Volvo introduces helmet to protect against Volvos

Volvo XC90 Ocean Race

In News & Events on the Dutch Volvo website:

Bij Volvo staat veiligheid voorop. Niet alleen van de mensen in een Volvo, maar ook van iedereen eromheen. Daarom introduceren we nu de POCito: de Volvo onder de kinderfietshelmen.

Translation: At Volvo safety comes first. Not only for the people in a Volvo, but also of everyone around it. Therefore we now introduce the POCito: the Volvo amongst the children’s bike helmets.

Am I being simplistic in seeing this as essentially the same as Smith & Wesson introducing and promoting children’s bulletproof vests to protect them from the guns they make?

Volvo continues in their press release to explain that each year in the Netherlands 35 children under 12 die “in traffic”. They don’t qualify whether this gruesome statistic has anything to do with bicycles, but actually that’s fairly irrelevant: Deaths and serious injuries amongst children while cycling are almost entirely inflicted by automobiles. As Mikael Colville Andersen frequently comments: They’re conveniently “ignoring the bull in the china shop.”

Later in the same press release Volvo explains their promotion of mandatory helmet laws in the Netherlands. From a business perspective it’s the obvious choice. The Dutch city planners widely recognize the danger that automobiles present to other street users and have been working hard for decades to minimize it. The primary safety tactics include excluding and slowing automobiles, and separating autos from bicyclists and other road users. This has very successfully led to both the safest roads in the world and the highest cycling rates. Promoting or enforcing helmet use, on the other hand, has shown to reduce cycling rates while safety gains are debatable at best.

Though we should always strive for improvement cycling is already mighty safe here in the Netherlands. Let’s just briefly look at Amsterdam, the capitol city in rough numbers:

  • Amsterdam counts 750,000 inhabitants.
  • The average person, all ages considered, cycles year-round approximately 2.5km per day.
  • In an average year there are six cycling related deaths in the entire city of Amsterdam.
  • Thus…

  • Amsterdammers cycle 684,375,000 kilometers per year.
  • There is one death per 114,062,500 km cycled.
  • The average Amsterdammer cycles 900km per year but not everybody cycles; Let’s assume that an adult daily cyclist averages twice the average distance: 1800km/year.
  • This daily cyclist will, on average, die from a cycling-related incident once per 63,368 years.
  • As noted in an earlier post

  • You’re more likely to die of murder in the US than by cycling in the Netherlands.
  • You’re more likely to die by drowning in the Netherlands than by cycling.
  • Heck, we can even go further and note that universal helmet use would indeed probably prevent death in a couple of those six yearly incidents, but certainly not all of them. And then there’s that other pesky problem: It’s been demonstrated that helmet laws and promotion decrease cycling rates and reduced numbers of cyclists increase the danger of cycling. So aside from deflecting some blame what does Volvo expect to accomplish through widespread helmet use?


    Cartoon by Wulff Morgenthaler via Copenhagenize.

    My excuses for the lack of precise numbers and supporting statistics; There’s an impatient toddler tugging on me and it’s time to head to the office. But I can assure you I didn’t pull the above facts out of a hat or sleeve. If you want to investigate further there are plenty of numbers to be found elsewhere in this blog and far more on David Hembrow’s excellent blog.

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    78 Responses to “Volvo introduces helmet to protect against Volvos”

    1. Todd Edelman Says:

      @Colin, that is all useful, but it is clear that the whole thing has evolved, as I mentioned in my response in this thread on 8 July at 18:14. It seems that no one – at least in NL – is going to push for changes in legislation. In relation to this discussion we can say they are not pushing for “external behavioural censorship”:

      All the promotion by Zeeland via Coolie or Volvo itself a little further north, or just even partly with imagery like the Danish Cycling Federation http://dcf.dk/ and even the City of NYC http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/officialhelmet.shtml, Transportation Alternatives http://bikingrules.org/rules/streetcode (“Learn to Love that Helmet Hair”), and last but not least, the Bike League http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/education/pdfs/smart_cycling.pdf… is encouraging and even coercing “self-behavourial censorship”.

    2. Anders Says:

      I am from Copenhagen and when I compare the words being used in our helmet promotion campaigns and the data we got, two words spring to my mind:
      “Tar” and “Feathers” Lucky Luke style. Stuff like this from Volvo confirms it.

      Some of the great hustlers of the past will be turning in their graves, as they see how easy it has become.

