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Make helmets optional to double the number of cyclists in Australia

There’s little doubt Australia would have healthier communities if more of us chose to cycle for transport, exercise or even relaxation. But mandatory helmet laws, introduced in Australia in the 1990s…

It’s time to abandon Australia’s “helmet experiment”. Tejvan Photos

There’s little doubt Australia would have healthier communities if more of us chose to cycle for transport, exercise or even relaxation. But mandatory helmet laws, introduced in Australia in the 1990s, continue to deter many potential riders from getting on a bike and increasing their fitness.

To assess the impact of bicycle helmet legislation at a community level, my colleague, Li Ming Wen and I studied the cycling activities of 600 Sydney residents aged 16 and older. The results are published in the December issue of the Health Promotion Journal of Australia.

We found that one in five (23.6%) Sydney adults said they would cycle more if they didn’t have to wear a helmet, with occasional cyclists (those who cycled in the past week or month) most likely to cycle more. Even non-cyclists (19%) said they would get on a bike if they didn’t have to wear a helmet.

Because around 65% of the population hasn’t cycled in the past year, one in five non-cyclists riding more translates to a massive increase in the number of people cycling – around 400,000 adults in Sydney alone.

Compare this figure to the 10,000 people who ride to work on Ride to Work Day. Even if you multiply this group by ten to include the 10% of the population who occasionally ride, and then halve the number of people saying they’d ride but don’t (even best intentions aren’t always followed through), this would still double the number of people currently cycling in Sydney.

One in five non-cyclists say they’d ride if the helmet barrier was removed. Flickr/drinksmachine

Overall, after twenty years of pro-helmet advertising, one third of the survey respondents did not support mandatory helmet legislation.

Interestingly, there was an inverse association between riding frequency and support of the helmet legislation: the non-riders were most likely to support helmet legislation and more frequent riders less likely to support it. So the non-riders were happy to impose the mandatory helmet legislation on “other people” – and of course it didn’t directly impact on them.

The finding that helmets are a barrier to more people cycling is consistent with other research. A recent survey of cycling in Australia found 16.5% of those who cycled for transport cited helmets as one of the barriers to them riding more. While the question was asked differently in that study (helmets were one option of a long list of possible barriers), one in six cyclists nationally thought helmets were a barrier.

Health and safety

The greatest improvements to Australian road safety came in the 1980s as a result of substantial road safety programs, including media campaigns, the introduction of random breath testing and reductions of speed limits. These strategies benefited all road users, with rates of all injuries declining for vehicle occupants, pedestrians and cyclists alike.

Bicycle helmet legislation came in on the coat tails of these improvements in 1991. It had little additional impact on safety but deterred many people from cycling and we saw a 30% to 40% drop in rates of cycling. The same thing happened in New Zealand in 1994 when their helmet legislation was introduced.

Mandatory helmet legislation has perpetuated the negative image of cycling as an inherently dangerous activity that requires protection, regardless of actual risks. Safety concerns are cited by most people as one of the main barriers that stop them from cycling.

But injury statistics from the public bicycle share schemes around the world (where helmets are not required) show the risk of injury is low. In the first three months of the London scheme, share bikes were used more than six million times and the injury rate was a low 0.0023%.

Locally, bicycle share schemes in Brisbane and Melbourne are operating at about 10% of comparable schemes in other countries, largely due to the requirement for users to wear helmets.

Injury rates for London’s bike share scheme are incredibly low. El Villano

It’s about choice

Not all cycling is equally dangerous – mountain biking and racing are far riskier than recreational riding on a separated off-road bike path. Mandating helmets for all riders at all times, therefore, is a very blunt tool to attempt to increase bicycle safety.

Instead, cyclists should be given a choice about whether to wear a helmet or not, based on the riding that they do and the individual’s assessment of risk.

Interestingly, almost half of respondents in our survey (48%) said they would choose to continue wearing helmets if they were given the choice.

If we’re serious about improving Australians' health and getting more people active, it’s time to bring Australia and New Zealand in line with the rest of the world and acknowledge that the helmet experiment has failed.

Should mandatory helmet laws stay or go? Share your comments below.

Join the conversation

136 Comments sorted by

  1. Michael

    logged in via Twitter

    Yes, we should definitely abandon helmet laws. Yes, I understand that a helmet will protect you in the case of your skull hitting the ground. Yes, I know someone whose noggin has been saved by a helmet - as has my own.

    But forcing people to wear helmets has the perverse effect of making the streets more dangerous in general. More cyclists on the streets means safer cycling for everyone - and better health outcomes.

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  2. Ben Hughes

    logged in via Twitter

    Haven't we had this conversation at length already?

    To me the answer is very simple: my not wearing a helmet, I endanger only myself. Therefore I can see no plausible reason for the law to prohibit me from making that decision.

    If we get more people riding bikes as a consequence, that's a nice bonus.

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    1. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ben Hughes

      Alas, while I agree and opose mandatory cylce helmets, this argument (if it it was held at length already) was dispelled I believe by a governer of California where they introduced mandatory motorcylce helmets rather later than most places, in response to the claim in favour of choice when it came to protecting lives (i.e. endagering myself) he said words to the effect of (if my recolelction serves me well): That would be fine if the bastards died, but they don't, the end up in our hospitals on life…

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    2. Ben Hughes

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Bernd Wechner

      Um, we let people take risks that "harm" their families is this way all the time. Driving on public roads, for example. Riding motorcycles. Swimming in the ocean. Consuming alcohol.

      Perhaps we should stop all of those? I'm sure they have death tolls much higher hand helmetless cycling.

      I think you have to have a very, very loose definition of "endanger" to use it in the way you have.

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    3. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ben Hughes

      Yes, I've known someone whose head was saved by a helmet too. And yes, I've had a few accidents in which I came off my bike, too ... but I still oppose mandatory helmets for all the reasons and goals in this article. Excellent piece. May it have an impact (no pun intended).

      There's also a famous thing I heard was called the Volvo effect or some such thing (though googling reveals anotehr phenomenon has that name now), which suggested that because Volvos had such a great safety reputation that the…

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    4. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Bernd Wechner

      This is like the myth that removing lines on the road makes people drive more safely.

      It does - until they get used to it then it is business as usual.

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    5. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Interesting myth. I'd not heard of that one. Not sure how the logic works, that suggests removing lines on the road makes people drive more safely.

      But I'd suggest that Risk Compensation is probably a little more than a myth, or at least different to a myth, in that it's an area of study, and theory.

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    6. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ben Hughes

      You're right on all fronts Ben.

      I just recall a Californian Governer being quoted along those lines and that there is a body of argument along those lines. And it left it's mark on me when I read it. In short arguments centred on "I only endanger myself" are not very useful (IMO) as this premise it is too subjective and easily challenged.

      Yes, indeed if mum's a tad upset, grieving or depressed because you killed yourself or ended up in a wheelchair through a poor safety choice, perhaps to say you endangered her is pretty loose. I agree.

      I note simply that people like Rissel don't run arguments along the lines of "I only endanger myself" and suspect and posit that this may be because they know that that's not a winning argument and is going to be shot down by people holding other views regarding our repsonsibilities to ourselves and others.

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    7. Tim Connors

      System Administrator

      In reply to Bernd Wechner

      Not just that people take more risks with the volvo. Because it's got a reputation for safety, those people who are the worst drivers get attracted to them because they feel the need for that protection. Just witness how bad most 4WDers are these days.

