Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Australian media & helmet promotion - a toxic romance



They are familiar murmurings and they gather righteous crescendo as they seep into print, broadcast and online media platforms.

But to many of us, we have heard them all before and recognise the strategy for what it is - helmet promotion via medical media release.

The language is paternalistic as are the players so why do Australian mainstream media fall for this bait every single time; hook, line and sinker?

A growing group of critics is questioning why the media accept these helmet pronouncements as received opinion and is wondering whatever happened to scepticism and evaluation.

On May 6, the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) published a letter by Dr Michael Dinh, emergency physician and co director of trauma services at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, stating that the results of his report "[added] to the growing weight of observational data supporting the use of helmet which should therefore be considered at least as protective for pedal cyclists as they are for motorcyclists."

Following the letter in the MJA, Dr Dinh appeared on ABC 702's 'Breakfast with Adam Spencer' as well as writing an opinion piece for The Conversation which was then released to the Brisbane Times, SBS Cycling Central, Reddit and various online bicycle forums such as the Bicycle Network.

But what exactly attracted the media to his findings, if they were able to find them?

The report is not the stuff of rigorous peer review. A small sample set, observational studies rather than randomised controlled trials, no factoring in of confounders and variables, or hospital data bias.

Really, media, no questions?

But not all Australian medical practitioners hold the same views on helmet legislation.

Dr Paul Martin, MBBS, FANZCA, a specialist anaesthetist, Brisbane, despairs at both the state of cycling and the state of academic cycling research in Australia today.

"Essentially any barriers to cycling are regrettable," he says, "and it's most important to get rid of them.

"The numbers in Dinh's study are teeny tiny. Consequently, the study is biased and not looking at the big picture - it's irresponsible. Alcohol is one of the biggest confounding factors and yet Dinh doesn't correct for alcohol, drunk cycling or running red lights. How does he get away with writing a letter when that data is not published in a peer-reviewed journal? It's a sneaky way of getting a citation in a medical journal and it's irresponsible of the MJA not to make Dinh publish the study.

"As an anaesthetist I see how much the lifestyle diseases blow out the costs for the community. Hospital equipment has to be upgraded and there's a great risk of not even surviving theatre - its death by a thousand cuts. Doctors don't understand the chronic cost to the health budget and lifestyle diseases are killing the budget - ischaemic heart disease, osteoporosis, strokes, fractures, all take too long to recover afterwards.

"Forcing helmets on all riders no matter how fast or slow they go is ill-thought out.

"I wear a helmet when training and competing in triathlons because sport has a different profile but for transport and getting the groceries, I don't."

Michael Rubbo, Australian filmmaker and a former commissioning editor at ABC television, agrees that mainstream media have an ideological fixation about mandatory helmet laws (MHLs).

"Many self-identify as cyclists themselves, and consider MHLs to be proactive with an excellent safety record," he says, "and it is extremely frustrating. You get a sense that there is a locked-in mindset, a locked-in orthodoxy.

"When MHLs were passed, their club formed and they became members in an almost cult-like capacity. They geared up and took cycling seriously. Their identity was captured by MHLs. It was an affirmation of a badge of honour leading to resentment towards the other side of cycling.

"Utility cyclists, now unfavoured by law, did not feel that cycling was unsafe and have been demonised because they do not see cycling as helmet promoters do. Helmets are like school colours and if you're not wearing one you're somebody on the outer and you'll get a dressing down like you might from a prefect."

Observing the media in action it is not hard to think that Australian bicycle IQ is in decline - even our bicycle organisations 'cheer' on ambitious helmet promotion as it tries its hand further afield.

The Dutch are now under attack, and Marc Van Woudenberg, online marketing strategist and proprietor of Amsterdamize.com, is not impressed by the 'false framing and broken record' manipulation pedalled by Shell and other helmet promoters.

"The Netherlands,” he says, "can boast about having the highest cycle density, the highest cycle rate and the highest participation rate in the world...and...the lowest casualty rate (by a very wide margin) at the same time.

"Australia should stop chasing its tail, stop sustaining its confirmation bias, stop fighting symptoms, stop marginalising and (victim-)blaming people on bikes, start looking at the root causes and own up to it. It's definitely worth losing (political) face over...just ask any Dutch person...or child."


