Australian cyclist numbers and population 1985/86 - 2011 compares government records of cyclist numbers nationally and in all Australian states in pre helmet law 1985/86 and in 2011, showing the rate of growth in Australia's bicycle use among people aged 9+ has been 37.5% less than the rate of 9+ population growth over the past 25 years. In essence, the growth of bicycle trips (20.9%) was almost a third that of population growth (58.4%).
This article seeks to answer the question whether mandatory bicycle helmet laws deliver a net societal health benefit. The question is addressed using a simple model. The model recognizes a single health benefit - reduced head injuries - and a single health cost - increased morbidity due to foregone exercise from reduced cycling. Using estimates suggested in the literature on the effectiveness of helmets, the health benefits of cycling, head injury rates and reductions in cycling leads to the following conclusions. In jurisdictions where cycling is safe, a helmet law is likely to have a large unintended negative health impact. In jurisdictions where cycling is relatively unsafe, helmets will do little to make it safer and a helmet law, under relatively extreme assumptions, may make a small positive contribution to net societal health. The model serves to focus the mandatory bicycle helmet law debate on overall health.
Together, these international papers through leading Australian universities highlight a public health disaster caused by mandatory helmet discouragement of regular recreational exercise.
Abstract:Cycling is popular among children, but results in thousands of injuries annually. In recent years, many states and localities have enacted bicycle helmet laws. We examine direct and indirect effects of these laws on injuries. Using hospital-level panel data and triple difference models, we find helmet laws are associated with reductions in bicycle-related head injuries among children. However, laws also are associated with decreases in non-head cycling injuries, as well as increases in head injuries from other wheeled sports. Thus, the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws.
Australia's public health and safety disaster continues ... Travel to Work data from the 2011 Census was released in October 2012 and the chart above shows cyclist work commuting has declined from 1.68% in 1986 to 1.29% in 2011. That .39% difference is 31,523 of the total 8,082,938 commuters in the 2011 Census, which in turn is 30.3% of the 103,913 cyclist commuters in 2011. In other words and despite the claims of helmet law supporters, the proportion of cyclists among Australian work commuters is a third less than it was before helmet laws were introduced in 1990-92. If the proportion was the same as before helmet law enforcement, traffic congestion would ease in all cities with a commensurate improvement in road safety and public health.
The chart below (courtesy Dorothy Robinson) shows the 2011 Census is affecting different states in different ways, with the most heavily populated south-east states contributing most of the increase in cyclist numbers since 2006. Click here for charts and Census source data on modes of travel to work in Australia.
In the 2011 Census, the highest proportion of cycling to work was again in the Northern Territory where there is no mandatory helmet law for adult cyclists on pathways:
From 2006 to 2011, an additional 829,587 people commuted to work including an additional 13,798 cyclists - 1.7% of the total.
From 1991 to 2011, an additional 2,341,938 people commuted to work including an additional 11,413 cyclists - 0.5% of the total.
From 1986 to 2011, an additional 2,944,613 people commuted to work including an additional 17,712 cyclists - 0.6% of the total.
This ABS Travel to Work data clarifies the extent of Australia's cycling "boom" in recent years - i.e. there were 13,798 more commuter cyclists in 2011 than in 2006, but there were just 11,413 more commuters cyclists than in 1991, despite an extra 2,341,938 people travelling to work in Australia since then.
Watch Professor Chris Rissel from the School of Public Health at Sydney University on Channel 10's Breakfast show explaining why so many Australians such as himself are now campaigning for repeal of bicycle helmet laws.
The advertisement above began airing on Queensland television in September 2012
Helmet usage reduces the severity of head injuries cycle crashes but may lead to compensating behaviour that otherwise erodes safety gains.
reduced injury risk (due to increased helmet usage)
increased crash risk (due to an often claimed change in behaviour amongst cyclists who take up wearing helmet)
less cycling (leading to a reduced number of accidents and injuries, but also to a higher accident risk for those who still bike)
Read the full findings on bicycle helmets. Australia is a member of this 54 country OECD transport forum. Does Australia endorse these findings? New Zealand, which has national all-age mandatory bicycle helmet laws, is also a forum member.
The OECD Transport Forum preliminary report provides accurate recommendations concerning the injury risk vs health gains of cycling, typified by the chart below:
Road Safety Annual Report 2011 (PDF 8mb - be patient) published by the OECD's International Transport Forum presents data for 28 member countries re cyclist, motorcyclist, car occupant and pedestrian fatalities - most since 1990 which was the year that Australia first enforced all age mandatory bicycle helmet laws.
Albeit only an annual snapshot, this data allows the cyclist fatality rate in Australia and in other all age or child helmet mandated countries (total 10) to be compared with OECD countries that don't have adult or child bicycle helmet laws:
See all countries. Compared to Australia's cyclist fatality reduction since helmet law enforcement in 1990, other countries have enjoyed better average results. The data also clearly shows a greater reduction in pedestrian deaths in mandatory helmet countries which is similar to that in non-mandatory countries, suggesting the cyclist fatality reductions were due to road safety improvements other than helmet laws.
Road Safety in Australia (PDF 122kb) shows the average annual cyclist road fatality rate in Australia from 1980 to 1990 was 88 and from 1991 to 2001 it was 47 - a reduction of 47%.
Austria - 106 to 62 = -41.6% Belgium (1980-2000) - 241 to 134 = -44.4% Denmark - 110 to 58 = -47.3% France - 437 to 273 = -37.5% Germany - 908 to 659 = -27.4% Greece - 26 to 22 = -15.4% Hungary - 313 to 182 = -41.9% Ireland - 46 to 10 = -78.3% Italy - 477 to 401 = -15.9% Japan - 1,509 to 1,273 = -15.6% Korea - 2,100 to 2,792 = +33% The Netherlands - 304 to 233 = -23.4% Norway - 17 to 13 = -23.5% Poland - 574 to 692 = +20.6% Portugal - 120 to 62 = -48.3% Switzerland 58 to 48 = -17.2% United Kingdom - 267 to 131 = -50.9%
The annual snapshot results suggest Australia may have had a better cyclist fatality reduction than most non-helmet law countries in the 1990s, but this ignores the substantial decline (30%+) in public cycling participation after helmet law enforcement.
Austria 62 to 32 = -48.4% Belgium (2000-2009) 134 to 88 = -34% Denmark 58 to 26 = -55% France 273 to 147 = -46.2% Germany 659 to 381 = -42% Greece 22 to 23 = +5% Hungary 182 to 92 = -49% Ireland 10 to 5 = -70% Italy 401 to 263 = -34% Japan 1,273 to 929 = -27% Korea 2,792 to 1,228 = -56% The Netherlands 233 to 162 = -30% Norway 13 to 5 = -62% Poland 692 to 280 = -60% Portugal 62 to 33 = -47% Switzerland 48 to 34 = -29% United Kingdom 131 to 111 = -15%
Consistent with broader averages, the OECD annual snapshot figures show Australia's cyclist fatality rate worsened over the decade from 2000 to 2010 whereas almost all non-helmet law countries enjoyed significant improvements.
