Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Netherlands: "Volvo introduces helmet to protect against Volvos"

Couldn't possibly think of something better, so I took the title for this entry from the latest at Bakfiets-n-Meer, from Henry Cutler of Workcycles in Amsterdam. (Cartoon by Wulff Morgenthaler via Copenhagenize).

Volvo Cars is promoting bicycle helmet use for Dutch children.

Very sad, the Cult of Dangerization which has its object and lead symbol the styrosafetycap, is infecting one of the best practice national examples of both urban and rural cycling, ever, in the entire universe: the Netherlands. That the Ford Motor Company-owned Volvo Cars is behind it is not surprising, but also sickening. It is perhaps also ironic this campaign will very likely continue after the completion of the sale of Volvo Cars to Geely Automobile, based in China.

Up until recently these activities were focused on the south or southwest of the country, but the virus is creeping northwards, as the Volvo Cars project was focused on Amstelveen, a suburb of Amsterdam. They are targeting the kids with parents who travel to Amsterdam daily or quite frequently for work or pleasure.

So check out that new entry in Henry's Blog as it also leads to other related good places... I first heard about this new campaign in a short article in Bike Europe, which takes some info from the press release Henry refers to his Blog.

The article ends with some words by the marketing director of Volvo Cars Netherlands: “It’s important for the helmet to also withstand an accident caused by a third party, as such accidents are usually linked with high speeds and extreme impact situations. This is a crucial breakthrough in the current thinking about bicycle helmets.”

Ha. The "also" he refers to is the product he is promoting, and I think the illustration above shows how helmets deal with the "accidents" which he refers to.

But before that the article also notes that this give-away is controversial: "Volvo’s activity in this field gets a lot of flak as it would make people afraid of cycling. Critics say that Volvo should make their new pedestrian safety detection system standard on each car, instead of offering it as an option on just one model the Volvo S60. Handing out free helmets for kids was received with skepticism and seen as the next step of the automobile industry to get a bicycle helmet mandatory. Experience in countries like Australia has shown that mandatory helmet laws only results in a reduction of cyclists."

As I mentioned to a new friend in the Netherlands, pro-choice (or anti-) helmet forces are still in the lead.... so, what to do? Provinces take the lead in communication, but laws are national, so let's hope that today's election does not lead us to the right, or more specifically the wrong side of helmet regulations.

Further, we need our own pro-choice helmet campaign, perhaps loosely inspired by this, something which makes me proud of the looser end of corporate media in the USA (For some details on that Photoshop hack job please also see here).

For those fortunate enough to be able to attend Velo-City in Copenhagen, near the end of this month, I hope at least some brain-storming can be accomplished, as conference co-organiser ECF is focused on the helmet issue.

Perhaps one point which could be addressed is the conference's co-main sponsorship by Clear Channel, which has done some nice things for cycling in places like Barcelona, but also works extensively and intensively with the automobile industry in advertising and facilitating the function of its products. (No, I don't have the numbers, I am sure their business with the automobile industry dwarves their bike share activity).

** If you're on Facebook, please considering joining a related initiative.

(Full transparency: Velo-City Global 2010's other co-organizers are the City of Frederiksburg and the City of Copenhagen. The Danish capital and the adjoining local authority held the Copenhagen Bike Share Design Competition last year, in which my team shared a first prize).


Wheat Scottley said...

If I ever move to Holland (my wife is Dutch), I'd want my kids to wear helmets when biking, for sure. But I agree with the stance of being "pro-choice" (i.e., do not make helmets mandatory)

Slow Factory said...

@Wheat: Thanks. But I am not sure "pro-choice" applies to your children, because they have their own rights and you gotta be pragmatic as well! How would they react to your directive, especially if their friends did not wear helmets? What if they started asking for bribes, or in fact, if the State started bribing them, or of course what if they came home one day with Volvo-branded chocolates and helmets? What if they stop riding because they hate their helmets?

OK, you only said you would "want" your children to wear helmets... and perhaps you already accept that in the end it won't happen.