(Photos: Amsterdamize, flickr)

It is hard not to notice a disturbing picture of vested interests as the continuous oil slick of helmet promotion, seamlessly pedalled by medicos and parroted by media, spreads across the planet.

When will the Australian media think about questioning clinical judgments based on observation and when will they think about questioning data that has not been published and peer-reviewed?


(Photos: ABC News Online)

...and our man and his little son’s bike ride last year?

... illegal here in Australia, and we are the poorer for it.

27 comments:

  1. Excellent article. Waiting for the day that someone, somewhere, within mainstream media finally uses common sense and delves a little deeper into the subject. In doing so they will find a REAL story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Totally agree with you, Byclemore!!! It's frustrating that we all see this and our elected representatives don't - too busy 'knifing' each other (figuratively speaking with aussie pollies in mind!?) I suppose - sigh

      Delete
  2. Scepticism is very underrated these days, as we're supposed to be hyped up about just anything: sports, royalty, pop culture. I would like to see some statistics on head-injuries of pedestrians and motorists, as any kind of activity may be cause of injury, not just cycling. I've been riding bikes for about 50 years now, in bike-haven The Netherlands, and I never felt the need for a helmet, because it feels safe over here.

    The real story behind MHL may be indifference to the rights and needs of pedestrians and cyclists. By forcing people to don one if they want to use the roads you make them stop cycling. Hence no need for an upgraded infrastructure which would benefit all.

    Or maybe the MHL-supporters are just stupid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Har, to all the issues you've raised!!!...and half your luck living in the Netherlands...and fingers crossed your politicians are never silly enough to be convinced by the ridiculous helmet spin put out by helmet promoters!

      Delete
  3. Whilst we are on the subject of scepticism, it should be noted that the safest form of transport in Australia by Km travelled is the motor vehicle.
    I'm not using this to push some form of pro-MHL barrow, but be careful where glib statements might lead you.
    Right now, in Australia, if you want to avoid death or injury by commuting to work or to the shops, you are statistically better off jumping into your car and driving.
    This is because (less obviously) to use any other form of transport (ie foot, bicycle or motocycle) exposes you to another transport mode with more kinetic energy (ie the motor vehicle).
    IF Australia had infrastructure that supported more separation between motor vehicles and other road users, if Australia had less of a car culture, if Australia had lower suburban road speeds, if Australian cities did not have long commuting distances, if Australia had more cycle/pedsetrian specific infrastructure, if Australia had more punitive road manslaughter laws than I suspect that the relative injury rates between drivers and other forms of transport might reverse.

    But to answer your question: all road users (motor vehicle drive, motorcyclis, pedestrian) with the EXCEPTION of cyclists, have seen around a 4%decrease in road death in the last 5 years
    http://www.bitre.gov.au/publications/ongoing/rda/files/RDA_0513.pdf
    . Both car and bicycle ownership and has increased in this time. I don't have data on relative head injury rates.

    The publications below contain data on relative rate sof death by road user in Australia.

    http://www.bitre.gov.au/publications/2013/RDA_Summary_2012.aspx

    http://www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/publications/files/Cycling_Infrastructure_Background_Paper_16Mar09_WEB.pdf

    http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2011/09/08/3312420.htm

    regards,
    Seamus Gardiner

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A time metric is a far more sensible measure of risk exposure, not distance travelled. When you do that, driving doesn't look that great after all.

      The more *time* exposed to a danger is more important.

      If you used distance as a marker for risk then space travel would look exceedingly safe... until you realise how many astronauts have actually been killed in space travel (or even trying to get there).

      I fully agree with your other points... that we need lower road speeds in urban areas, we need to limit motor vehicle through access (stop rat running), harsher punishment for driver caused deaths & destruction, licences should be harder to gain & easier to lose and so on and so forth...

      ...but MHLs doesn't do any good, the evidence is clear. The only good it does is increase helmet wearing rates at the same time as suppressing cyclist numbers (and distorting what 'a cyclist' is - ie. pretty much fit, young males on road bikes in Australia).