      If you don't feel the need for a helmet, it's likely that you're already a reasonably safe rider.

      Furthermore, a UK study found that drivers drive quite a few cm closer to you on average if you're wearing a helmet, because car drivers perceive…

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  3. Jo Payne

    logged in via Twitter

    I don't a have real issue with wearing a helmet, however, if we are to encourage more people to ride I think it needs to go. The most ridiculous thing is the bike share scheme here in Melbourne. Clearly not a well thought out project. If we want more people to ride, bike riding needs to be seen by the public as safe, fun and accessible. The helmet is just one barrier to getting on a bike.

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  4. Peter Hiscock

    Tom Austen Brown Professor of Australian Archaeology at University of Sydney

    Why would people not want to wear a helmut? Seems a bizarre desire: to want to ride but only if you ware unprotected. Quirky.

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    1. Ben Hughes

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Peter Hiscock

      But should your lack of understanding of another persons' bizarre preference mean that we should have a law in place to stop it?

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    2. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Peter Hiscock

      Quirky. I agree.

      Is this not like asking a male if he would prefer sex without a condom. The answer would be yes but in the age of Aids probably not a good idea. As to the question would you have more sex if you did not have to wear a condom the answer would also be yes but consumating this desire requires a partner.

      The question is to ask would you ride more if you had a safe bike path (a partner) to ride on.

      As to Melbourne's bike share scheme - why would you introduce the scheme in a city so well serviced by trams which ironically make it less safe to ride a bike in the city?

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    3. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ben Hughes

      Totally agreed! Bizarre or not nobody should feel a need to enter a great philsophical debate on their risk assesment strategies before hopping on a bike!

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    4. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Because riding a bike is faster, more fun and healthier than a tram over many stretches. That's why.

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    5. Luke Turner

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Peter Hiscock

      Well, probably the same reason most people don't want to wear a helmet when they walk on the street, or drive in their car - despite the fact that more serious injuries and fatalities result from these activities than cycling.

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    6. Etienne de Briquenel

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike, the trams are great but they all go in one direction. When I use the share bikes at lunch (because my own bike is locked underground) I get to destinations far quicker than a tram could ever take me. And they're free for the first 30 minutes. The city would be such a nicer place if more people were using them.

      And really, these bikes are very, very different from the fast and light urban commuter models favoured by the average Australian cyclist. They are very heavy with a step-through frame and a low centre of gravity, so even if you were clumsy enough to fall off one the chances of hitting your head would be very slim. Seriously, try one out for yourself.

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  5. Cameron Murray

    logged in via Twitter

    Peter, research shows one of the best ways to protect yourself while cycling is to be an attractive female with long blonde hair riding, on a cruiser bike, without a helmet. Drivers will notice you more quickly, pass you slower and wider.

    What about car helmets? It would be madness to want to drive without one!

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/05/motoring-helmets-for-real-high-risk.html

    Also, there is still a question about whether a helmet makes an individual any safer at all (with rotational injuries, high risk from other vehicles etc)

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    1. Paul Richards
      Paul Richards is a Friend of The Conversation.

      In reply to Cameron Murray

      Cameron - Clever url to use, point well made : )
      The Netherlands has no helmet legislation, riders are free to choose.

      Copenhagen has over 42% of commuters per annum cycling. It is interesting cycling death and injury rates have declined steadily since humanising cities and not prioritising motor driven vehicles.
      Here is a brilliant example of their experience in practice; http://youtu.be/ki-kUVaPLvc

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  6. Sarah Brown

    logged in via Facebook

    If you're not smart enough to make the decision to wear a helmet on your own then someone should make it for you.

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    1. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Sarah Brown

      Recipe for a nanny state. Note how many of us want to live, we broke free of our nanny's a long time ago. Your assesment of smart may not align with everyone else's and they would like some freedom to feel smart all the same.

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    2. Tim Connors

      System Administrator

      In reply to Sarah Brown

      Eh? Where does intelligence come into the decision whether to wear a helmet or not? Those arguing for the repeal of the compulsory helmet laws seem to have a better grasp of statistics than the medical profession do (which is not surprising given the medical students I met back at University, but I digress).

      Dutch riders don't seem to have any public health epidemics caused by people banging up their heads on Dutch roads. It's just attitudes. We in Australia have stupid policies such as blaming the victim instead of assuming strict liability for vehicular induced injuries, and engineering roads so that drivers are forced to look out for cyclists. Fix the laws and attitudes, and there'll be no need for helmets in general cycling (again, I'm perfectly happy to wear helmets when racing - it's just a simple risk assessment. And helmets don't help against vehicular impacts anyway).

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    3. Dave Kinkead

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Sarah Brown

      So I guess you wont complain about me making you wear one whenever you walk or drive?

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    4. Harvey C

      Cyclist

      In reply to Sarah Brown

      "If you're not smart enough to make the decision to wear a helmet on your own then someone should make it for you."

      Perhaps you should find out a bit more about bicycle helmets. The most common type of helmet today, the "soft-shell" helmet, is polystyrene with a thin layer of plastic. A piece of polystyrene can only provide limited "protection."

      To assume that such "helmets" can only be beneficial is a common mistake. What can go wrong a piece of polystyrene? Several things can go wrong…

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  7. Jamie Anderson

    logged in via Facebook

    If having to wear a helmet is stopping you from riding, you really don't want to ride. I suspect these people are just looking for excuses.

    In Japan helmets aren't generally worn but most people ride on the footpath at a sedate speed. The try hard/lycra lout culture of Sydney cyclists would never allow this.

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    1. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jamie Anderson

      Good point. I couldn't really wear a helmet for years without the strap causing aggravated skin problems (otherwise known as agitated acne responses perhaps). So after I got warned the first time by a cop, I started wearing a helmet, without a strap. Hmmm, that really boosted my safety and my look ;-).

      Point is though I really wanted to ride, so I did. And I really didn't want skin lesions, and I reallyd idnt' want to stopped by cops all the time. I couldn't then, and can't still, think of a better solution than the one I adopted.

      But does it matter? If we see a significant rise in the popularity of riding and it consists of a pile (many tens of thousands or hundreds of thouseands ) of weak willed hypocrites who used hemlets as an excuse not to ride, is that a bad thing? Rissel argues convincingly we would see a significant rise in cylcing.

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    2. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Bernd Wechner

      So Bernd. Helmets are stopping all people who get an agitated acne response from a helmet strap riding a bike.

      Your point is?

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    3. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Apologies for lacking clarity. The point of that story was to affirm the notion that people who want to ride, ride ... that Jamie's mildly cynical view that "If having to wear a helmet is stopping you from riding, you really don't want to ride. I suspect these people are just looking for excuses." has some merit.

      Of course helmets are not stopping all people who get an agitated acne response from a helmet strap riding a bike. I shared the story of someone who kept riding a bike to explore the merit…

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    4. Tim Connors

      System Administrator

      In reply to Jamie Anderson

      Everytime I go out to lunch, I end up walking to one of the crappy nearby places in Docklands instead of riding somewhere better, further towards the city. I walk past the blue bikes, and think it would be great to be able to take one, but my helmet is downstairs in the basement in the bike locker area. By the time I grab that, I might as well unlock my own bike. But by the time I grab that, I would have already been able to walk somewhere else. If only I could have just grab a blue bike and be done with it.

      There's supposedly cheap subsidised $5 helmets in the local 711s nearby. There's even a map that shows where the 711s are. Despite this, I've never actually found the 711 allegedly nearby. And I don't really want to end up with a pile of $5 helmets on my desk because like Green-bags, I never have one handy when I spontaneously decide I need to use it.