      I consider a hot girl on her bike a bigger risk and I love them! 🙂
      They, along with their kids, will be the first to be feared and fashioned into becoming cardrivers.

      More kids use a helmet today

      – Fewer kids use a bike today.

      Safety around schools etc. is down, pollution is up, as is weight.

      I have been to Amsterdam and I love your city and people. You guys seem alot more aware of the hustler than us.
      Yeah, I am going to blame the cannabis for that. 🙂

      Isn´t it more or less a failed userpayment scheme in many places. Promote, maybe enforce, crap – taxes go to crappy infrastructure?

    3. Daniel Sparing Says:

      @Todd Edelman (about this article http://john-adams.co.uk/2010/07/02/the-cream-buns-act/ )

      Re safety belts: I am reluctant to accept that safety belt promotion is just as bad as helmet promotion: there are two big differences:
      1) safety belts actually work (and there is scientific evidence)
      2) safety belts — unfortunately — didn’t discourage anyone from driving of traveling by car.

      Re government laws which affect only the person braking them: again, this is difficult.
      At first, if you cause a (car-to-car) accident and the other driver has a minor bruise or dies, it is not totally the same for you. (as safety belts work, although helmets don’t.)
      At second, I think that there are many behavioral changes which could lead to statistically significant societal benefits, but are not so direct on the individual level: like eating healthy etc. These globally positive behaviors (to which helmet wearing doesn’t belong, but maybe safety belts) could very well be promoted (if not enforced) by government.

    4. Todd Edelman Says:

      Remember, it’s all about marketing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lbs-lTp9ROg

    5. Todd Edelman Says:

      ”We are very clear about the fact that our cars should not negatively affect other people at the moment of an accident. In addition, no unprotected road users should be seriously injured or killed.” – http://www.volvocars.com/intl/top/about/corporate/volvo-sustainability/safety/pages/vision-2020.aspx

      When I was 3 years old in 1969 my (then politically) liberal father bought a Volvo; in 1984 I crashed and totalled it. Nothing happened to me, and I do think for some time Volvo Cars was at least more honest than they are now about reducing road casualties from collisions (not emissions, and my father was also often telling me to make sure I put leaded gasoline in the car).

      More recently it has clearly become hubris. There are so many holes in their statement above, it is almost not worth discussing (please also see http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9179697/Car_tech_Building_the_zero_fatality_car).

      Unfortunately people are so addicted to automobiles that they will believe almost anything. One general issue is this \death proof\ myth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Proof) which includes the bike helmet thing, and another is the energy issue exemplified by the electric car cult which is sucking more and more people in every day.

      So, what is an UNprotected road user? I guess a cyclist without a helmet, but also a pedestrian? Or are they talking about all road users somehow being \partners in road safety\, wearing not just helmets but military-grade GPS devices so that all the vehicles are tracking them? And so they can track all other vehicles? Will everyone walk around with heads-up displays (http://www.psfk.com/2010/08/glasses-double-up-as-gps-navigation-system.html).

      Please don’t get too irate, as this will present a near-future opportunity for an update of the game of \Chicken\, wherein pedestrians will jump in front of cars just to make them brake, or indeed vehicle drivers will aim at each other just to see whose computer brakes first. Yes even if both are driving about 70km/h on a two-lane rural road, for a combined speed of 140. Ja, right.

    6. Har Davids Says:

      I ride my bike in Rotterdam a lot and I don’t understand urbanites driving around in box-like cars like the Volvo. Volvo makes cars that are safe for their passengers, not for the ‘outsiders’, which seems to be a reason for some people to buy one, not really helping over-all road safety. You would have to wear a very big helmet to be protected from a collision with a Volvo, so this helmet is a cynical ploy. Do they really think people will buy their story about safety, when their cars are the danger we should be protected from?

    7. Todd Edelman Says:

      @Har: There are some differences in a collision between a cyclist or pedestrian vs., e.g. a small car with a sloping bonnet and something more boxy, but there is of course a much bigger danger from any vehicle going 50km/h vs. one going 30km/h. And of course vehicles can also go 0km/h, i.e. not be there at all!

      Oooh, I just got a great idea. Thanks for the inspiration.

    8. Daniel Sparing Says:

      @Todd be careful with this theory :), 0 km/h is rather the gridlock! Which might be safe but unpleasant and polluting.