Cyclist injury figures in Australia show an approximate 30% increase in hospital admissions per road cyclist during the 1990s but the decline in fatalities has been claimed as evidence that mandatory helmets save lives.
The main objective of this article was to investigate if lacking effect of helmet legislation could be due to population shifts or to risk compensation effects. The analysis of responses from 1339 cyclists by use of a SEM model showed that the variable that had the strongest correlation with accident involvement was "fast cycling". Speed happy cyclists seemed to be involved in more cycling accidents. At the same level of equipment use, use of bicycle helmets is not related to accidents.
On the other hand, the strong positive relationship between equipment/helmet use and fast cycling indicate an indirect effect of the helmet on accidents. In other words, by using helmet and other equipment some cyclists race even faster than they would have done without, and thus get involved in more accidents.
The data does not provide any information on what part of the body was injured. In a study bicycle injuries based on a similar but larger sample from the Falck register, Bjornskau (2005) found no significant difference in the injury distribution between helmeted and non-helmeted cyclists. One of the intriguing effects of helmet laws is that they do not change the ratio of head injuries over other types of injuries. It can be surmised that risk of head injury increases with accident severity. Hence, further studies should aim at having more precise information on type of injury in order to check if speed-happy helmeted cyclists are more likely to suffer head injury, due to more severe accidents.
The results of this study indicate that the lacking effect of helmet legislation most likely has to do with a population shift effect, in which the introduction of mandatory bicycle helmet wearing will lead to a decrease of traditional cyclists in the cyling population, who do not have much accidents anyway, whereas the speed-happy helmet- and equipment using cyclists will remain. Reduced cycling will quite clearly have negative social health consequences ...
We found that after having removed their helmets, routine helmet users cycled more slowly and demonstrated increased psychophysiological load. However, for non-users there was no significant change in either cycling behaviour or psychophysiological load.
Whatever the dynamics and confounders of risk compensation, the most important issue for policy-makers and planners remains whether helmet use should be encouraged or not. The results from this study show that helmet users cycle more slowly when the helmet is taken away. It also indicates that the lack of helmet results in a certain emotional experience. It is uncertain if this is a lasting effect. The possibility remains that helmet laws may increase cycling speed among certain cyclists, while discouraging those who find helmets unpractical from cycling.
Prevention tools are challenged by risky behaviors that follow their adoption. Speed increase following helmet use adoption was analyzed among bicyclists enrolled in a controlled intervention trial. Speed and helmet use were assessed by video (2621 recordings, 587 participants). Speeds were similar among helmeted and nonhelmeted female cyclists (16.5 km/h and 16.1 km/h, respectively) but not among male cyclists (helmeted: 19.2 km/h, nonhelmeted: 16.8 km/h). Risk compensation, observed only among male cyclists, was moderate, thus unlikely to offset helmet preventive efficacy. (Further study details without speed references)
Casualties wearing a helmet were in average at significantly higher speed (mean=16.8 km/h, SEM=0.6) than cyclists wearing no helmet (14.3 km/h, SEM=0.1).
As formerly described even in our research we found that riders with helmet were in average at higher speed. By the way this may be due to gender differences and difference of type of bicycles (both correlate to helmet use, men were faster than women and did more often wear a helmet)
Figure 6 shows the main cause of accidents surveyed by the estimation of the scientific team. This variable is encoded basing on the official accident cause index. We observed that casualties with helmet more often had accidents because of speeding (8.8% compared to 3.1%) and right-of-way mistakes (40.7% compared to 26.9%), whereas consequently casualties who did not wear a helmet had more often accidents because of using the wrong lane (33.1% compared to 23.0%) and because of inadequate roadworthiness (5.2% compared to 0.9%)
Our results show increased cycling speed and decreased risk perception in a helmet-on compared to a helmet-off condition among cyclists used to wearing helmets, a finding that is in line with the theory of risk compensation. However, for those cyclists not used to helmets there were no differences in either risk or behavior between the helmet-off and helmet-on conditions.
An observational study in 1995 found the overall helmet wearing rate for West Australian cyclists to be 77%, compared to 81% in 1993, 62% in 1992 and 39% in 1991 (pre-legislation) (Market Equity, 1995). In January 2001, Royal Perth Hospital (the largest in Western Australia) estimated 16% of cyclist admissions were not wearing a helmet when injured. In 2004, the hospital's records showed 20% of cyclists admitted for trauma injuries were not wearing a helmet. If 23% of cyclists on WA roads are not wearing a helmet but 20% of cyclist hospital admissions are not wearing a helmet, these figures indicate cyclists not wearing a helmet are less likely to have an accident or suffer injuries requiring hospital treatment.
Royal Perth Hospital data published in October 2012 show that in 2010, a total of 79 cyclists were admitted to the RPH trauma unit, among whom nine reported they were not wearing a helmet. This is 11.4% of trauma admissions not wearing a helmet. In 2011, 77 cyclists were admitted to the trauma unit, of whom 21 were not wearing a helmet. This is 27.3% of trauma admissions not wearing a helmet.
Albeit only two years, this averages to 19.3% of all trauma unit patients not wearing a helmet. Authorities have used hospital admissions data for years to obfuscate the relevance of helmet protection, as there has been no official helmet wearing survey in Australia since 1995. Even then the data showed 23% of cyclists on WA roads were not wearing helmets, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the ratio is now close to 40%. These comparisons with the official RPH trauma admissions data again suggest a higher proportion of injuries are suffered by cyclists wearing helmets.
In 2009, Western Australia police issued $50 helmet infringements against 2,400 cyclists - 1,913 adults, 446 youths. This was up from 2008 when there were 1,503 adults and 286 youths punished for riding their bikes without helmets. In 2010, police apprehended and issued infringements against 1,873 cyclists and in 2011 they fined 1,066 cyclists. Although this means 7,128 people were persecuted for cycling from 2008 to 2011, it suggests police enforcement of the helmet law continues to be relaxed with WA hospital admission figures remaining comparatively stable since about the year 2000 as an increasing proportion of people risk prosecution by cycling without a helmet.
The bicycle helmet infringement fine in the state of Victoria in 2012 is $149, having risen from $58 in 2009 when 6,600 cyclists were fined on Victorian roads. This severe punishment for exercising on a bike in Victoria helps explain why the BikeShare hire scheme in Melbourne has been a failure. The helmet fine in NSW is also $146 (2010) and in the Australian Capital Territory it is $67. In Queensland between 2007 and 2009, about 7,500 cyclists were fined each year for not wearing a helmet.
"The findings are consistent with the notion that those who use helmets routinely perceive reduced risk when wearing a helmet, and compensate by cycling faster. They thus give some support to those urging caution in the use of helmet laws."
Bicycle helmets – A case of risk compensation? published in September 2012 by Transport Research abstracts that "the results indicate that at least part of the reason why helmet laws do not appear to be beneficial is that they disproportionately discourage the safest cyclists".