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  8. Sarah Brown

    logged in via Facebook

    And I can't think of any good reason not to wear a helmet, except maybe that you don't want to mess up your hair. Actually, that's not a very good reason. And the argument that they're hot doesn't really hold either, that's like saying you shouldn't wear a hat in summer.

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    1. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Sarah Brown

      People who don't want to wear helmets don't want to argue about it. They just don't want to wear helmets. If they're arguing with you they have an argument, they just like arguing ...

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    2. Ben Hughes

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Sarah Brown

      Comfort? Convenience?

      There's no way I'd cycle to work without a helmet - there's stretches where I'm hitting 40km/h. But for a quick ride to the local shops? Sure. I'm barely going more than running pace, and I don't feel the need to wear a helmet when I run.

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    3. Tim Connors

      System Administrator

      In reply to Sarah Brown

      It's summer now. I ride 13km to my local shop on my way home from work, with the helmet (and since I ride pretty fast, and ride on a mixture of roads and paths, I'm perfectly happy to do so). I park my bike, lock up, do my shopping, come back out and put my helmet back on my head for the last 2km leg home. The helmet is soaking wet from sweat, and it starts to itch my scalp (which it wasn't doing before, because the sweat had been evaporating out of the foam as quickly as it was accumulating, until I, and the airflow, stopped). If I could just legally tie it on the rack of my bike for those last 2km safe backroads home, I'd be quite happy.

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    4. Etienne de Briquenel

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Sarah Brown

      Sarah, as I riding home on a busy street in the hot sun earlier today all the cyclists around me were wearing helmets. As we all moved on to a fully segregated bike path, however, a small number of them swapped over to caps and sunhats. Do you think that wasn't a good reason?

      As for vanity, I do know of people who don't want to ruin their hair. That's why they drive cars instead. As long as you're happy with that then that's okay.

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    5. Tim Paton

      Automotive Engineer

      In reply to Sarah Brown

      @Sarah Brown: "And I can't think of any good reason not to wear a helmet..."

      So, can we assume that you wear a helmet when driving a car, walking down the street, climbing a ladder, getting in and out of bed, and all the other daily activities that carry a non-zero risk of head injury?

      I can't think of any good reason not to wear a helmet at all times.

      Tell me one good reason why you don't support mandatory pedestrian helmets and I'll tell you an identical, equally good reason why I don't support mandatory bicycle helmets.

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    6. Alan Cockerill

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Tim Paton

      Physics? Velocity, momentum, centre of gravity? :-)

      I'm kind of curious how many of you are not riding because of helmet laws?

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    7. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Alan Cockerill

      I doubt you'll find many here.

      My logic is: Those who are passionate about riding will ride with helmets even if they object to the law mandating them, and those who are not passionate about riding probably aren't reading articles like this and/or hanging out in the conversation threads.

      That would be my guess. A better question here might be, "how many of you know people who are not riding because of helmets", or better still (and not quite the same question) "how many of you know people who might start riding or ride more if they didn't have to wear a helmet by law?"

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    8. Tim Paton

      Automotive Engineer

      In reply to Alan Cockerill

      When in Melbourne without my own bike, I'm absolutely not riding the Blue Bikes because of the helmet law.

      My wife and I made a deliberate effort to use the Blue Bikes (with helmets) one overnight trip as tourists to Melbourne. Setting aside the hassle of actually making sure we had helmets with us, the biggest nightmare was what to do with the damn things when not actually riding.

      You can't leave your helmet with the bike, because it's not your bike and somebody else might want to use it. So you're…

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    9. Dave Kinkead

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Alan Cockerill

      Alan - I'm a regular cyclist and helmet laws put me off riding even more.

      Helmet laws don't discourage me when I ride as a fitness activity (if fact I would choose to wear one when ever riding in a bunch).
      Helmet laws do discourage me when I want to ride as transport. Why? Because when making a transport decision, its call about convenience and cost. Cycling's cheaper but helmet laws (and other things) make it less convenient.

      I've now got a helmet exemption so I can wear a hat when I ride (under QLD law this is possible from your GP). Since then, I ride a lot more for transport (but still wear I helmet when training). But I don't ride when I'll be out after dark (my exemption is for daylight hours).

      Repealing helmet laws for adults means reducing a major barrier for cycling as transport

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    10. Alan Cockerill

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Dave Kinkead

      Thanks Dave and Tim - I guess there have always been helmet laws while I've been a rider so I've never much thought about the alternative. The passion against them surprises me - surely it's about more than being anti-nanny state. And I have more reason to hate helmet hair than most.

      It's the macro/micro I can't resolve in my head - improve convenience for a few hundred thousand sounds great until you personally have to deal with a friend or family member having a debilitating brain injury after being in a cycle/car accident in which they were blameless. I understand the statistics, but statistical justifications tend to go out the window when you're personally involved.

      My internal jury is still out.

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    11. Dave Kinkead

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Alan Cockerill

      My passion for choice comes from living & riding in Europe for a few years. It is amazing just how easy & enjoyable it is to travel by bike but sadly we are denied this in Australia.

      Personally, I don't even think that it is a macro/micro issue. The chance of personal injury is incredibly small - we are talking in billions of km for serious head injury or death. Add to that the fact that most cyclists killed in Australia were wearing a helmet in the first place shows the benefit is marginal (but…

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    12. Tim Paton

      Automotive Engineer

      In reply to Alan Cockerill

      My dislike of helmet laws is certainly more than being anti-"nanny-state".

      I just want more people riding bikes. There's safety in numbers for all of us, and it's simply better for society and the planet for people to cycle rather than driving cars.

      Helmet laws are an impediment to the uptake of cycling, for marginal benefit at best. It's simply bad policy.

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    13. Mazin Family

      Brain Surgeon

      In reply to Bernd Wechner

      You're right Bernd. No one can quantify it and people who ride will not let vanity get in the way regardless of whether they choose to put the helmet on or leave it at home. Unless of course there are more vain cyclists than one things.

      I'd say, go ahead and abandon the MHL law even without proof of a causal relationship to ridership, but on one condition: .......

      ***Give us dedicated cycleways everywhere...not painted lines on existing roads that are congested with cars and poorly informed…

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    14. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mazin Family

      I have two problems with that:

      1) The MHL and infrastructure are unrelated to my mind. I'd love better infrastructure and I'd love the MHL to disapopear but one is n't conditional upon or related to the other. I don't get the connect. It seems to me to express the very confusion I shared above between the MHL and wearing helmets. Sure I understand "I'll continue wearing my helmet until we have sensible infrastructure" and laud it. I don't understand "I'll oppose rmoval of the MHL until we have…

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  9. Alan Cockerill

    logged in via Twitter

    How hard is it compare bicycle related head injuries pre and post the legislation?

    If doubling the number of cyclists by removing helmet laws means quadrupling the number of debilitating head injuries then I'm against it.

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    1. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Alan Cockerill

      Agreed! Those stats would be powerful. There is a treatement of teh stats that could be found here:

      http://www.cycle-helmets.com/clarke-helmet-policy.pdf

      remembering you need to adjust any count of head injuries when interpreting changes, for changes in the population, notably the overal road injury rate (if that goes up or down youd' expectthe cycling head injury rate to go up and down too) and cyling popularity (as tehnumber of cyclissts goes up or down you'd expectthe number of head injuries…

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    2. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to Tim Churches

      Certainly an interesting report with some clever statistical analysis.