      I might be too much a nerd but not be there at all is unknown speed… 🙂

    9. Daniel Sparing Says:

      David Hembrow has just done some great number crunching on the topic.
      http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2010/08/brain-injuries-and-dutch-cyclist.html

    10. Rebekah Says:

      lol. That cartoon is hilarious!

    11. Todd Edelman Says:

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

    12. Todd Edelman Says:

      Don’t we want honest labeling on bicycle helmets? http://greenideafactory.blogspot.com/2011/03/dont-we-want-honest-labels-on-helmets.html

    13. henry Says:

      Todd, I can’t say I’ve ever read the label on a helmet. What do they typically say?

      I just looked at my racing helmet. It says “Giro”. Seems honest enough since that’s the company that made it.

    14. Todd Edelman Says:

      Labeling as you describe is something mandated by the relevant consumer or safety authority. From years ago with a helmet bought in the USA I remember at least two labels on the inside: One said something about meeting SNELL standards and the other more general “This helmet does not protect against all foreseeable impacts”… and perhaps one more: “This helmet not intended for motor sport use”.

      I am at a loss as I don’t know if the labels have changed, but I doubt the main gist of them has, so let’s look at the 2nd and 3rd labels above:

      The first about foreseeable impacts is accurate but vague. The second is similar but more specific and tells people not to use them with mopeds, scooters, motorcycles and those small all-terrain vehicles (and this is illegal if not enforced in most places).

      Marketing and advertising – what people see before they buy a helmet or switch brands – might be more difficult to deal with, but still has to be truthful or at least not specifically misleading. One sees a label only after they buy a helmet.

      It seems to be quite justified to have more accurate labels inside the helmet indicating how and how not a helmet is tested, and also in the manual etc. which comes inside the helmet packaging. It might be good beforehand to determine not just if people know that helmets are not tested but also what they do or do not know. Clearly a new proposed regulation which mandates mentioning of the word “automobile” would get attacked. And excessive “lawyering” of this issue could lead to the definition of helmets as inadequate protection on shared roads under current conditions of e.g. too high speeds. Perhaps that would a good outcome, as we want safer roads to be primarily the responsibility of drivers at an individual level (rather than cyclists), and government bodies at a collective one (rather than the helmet industry, which cannot really protect cyclists as much as they imply.)

      In fact if they are more honest about helmets it could result – if you follow my logic above – in safer streets and a huge increase in cycling which means that smart companies will sell, for example, more locks! And perhaps fewer helmets. ABUS (just an example) is prepared for this, as they sell helmets AND locks.

      But really I would be pleased to just start a discussion and hopefully some research.

    15. Brent Says:

      My newer Giro helmet has more labels (they’ve added French) than the older one, and the language has changed a bit. They’ve also cut down on words. I can’t read the whole old label (it’s in bad shape), but the safety part says this: “This helmet is not for motor vehicle use. No helmet can protect the wearer against all foreseeable impacts.” The safety part on the newer label says this: “No helmet can prevent all injuries or death.” They both caution the user to read the manual.

      I’ve heard that U.S. DOT standards are more stringent than Snell or the U.S. CPSC standards, but I don’t know whether that’s true. My first helmet from the early 1980s was heavier and “beefier” than current ones. I read somewhere that they were safer, but I don’t know that that’s true either.

      I emailed Nutcase awhile back about where they sourced their web page’s safety stats. It turns out to be http://www.helmets.org

      I haven’t done a full survey of all manufacturer’s websites, but the handful of sites I looked at usually promote “massive vents” and “airflow,” with almost no claim on protection. If I were in the helmet-making business, I’d probably do the same. Making any claims beyond meeting applicable standards is an invitation to a lawsuit.

    16. Colin Clarke Says:

      Helmet warnings should be provided

      The trading standards should include warnings at the point of sale and in advertisements or promotional material for helmets.

      1 There is evidence of increased accident risk of 14% per cycling-km for cyclists wearing a helmet. (Erke and Elvik 2007)

      2. Helmets are designed to protect the head from low impact injury at 12 mph or less. In fatal accidents the force of impact is considered to be so significant that generally most protection would fail.

      3 Accidental hanging to young children can occur while engaging in activities other than bicycle riding, helmets should be removed when not cycling.