A report titled Developing Cycling as a Safe and Appealing Mode of Transport was tabled in parliament by the Victorian Auditor General on August 17, 2011. The document was intended as an audit of Victoria's bicycle promotion strategy but mentions mandatory helmets only once and thus fails to address the key issue deterring bicycle use in the state of Victoria for 21 years. Source data suggests daily bicycle use fell by 54.7% between 1985/86 and 2007/08. Read more ...
Add your voice to calls for GetUp! Australia to campaign for repeal of helmet laws. You can sign in with your Google, Facebook or Twitter login.
August 4 2011: The Israeli Knesset (parliament) has passed an amendment to that country's mandatory helmet legislation so that adults in cities and towns no longer have to wear them. The all-age mandatory helmet law had been in place for four years. Israel and Mexico City have effectively conceded the failure of adult bicycle helmet laws and their decisions were largely influenced be the discouragement of cycling that jeopardised their bike hire schemes.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures (PDF 2mb) show that nationally, the average proportion of people using a bicycle as their transport to work or study among all Australian states was 1.5% in 2006. The average proportion of people using a bicycle as their recreational transport among all Australian states was 4.8% in 2006.
According to the Flinders University report, the most common mode of transport for females injured in non-traffic accidents were pedal cycles (32%; n = 771) followed by cars (25%; n = 606), whereas the most common for males were motorcycles (46%; n = 5,073) followed by pedal cycles (30%; n = 3,359).
Age-standardised rates for injury hospitalisation of car occupants declined from 96 per 100,000 of the population in 1999/00 to 90 per 100,000 in 2005/06. Rates for motorcyclists increased from 48 per 100,000 in 1999/00 to 62 per 100,000 in 2005/06. Pedal cyclist rates increased from 40 per 100,000 in 1999/00 to 44 per 100,000 in 2005/06. Rates for pedestrians declined from 24 per 100,000 of the population in 1999/00 to 19 per 100,000 in 2005/06.
For traffic injury cases (p43), pedal cyclists represented 4,378 out of 31,530, or 13.9%. For non-traffic injury cases, pedal cyclists represented 4,130 out of 13,578, or 30.4%.
With cycling representing less than 4.8% of land transport but 17% of hospital admissions, it clearly has a disproportionately high accident/injury rate. Head injuries represent 20-30% of all body injuries and helmet law proponents argue that helmets reduce the incidence of head injury by up to 85%.
Note that from 1985/86 to 2011, Australia's rate of cycling participation was 37.5% less than the rate of population growth.
Social Inclusive Bicycle Riding in Multicultural Australia published in July 2011 by Victoria University shows that Japanese, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan and Arab-African immigrants living in Melbourne used bicycles three times less than they had done previously in their home countries, with helmet laws a repeated reason for their decisions to no longer cycle or to cycle less.
Results: Compared with car users the estimated annual change in mortality of the Barcelona residents using Bicing (n=181,982) was 0.03 deaths from road traffic incidents and 0.13 deaths from air pollution. As a result of physical activity, 12.46 deaths were avoided (benefit:risk ratio 77). The annual number of deaths avoided was 12.28. As a result of journeys by Bicing, annual carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by an estimated 9,062,344 kg.
Conclusions: Public bicycle sharing initiatives such as Bicing in Barcelona have greater benefits than risks to health and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
In April 2011 the Transport and Health Study group, an independent British society of public health and transport practitioners and researchers, published the landmark report Health on the Move 2 containing Cycle Helmet Evidence that should be closely studied by all Australian and New Zealand politicians, bureaucrats and reporters.
The Cycling Promotion Fund and Australian Heart Foundation have published their Riding a Bike for Transport 2011 Survey Findings. This is a survey of 1,000 Australian adults. Although the word "helmet" is not used once in the survey text, its tables show that among the 240 who had cycled in the previous month, 16.5% (40) cited "don't like wearing a helmet" as their reason not to cycle more often, and among the 700 not considering riding a bike for transport at all, 15.7% (110) cited "don't like wearing a helmet". Traffic volume and road safety would improve if 16% more people cycled instead of driving their cars and Australia's rate of cycling participation would double.
In September 2010, the Sydney Morning Herald conducted a two day opinion poll asking if cyclists should be forced to wear helmets. The poll recorded 10,571 votes, by far the largest response to any issue polled on the web by the newspaper's Life&Style section, with 53% voting against the law and 47% voting for the law. With such a large public response and with a majority against the helmet law, this poll again suggests it might be time for Australia's politicians to listen to their voters.
Much of the argument supporting mandatory helmet legislation in Australia is based on a meta-analysis of studies by Attewell, Glase and McFadden, published in 2001, which concluded that the risk of head injury is reduced by 60% (see here and here). However, in early 2005 the international peer-review journal Accident Analysis and Prevention published a paper (PDF 68kb) by researcher Bill Curnow disproving the Attewell et al. meta-analysis. In January 2011, Accident Analysis and Prevention published a paper by Norwegian researcher Rune Elvik (PDF 291kb) further disproving the safety and injury criteria upon which helmet laws are based.
Elvik extract:Do bicycle helmets reduce the risk of injury to the head, face or neck? With respect to head injury, the answer is clearly yes, and the re-analysis of the meta-analysis reported by Attewell et al. (2001) in this paper has not changed this answer. As far as facial injury is concerned, evidence suggests that the protective effect is smaller, but on balance there does seem to be a slight protective effect. The risk of neck injury does not seem to be reduced by bicycle helmets. There are only four estimates of effect, but they all indicate an increased risk of injury. When the risk of injury to head, face or neck is viewed as a whole, bicycle helmets do provide a small protective effect. This effect is evident only in older studies. New studies, summarised by a random-effects model of analysis, indicate no net protective effect.
Bicycle Helmets extract (PDF 139kb) from The Handbook of Road Safety Measures, 2nd edition published in 2009 by Rune Elvik et al.
WHO extract:Assuming (contested) baseline effect sizes, legislation and enforcement of bicycle helmet use produced very little health gain in the high-income sub-region of the Americas, but was the second most effective single strategy in two sub-regions with a relatively high burden of bicycle-related injury ... For example, in highly motorized regions of the world of America or Europe, the proportion of total fatal injuries attributable to bicyclists and to children not wearing a bicycle helmet is very small (< 2%), so the public health impact of increasing helmet use among this road user group will be correspondingly modest (and relatively cost-ineffective given the fixed costs of its full implementation). By contrast, in other settings where there is a low overall motorization rate or a high dependence on bicycles as a mode of transport, fatal injuries to bicyclists account for a much larger share of the avertable burden, thereby making increased helmet use a more favorable option.
Australia has the second highest kilometres of driving per capita in the world (behind America).
In August 2011, the Copenhagen City Heart Study found that male cyclists who ride quickly extend their life expectancy by 5.3 years, while those who cycle at average speeds will live an average 2.9 years longer. Among women, the ratio is 3.9 extra years for speedsters and 2.2 years riding at average speeds.