      Dr P Martin
      MBBS, FANZCA

      Delete
    2. Paul,
      In this NZ study:
      http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/10/655
      Cyclists were 15 times more likely to suffer a collision resulting in injury per hours travelled than both motor vehilce drivers or pedestrians.
      This is not directly applicable to Australia but there are enough similarities to draw some conclusions.

      regards,

      seamus

      Delete
  4. I won't make the obvious accusation of "I don't like your data I'll substitute my own'. I'm also amused by the 384,000km high strawman that is space travel.
    Both data sets have their own limitations; how many cyclists would ride for 12 hour stretches on busy highways? If you look at the source data you will find that three times as many drivers are killed on a saturday night than on a monday morning, therefore any comparison of data in respect of my point (travel to work and to shops) should only compare motor vehicle deaths on short trips via commute to cycling deaths via commute. If this comparison was made i think this would swing even more heavily in favour of motor vehicle safety, irrespective of hours or km as points of comparison.

    I did not bring up MHLs, but as you have i reject the point that 'the evidence is clear' about MHLs. I have not seen any evidence that would stste that MHLs make a large contribution to the prevention of takeup of commuter cycling in Australia in 2013. In fact, all the evidence that I have read states that the biggest factors preventing takeup of commuter cycling are the following:
    1. the near miss factor (being in traffic with faster moving motor vehicles and the perception of unsafety)
    2. distance from destination

    I do have some stats from a series of studies in Australia that point to these as the biggest factors . I can drag them up if you can tolerate to read counter-evidence.

    From memory, around 15-20% of respondents to a couple of surveys mentioned helmets as a factor in their decision not to ride (at all). How this would translate to actual take-up is, of course, unclear. Whether these same respondents would also be deterred by motor vehicles and distance from destination is also unclear.

    However, even in light of the dramatic under-evidence for removing MHLs i still believe that it is a good thing (to remove MHLs for adults). Let adults decide for themselves. i still believe that helmet promotion for circumstances of greater risk is also a good thing. I cannot see the link between helmet promotion and cycling deterrence, particularly as there is no evidence for any link. Even the Dutch have helmet promotion for vulnerable cyclists.
    Is it possible that your personal dislike of helmets is skewing your appreciation of the evidence? I've come at this from another angle. I used to support MHLs. I have viewed the evidence and I believe that MHLs are not worth the decrease in liberty that ensues from their enforcement. i do believe the evidence for the efficacy, and usefulness, in circumstances where risk is increased.

    regards,
    Seamus

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If it was purely a matter of liberty and the efficacy of helmets was without question then why would there be any controversy? Why would the recent very large studies out of the USA and Canada conclude that helmet laws produce very little by way of a reduction in observed head injuries, no more than can be attributed to the corresponding reduction in cyclist numbers?

      You seem intent on belittling the opinion of people who doubt that helmet wearing actually does confer a benefit to a population as a whole. As with any safety intervention, the intervention itself will produce an effect, and in the case of bicycle helmets the whole population outcomes don't support the claim that bicycle helmets are effective* at reducing serious head injury - serious head injury being the problem, no?

      By couching the debate in purely libertarian terms you seem to lend weight to the MHL promoters - it is not my or your right to chose to participate in dangerous activities at the expense of the public purse, especially when there is a cheap plastic hat which will reduce the public health costs - this just leads us back to the seat belt furphy.

      As to your position that associating danger with cycling is not a disincentive to ride a bike, well, where does that come from? A smashed watermelon? NSW government campaigns which promote helmet use by talking about smashed in skulls? Even the dimmest of dimwits can see that putting their faith in a foam hat to protect them from having their skulls smashed in is a mug's game, much better not to cycle at all - geez the statistics you trotted out even support the case that they are much safer staying in the car all the time.

      (*by effective I mean a clear observable outcome, not a tour de farce of statistical mumbo jumbo by our favourite Australian statisticians).