      Here is another take on it:
      http://helmetfreedom.org/762/emotive-irrational-experts-claim-victory/

      There is also a formal response due to be published in a peer-reviewed journal in case you feel uneasy believing anything from a non-peer-reviewed blog site.

      It would also be interesting to know the authors' personal views on bicycle helmets and whether, if they were to travel to a country like The Netherlands for example, they would continue to wear a bicycle helmet despite nobody around them wearing one...

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    3. Tim Churches

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Paul Martin

      Regarding the authors' personal views on bicycle helmets, I'm not sure about Li Ming Wen, but Chris Rissel appears to be a committed anti-helmet campaigner - if you have a look at following blog post about an anti-helmet protest held in Sydney earlier this year, you'll see him in several photos, riding on city streets without a helmet, presumably as an act of civil disobedience, and the text at the bottom of he blog article says that he addressed the small number of assembled protesters from the steps of Sydney Town Hall: http://freedomcyclist.blogspot.com/2011/05/our-democracy-our-rules-now.html The commentary

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    4. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to Tim Churches

      Having seen Professor Rissel a few times on a bicycle I must note that I've seen him wearing a bicycle helmet while riding more often than not.

      It appears his position on the helmet *law* is 'pro-choice', although such a luxury does not exist legally in this country. I note that the police were present and escorted the riders in the post you quote so clearly they had no significant concerns over the 'act of civil disobedience' as you so delicately put it.

      I wouldn't claim that he is 'anti-helmet…

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    5. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to Paul Martin

      (apologies for the grammatical errors. I seem to have an 'autocorrect' guessing the words for me)

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    6. Dave Kinkead

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Tim Churches

      Tim - your comment indicates that fail to see the distinction between helmets and helmet laws in this debate.

      Prof Rissel is not anti-helmet at all - his position is anti-helmet law. Can you please show me any statement where he denies that helmet wearing can be beneficial in some circumstances?

      The issue is not whether or not helmets work by reducing linear force, but whether
      1) compulsion is justifiable and
      2) is the benefits of helmet laws outweigh the cost.

      On both counts, the vast majority of the planet has come to the conclusion that bicycle helmet laws are not justifiable and that compulsion does more harm than any good that may come from helmet wearing.

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    7. Dave Kinkead

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Bernd Wechner

      Here is a link to the ratio of head to arm (left) and head to leg (right) from a recent NSW study that covered 18 months pre & post legislation. http://helmetfreedom.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Ratios-graph-1.png

      The logic here is that the increase an helmet use should have seen a decline in head injuries relative to other body parts.

      - Walter, S.R., Olivier, J., Churches, T., Grzebieta, R. 2011. The impact of compulsory cycle helmet legislation on cyclist head injuries in New South Wales, Australia. Accid. Anal. Prev. 43(6), 2064-2071, doi:10.1016/j.aap.2011.05.029.
      http://www.unsworks.unsw.edu.au/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?dscnt=1&dstmp=1323296095511&docId=unsworks_9752&vid=UNSWORKS&fromLogin=true

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    8. Tim Churches

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Paul Martin

      I'm sorry if I mischaracterised Chris Rissel's lobbying and protest efforts regarding helmets. I should have said "Chris Rissel appears to be a committed anti-helmet-law campaigner". However I think my mistake is forgivable - I had in mind remarks which he made about bike helmets theoretically worsening head injuries in a the ABC Radio National Background Briefing program on bike helmets last year - see http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/the-bicycle-helmet-laws/2972404 and click on "show transcript" to see the full text.

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    9. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to Tim Churches

      This is a completely separate issue but as you've raised it I would like to point out that I think there is merit in the notion that bicycle helmets could increasing rotational forces on one's head/neck... that can't be a good thing. Do we know that they don't? No, as nobody is testing for this. There was a recent study done in Australia but they didn't use typical thin-shelled, hard foam helmets and the methodology was flawed.

      Disappointingly no bicycle helmet standard even considers testing for…

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    10. Dave Kinkead

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Tim Churches

      Yes, I'd agree that he is highly committed to anti-helmet-law efforts in the same way you are committed to pro-helmet-law efforts - you both want to encourage health and safety but your approaches are different.

      Of course, I personally think your position is wrong and we should take the proven approach to safety that Europe does.

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    11. Luke Turner

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Alan Cockerill

      Dorothy Robinson looked at injury rates before and helmet laws were introduced in Australia and concluded:

      "Before and after data show enforced helmet laws discourage cycling but produce no obvious response in percentage of head injuries"

      Source: Robinson, DL (1995) "No clear evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of helmets", British Medical Journal

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  10. Vanessa Tylman

    logged in via Facebook

    As I am against a nanny state I am against helmet laws.

    Why not enforce helmets for pedestrians and drivers, ban alcohol and cigarettes, ban climbing ladders, using sharp knives, crossing the road, sports involving running or hitting things (like golf or tennis), using power tools? The list goes on and on.

    Aussies are getting fatter and more unhealthy, and traffic increases resulting in greater carbon emissions. Let's make cycling more fun, and make helmets a choice.

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  11. Peter Fox
    Peter Fox is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Medical doctor

    Great article. I agree that suburban cycling is a 'low risk' activity, where the 'risks' of harm (the remote chance of head injury) are greatly outweighed by the health benefits in an increasingly overweight population.

    However, I don't buy some of the personal liberty arguments of some of the comments above. Motorcycle helmets, for example, deserve to be mandated, since traveling at 100k/h is a 'high risk' activity.

    Likewise, I believe children (maybe until age 16) should still be required to wear helmets (poorer judgement, higher risk of conta-coup head injuries, etc).

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    1. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Fox

      I'm curious about kids. Clarke's article doesn't suggest a significant risk. I have an 8 year old now getting heavily into riding. She's had some pretty fine spills, as I did when I was a kid. I'm not sold thatthe helmt made any difference to the outcome, or my lack one as a kid cost me anything.

      There are always risks, at the margins, I wouldn't discount them. But a common fallacy is to fail to explore their magnitude and assume theymust be avoided because they exist. Clarke for example writes…

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  12. Etienne de Briquenel

    logged in via Twitter

    The question of helmet legislation recently popped up in Portland when the Bicycle Transportation Alliance decided they would no longer campaign against any proposed bicycle helmet law. Their decision was based on a survey that revealed that 80% of BTA members wore a helmet at all times despite there being no law requiring it, whereas a further 16% claimed that they wore one for most trips. The interesting aspect of the survey, however, was that 65.9% of members agreed that "everyone should be encouraged…

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    1. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Etienne de Briquenel

      Habit plays a role too. I'd keep wearing one, just because well, I do ... it's like a seat belt. I don't really think about it.

      And yet, once in a while, I've ridden off from home down a big hill as I do (with my brakes on, but I'm not doubling back in any hurry ;-), without my helmet on, because for one reason or other two things aligned: a) someone borrowed the helmet and failed to put it back where I always park it, on my handlbars and b) it was winter and I had a beanie on already hence didn't notice the emptiness on my head.

      Sometimes I didn't notice till I got to work, but other times, I did and had this guilty feeling scanning the horizon for policemen about to nab me thinking ... what a stupid law, grrrr.