It should be noted that although the Australian Bicycle Council thus recommends that brisk cycling by adults is preferable to slow cycling, the injury prevention of helmets decreases progressively with increased speed to the point of no return above about 20kmh.
As for cycling discouragement, if a very conservative estimate of 100,000 (average speed, non-lycra) Australians don't cycle because of the helmet law, that's about 260,000 years of life lost. Australian longevity averages 80 years so that's about 3,250 lives.
The West Australian media has failed to report the story of NSW woman Sue Abbott who in September 2009 unsuccessfully challenged her prosecution for failing to wear a helmet (March 7, 2009, in the NSW town of Scone) on the grounds of potentially harming herself through compliance with the law. You can read about this woman's court battle on the Danish website copenhagenize.com or watch her story on video.
On August 28, 2010, the Sydney Morning Herald published Heady freedom as judge agrees helmet laws are unnecessary, describing how NSW District Court judge Roy Ellis quashed Sue Abbott's conviction, finding she had "an honestly held and not unreasonable belief as to the danger associated with the use of a helmet by cyclists".
"It is clear that there is a significant argument taking place in certain scientific circles regarding the efficacy of helmets, in terms of their ability to protect. On one view, they appear to pose as much danger when worn as the danger of not wearing them. Unfortunately, that issue is an issue for Parliament in terms of whether they should rescind the mandatory requirement for helmets to be worn by cyclists," said the judge. Read his ruling here (PDF 22kb).
Update: Sue Abbott has received a $67 mandatory victims compensation levy which she refuses to pay for convictions quashed by the District and Local courts, particularly in the absence of a victim and in view of recent amendments to the compensation legislation that should exempt her from the levy. As a result, her drivers license has been suspended in November 2011 for the crime of riding a bicycle. See No bicycle helmet, no car licence - only in Australia.
Risk compensation is one of various reasons believed responsible for increased accidents and injuries due to mandatory wearing of helmets, including increased traffic density. Published in March 2011 by the Society for Risk Analysis, Risk Compensation and Bicycle Helmets (PDF 102kb - authors Ross Owen Phillips, Aslak Fyhri and Fridulv Sagberg) found that:
Whatever the dynamics and confounders of risk compensation, the most important issue for policymakers and planners remains whether helmet use should be encouraged or not. The data in this article show that cyclists accustomed to helmets may either cycle faster with the helmet on or may slow down when the helmet is taken away. Whether cyclists would continue to cycle more slowly without a helmet is uncertain, but the possibility remains that helmet laws may increase cycling speed among certain cyclists, while discouraging those who find helmets uncomfortable from cycling. Given the association between speed and risk of accidents, this might even explain reports that helmets and helmet laws have not been shown to reduce the risk of injury per cyclist.
May 2012:A study of first-time bicycle-helmet users published in the American Journal of Public Health found men who wear helmets cycle significantly faster than men who don't wear them, adding further weight to evidence that risk compensation is responsible for the increase in accidents/injuries per cyclist in mandatory helmet jurisdictions.
The Northern Territory government of Australia repealed compulsory bicycle helmet laws for adults on paths not adjacent to roadways in 1994 following a public campaign including a petition signed by 8% of the population. People were stopped in the streets of Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, and asked what effect mandatory helmets had on their cycling behaviour. 22% claimed to have given up cycling because of the helmet legislation and 20% to 30% said they cycled less.
The film below was produced by documentary-maker and researcher Mike Rubbo in mid-2010:
Australia Cycling: Bicycle Ownership, Use and Demographics 2004 draft (PDF download, 944kb) shows that cycling to work is more popular in the Northern Territory than anywhere else in Australia. The Northern Territory percentage of 4.2% compared with a national average of just 1.3% in 2001. Cycling generally is more popular in the Northern Territory than anywhere else (15.3% of people cycle in the Northern Territory for exercise, recreation or sport... compared to a national average of 9.5%). Why? One reason is because women are not discouraged by the law. According to the 2001 Census, 35.6% of recreational cyclists in the Northern Territory are women, compared to a national average of 32.2%. In the Territory, 31% of people who cycle to work are women. This is the highest percentage in Australia and compares with a national average of just 19%. The report shows that just 75 cyclists were hospitalised in the Northern Territory in 2001 - a number disproportionately low by comparison with the Territory's population of 210,000 in 2001 (the lowest proportion of any Australian state or territory and the only place in Australia where adults can and do legally cycle without a helmet).
The graph below clearly illustrates that women in the Northern Territory are far more likely to cycle than women in other Australian cities:
The Northern Territory has an atrocious road safety record with the worst injury rate in Australia for all road user types - except cyclists. Below is extracted from Serious injury due to land transport accidents, Australia 2006-07 (RTF 1.5mb) published in 2009 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The data shows the Northern Territory car occupant serious injury rate was 124 compared to a national average of 78, its motorcyclist serious injury rate was 45 compared to a national average of 35 and its pedestrian serious injury rate was 19 compared to a national average of 13. The Northern Territory cyclist serious injury rate was exactly the same as the national average at 23 and better than several states where helmet use is mandatory for adult cyclists in all public places.
The data below shows the Northern Territory car occupant serious injury rate with a high threat to life was 54 compared to a national average of 23, its motorcyclist serious injury rate with a high threat to life was 15 compared to a national average of 9 and its pedestrian serious injury rate with a high threat to life was 6 compared to a national average of 5. The Northern Territory cyclist serious injury rate with a high threat to life was exactly the same as the national average at 4.
On the comparatively dangerous roads of the Northern Territory, the only road users with an average rate of serious injury are cyclists who aren't forced to wear helmets.
The charts above from Cycling in NSW shows the Northern Territory public cycling participation and injuries rates based on 2006 Census data.
In June 2007, the Norwegian Centre for Transport Research published research (PDF 920kb) noting that:
"There is evidence of increased accident risk per cycling-km for cyclists wearing a helmet. In Australia and New Zealand the increase is estimated to be around 14%. The introduction of a bicycle helmet law in these countries has additionally lead to a reduction of cycling-kilometres of 22%. This effect is likely to be larger for adolescents than for adults, and smallest for children."
In 2008, mechanical engineer and British Cycling Federation coach Colin Clarke pubished Assessment of Australia's Bicycle Helmet Laws (PDF 208kb), summarising and exposing key points about the harm caused to public health since mandatory helmet laws were enforced in 1990.
In May 2009, the Danish Parliament voted 90 against 21 to defeat a Bill tabled by the Socialist People's Party for a mandatory bicycle helmet for children under 12. Danish politicians looked at the helmet law results in Australia since 1990 and decided not to harm their own society.
The lack of a sun visor on bicycle helmets may increase the risk of facial skin cancer. Queensland resident Alex Reid, who has cancer on his face, has been lobbying that state's government on the grounds that the helmet law should be unenforceable because it endangers the wearer. However, in June 2011 his legal challenge failed. Research by Diffey and Cheeseman suggests that a hat with at least a 7.5cm brim is necessary to provide reasonable protection around the nose and cheeks, those sites on which non-melanoma skin cancers commonly occur. Read more about the sun cancer risk in Queensland.