      Delete
    2. Hi Anonymous,
      lets clear up a couple of things here.
      1. 'If it was purely a matter of liberty and the efficacy of helmets was without question then why would there be any controversy'
      There is no controversy, the additive datasets from all jurisdictions where cycle helmets have been studied has shown the effectiveness of bicycle helmets in reducing head injury. Cherrypicking articles from either side of the debate does nothing to reduce or enhance this overall picture. Because you don't believe the evidence does not make it go away. I am not intent on belittling anyone, I am intent in clearing up the reams of BS that accompanies this subject, whenever it pops up.
      It is a question of liberty only. Whether people should have the ability to choose a safety device is only a matter of intervention by the state if there is an overwhelming societal benefit. I think that seatbelts would fall into this category unless you are an extreme libertarian, in which case there probably should be no state. I'm surprised that you could argue against this position and still purport to be 'anti-MHL', unless of course you are 'anti-helmet'... but that's a quite different kettle of fish.

      2. 'As to your position that associating danger with cycling is not a disincentive to ride a bike...'
      I am not fam,iliar with the NSW advertisement or when and how it was distributed. I am familioar with an advertisement that came out in Victoria in the 1990s when helmets were first legislated that was similarly built around fear. It's interesting that 23 years later urban Victoria has the highest rate of cycling participation including commuting and for recreation, in fact parts of Melbourne have cycling participation rates akin to the Netherlands... and these cyclists wear helmets and are living in a state of helmet promotion (as meagre as it is in Australia). You are also conflating one campaign for helmet promotion with all possible campaigns for helmet promotion. Just because one campaign has gone too far it does not mean that all campaigns will go too far, nor that that camnpaign is highly representative of all campaigns. Nor does it mean that the campaig in question has produced tghe effect you fear, unless you have evidence that helmet promotion reduces cycling? Have a look at the swedish experience:
      http://heapro.oxfordjournals.org/content/17/2/161.full


      Helmet promotion is not even a large factor in cycling promotion in Australia. If you don't believe me have a look at these 'official' cycling promotion publications/websites that I've listed below.
      http://bicyclensw.org.au/
      http://www.visitmelbourne.com/Activities-and-attractions/Outdoor-activities/Cycling/Cycling-trails.aspx
      http://www.bikesa.asn.au/
      http://www.cyclingtours.com.au/
      http://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/
      http://www.cyclingpromotion.com.au/
      http://cyclingresourcecentre.org.au/page/encouragement_cycling_promotion
      http://www.austroads.com.au/abc/national-cycling-strategy
      http://www.mtba.asn.au/about
      http://www.sa.gov.au/subject/Transport%2C+travel+and+motoring/Cycling
      http://www.bikepaths.com.au/
      http://www.cyclingpromotion.com.au/resources/cycling-tips/commuting-by-bicycle.html
      http://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/NR/rdonlyres/0BF25C2D-7F22-4D09-8395-C35B84E6DF7B/0/Bike_Ed_FAMILY_GUIDE.pdf
      http://www.transport.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/83984/Cycling-into-the-Future-Action-Plan-2013-14-Dec-2012.pdf

      http://www.cyclingpromotion.com.au/resources/cycling-tips/
      http://www.bikesbelong.org/what-we-do/promoting-bicycling/
      http://cyclingresourcecentre.org.au/page/about_the_site
      http://www.transport.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/83983/Cycling-Strategy-fact-sheet.pdf
      http://www.transport.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/83981/Cycling-strategy-Cycling-into-the-Future-Dec-2012.pdf
      http://www.transport.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/31361/WalkingCyclingFocusGroupReport.pdf


      Delete
    3. So the study I cite is cherry picking? Seems like it is more complete than most. Cherry picking would be a study of half a dozen injuries in a Melbourne emergency ward wouldn't it?

      http://www.nber.org/papers/w18773.pdf?new_window=1

      2011 - Sydney radio station ad about helmets:-

      http://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/downloads/campaigns/bike-helmet-ad-dl1.html

      Some nice cherry picking in the presser as well - http://www.campaignbrief.com/2011/06/loud-appointed-by-rta-to-creat.html

      "No helmet, no brain" that was the old catechism wasn't it? Still in the popular consciousness after all these years. No, nothing to see here.

      What is the Swedish experience? You tell me. That they have a law for under 15 year olds which has no penalty and which isn't, as far as I am aware, enforced. Sweden is not exactly the cycling nirvana of a couple of other European countries, but not being forced to wear a helmet most probably helps.

