Submission to draft National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020
Note: the NRSS 2011-2020 was released on May 27, 2011. Despite several public submissions highlighting the failure of bicycle helmet laws, the word "bicycle" is mentioned only twice in the 10 year strategy. You can view and download this submission as a PDF document. This submission is without copyright and can be distributed freely.
Helmet law impact on all road casualties
This downturn in cycling has an assumed impact on public health but in the two countries with national all-age rather than child-only helmet laws it also results in greater traffic density as discouraged adult cyclists instead drive vehicles more frequently.
An example of greater traffic density is the acknowledged increase in parents driving their children to and from schools since bike helmet laws were introduced. The number of Australian children walking or cycling to school dropped from 80% in 1977 to the current level around 5% (source), and the number of children cycling to school in Western Australia fell by more than 50% in the five years following helmet enforcement (source).
Dropping children at school is the reason for 40% of motorists taking passengers on their trip to work or study, according to The Australian Bureau of Statistics report Environmental issues: people's views and practices (PDF 2MB).
In New Zealand, surveys by the Land Transport Safety Authority showed a 29% reduction in cycling trips between 1989/90 and 1997/98, increasing to a 51% decline by 2006.
In Western Australia, electronic cycling surveys by the Department of Transport showed an approximate 30% decline in weekday cycling across river bridges into the CBD of the capital, Perth, almost all of these cyclists being adult commuters.
Such large numbers of discouraged adult cyclists will inevitably lead to increased traffic density with a commensurate increase in crash risk involving car vs car, car vs motorcyclist, car vs pedestrian and car vs cyclist. This is particularly likely if the increased traffic is sudden and without time for the construction of adequate transport infrastructure to accommodate the extra vehicles.
Find out about transport trends in Australia since the 1970s in Unsustainable trends in the Australian Census Data for the journey to work in Melbourne and other cities in Victoria (PDF 1.2meg).
The non-linearity of risk and the promotion of environmentally sustainable transport (PDF 217kb) published in 2009 found:
Several studies show that the risks of injury to pedestrians and cyclists are highly non-linear. This means that the more pedestrians or cyclists there are, the lower is the risk faced by each pedestrian or cyclist. On the other hand, the more motor vehicles there are, the higher becomes the risk faced by each pedestrian or cyclist. The relationships found in previous studies suggest that if very large transfers of trips from motor vehicles to walking or cycling take place, the total number of accidents may be reduced. The "safety in numbers" effect for pedestrians and cyclists would then combine favourably with the effect of a lower number of motor vehicles to produce a lower total number of accidents. This paper explores if such an effect is possible, relying on the findings of studies that show the non-linearity of injury risks for pedestrians and cyclists. It is found that for very large transfers of trips from motor vehicles to walking or cycling, a reduction of the total number of accidents is indeed possible. This shows that the high injury rate for pedestrians and cyclists in the current transport system does not necessarily imply that encouraging walking or cycling rather than driving will lead to more accidents.
The data below examines overall road casualties across Australia, in different Australian states and in New Zealand, and suggests the helmet legislation impacted negatively on total road casualty risk in the only countries in the world where the law is enforced nationally for child and adult bike riders.
The evidence does not imply that mandatory helmet discouragement of cycling caused the turnaround in all Australian road casualties, but it does imply that the the law contributed to the increase in hospitalised road users.
1980 - 32,054
Below are ATSB figures on seriously injured casualties per 100,000 population across Australia:
1980 - 218.1
Across Australia there had been an ongoing reduction in road casualties for 10 years prior to the mandatory helmet legislation first being enacted in 1990 in the state of Victoria.
The least number of casualties (21,512) was recorded in 1992, the year that the last Australian states (Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia) enacted helmet legislation with a resultant discouragement of adult cycling.
Extract above from ABS 1986 Census Household Sample Files (PDF 1.4mb).
Extract above and below from Travel to work in Australian capital cities, 1976-2006: an analysis of census data (PDF 303kb).
In Sydney in 1976, 662,405 people drove cars to work on census day. Over the three decades to 2006, the workforce grew by 25%. If modal splits had remained constant, this growth would have increased the number of car drivers by 167,125 (25% of 662,405). Instead, the number of car drivers increased by 356,712 or more than twice the predicted amount. Around 53% of the increase in traffic in Sydney between 1976 and 2006 came from mode shift; only 47% came from growth in the workforce.