"At the same time the proportion of children cycling to school is now so low it is statistically too insignificant to be considered on its own, says Hume, of Deakin University's Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research. Hume says the decrease in what is known as active commuting has occurred at the same time as obesity rates among children have increased. Although, the researcher says "it is drawing a long bow" to directly link the two, the decrease in walking and cycling to school is part of the overall reduction in physical activity amongst children." (see Child cycling)
Watch New York journalist Lenore Skenazy interviewed on ABC Australia's 7.30 Report on September 29, 2010, to defend her book Free Range Kids which criticises helicopter parents with a risk obsession who are stifling the health and development of their children.
In March 2010, Intended and Unintended Effects of Youth Bicycle Helmet Laws (PDF 172kb) was published by Christopher Carpenter and Mark Stehr from the University of California: In this paper we confirm that helmet laws reduced fatalities, but we uncover robust evidence of an alternative and unintended mechanism: helmet laws significantly reduced youth bicycling.
In early 2005, the prestigious international peer-review journal Accident Analysis and Prevention published a paper disproving the conclusions of most international case control studies since 1989 that have been used to justify the mandatory wearing of bicycle helmets (PDF 68kb).
The international medical community should accept that these studies were fundamentally flawed, explaining why their conclusions have never had any similarity to the actual results of mandatory helmet laws in the real world.
Australia has the worst public cycling participation rate in the world. This is not surprising since the state governments of Australia punish people for cycling.
The diagram above shows the bicycle share of trips in Europe, North America and Australia (percent of total trips by bicycle) and is sourced to 2007 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the statistical services of all countries involved. In New Zealand, which has mandatory all-age bicycle helmet laws, the percentage is 1.8% of all trips. Australian helmet law supporters claim cycling popularity is booming in Australia. The truth can be found in the diagram above.
This research is sourced to Making Cycling Irresistible (PDF 876kb) (Pucher and Buehler, Transport Reviews, Vol. 28 2008). The research notes:
In the USA, much of the effort to improve cyclist safety has focused on increasing helmet use, if necessary by law, especially for children. Thus, it is important to emphasize that the much safer cycling in northern Europe is definitely not due to widespread use of safety helmets. On the contrary, in the Netherlands, with the safest cycling of any country, less than one percent of adult cyclists wear helmets, and even among children, only 3-5% wear helmets (Dutch Bicycling Council, 2006; Netherlands Ministry of Transport, 2006). The Dutch cycling experts and planners interviewed for this paper adamantly opposed the use of helmets, claiming that helmets discourage cycling by making it less convenient, less comfortable, and less fashionable. They also mention the possibility that helmets would make cycling more dangerous by giving cyclists a false sense of safety and thus encouraging riskier riding behavior. At the same time, helmets might reduce the consideration motorists give cyclists, since they might seem less vulnerable if wearing helmets (Walker, 2007).
Below is a presentation by Planning and Public Policy Professor John Pucher at Rutgers University, Vancouver, on May 15, 2008: Cycling for Everyone: Lessons for Vancouver from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany (video one hour 20 minutes but highly informative : courtesy Simon Fraser University):
In the Netherlands, urban densities are approximately the same as in Sydney. Recent surveys show there are 14 times as many person trips by bike and 810% more bicycle kilometres ridden than in Australia. However, deaths of bike riders per 100,000 population is a third of that in Australia. Bicycle helmets are not mandatory and are rarely worn in the Netherlands.
This graph highlights the ratio of cyclist fatalities to estimated distance cycled and helmet wearing rates in various countries.
In March 2010, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reflected on cycling in Sydney: SYDNEY will never be a bicycle-friendly city until it develops a 'second cycling culture' which encourages relaxed European-style riding without the compulsory use of helmets, experts have warned.
In March 2009, Australian Cyclist magazine published It makes your head spin, a sober overview of the opinions and evidence in the mandatory bicycle helmet law debate.
Three submissions to the Garnaut Climate Change Review (see Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation, Cycle Safe and Chris Gillham) provide evidence that an immediate increase in bicycle use and decrease in Australia's greenhouse gases would result from repeal of mandatory bicycle helmet laws. The submissions have not been researched or reported by Australia's media. See CO2 Calculator.
Cycle Helmets and Road Casualties in the UK is a 2005 study that finds: "There is no evidence that cycle helmets reduce the overall cyclist injury burden at the population level in the UK when data on road casualties is examined."
Serious injury due to land transport accidents, Australia, 2003 - 2004 (PDF 840kb) by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (p33) shows that helmeted cyclists had about the same percentage of head injuries (27.4%) as unhelmeted car occupants and pedestrians (28.5%). See graph here. Helmeted motorcyclists had a percentage of 10.6%. Vehicle and pedestrian accidents are obviously different to bicycle accidents but the wearing of a helmet nevertheless seems to have no discernible impact on the risk of head injury. Motorcycle accidents do have similarities to bicycle accidents, although motorcyclists normally travel much faster than cyclists and only on roads. Motorcyclists had almost three times less chance of a head injury in an accident, suggesting that hard shell motorbike helmets work whereas soft shell bicycle helmets do not work.
Cycling injuries in Australia: Road safety's blind spot (PDF 218kb) published in the August 2010 issue of the Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety details Australia's poor cycling participation and injury rates: "Cycling rates are relatively low in Australia, but cyclists comprise about 1 in 40 traffic crash fatalities and about 1 in 7 serious injuries. While fatalities and serious injuries for car occupants (drivers and passengers) have declined over time, cyclist fatalities have remained steady, and serious injuries have increased."
Cyclists represented 17% of all road users admitted to West Australian hospitals in 1992, the year mandatory bike helmet legislation was enforced. This had risen to 25.9% by the year 2000.
In December 2007, the British government agency Cycling England published Cycling and Health: What's the Evidence? (PDF 3.6mb), considered the most comprehensive guide ever written regarding the health benefits of cycling. This is a benchmark publication that should be read by all health professionals who want to encourage rather than discourage healthy exercise.
An economic evaluation by the Road Accident Prevention Research Unit of the University of Western Australia found the mandatory helmet legislation most probably had a negative cost impact as high as $21 million between 1991 and 1998. Download a copy in Word or PDF, or view the report on your browser. This paper also highlights various of the medical and safety failures of Western Australia's mandatory bicycle helmet legislation.
Reported on May 7, 2009, by The Guardian newspaper, research from the UK's main cycling organsation, the Cyclists Touring Club, showing that where there are more riders on the road there are generally fewer accidents. "Struck by the Dutch success, a group of British MPs has just returned from a fact-finding trip to the country. There, along with reams of information about bike lanes and secure parking, they were let in to a less well-known secret for spurring a national cycling culture: throw out the Lycra and the helmets."