      You know that by stating that helmet promotion doesn't reduce cycling you are indulging in weasel words - what proof can there be that promotion itself reduces cycling? There appears to be ample proof that helmet laws reduce cycling - apart of course from Australia where they had no impact (sheesh). But does the climate of fear actually have an effect of behaviour - if I honestly thought that wearing a plastic hat was required while riding a bicycle I would not ride - I wear one purely for compliance. My personal feeling is that wearing a helmet makes me a worse cyclist. I have fallen off my bike several times in Australia and I've never fallen off my bike whilst riding overseas where I do not wear a helmet. And I have about the same exposure.

      I can't imagine images of smashed heads and dire statistics make people rush out and jump on a bicycle. And I am not alone here - many, many others feel the same. The ECF for example. But I wouldn't want to appeal to authority.

      Sure anecdote is not the singular of data, but there is more and more data - like the study above - which indicates that even though wearing a bicycle helmet will certainly prevent or minimise certain types of injury this does not translate to whole population outcomes. Maybe this is something which you need to wrap your head around.

      Cheers.

      Delete
    4. yes, the road safety ad:
      http://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/downloads/campaigns/bike-helmet-ad-dl1.html

      Is disengenuous, sanctimonious and over the top, I totally agree. In the presence of MHLs it's also completely superfluous.
      I htink that when MHLs are withdrawn (as one day they will) there is a place for helmet promotion - but it belongs relative to risk; not to be confused with the minor risk of 'travelling to the shops' as described in this ad. I'm not an apologist for road safety messages but I believe that where risk is increased helmets ought to be worn. I don't believe that every cycling instance is risky enough to warrant a bike helmet.

      regards
      Seamus G.

      Delete
  5. 'You know that by stating that helmet promotion doesn't reduce cycling you are indulging in weasel words - what proof can there be that promotion itself reduces cycling?'

    some evidence would be nice. just saying it doesn't make it true. Facts often run counter to presupposition: see the exchange in regards to motor vehicle safety vs cycling safety above.

    'helmet will certainly prevent or minimise certain types of injury this does not translate to whole population outcomes'
    why do you say that when the balance of evidence is that helmet wearing reduces head injury severity and incidence in populations.

    ReplyDelete
  6. From a personal level I totally agree with the comments from Mike Rubbo. Despite the fact that I've been using a bike to get around for over two decades I've never felt at place within the dominating cycling culture in Australia. In fact when I first started contributing to cycling forums on the net around five years ago I was quite stunned at just how alien this culture really was. It would never have bothered me if these were just enthusiasts chatting about their pastime online, but the fact that this suffocating orthodoxy runs through mainstream advocacy groups in Australia is what really frustrates me. Just about every cyclist who has verbally abused me over the years you could easily associate with this cult. The hardcore members have no idea how much they have ruined the simple enjoyment of cycling for so many people.

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    Replies
    1. You are dead right, and it's utterly depressing.

      Why is Australia so obsessed with MHLs?

      It's staggering that we still subscribe to the helmet promoters' dribble but we get it rammed down our throats by the Australian mainstream media over and over and over as they fatuously churn out the adoration of the helmet articles. They support the rubbish spin because it makes for an easy cheap story.

      Lazy journalism underpinned by lazy medicos has kept us in the cycling dark ages...and it sucks, and no matter what the appointed (self or otherwise) stooges have to say about MHLs, we know and the world knows that mandatory helmet laws are deadly to cycling.

      Delete
  7. Is the media biased towards MHLs?

    This study:' Science, media and the public: the framing of
    the bicycle helmet legislation debate in
    Australia: a newspaper content analysis.' available at http://ejournalist.com.au/v11n2/Piper%20et%20al.pdf shows otherwise:


    From the discussion:

    'There has
    been an increase in reporting about cycling over the past decade in line with
    increases in cycling in Australia, with more positive coverage (47%) than
    negative (30%).'

    and,
    'The 2010 Australian bicycle helmet legislation media debate was triggered
    by a research article (Voukelatos & Rissel, 2010). Subsequent errors detected
    in this paper (Moore, 2010c) did not affect the framing or public discussion
    of the issues when first reported'

    and,
    'Analysis of news media coverage of the bicycle helmet legislation debate and
    associated letters to the editor identified frames which supported a variety of
    perspectives of this issue. There was clear disagreement over the perceived
    efficacy of helmets, and the necessity, fairness, and effectiveness of bicycle
    helmet legislation.'

