laughter) It’s true.
You know. Okay, I made one up at the top left,
but still — It’s true. This would have an amazing societal effect
if this idea saw the light of day. This would change behavior
in a flash, I can tell you. As it is now, all aroung the world,
we are, what I call, ignoring the bull
in society’s china shop, the elephant in the china shop,
as we say in Danish. Instead of trying to tame it, and sometimes it feels like
we’ve completely and utterly given up on trying to tame the distructive capabilities
of the automobile in our cities. Despite the oceans of science
to back up the idea, despite the whole catalogue of ideas
that there is out there to do so. Instead a war on bicycle is being waged.
It sounds dramatic, but it’s true — Cycling has become a bit of a bad brand
in Denmark over the past 3 years. For the first time in 125 years the public,
and not least, the press, and the newspaper above us here are,
some of our worst offenders — are focusing on the percieved negatives
about riding a bicycle. I mean, take 2008 as an example. This was a banner year for urban cycling
all around the world. Cycling levels were up everywhere
in almost every OECD country. Bicycle sales were up
across the board. All of these things
also in the Netherlands, which is really the only country
we compare ourselves to. It was also the first year of hardcore
bicycle helmet promotion in Denmark. Real emotional propaganda. The result in this country: bicycle sales fell 5%.
The only place where it happened! The number of cyclists being counted entering the city centre in Copenhagen
fell by over 10 000. Over 10 000 fewer cyclists in Copenhagen.
From 2007 to 2008. Those numbers haven’t recovered yet — We’ve seen in every country around the world
that this is the main problem with promoting bicycle helmets:
people stop cycling. In every region every country in the world
where helmets’ve been promoted and, even worse, legislated, if you really wanna
kill off the bicycles, legislate it, people are being scared away
from a very, you know, intelligent, life-extending sustainable zero carbon
blah-blah-blah transport form, by making it look like
it’s much more dangerous than it is. We’ve seen it across the board in Sweden,
in Australia, in America and so on. And now here in Denmark.
But not in most of the rest of Europe, because this is where Cycling Federations
fight against promotion and legislation. And, hey, I know these people,
they know their science as well. They wanna see more people gettig on
the bicycles instead of scaring people off. This is a campaign
from the European Cyclist Federation. What a world of difference — We cycle 30% less in this country
than we did in 1990. If we still cycle that extra 30%,
we could save 1500 lives a year. That’s a conservative estimate. Because the health benefits of cycling
of 20 times greater than any risk involved. We should be doing everything in our power
to promote the bicycle as transport, to market it positively,
to sell this product to the people — Historically, traditionally, knowledge and
by extension, rationality were handed down by, wise men, tribal leaders, later by scientists
or people connected to scientists. These days it seems like
the show is being run by, really, a very small group
of communication consultants on personal crusades projecting their
personal worries on to millions of other people. And, you know what,
if anything scares the hell out of me it’s that. But I am an optimist. This was a bit of Naomi Klienesque,
Bjorn Lomborgian approach to the subject, but I’ve figured, hey it’s a WikiLeaks week
in the Western World, so let’s just — So let’s just get it out there — But I am an optimist. I just think that rationality, liveable cities,
the humble bicycle as transport, if these aren’t ideas worth spreading
then I really don’t know what is. This is one of my favorite quotes
about the bicycles, also my favorite son helping me out here.
I only have one, so — “The steel horse fills a gap in modern life,
it is an answer not only to its needs, but also to its aspirations.
It’s quite certainly here to stay.” It was written in 1869.
History really is repeating itself. The bicycle is back, it never really went away,
but now the bicycle is back. And not only is it a powerful symbol
of transport possibilites in cities but it is also, if we want it to be a powerful symbol
of rationality, of the good life
and of liveable cities — So, I think we should just choose
to go a little bit retro, a little bit of common sense
back in to our societies, and I think we should let rationality
become the new black. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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