The Cycle Helmet: Friend or Foe?, by Senior Fellow Emeritus Mayer Hillman from the Policy Studies Institute in London, concludes that bicycle helmet wearing should be neither mandated or encouraged and that life years gained through cycling have been calculated to exceed life years lost in cycle fatalities by a factor of 20 to 1.
Published in July 2010 by the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Do The Health Benefits Of Cycling Outweigh The Risks? (PDF 225kb) found that "For individuals who shift from car to bicycle, we estimated that beneficial effects of increased physical activity are substantially larger (3-14 months gained) than the potential mortality effect of increased inhaled air pollution doses (0.8-40 days lost) and the increase in traffic accidents (5-9 days lost) ... on average the benefits of cycling were about 9 times larger than the risks of cycling, compared to car driving for the individuals making the shift".
See also how the Australian Bicycle Council calculates the enormous health benefits of cycling compared to the risk of injury or death.
The New York Times has analysed America's increasing use of bicycle helmets, voluntary and mandatory, and found "the rate of head injuries per active cyclist has increased 51 percent just as bicycle helmets have become widespread". You can read the same story in The St Petersburg Times or here.
In recommending education rather than legislation for bicycle safety equipment such as helmets, the Montana Bicycle Safety Study (PDF 1.6meg) published in 2002 found: A 1997 analysis of U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data uncovered no statistically significant drop in cyclist fatalities in the eight states which had implemented mandatory helmet laws for at least one year. In fact, mandatory helmet laws have contributed to significant drops in children cycling to school after the introduction of the helmet laws and reductions in the overall numbers of cyclists (p12).
Western Australia Health Department statistics show that between 1981 and 1995 the average length of hospital stay was declining for most cyclist injury types. However, as demonstrated on this injury table, the length of hospital stay for skull, intracranial and other head injuries either stopped falling or increased significantly after 1992, when mandatory bike helmets were enforced.
In other words, the hospital recovery time for ALL injury types EXCEPT head injuries went down significantly over the study period. The Western Australia Health Department claims hospital duration for cyclist injuries has fallen from 5.1 to 3.3 days over the study period, but it is apparent the reduction is due to shorter recovery times for almost all other injury types EXCEPT those involving the head - the one and only part of the body supposedly protected by helmets.
It has been argued that the increase in cyclist injuries on West Australian roads is a result of greater motor vehicle numbers since 1991, when the helmet law was enacted. However, cycleways throughout Perth are far better now than in 1991, extensive construction providing a safer non-road environment. This has been one of the claimed infrastructure improvements of West Australian governments for the past decade and Perth is now recognised as having the best cyclepath network of any Australian city. The percentage of crashes involving only the cyclist and not another vehicle increased from 78.8% in 87/89 to 84.7% in 93/95 - an increase of almost 6%. In July 2009, Perth was voted by Travel + Leisure magazine to be the 5th most cycle-friendly city in the world due to its extensive cycleways.
Further to this, less cyclists = more cars. Tens of thousands of cyclists abandoned their bicycles when Western Australia's mandatory helmet law was enforced on July 1, 1992, many instead choosing to drive their cars. An immediate increase in hospital admissions from vehicle crashes suggests the resultant rise in car numbers increased the safety risk for all road users.
Research by Wasserman et al. (PDF 388k) in 1988 involved the questioning of 516 cyclists on the streets of Vermont as to whether they had struck their heads in a cycling mishap over the previous 18 months. The research indicated less likelihood of head injury to cyclists wearing a helmet. However, at the time of questioning 7.8% (40) were wearing helmets and 476 were not. Of the 21 cyclists who reported striking their heads in the previous 18 months, eight were wearing helmets at the time of the mishap. This is 20% of the 40 helmeted cyclists questioned. The 13 other unhelmeted cyclists who had struck their heads represented 2.7% of the 476 unhelmeted cyclists who were questioned in the study. This suggests helmeted cyclists were about seven times more likely to have struck their heads than unhelmeted cyclists. Such results help to explain why most helmet law supporters believe a helmet has saved their life - it's partly because they are more likely to have an accident, during which they are more likely to hit their heads.
Rotational brain injury is thought to be exacerbated by the centrifugal force of the helmet (see eMedicine or Philips Helmets for more detail). Research commissioned by the Department for Transport in the UK and published in 2007 found there is cause to believe greater head injury results from helmets in angular impacts, dependent upon speed and the size of the helmet. Most accident helmet impacts are angular rather than direct blows and angular impact causes the most brain damage. New Scientist magazine reported in February 2001 that a revolutionary new helmet design was being developed to to try to minimise rotational brain injury. The design is still on the drawing board and existing mandatory bike helmets continue to exacerbate rotational brain injury. Read more about rotational brain injury.
A 2003 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics into the correct wearing of bicycle helmets notes that improper bicycle helmet fit increases the risk of head injury compared to a properly fitted helmet. The survey study concludes that "ninety-six percent of children and adolescents wore helmets in inadequate condition and/or with inadequate fit". You can also download the full survey study (PDF 80kb).
You might like to read the opinion of Brian Walker, a leading expert on the mechanics of helmets whose company Head Protection Evaluations is the principal UK test laboratory for bicycle helmets.
In January 1999, a Regulation Impact Statement titled Protective Helmets for Pedal Cyclists: Consumer Product Safety Standard (Trade Practices Act 1974) was issued by the Consumer Affairs Division of the Department of the Treasury in Australia. The document deals with improved safety standards for bike helmets sold in Australia and was prepared by the Federal Government in Canberra. Appendix B of the Statement addresses problems associated with second hand helmets. This unpublicised document concedes that "second hand helmets may be dangerous", and canvasses several options for action:
* the sale of second hand helmets be banned;
* second-hand helmets be subject to a compulsory national recall;
* second hand helmet use be discouraged through an education campaign; or
* a health warning sticker be placed on all new helmets.
The document states that it's not known what "second hand" actually means. Remember, the helmet laws which compel all cyclists in Australia to wear a helmet mean that some are being forced to use a dangerous product under threat of State punishment. Many cyclists own and use a second hand helmet, whatever that is, and it's illegal for them NOT to wear it when they cycle... even though it "may be dangerous".
The Victorian Government in Australia has increased the penalty for not wearing a bike helmet from $20 to $50, stating that it "confidently expected" a safety benefit because 125 non-wearers were casualties in 1999. However, the government gave no number for wearers. According to official figures, wearers outnumber non-wearers by a ratio of 3 to 1 across Victoria. If helmets work, the ratio should obviously be less. In fact, with 695 casualties wearing helmets in 1999, the ratio exceeded 5 to 1. The full statistics from VicRoads are as follows:
Accidents by injury level for bicyclists, Victoria 1999
Helmet not worn
The table shows that out of the 820 casualties whose helmet wearing was known, 695 or 85% wore one. Of the corresponding 249 who suffered fatal or serious injury, 198 or 80% wore a bike helmet. Both of these proportions exceed the latest measured statewide wearing rate of 75%. A rational response to these disturbing results would be to review the bike helmets law, not to blindly increase the penalty and increase the injury risk by forcing more cyclists to wear helmets.