    Regards,
    Seamus Gardiner

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Seamus,

      Thank you for your many comments.

      The Australian mainstream media frames the helmet discussion in such a way that whilst those advocating for repeal of helmet law may get a mention in or on the various media platforms, they invariably get portrayed as kooks and cranks with the last word always being given to helmet cheer leaders such as ED doctors or state car, I mean, bicycle organisations.

      I am mystified at your attempts to run with the 'hare and the hounds' and can't work out precisely what it is you're actually advocating.

      If you feel you ought to wear a helmet, well that's lovely for you, but I don't want to and from my travels and reading and bicycle experience plus an innings of over a half a century still not out, I can see quite clearly that the introduction of such legislation was at best misguided but mainly downright stupid and dangerous.

      Mandatory helmet laws have been the perfect gift to helmet promoters and a complete blight on Australian society. If cyclists have to wear helmets then so should pedestrians and motorists and maybe even passengers on buses and trains and aeroplanes. By insisting that only cyclists must wear them we allow part of our society to be singled out and bullied.

      I have to admit that I am sick of being a cyclist marooned in Australia.

      No doubt we'll chat again soon.

      Kind regards,
      Sue

      Delete
  8. Hi Sue,
    You wrote:
    'they invariably get portrayed as kooks and cranks '
    Perhaps the volatility of the language and the extremity of the views of some anti-MHL activists is the problem.
    Framing the argument in dispassionate and evidence based terms is likely to be the most fruitful way to change public opinion.
    As to 'invariably get portrayed ':
    http://www.smh.com.au/national/call-to-repeal-law-on-bicycle-helmets-20100815-12573.html
    http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2010/s2983972.htm
    http://ipa.org.au/publications/2019/australia's-helmet-law-disaster
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-07-24/cyclists-fined-during-anti-helmet-protest/917976
    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/the-bicycle-helmet-laws/2962554
    I couldn't find a media article that portayed anti-MHL activists as 'kooks and cranks'.

    cheers,

    seamus

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tell me this, Seamus, because I am confused - are you an advocate for mandatory helmet laws or are you an advocate for their revocation?

      Mostly I get the feeling you have been tasked with countering any opposition that might destabilise the helmet-law-believers' camp.

      Kind regards,
      Sue

      Delete
    2. Sue,

      "Mostly I get the feeling you have been tasked with countering any opposition that might destabilise the helmet-law-believers' camp."

      that seems to be Seamus' sole aim.

      While claiming to be objective and anti MHL, he appears to be argumentative to the point of absurdity, questioning anyone who dares to challenge his views with self-justification and verbosity.

      Did I hear someone say "empty vessel"

      Richard Burton

      Delete
    3. Hi Richard and sue,
      I'm happy that sue has allowed my posting on her blog. It's always refreshing that someone who appears so wedded to an ideology would allow a counter argument.

      Nevertheless, I find it curious to see the degree of ideologically based argument on this site and others.

      I thank r.burton for descending into the puerile ad hom. It's always refreshing to see arguments run out of steam and see the resot to name calling.

      You'll find that the greater public is probably not as credulous as you might think. If you wish to change the public mind about MHLs then you will have to mount a credible campaign.
      You could start with acknowledging the evidence on both 'sides' and establishing a cogent argument based around risk and libertarianism.
      Or you could spout the same old arguments.
      Good luck with that....