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    2. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Bernd Wechner

      For the record I did some work on my bike the other day (wheel bung) before riding to work and I flipped it back onto its two wheels and little warmed up by the work and rode in to work ... over 1km down the steep hill towards work I realised I forgot my helmet! Dang it! The break with routine was enough and that I'd laid my helmet on the work bench and it wasn't on the bars and that I was in a rush slowly to get going lest I be late - all this combined to distract my addled mind for the ever so…

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  13. Luke Turner

    logged in via Twitter

    This research really does settle once and for all the question of whether our compulsory helmet laws reduce are reducing cycling numbers. Clearly they are in a big way.

    Helmet laws caused a large decline in cycling rates when they were introduced 20 years ago and are still reducing numbers today, as this survey demonstrates. Further evidence is that our public bike hire schemes (the only 2 anywhere in the world with compulsory helmet use) are one of the very few schemes anywhere that are failing.

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  14. Paul Martin

    logged in via email @me.com

    I think adults should have the choice. The law needs reforming to allow for exemptions (just like the seatbelt law for motor vehicles), particularly for bike share bikes.

    As long as we keep tip-toeing around the real problem with Melbourne & Brisbane's bike hire schemes they will never see their usage rise to reasonable levels.

    Why not support a trial exemption for bike share users? It might just make conditions safer for ALL cyclists...

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  15. Krystian Wakiec

    Joe Average

    I ride regularly and would wear a helmet even if given a choice. I would also support not having mandatory helemt laws if one (or preferably both) of the following complmentary laws were passed:

    1) In any car / bike accident the car is automatically deemed at fault unless it can conclusively prove otherwise. If you think it's draconian it's actually a law in many european countries where helmets aren't compulsory.

    2) In the instance that the accident is the rider's fault (and they weren't wearing a helmet) and they sustain head injuries, the medical costs come out of the injured rider's pocket (or more likely their insurers), not the public health system.

    People talk too much about rights and freedoms and fail to look at their responsibilities.

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    1. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to Krystian Wakiec

      I agree with your first point. It is called strict liability and it essentially places the burden of proof on the party that does the greatest harm. I think it is a good system.

      On your second point though I disagree strongly.

      Our healthcare system does not work that way... I know, I'm a Doctor and I'm in it.

      As part of my practice I treat the morbidly obese, smokers who refuse to quit, alcoholics who refuse to give up the alcohol and drivers involved in accidents where they broke the law (speeding, running red lights, drink driving, etc). I could cite dozens more examples.

      We do not deny any of these individuals healthcare. Are you saying we should? Be careful...

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  16. Markie Linhart

    Rouleur

    It's all about informed adults making informed choices q.e.d.

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  17. James Walker

    logged in via Facebook

    I stopped riding when wearing a helmet was made compulsory; the loss of peripheral vision and discomfort of the helmet was frustrating.
    BUT - would I take it up again if helmets weren't compulsory? Probably not. Decade long habits don't just disappear. So I'd recommend making sure that you're actually going to get people back onto their bikes before making any radical changes.

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  18. John Smith

    writer

    I simply don't believe people who say they would cycle if they didn't have to wear a helmet.

    I don't believe it is impossible to devise a bike rental scheme incorporating the use of helmets.

    And finally I would ask anyone who claims that wearing a cycle helmet is an imposition to answer this question:

    If you fell off a bicycle head first, would you like to:

    a. Be wearing a bicycle helmet
    b. Not be wearing a bicycle helmet.

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    1. Tim Connors

      System Administrator

      In reply to John Smith

      c. not crash, because there were more riders on the road, and so car drivers were more likely to take their duties of care seriously.

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    2. Tim Paton

      Automotive Engineer

      In reply to John Smith

      @John Smith:
      If you fell off a ladder head first, would you like to:
      a) be wearing a ladder helmet
      b) not be wearing a ladder helmet?

      Unless you also campaign for mandatory ladder helmets, arguing in favour of mandatory bicycle helmets is untenable.

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    3. Tim Paton

      Automotive Engineer

      In reply to Tim Paton

      Following that analogy...

      The current system is akin to having mandatory helmet laws for ladders, but not for standing on a chair. The law just makes it a bit less convenient to use a ladder, so people tend to stand on (and fall off) chairs instead. A well-meaning law has led people to substitute less desirable behaviours.

      The net health benefit of cycling instead of driving is well established - the costs (occasional injuries) are greatly outweighed by the benefits (cardiovascular fitness, air quality etc.). By making cycling somewhat less convenient, well-meaning helmet laws have led people to substitute less desirable behaviours, in driving short trips that could easily be cycled.

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    4. Etienne de Briquenel

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to John Smith

      John, you simply don't believe people who say they would cycle if they didn't have to wear a helmet. That puts you in line with main cycling advocacy groups in this country, who simply don't believe it either. And it's this unwillingness to believe that someone else doesn't share your beliefs that makes mainstream cycling advocacy in this country so utterly inept and out of touch.

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  19. Dennis Alexander

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Fairly ordinary cycling speeds are greater than the running speeds and significantly greater than the walking speeds the human body evolved to cope with and that is the difference between pedestrians and cyclists, the latter are on machines that confer a mechanical and speed advantage. So, all the "everyday activity helmet wearing" arguments are spuroius and fatuous.

    Personally, I'd be happy with a law along the lines of if you ride without a helmet, you forego paramedic, ambulance and hospital care: if you want to take the risk, you do so at your own expense.

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    1. Tim Paton

      Automotive Engineer

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      Driving speeds are higher again.

      Far, far more head injuries are caused by car crashes than by bike crashes.

      If you choose to drive without a helmet do you also forego publicly funded health care?

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    2. Krystian Wakiec

      Joe Average

      In reply to Tim Paton

      Bikes don't have airbags, ABS, crumple zones, seatbelts and a tonne or so of steel protecting the driver.

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    3. Tim Connors

      System Administrator

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      Tell me then why helmets are only designed to protect against a fall height of 1.5metres, with no added horizontal component? They're only good for protecting against a short person standing and spontaneously falling. So they should only be compulsory for short stationary pedestrians who are at risk of spontaneously falling.

      Regarding the medical care - please read Paul Martin's response above.

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    4. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Tim Connors

      You misrepersent the testing of the helmet. They are required to protect against a deceleration of at least 300 times the gravitational acceleration. The testing is done with weighted sensors inside the helmet dropped onto flat and round anvils. The round anvil, which gives much greater per unit of area impact force, is the one where the height is 1.3-1.5m, the flat anvil drop is 2-2.2m. So, stop misrepresenting the physics.

      Also, the 2006 ABST report has an interesting little stat: of the 48…

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    5. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      I find the comparison with smoking interesting. Yes it is legal. And riding without a helmet is not legal. But the debate at hand is whether it should should be legal or not. So invoking the legality of other establish risky behaviours seems strange to me.

      If riding without a helmet were legal, which it is in most of the world, and has been for most of the history of cycling in this country, then so too denying people public healthcare for the consequences of indulging would be a bit hypicritical…

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    6. Paul Martin

      logged in via email @me.com

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      Actually, they are not required to 'protect against a deceleration of at least 300 times the gravitational acceleration' at all.

      They are required to not *allow a deceleration greater than* 300g (ie. 300 x 9.8m/s/s) and the 'new & improved' standard (ie. AS/NZS2063:2008) has reduced this to 250g. There are other requirements about 'not breaking', etc. The standard and the testing procedures can be read at your State Library if you're interested.