Since the bicycle helmet law was introduced in Victoria, cycling in Melbourne has been unable to recover its previous share of the transport split. In 1985/86, 3.4% of trips in Melbourne were by bicycle. Data released in 2004 showed the cycling proportion at 2%.
Statistics for all Australian States are dependent upon research conducted by each government. Bill Curnow from the Cyclists Rights Action Group has written an analysis.
American Heritage invention and technology magazine provides a detailed history of all types of helmets.
On football helmets introduced in the 1950s, the magazine notes: "However, it had a paradoxically catastrophic effect on injuries. It reduced some head damage but was held responsible for a tripling of neck injuries and a doubling of deaths from cervical spine injuries."
On bicycle helmets which began to enter the market from the 1970s, the magazine notes: " By 2001, the CPSC reported, 69 percent of child cyclists and 43 percent of adults in the United States wore helmets. Yet this apparent success has turned up a paradox. In the decade from 1991 to 2001 the surge in helmets was accompanied by a decline in ridership and an increase in cyclist accidents, resulting in 51 percent more head injuries per bicyclist."
Vietnam has made helmets compulsory for motorbikes. As reported in September 2007, this has resulted in far more people buying electric bikes which they can ride without a helmet.
Colin Clarke presented the world's first helmet petition to the Victorian parliament in 1991, calling for repeal of the mandatory bike helmet legislation in that Australian state. Colin, who is a qualified mechanical engineer, cycling coach and road safety campaigner, has prepared an explanatory document providing technical details about the mechanical deficiencies of helmet design and the socially damaging impact of their mandatory use. For answers to questions you may have explaining why helmets don't perform the way you've been told, click here.
Various West Australians were imprisoned in the early 1990s for failure to pay helmet infringement fines. One man was booked 14 times and placed behind bars five times for riding his bike without a helmet, claiming officers were stationed at his address to monitor his activities. Under new legislation, fine defaulters have their driver's licence suspended or have household goods seized by the bailiff to the value of the unpaid fine... for riding a bike.
Pepper spray and batons were used by West Australian police in February 2001 to subdue an enraged cyclist who was booked for cycling without a helmet. This case was extreme, but highlights the level of simmering public anger over the theft of their civil rights.
West Australian cyclist hospital admissions 1985-2000
623 in 1985 660 in 1986 630 in 1987 698 in 1988 596 in 1989 638 in 1990 730 in 1991 574 in 1992 633 in 1993 644 in 1994 660 in 1995 715 in 1996 754 in 1997 850 in 1998 862 in 1999 913 in 2000
Cyclist road number surveys in Perth show cycling participation had recovered to slightly exceed pre-law figures by 1998/99.
To put the cycling injury rate into perspective and despite the increased risk of accident/injury caused by Western Australia's mandatory helmet law, it is worth considering the reasons for admission to Perth's Princess Margaret Hospital for Children in the summer of 2007/08:
Falls involving play equipment, raised surfaces and ride-on toys - 1,027 cases
Other blunt force such as sports injuries or contact with hard surfaces - 744 cases
Injuries involving cars with children as passengers or pedestrians, quad bikes and bicycles - 304 cases
Poisoning including pharmaceuticals and cleaning products - 119 cases
Non-venomous animal bites - 61 cases
860 West Australians were admitted to hospital emergency departments in the 1999/2000 financial year for dog bites, and 46 people drowned. More than 4,000 elderly West Australians are admitted to hospital each year because of a fall, and 74 Australians died between 1996 and 1999 when they fell off a ladder. An estimated 18,000 Australians die every year and thousands more are injured because of mistakes made in hospitals.
On average, seven cyclists died each year in Western Australia before helmet law enforcement in 1992, and this average has dropped to five. Before 1992, an average 655 West Australians were admitted to hospital each year for bike injuries. In 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000, the consecutive annual hospital admissions of cyclists were 754, 850, 862 and 913.
Every day, about 190 West Australians aged over 65 will fall over. About 60 will be so seriously injured they will need to go to hospital. More than 4,000 elderly West Australians are admitted to hospital each year as the result of a fall (not bicycle-related). One in three people over the age of 65 will have falls requiring hospital treatment. Of these, between 20% and 40% will be dead within a year, meaning that falling over matches cancer and cardiovascular disease as a major killer of the elderly. Why aren't helmets mandatory for the elderly in their own homes?
Do you believe helmets protect you from attacks by magpies? Mapgies are an Australian native bird common in most cities with an aggressive attitude toward intruders during nesting season. Have a look below at what magpies think of bike helmets ...
The fun experiment above suggests that magpies are particularly aggressive toward shiny helmets - the shinier, the more aggressive - but either don't bother with bare heads or go back to the nest when the helmet is taken off. Which suggests that if you wear a helmet, you're more likely to be attacked by magpies. Flinders University research on injuries involving magpies confirms that bike riders are by far the most likely victims of aerial attack. Further evidence of bike helmets attracting magpie attacks can be found here. Thanks, government.
The risk of injury requiring hospital treatment as a result of cycling is around 0.005 per 100 hours. This compares with 0.19 for football, 0.13 for squash, 0.11 for basketball and netball and 0.06 for soccer.
A Health Department of Western Australia study concludes that "the results of this analysis are similar to those identified in other studies around Australia. The rates of bike injury hospitalisations and deaths have remained fairly constant in Western Australia over the period 1981 to 1995, in comparison with a marked decrease in vehicle crash and overall injury rates. Bike injury rates are measured against the whole population, however, rather than against the cyclist population. If trends in the number of Western Australian cyclists over the study period do not parallel overall changes in the WA population, these results may be misleading. Unfortunately, accurate exposure data for bicycle-riding in Western Australia were not available for this analysis."
Accurate exposure data for bicycle riding in Western Australia is available, as demonstrated on this website, and the results are only misleading in that they mask the true damage caused by the mandatory helmet legislation.
Every day, Perth residents make 240,000 car trips that are less than one kilometre long. Discouragement of cycling through helmet laws results in more vehicle traffic on the road for short trips, worsening both pollution and the injury and fatality toll among motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
The West Australian newspaper May 8 2004
The West Australian newspaper July 6 2009
If you insist that your children wear a helmet, maybe you should read Parents Warned About Bike Helmet Strangulations published in September 2010 advising how Product Safety Australia has issued a safety alert reminding parents that children have died from strangulation playing outdoors and indoors while wearing bicycle helmets.
The percentage of people in Western Australia suffering bike accident head injuries, as opposed to other causes, fell from 22 per cent in 1991 to 17.3 per cent in 1992 when the helmet law was enforced by police, but then rose to 21.7 per cent in 1993.
The number of cyclist head injuries in 1994 was about two per cent less than in 1991, the year the compulsory helmet law was introduced.
The average percentage of head injuries suffered in the four years after the 1992 introduction of the law in Western Australia was 3% less than the previous four years, even though the percentage of recreational cyclists wearing helmets increased from 39% in 1991 to 77% in 1995, and the number of cyclists on the road fell by about 30%.