      Regards,
      Seams

      Delete
  9. Hi Sue,
    My position is not of advocacy for or against helmet laws. I was a believer in MHLs, actually, but I no longer see any need for their existence-for reasons thta I have previously discussed.
    I am not anti-MHLs (if you see the distinction) or at least not strongly enough against them to make an effort in decrying them. If someone was to ask me I would say that I do not support compulsory helmet laws for adults in Australia.
    I am pro-cycling safety, however, and strongly so. What I mean by this is that I strongly support measures that would reduce collision between cyclists and cars (as this is the main threat to cyclists' health). As the anti-MHL position has no bearing on cyclist/car collisions I see it as an enormous red herring.
    What's more, the position of many anti-MHL activists is to ignore or distort the evidence about helmets and their efficacy. I believe this distracts from the main game, which is about cultural, infrastructural and legislative reform. That is, the punter on the street (hearing a distorted illogical argument from anti-MHL activists) is more likely to discount the actual safety message (which is about the reforms heretofore mentioned), it is my belief.

    So, I am an enemy of disinformation (from both sides, as it happens). The efficacy of helmets can be widely overstated and concentrating on helmets leads to the understatement of the real issues: car vs bike.

    I don't care particularly much whether we have MHLs or not... you know what? I care more about roundabouts, road width, driver aggression, urban design etc.

    I will continue to wear a helmet on the road (when training and commuting) and mountain bike track once helmet laws are eventually rescinded (as they will). I'm sure that I won't wear a helmet on a bike track or riding to the shop on quiet streets - why would I? - the risks are so much lower.

    This doesn't change physics or the evidence of helmet efficacy in a collision. Not one whit.

    If people think that anti-MHL activists are 'cranks or kooks' it is because their arguments tend to be kooky and cranky and as full of holes as swiss cheese.
    It is important that these arguments are exposed as fallacious... If it doesn't happen here then it will happen in the public domain... and there goes credibility.

    MHLs should be rescinded, not because helmets don't work or make head injuries worse, not because they don't improve health outcomes in a collision, not because they deter cycling, not because they lead to some mysterious 'helmet generated fear', not because helmet laws are sustained by 'big helma'. All these arguments are without sufficient substance.


    So there you go, Sue, I am Joe Public. If you want to overcome my apathy towards MHLs you'll have to do better than being 'kooky and cranky'. You'll have to bring persuasive, evidence based argument to the fore.

    regards,

    Seamus

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Methinks, Seamus, that you love the sound of your own keyboard

      Delete
    2. Thanks sue,
      I always appreciate ad hominem debate. Do you want to rethink that comment, after all you're the one with the blog.

      Delete
    3. Dear Seamus,

      According to section 55 of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) 'goods must be reasonably fit for purpose that a consumer, expressly or by implication, makes known to the supplier or manufacturer.'

      A bicycle helmet cannot protect people from death or injury yet consumers buy them anyway expressly or by implication for that purpose.

      I think that every time a person wearing a helmet is killed or injured whilst riding a bicycle, their family should report the tragic incident to the suppliers and the ACCC as well so that a register can be compiled in order to observe statistics of failure for this particular product.

      I am hoping that the ACCC's new Compliance and Enforcement Policy, which lists 'credence claims' (ie claims representing products possessing premium attributes that consumers cannot easily verify for themselves), may be an avenue for recourse for the misleading and deceptive claims that bicycle helmet promoters have used to date.

      Of course you would be aware of the 'organic' water issue that is currently concerning the ACCC with respect to consumer willingness to embrace credence claims.

      I for one am exceedingly happy that these issues have become a priority for the ACCC, and I intend to raise bicycle helmet 'credence claims' with them soon.

      Kind regards,
      Sue

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  10. Hi Sue,
    That's a good point but do you think that it might be overstated? For example, there is a large body of evidence that contradicts your claim that:
    'A bicycle helmet cannot protect people from death or injury ..'
    If you said that :'there is a cohort of collisions where a bicycle helmet cannot be protective' you would be right.
    if you had said:' helmets could be designed better to reduce concussion' you would be right, also.
    If you had said: 'there is a circumstance where riding a bicycle is so low a risk that helmets are unnecessary' you would also have a point.
    But so long as you continue to mount an argument that helmets are completely ineffective than you will continue to hold back a mounting weight of evidence to the contrary.
    All a helmet manufacturer has to do is to quote a summery of the evidence concerning helmets to state a protective effect.
    What you're trying to claim is the same as stating that airbags are ineffective or brakes are ineffective because some collisions exceed the protective capacity of both of these devices.

    regards,

    seamus

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