      4 Neck injuries (usually low in number) may increase by an estimated 36%.
      (The 36% figure is from Attewell report CR 195)

      5 Helmets can easily break due to being made of low strength material.

      6 The case for helmets is far from sound and advice to wear them should be limited. Individual choice should prevail so that no one is discouraged from cycling.

      for more information see, Health and safety assessment of state bicycle helmet laws in the USA. http://www.ctcyorkshirehumber.org.uk/USA_helmet_laws.pdf

    17. josh Says:

      I have not read all of the previous comments so please excuse any obvious repetition or ignorance, but I have come to accept something that I cannot completely verbally describe regarding the act of wearing a helmet: The Brain and/or Spine has an innate ability to subconsciously react when life-death situations arise. The brain becomes accustomed to its own weight and size over time. When you put on a helmet, you add weight and size above the spine. Since most people who wear a helmet spend more time without one, the brain/spine is not acclimated to the additional weigh and size of its synthetic “head”. Therefore, a crash will almost always result in a blow to the helmet, leading to the inaccurate assumption that the helmet took a blow that the head otherwise would have taken.

    18. Todd Edelman Says:

      @Josh, you actually expressed that in a clear way, or at least it is good intro or teaser to this way of thinking. There is a lot more about it at http://cyclehelmets.org/ and its related discussion group “cyclehelmets” on Yahoo! Groups.

    19. Todd Edelman Says:

      Now another Volvo dealer is giving out free bike lights to children and a spokesperson for the authority which tests cycling skills of kids is liking it: http://www.henkscholten.nl/nieuws/verkeersexamen/

    20. Frits B Says:

      Ha, Henk Scholten! Not the one half of the singing duo Teddy & Henk Scholten I suppose; he died in 1983 – no loss to humanity. Anyway, since every regular bicycle in Holland is required to have lights, and cyclists are supposed to use them which is an entirely different story, it might have been more convincing of this Volvo dealer to offer a free change to sensor lights that switch on automatically. Handing out cheap battery lights doesn’t do much good. Volvo cars have automatic lights, dammit, and run day lights, too. Why not follow their own company rules?

    21. Todd Edelman Says:

      Frits: I flew to Sweden to propose that all Volvos operate at slow speeds at night and the company used its private anti-aircraft… no, there is nothing convincing about this.

    22. Frits B Says:

      Todd: Flying to Sweden has no impact anymore. Their bosses are Chinese now :-).

    23. Todd Edelman Says:

      Marketing dept. is in Sweden.

      Anyway, this is boring. Hank, how about some new decals/stickers such as \Workcycles: Better for your head than a Volvo\?

    24. Erik Sandblom Says:

      Hi Henry et al, who are these people? It doesn’t seem to be the government but I hardly know any Dutch:

      http://www.veiligheid.nl/tips-en-advies/fietshelm
      Een helm helpt bij het voorkomen van hersenletsel door de kracht van de klap bij bijvoorbeeld een valpartij deels op te vangen.

      It upsets me that helmet propaganda seldom acknowledges that cycling is very healthy. Several studies show that cyclists live longer. That’s how healthy it is! They really are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    25. henry Says:

      Erik,
      The site only says:
      “We zijn een private stichting met bijna 30 jaar ervaring als Consument en Veiligheid.”
      (We’re a private non-profit met almost 30 years experience as Consumer and Safety”)

      “Het grootste deel van onze opdrachten komt van Nederlandse overheden en de Europese Commissie.”
      (Most of our tasks come from Dutch governments and the EU.)

      And below they add at the top of three bullet points:
      “Voor een fabrikant van helmen verzamelden we specifieke letselinformatie. Dat leidde tot een veiliger product.”
      (For a helmet manufacturer we gathered specific injury information. That led do a safer product.)

      So… If we follow the money it’s probably a reasonable assumption that their bike helmet promotion campaign is related to their working for a helmet company.

    26. Todd Edelman Says:

      SCOTLAND’S leading lobby group for cyclists “… wants helmet manufacturers to be forced to publicise both the benefits and the risks on packaging.” – http://www.scotsman.com/news/transport/cycling-body-withdraws-support-for-events-that-encourage-the-use-of-safety-helmets-1-2335354

      I suggested this to Nutcase over a year ago and they did not respond directly – in fact soon afterwards they updated the b.s. part of their website with more b.s.

      So I wonder if there is any formal or legal problem with dealers adding information about this, either to boxes, or a display area..

    27. Todd Edelman Says:

      Norco Bicycles plans to “outfit every registered delegate [at Velo-city Global in Vancouver] with a new Lazer cycling helmet”…

      http://greenideafactory.blogspot.de/2012/06/velo-city-ecf-sells-out-to-big-helmet.html

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