Myths about helmets are another absurdity that has taken hold in countries where bicycling is not commonplace. Fear mongering rhetoric has escalated to the point where those not familiar with bicycling believe that if you so much as swing your leg over a bicycle you will smash your head open. Helmet rhetoric that sets bicycling out as far more dangerous than it is, has done immeasurable harm to efforts for increasing bicycling... Fortunately, more and more high-level analysts are questioning the helmet propaganda and finding the earlier figures to be false. Below are some more tips on how to fight helmet laws if the threat ever comes to your community...
Within public submissions to the West Australian Parliament's 1994 Select Committee on Road Safety inquiry into Compulsory Helmet Wearing For Bicyclists and Other Bicycling Issues, 3% fully supported the helmet legislation, 33% cent gave conditional support and 66% were either totally opposed or opposed to compulsory helmets for adults. Below is an extract from the select committee report:
"As a consequence of newspaper advertisements which invited submissions to the Committee on any road safety issue within its Terms of Reference, 412 submissions were received to 1 March 1994 on numerous safety matters. The number of submissions in which the bicycle helmet wearing issue was referred, totalled 327. These represent 79% of all submissions. There were 1598 signatories on 19 submissions, almost all of which opposed helmet wearing for adults. The relevance of these statistics is diminished by the fact that some single submissions were from organisations and associations who may represent significant additional numbers of people but counted as a single submission".
The Centre for Neuro Skills advocates legislation yet in explaining bike helmets and the prevention of head injury, it states:
The testing of bike helmets approved by either the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the Snell Memorial Foundation indicated that using any helmet will protect the brain and neck during a crash more effectively than not using any helmet at all (18). However, these tests identified potential problems with helmet design, including a tendency for all helmets to slip out of proper position with the unequal application of force; a tendency for hard-shell helmets to slide on concrete, potentially increasing the risk for facial injury in a crash; and a likelihood for soft or no-shell helmets to catch or drag on concrete surfaces, causing the head to decelerate at a faster rate than the rest of the body, which potentially increases the risk for neck injuries (18). Subsequent tests indicated that helmets covered with a hard shell or a micro-shell (i.e., a very thin plastic covering) were least likely to cause injury to the head and neck region (19).
These fundamental design flaws recognised in the tests by international authorities negate the many suppositions used to justify helmet legislation. Furthermore, their injury-causing consequences are apparent in the West Australian results.
Bicycle helmets cannot protect against impact from a motor vehicle. To protect against a 20mph impact, the helmet needs 6.5 inches of foam; 30 mph - 15 inches; 40 mph - 29 inches. The common half inch adds virtually no protection from a vehicle impact. A Bell Sport 2000 motorcycle helmet weighs 1700 grams and a Giro Ventoux bike helmet weighs 200 grams. Yet the motorcycle helmet only protects against a 12mph impact.
If law supporters believe helmets should be mandatory because they prevent head injuries, their principle should be equitably applied by having mandatory helmets for motor vehicle occupants. Prevention of head injuries to car occupants: an investigation of interior padding options published by Monash University found that total benefits associated with headwear in the form of a soft shell bicycle helmet for car occupants are as high as $500 million per year in Australia. Do bicycle helmet law supporters want to prevent half a billion dollars worth of head injury by wearing a helmet every time they get in their car?
In 2004, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau published Road Safety in Australia: "The research has found that helmets would be substantially more effective than many vehicle design options, including improved interior padding, side-impact airbags and advanced restraint systems. As head injuries to car occupants in Australia cost about $3.7 billion per year, helmets could save the community as much as $950 million, or about 25 per cent of annual head injury cost."
Australian bicycle helmet law advocates who drive cars (all of them) for some reason aren't interested in mandatory vehicle helmets saving so much money and so many lives.
But helmets are good for motorcyclists, aren't they? Not necessarily. In America, the motorcycle fatality rate in helmet-law states is 2.97 deaths per 100 accidents versus 2.79 in helmet-free states. This amounts to 18 additional deaths per 10,000 accidents in mandatory helmet states! Further data on the increased death and injury rate from motorcycle helmets can be found here.
On June 16, 2000, Governor Jeb Bush signed legislation to repeal the mandatory motorcycle helmet law in Florida, making it the 30th American state where motorcyclists have freedom of choice. Why? Because of the mass of evidence that motorcycle helmets do not reduce death and injury rates as is so widely believed, and because adults have been deemed to have a right to make their own choice in a democratic country. Click here to find out more.
Research (PDF file 140kb) titled "The Effect of the Repeal of Florida's Mandatory Motorcycle Helmet-Use Law on Serious Injury and Fatality Rates" was released in April 2003 by Lisa Stolzenberg and Stewart J. D'Alessio from Florida International University. Extract: "When motorcycle registrations, preexisting trends, and seasonal factors are taken into account, the repeal of Florida's helmet-use law has little observable effect on serious injury and fatality rates... Because our findings show that Florida's repeal of its mandatory motorcycle helmet use law did not increase the serious injury or fatality rates, we conclude that policy makers should probably consider revising or repealing these types of laws."
Research published in 2007 concluded: "There was a significant rise in motorcycle fatalities after Florida's helmet law repeal, which appears to be associated with an increase in the number of motorcycle riders. Injury prevention efforts focusing on factors other than helmet use should be developed in light of continuing repeal of universal motorcycle helmet laws across the nation."
How Bikes Can Save Us is an informative chart explaining the many health and economic benefits that could be be enjoyed in the United States if cycling rates increased in that country.
A telephone survey of adults in Western Australia found a figure equivalent to 64% of current adult cyclists would ride more if not legally required to wear a helmet.
Extracts from the report Bicycle Crashes and Injuries in Western Australia (March 1998)
relating to the study period of 1987-1996, a reasonable balance of pre and post legislation:
"The number of hospitalised cyclists has shown no clear trend over the period."
"Cyclist admissions as a proportion of all road crash casualties admitted to hospital have shown no clear trend, varying between 12% and 16%."
"The number of cyclists admitted to hospital per 100,000 cyclists has fluctuated around 90 over the 10 year period"
"Sixty eight percent of cyclists admitted to hospital were less than 17 years old..."
"The percentage distribution of injuries by severity levels remained more or less constant over the 10 year period."
"Injuries to the upper extremities has shown an almost steady increase from 118 (17%) in 1988 to 223 (31%) in 1996."
"The total number of recorded injuries to cyclists increased from 590 in 1987 to 1,223 in 1996. This averages one injury per cyclist in 1987 (excluding cyclists admitted for observation who had no recorded injury) and 1.7 per cyclist in 1996. This increase most likely reflects better coding of injuries in hospitals."
"The number of bicycle crashes reported to the police in Western Australia decreased from 1,011 in 1987 to 718 in 1996. Over this period, the share of bicycle crashes as a percentage of all reported crashes decreased from 2.5% to 1.7%."
"The number of cyclists recorded as being hospitalised in the police data was 23% of the number actually admitted to hospital over this period."