      These *linear* deceleration rates are above those…

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  20. Mark Carter

    logged in via Facebook

    Australia's helmet laws are the biggest obstacle to making cycling a normal activity for normal people. They are therefore one of the biggest roadblocks to improving health and quality of life while reducing pollution and congestion in our urban areas.
    Sure, they may make a difference in a few incidents, but they would also make driving safer if everyone in the car had to wear one, but curiously I don't see the safety-obsessives trying hard to sell that one.
    The evidence is clear that the overall health benefits of scrapping mandatory helmets would far outweigh the costs.
    Can someone please start a campaign to repeal the helmet laws! Please!

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    1. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Carter

      Only because change.org spammed me about their wonderful successes, not because I have much interest or time to coordinate a campaign nor because I think change.org is likely the best way to do it I yesterday created this:

      http://www.change.org/petitions/australian-governments-make-bicycle-helmets-optional-in-australia#

      as a little experiment. Is that a start? Though I think Rissel is doing much more and more powerfully!

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  21. Ben Carr

    Landscape Ecologist

    I wear a helmet because its saved my head a few times.. But I'm unsure if it should remain compulsory e.g. I may choose not too for my trip to the local shops on a dedicated off road route. Perhaps off road you can choose but on road it should be required . In this way the occasional recreational rider who want to ride around their local park or along the river - generally at lower speeds and not mixing with cars -can make their own personal choices. I for one would never venture onto public road…

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    1. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ben Carr

      I hear you Ben. And find your assesments very understandable and agreeable.

      I'm still left wondering why we need to speculate about fancy law structures which permit some groups choice and compel some groups and would appear to have significant legilsative and enforcement issues associated with them, when we could accept a model seemingly used used in many otehr places, apparently no less safe, and very simple to implement ... namely keep the law right out of it, and abolish the legislation altogether. The arguments for that seem pretty solid to me.

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    2. Luke Turner

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Ben Carr

      Ben it's interesting that you say you would never ride on a road without a helmet. To me that says you see the road as a dangerous place, and that you are only comfortable riding there if you wear a helmet.

      This is a classic example of risk compensation - people are more likely to do dangerous things because of the use of safety equipment, and paradoxically can end up putting themselves at greater risk.

      I'm not criticizing your opinion - everyone should be able to ride on the road and individual helmet use on roads (or off-road) is perfectly reasonable, but it's interesting to think about.

      If helmets don't offer as much protection as people have been led to believe, and they are only deciding to ride in dangerous situations because of them, it's very possible that helmet use is actually causing injury.

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    3. Mazin Family

      Brain Surgeon

      In reply to Luke Turner

      It is a dangerous place Luke. Or do you live in Disneyland where the roads are wide, paved and absent of cars?

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    4. Harvey C

      Cyclist

      In reply to Mazin Family

      I cycle in Sydney regularly. I do not find cycling dangerous. I do not typically cycle on main roads as I don't like it. I can find my way through back streets and the occasional cycleway.

      Cycling is not as dangerous as people have been led to believe:
      http://helmetfreedom.org/908/how-safe-is-cycling-in-australia/

      I have noticed that people who are the most scared of cycling are the one who don't cycle. That doesn't surprise me considering the level of scaremongering from helmet promotion.

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  22. Alex Riker

    Marketing Director

    Come on let's get serious. I lived in Sydney for 8 years and now live in Brisbane. People don't cycle in Sydney for a very clear reason, it is too dangerous with the number of cars on the roads and the lack of true cycle paths.

    I would also venture that anyone who is put off cycling because they have to get a $30 helmet isn't really that close to taking it up. Just another "Oh yeah, I WOULD do it but <insert excuse here> means I don't."

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  23. Geoff Russell

    Computer Programmer, Author

    I'm a fanatical pro-helmet cyclist whose helmet has saved his life a couple of times. But a recent visit to Switzerland made me reassess. With rare exceptions, the people doing 30kph+ wore helmets and the people pottering around at 15kph in high heels and sandles and often on footpaths, and usually on bike paths ... didn't wear helmets and it works.

    BUT the laws are different and the drivers are different ... very different. See my article here ...

    http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/cycling-in-aussie-cities-needs-some-swiss-velocity/

    We could make helmets optional, but we need to fix the laws and change the culture first.

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    1. Tim Paton

      Automotive Engineer

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      "Saved your life" a couple of times?

      More likely, reduced the severity of your injuries, from minor to trivial... or if you were very lucky, reduced them from moderate to minor.

      We need to be more realistic about the effectiveness of a lightweight bicycle helmet. If you get run over by a bus wearing a bike helmet, you're still going to die. If a crash was minor enough that you could stand up, dust yourself off and shout "my helmet saved my life", it probably didn't... chances are it saved you from…

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    2. Geoff Russell

      Computer Programmer, Author

      In reply to Tim Paton

      Ok, one saving from a possible brain injury. The other was a 60 kph downhill crash ... head hit the ground with an almighty thud and left the helmet in 3 pieces ... a similar thump killed Andrei Kivilev, so I'm figuring that saying the helmet saved my life is reasonable.

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    3. Luke Turner

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Geoff Russell

      Geoff you say we need to change the cycling culture before we repeal helmet laws. Well it may surprise you but some of us do ride around in normal clothes, on upright bikes at slow speeds. And there are plenty of places in Australia where it is perfectly safe to do this without a helmet. I do a lot of riding like this.

      There are a number of ways you could have prevented injury in your downhill crash - a helmet might have saved you in this case. But perhaps more effective would have been to not ride at this speed or in this situation in the first place. If you regularly ride in this way, no-one is suggesting you should stop wearing a helmet. But your dangerous experience is not justification for making someone wear a helmet in much safer circumstances.

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  24. Glenn Asquith

    IT

    I often wonder why the purchase of a $20 helmet apparently puts people off cycling? Is it just an excuse told to an interviewer?

    I for one have no problems wearing a helmet, it has saved my life from somebody else's incompetence twice so far . . .

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    1. Tim Connors

      System Administrator

      In reply to Glenn Asquith

      Saved your life twice. Really? I suspect there might be another article on theconversation that you need to read, about miscalculations: http://theconversation.edu.au/danger-of-death-are-we-programmed-to-miscalculate-risk-4598

      Hint: if you were going to die those previous times, then the foam bucket probably would have still rendered you with a severe brain injury. Since I presume you haven't suffered from 2 severe brain injuries, I'd hazard a guess that your fate would have been less dire had you not had a helmet.

      But as other people have said, this is irrelevant, because this discussion is about the mandation of wearing helmets for all cyclists regardless of cycling activity.

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    2. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Glenn Asquith

      Comments abound above and below as to what puts people off. Plenty of really understandable reasons. Let's just say it's nothing much to do with the price of the helmet.

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    3. Glenn Asquith

      IT

      In reply to Tim Connors

      not at all, the first situation was where a car literally ran me off the road into a pole at speed. The vehicle gave me nowhere to go and then sped off.

      The second time was where another rider took me down at speed. Both times the helmet was destroyed but I had no head injuries.

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    4. Glenn Asquith

      IT

      In reply to Glenn Asquith

      but I notice you didn't comment on why people are so upset by having to spend $20 on a helmet . . .

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    5. Tim Connors

      System Administrator

      In reply to Glenn Asquith

      If the thin shell hard foam helmet was destroyed, then it did not do its job. It takes very little energy to shatter a helmet, so most of the energy would have been transferred to your skull. If it deformed instead, then at least it absorbed a bit of energy.