The situation is worse in Melbourne, because the shift away from environmentally friendly modes of travel has been greater. Melbourne has had the biggest increase in the share of workers driving to work of any of the seven capital cities, from 56.1% in 1976 to 72.6% in 2006. In fact, in 2006 Melburnians used 8,032 more cars to drive to work than residents of Sydney, even though 193,194 fewer people travelled to work on census day in Melbourne than in Sydney [Figure 1]. The number of car drivers in Melbourne increased by 409,701, or 66.4%, between 1976 and 2006, but only 43% of this increase was due to growth in the workforce [Figure 1 & Table 1.2]. The other 57% was the result of a shift away from environmentally friendly modes.
In Adelaide, the number of cars driven to work increased by 91,217, or 40%, between 1976 and 2006, but the total number of workers travelling on census day only grew by 15%. Adelaide has had the second-biggest rise in the share of workers driving after Melbourne, but because it started with a higher rate in 1976, Adelaide now has the highest mode share for car driving of any capital city, at 75.4%. Since 1976, 63% of the growth in car numbers in Adelaide was due to mode shift. In Hobart, comparisons with 1976 are complicated by the fact that the Tasman Bridge was closed as a result of the 1975 shipping accident, leading to abnormally high use of public transport, especially ferries. But even taking 1981 as the starting point, the majority of the growth in car use to 2006 was due to mode shift.
In Brisbane and Perth, rapid growth in the workforce contributed more to the increase in car numbers than did mode shift, but even in these cities, mode shift was an important factor. Canberra is the only city in which mode shift was not a major factor, but this is because the share of travel by car drivers was already very high in 1976.
Is it possible that this calamitous reversal in road injury was caused by other factors such as lower petrol prices or improved economic conditions encouraging more people to drive their cars?
The history of retail petrol prices in Perth is indicative of price trends across Australia:
1991 - 67.4c
Australia suffered a recession in 1990/91 with recovery from 1992 but the most influential factor, unemployment, lagged and didn't recover to 89/90 levels until the turn of the century.
The early 1990s in particular were a period of high unemployment and this could be expected to have discouraged motoring because of reduced disposable income encouraging people to seek cheaper methods of transport.
85/86 - 7.9%
1990 - 17.5% - 12%
Annual population growth
1977 - 14,192,200
Population of Australia
The population of Australia had been growing at a higher rate in the years before mandatory bicycle helmet laws were introduced from 1990-92.
There have been ongoing increases in traffic penalties in all Australian states since 1990, including drink-driving, speeding and suburban street speed reductions (many from 60kmh to 50kmh or 40kmh in school zones).
This data indicates there were slightly increasing petrol prices, high unemployment and stable to increasing interest rates in Australia following mandatory helmet law enforcement, all factors that should reduce vehicle density as more people try to reduce their transport costs.
Following is a breakdown of total road casualties before and after bike helmet enforcement in the five major Australia states:
New South Wales
Number of reported road crashes in Western Australia by year and crash severity.
See Analysis of Road Crash Statistics Western Australia 1990 to 1999 (PDF 384kb)
Age-standardised rates of hospital admissions for injuries sustained in bicycle and vehicle crashes
Below is data illustrating total road casualty rates in New Zealand, which enforced all-age mandatory bicycle helmet legislation in 1994:
Could other factors such as lower petrol prices or improved economic conditions in New Zealand have encouraged more people to drive their cars?
1980 - 4.019%
1990 - 14.8% - 15.2%
1991 - 3,495,800
New Zealand's population growth rate almost halved following bicycle helmet law enforcement in 1994 before increasing substantially after 2001.
This data indicates there were stable petrol prices, relatively high but stable unemployment levels and increasing interest rates in New Zealand following mandatory helmet law enforcement, all factors that should reduce vehicle density as more people try to reduce their transport costs.
The increase in vehicle crashes linked to reduced cycling is explored by The Australian newspaper in 2008.
In a jointly-sponsored report published in August 2010, the Australian Local Government Association, the Bus Industry Confederation, the Cycling Promotion Fund, the National Heart Foundation of Australia and the International Association of Public Transport estimate that government encouragement of active transport such as cycling, walking and public transport could save 16,000 lives a year with annual Australian health-care savings of more than $1.5 billion a year.
Extract from Cycling: Getting Australia Moving (PDF 1.2mb - Bauman A., Rissel C., Garrard J., Ker I., Speidel R., Fishman E., 2008)
Promoting Safe Walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health: Lessons From the Netherlands and Germany published in 2003 by John Pucher et al.
Walking, Cycling and Obesity Rates in Europe, North America and Australia (PDF 340kb) published 2008 by David R. Bassett, Jr., John Pucher, Ralph Buehler, Dixie L. Thompson, and Scott E. Crouter.
Evidence on Why Bike-Friendly Cities Are Safer for All Road Users (PDF 549kb) published March 2011 in Environmental Practice by Wesley E. Marshall and Norman W. Garrick.