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    6. Tim Connors

      System Administrator

      In reply to Glenn Asquith

      Lots of other people have answered that elsewhere. It's not about the cost of the $20 helmet. If I want to quickly grab a blue bike, then having to hunt around for the nearest 711 to find a $5 subsidised helmet does me no good. Having to carry the helmet around with me while I do my shopping/lunch is an impediment.

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    7. Etienne de Briquenel

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Glenn Asquith

      As mentioned elsewhere, a lot of people don't want to wear a helmet when riding a bike just as a lot of people don't want to wear a helmet when driving, skateboarding, rollerskating, scootering or even walking. It's just a matter of basic convenience. To this day I still can't understand what the pro-MHL crowd doesn't get about this basic concept.

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    8. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Etienne de Briquenel

      Human blindness to ideas that confront a pre-existing belief is pretty widespread and reaches far beyond helmet debates Etienne.

      But yes, I share you surprise at the apparent inability of some people to understand that some people just don't want to wear a helmet and some of those will choose not to ride ... (while others will ride all the same). The former group Rissle argues exists and is far from insignificant: "around 400,000 adults in Sydney alone" for example.

      But some people will continue…

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    9. Mazin Family

      Brain Surgeon

      In reply to Tim Connors

      Is it the System Admin's role to not accept other people's opinions. I find this bizarre, and some of the suggestions you make about the science of testing without (no doubt) ever having entered a lab - is spurious and unreliable to say the least.

      If Glenn said it saved his life, and he chose to wear it regardless of a law, AND he rides (which proves riding does occur regardless of mandatory laws or not) AND he's hear to tell the tale....then, let it be so.

      The helmet debate goes nowhere where anti helmet people force their views on people who want to wear them, law or no law.

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    10. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mazin Family

      I agree there's a significant problem disentangling arguments against the laws that mandate helmets and arguing against the wearing of helmets. Rissel puts the first argument on the table. Getting it confused with the second does indeed detract from the strength of the first.

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  25. Bernie Masters

    environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

    I'm very happy to have the compulsory helmet laws abandoned, provided that:
    1. either all bike riders sign a legal indemnity form stating that, if they injure their heads while riding without a helmet, they will refund me, the taxpayer, all of their subsequent medical costs, or
    2. all bike riders take out private health insurance so that, in the event of an accident, their medical costs don't fall onto the shoulders of the taxpayers.
    Bike riders should have the right to ride without helmets provided they accept the responsibility of paying for all medical and related costs if they suffer head injuries while riding without a helmet.

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    1. Tim Connors

      System Administrator

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Sure thing. As soon as we refuse to fund treatment for anyone injuring themselves in a car crash after having done anything illegal, dangerous or just done anything to slightly elevate their risk levels; as soon as we refuse to fund treatment for anyone who has ever picked up a cancer stick, drunk alcohol or eaten excessive fatty, sugary or salty food or have failed to exercise 30 minutes that day. I also want to be refunded the taxes that have gone to pay for roads that are ridiculously overengineered…

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    2. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      These issues Bernie have been covered at length in the conversations here. Alas, while I hear where you're coming from, the reality is that you don't seem to demand such things from other risk takers. From drivers? From skydivers? From bushwalkers? From home handymen? I could go on. It's very interesting that the discrimination seems to be against cyclists, when all the research cited here presents so many reasons to believe that helmets contribute nothing tangible in terms of health outcomes - possibly…

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    3. Philip Gillibrand

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Bernie,

      What about recouping health costs from people that don't take any exercise (drive their cars everywhere), eat unhealthily, drink and smoke, and have heart and all the other related problems later in life. Would you agree that they should refund the taxpayer with their health costs ?

      I support any move to make cycle helmets optional - the law must surely massively reduce the amount of casual cyclists on the roads. I cycle 20km to work quite regularly. As it happens, I would still wear a…

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  26. Bernie Masters

    environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

    Thanks you for the various comments made in response to my 'rights and responsibilities' post. It was somewhat tongue in cheek as I accept that its implementation would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Nonetheless, I believe my point remains valid, namely, that in our rich, comfortable western society here in Australia, we too often place too much emphasis on our perceived rights and forget our responsibilities to our fellow citizens. Where should we as a society draw the line? Should smokers need a license to smoke, conditional upon them holding private health insurance? I'm focusing on health costs mainly because Australia's health bill takes up $50 billion of the govt's annual budget but I see a need to continue asking questions about what responsibilities people should accept in return for protection of what they see as rights (many of which are really privileges but that's another issue!).

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    1. Dave Kinkead

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      @Bernie That's a fair question.

      Almost everyone agrees that in a fair society, the state shouldn't prohibit acts that 1) don't harm anyone and 2) only hurt the participant if they are well informed of the consequences.

      Smoking harms other people both directly (passive smoke) and indirectly (increased health costs in states with socialised medicine). Banning smoking (or anything) is morally unjustifiable if we can eliminate the cost to others because then it only hurts the willful participant…

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    2. Dave Kinkead

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dave Kinkead

      Should have read 'You seem to be arguing that helmet wearing can increase the indirect medical cost as head injuries are expensive.'

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    3. Paul Richards
      Paul Richards is a Friend of The Conversation.

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Bernie, it's about "the fear".
      We have a massive industry supporting the perception you hold. The continued motorisation of cities is backed by a global multi-trillion dollar business, using "spin"constantly to create business as usual. "Fear of walking and cycling" is a key motivator in their business. Here is Toyota's latest message Nov 1st 2011 : http://youtu.be/h0LAhtp6E7U

      Does anyone really think the vast amounts of GDP sunk into our vanishing motor industry since the 1940s hasn't had a powerful effect on our fear of walking and cycling? "If it so dangerous to walk and cycle, why do it? Drive, it's safer" Has been the subliminal message for decades. Even the language surrounding those who take the cycling risk speaks of "the fear" only the tough can withstand for example;
      Lycra Nazi's or try hard / lycra lout culture.

      Explore the fear, contributors have URLs with data contrary to helmets reducing injury and death. A google search of - humanise cities - covers my perspective.

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  27. Chris O'Neill

    Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

    There's fat chance of helmet wearing becoming optional in Victoria while the laws are actually heading in the opposite direction, i.e. it became compulsory in November 2009 to wear a helmet while riding a scooter even though, in my view at least, there is far less risk of head injury from a scooter fall in normal use than a bicycle fall.

    So good luck with getting governments to change the bicycle helmet laws. You'll need it.

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    1. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Yep, could be hard. But none the less worse pitching for with so much evidence emerging that it's a complete waste of time to mandate bicylce helmets. It just needs enough public education and awareness and might one day win some attention for GetUp! or the likes. It's easy for many of us to assume that mandating helmets on bikes is in fact a good thing when there's scant if any evidence that it si (much discussed and cited here).

      Yes "helmets are a good thing", but it's so easily confused with "mandating helmets is a good thing" which is ironically and counterintuitively NOT true. Some very well placed marketing to make that distinction int he public mind, the difference between helmets are good and mandating helmets is good, then a mass of public support might ensue, and the xample of the many socieityies (most) in which helmets are not mandated but are used and cycling is far more common, may help.

      Fingers crossed.

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  28. James Worth

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    Maybe this has already been said but you have to get live outside Australia to see how commonly bicycles are used without helmets. Living in Japan I ride a bike everyday with no helmet. The streets are full of people riding bikes and it is a very popular form of transport to get around, for young people, mothers with one or two kids, salary man and women, people going to parties or dinner and older people. You don' have to don lycra to ride a bike here, just everyday clothes. Wearing a helmet would be a major problem for people and it just isn't required. I have never seen or been involved in a crash that needed a helmet. People aren't going that fast to require a helmet and car drivers are incredibly tolerant of bike riders. It is not rules free here though. The police have been cracking down on bike riders going through red lights recently and handing out pretty steep fines. Anyway, I hope Australia scraps helmets. Just my opinion.

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    1. Dave Kinkead

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Tim Churches

      Tim - in that post you state that "In order to substantially increase cycling participation and mode-share, and to meet agreed targets, Australian governments and authorities need to focus on strategies which have been proven to work in Europe."

      So please tell us, how many European countries have national all age bike helmet laws?

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    2. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Tim Churches

      I found myself asking three questions:

      1) Like Dave, wondering if a proven European strategy was not in fact to allow unfettered use of the bicycle without MHL?

      2) Wondering even if removing MHL only tools us 10% of the way tot he target of a 100% increase, is it not a cheap easy 10% if only people stopped bickering about whether it was 10%, 20% or 100% and rescinded the silly things? Can't we agree that there is some speculation as to the exact boost rescinding MHL would yield, but that it would produce a boost and hence is a cheap easy way to take a punt and go for a 10% and possible 30% or possibly 100% boost?

      3) There's a lot of mathing around in there that I didn't have time to digest (and I'm not shy of math) so I'm left wondering what Rissel's reply to that article might be. Can we hope for one?

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  29. Mazin Family

    Brain Surgeon

    I'm getting a little tired of Rissel's style of studies and general approach to research, whereby the conclusion is already made, and the research is done to confirm the views. It's not academic, nor is it useful to the overwhelming desire of so many Australians who want quality infrastructure so that they can cycle safely.

    I don't care if helmets are optional or not, because a lot of people now choose to wear them or not, even at risk of fines - this shows they will ride regardless....which undermines…

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    1. Bernd Wechner

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mazin Family

      It seems a subjective and borderline complaint.To be sure there is a trap in research to find the evidence for what you seek. But this is rather a ubiquitous thing across sciences and a notable complaint about the changes to finding of sciences in recent decades (with more private funding we are very ware of the bisasing influence of the funding sources. Now if personal bias plays that role it's not news either. So on one level, I hear you and that you see this bias in Rissel's writings (subjectively…

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    2. Harvey C

      Cyclist

      In reply to Mazin Family

      "I'm getting a little tired of Rissel's style of studies and general approach to research, whereby the conclusion is already made, and the research is done to confirm the views"

      Such unfounded accusation is ironic. If you are so concerned about misleading studies with a predetermined conclusion, then have a look at "studies" made by well-meaning but misguided people, like this one:
      http://crag.asn.au/?p=383

      Such study may have been done with the best of intention. But misleading people by…

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  30. Lou Conroy

    logged in via Twitter

    Shane Warne, and other drivers like him, deters me from getting on my bike more than any helmet.

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  31. Graham Smith

    Self Employed

    The more I read and hear of the pro- versus the anti- helmet law debate, the more convinced I become of the benefits of the helmet laws.

    The anti-helmet law lobby are very strong on ideology and very weak on evidence.

    Perhaps they mean well, but their energy could be much better directed to improving cycling infrastructure and raising community awareness of the benefits of cycle commuting.

    This article is typical of the anti-helmet law genre with some very wild assumptions, cherry-picked…

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    1. Markie Linhart

      Rouleur

      In reply to Graham Smith

      "…At best the helmet law debate is a minor sideshow…"

      Oh, so that's why cycling in Europe and other non-compulsory helmet countries is growing exponentially but not in this country.

      The main argument is not about whether a helmet will save your life in a collision with a 1.5 tonne vehicle (it won't) but whether so called 'utility' cyclists should be forced by law to wear a near useless piece of tarted up polystyrene to ride their local streets and bike paths.

      I've noted that in Britain for instance, cycle helmet use is on the increase and that's perfectly fine. Why? Because it is solely the choice of the wearer. Not a dictum of law.

      It's about informed adults making informed decisions…

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    2. Graham Smith

      Self Employed

      In reply to Markie Linhart

      The anti-helmet law lobby don't seem to let facts get in the way of a good story. You say cycling is on the increase in Europe. Cycling is also declining dramatically in many non-compulsory helmet countries, particularly in developing Asian countries. Nor is the increase even uniform across Europe.

      Cycling-rates are going up in some European cities. Down in others. Neither the decreases or the increases have causal links to helmet laws. The actual causes are multiple.

      Try looking for real…

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    3. Philip Gillibrand

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Graham Smith

      You choose poor examples for comparison. Speeding, drink-driving, smoking, paying taxes, and even voting, have the potential to impact other people. The non-wearing of a helmet affects only the cyclist, no-one else. And before you say that hospital bills are paid by the taxpayer, that also applies to people who don't exercise and don't look after their health. Whereas the vast majority of cyclists, by taking exercise, are far less likely to impose health costs on society.

      So I don't think your argument stands up. Better examples for your argument would be: should people be able to drink alcohol at home ?; should people be allowed to allowed to eat fatty foods and chocolate ? The answer to those of course is yes, despite the known health effects of over-indulging. The same goes for the freedom of choice to ride a bike without a helmet. We make our own choices as adults, aware of the risks.

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    4. Graham Smith

      Self Employed

      In reply to Philip Gillibrand

      Perhaps there are better examples eg. seat belt laws, poker machine regulation, etc. but this notion of victimless misdemeanours is a side-issue.

      My main point is that anti-cycling law lobbyists are inconsistent with their motives and seem, as evidenced by your post, more focussed on broader philosophical questions than the facts of cycling safety and helmets.
      They often have a subtext agenda around 'freedom of choice' debate, so the success of the helmet laws in actually reducing injury seems…

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    5. Philip Gillibrand

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Graham Smith

      Granted, more energy should be spent on the big issues you mention - I doubt anyone disputes that. Repealing the silly law on mandatory helmet use would immediately remove the helmet debate, and allow us to focus on those issues. Let's remember that no-one is suggesting that a rider shouldn't be allowed to wear a helmet, merely that they can have a choice in the matter. Those who want to (as I do when I cycle to work on busy roads), can do.

      I have no wider agenda about increasing cycling participation. But I like riding my bike on quiet roads (or roads without vehicles) without a helmet. I do it anyway, but I would prefer to do it without wondering whether the law is about to tap me on the shoulder.

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    6. Graham Smith

      Self Employed

      In reply to Philip Gillibrand

      " I have no wider agenda about increasing cycling participation."
      But isn't this what the article above with the speculative extrapolations is about?
      How rescinding the helmet laws will magically lead to a deluge of happy, bare-headed, healthy, freedom loving cyclists onto Australian streets?
      I don't think you can just say it is about freedom-loving individuals having the wind blow through their hair.

      Post helmet laws, the scenes will be like those other countries with no helmet laws and a great reputation for individual freedom. China is one I believe. Although I think they are buying and driving cars as fast as they can even they have no mandatory helmet laws.

      Forego the helmet laws and the quiet roads will be gone. They will be packed with countless cyclists (never having accidents) if I am to believe the anti-helmet law lobbyists.

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    7. Graham Smith

      Self Employed

      In reply to Philip Gillibrand

      True. Let's hope the Australian cycling boom continues. I think it will continue now it has momentum even though there are huge needs for better infrastructure.

      The helmet laws have not hindered an excellent resurgence in cycling over the past 20 years and they have saved a lot of cracked heads which to me seems like a very good result.

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