Sunday, August 4, 2013

One set of stats, 2 different readings

(Images: screen captures from ACCC Regulation Impact Statement 2009)

Just for the record again on page 4:

"Nearly one third of all male cyclists...killed in road crashes were not wearing a helmet. Similarly, nearly one third of all female cyclists...killed in road crashes were not wearing a helmet."

This means according to these excitable statistics that:


Why are the stats never reported this way round? - it's pretty obvious that they're shouting out 'not wearing a helmet' is a much safer option!

So to all Australian politicians, answer me this:

Why do you let us:

$$$ smoke,

$$$ overeat,

$$$ consume alcohol, and even

$$$ not vaccinate our children ...yet insist that we ride bicycles with helmets on?

They're utterly senseless and we want you to:

$$$ repeal mandatory helmet laws ASAP, and

$$$ tell all helmet-promoters looking to make a quick buck outside the military & oil industries, that the sweaty little helmet laws included in their sweaty little marketing package no longer can apply

Do something we can be proud of just for it soon

Enough is enough


  1. Oui, c'est ridicule. Oh silly me, I was thinking in French.

    Although we have no such law, some news media always dutifully report that such and such a killed or injured cyclist "wasn't wearing a helmet", and there are at least as many reports without this, so we can presume that in that media outfit, they are talking about one killed or injured while wearing one of those damned things.

    Meanwhile, several pedestrians mowed down, including a 6-year-old girl killed by a driver of an SUV in the parking lot of a (carcentric) shopping centre... No charges against the driver.

  2. If I was to say that 95% of motor vehicle deaths involved a motorist wearing a seatbelt what would you conclude?

    Would you conclude that seatbelts were ineffective or that the circumstances of the crash exceeded the protective effect of the seatbelt.

    Or would you conclude that seatbelts were ineffective in mitigating the efects of motor vehicle collisions?



    1. I would say that people ought to think about the 'real' risk of driving.

      It's a source of constant amazement to me that on the one hand we have so many Australians weighing up the risk of driving and then discounting it due to the convenience it appears to offer whereas on the other hand that's not the case with Australian attitudes and perceived sense of risk towards cycling.

      In my opinion, endless and aggressive helmet promotion is a distinctly Australian peril that has nutured a culture of fear for more than 2 decades leading to...well, Australia today.

  3. Hi Sue,
    I've debated this to some extent in the past and I won't bore you with endless reams of references (unless you want me to), but the evidence remains that driving is safer than cycling.
    Where the unsafety of car driving lies (particularly) is as a young male on a saturday night (statistically speaking) and also with the preponderance towards sedentary behaviour. This is not good news to me as I spend more time on a bicycle than in a car, but risk appreciation is indeed heavily infuenced by cognitive bias.
    Cycling is still pretty safe, depending upon where you ride, which is why I support voluntary helmet wearing for adults.

    I have to agree with your comment: 'Australian attitudes and perceived sense of risk towards cycling.' the evidence does bear out that the a major factor preventing cycling uptake for commuting cyclists is the perception of cycling danger.

    I have to disagree with your opinion about helmet promotion. Helmet promotion is a necessary part of any cycling safety strategy(even the Dutch agree). This does not mean that the cycling helmet message in Australia has been well practised.

    I have to disagree with the 'culture of fear' hypothesis. This is the musings of one particular activist (I believe) there is no evidence of htis cuclture of fear in relation to helmets in Australia. The evidence points more to fear of being struck by a vehicle. The two are separate phenomena, as anyone who has ridden in peak hour would testify.

    As to 'endless and aggressive' helmet promotion.... where? I don't watch much commercial television so maybe I've missed it. I have viewed every cycling promotion document and website that I could find and the only websites that talk aggressively about helmets are crag.asn and Most cycling promotion sites don't even mention helmets. I have a list if you don't believe me. Again, I htink cognitive bias may have led to a perception of 'endless and aggressive'.. 'Australian peril".

    In regards to cycling participation, this is as much a problem with urban design and cultral norms as anything else. Their is certainly no evidence that if MHLs are lifted that drivers will take to cycle commuting en masse. The awful statistic (again I have a reference for this) is that cycling participation rates are higher now than in 1976. They peaked in the 1980s and beghan a linear decline, neither hastened nor slowed by the advent of MHLs. The increase in cycling participation in the 1980s in Australia roughly follows the trend of world oil prices, but I'm not sure how much causality can be accorded to this (given that we are talking about a rise of 1.15 % (in 1976)to 1.3% in 2011) with a peak of 1.7% in the mid i980s. The truth is that cycling participation rates have been terrible in Australia irrespective of what year you pick after 1976... irrespective of MHLs. I do believe that in some studies the rate of children riding did decrease subsequent to the MHL in the early 90s however.


    1. Seamus, are you blind? The endless helmet promotion is the helmet law itself. Such laws are the cheapest, most insidious, form of promotion and adverising, and remain a constant edifice hanging over cycling. Want to cycle? Ensure you have a helmet. To say the helmet message in Aus is not well practiced is absurd. If you're not wearing one, chances are the cops have pulled you over to slap you with a monstrous fine equivalent of a speeding driver. Bike ads always have some sort of helmet deal going. Why isn't bikeshare working if supposedly the sordid helmet promotion of a law has had little effect? Then there's all references in media showing helmeted cyclists or pleas to wear helmets. Check my blog about Sarah Wilson for a great example.

      Simple fact is you won't get much increase in cycling with MHL because they perceive cycling as dangerous and de-motivate governments to act on infrastructure. The stats don't lie. 40% of all trips in some parts of Europe, 2% here. We are one of the worse in the world, and commensurately the fattest.

      If we did report each time a cyclist died that he was wearing a helmet (as nearly all deaths do in Aus these days), then the message will get through that helmets don't make cycling more safer.

      No, the police, Helmet Nazis Victoria (BNV), govt and the media are all in cahoots to drive the safety aspect of helmets, hence only reported about a cycling death is if no helmet is worn. Even when a woman was killed recently in NT when riding the wrong side of the road, the lack of helmet was the key issue. So too someone died wearing an ipod, riding through a red light and no lights, the key message from police: wear a helmet!!

    2. Hi Anonymous,
      Where is it that you got the impression that I support MHLs?

      Helmet promotion is a sensible public health message for those cyclists who ride in more risky situations. End of story. No amount of anti-helmet rant will change that.

      To conflate this with some sort of 'cycling fear' message is at worst preposterous, at best, a misreading of the evidence.

  4. Correction: There was an increase in decline in cycling participation from 1991, the cycling participation rate was already declining but the rate did increase after MHLs were instituted which indeed may be caused by mandatory Helmet Laws.

    The net result was a drop from 1.55 to 1.25. Extrapolating the decline in cycling that was already occuring in the late 80s would lead to a cycling participation rate of 1.4. So I concede it is possible that MHLs led to an increase in the rate of cycling decline (assuming no other factors were at play). The rate of cycling participation nationwide is now 1.3%; although in areas of good infrastructure (like Freo and Canberra) it is up to 2.8% which is nearly twice that of the national average at any time since 1976.

  5. Seamus has bored us plenty. And the so-called "danger" of cycling is danger from cars, nothing to do with inherent danger of utilitarian cycling at moderate speeds.

    There is no concerted effort to promote helmet use in the Netherlands. There have been some local initiatives, largely "sponsorized" by interested commercial groups. The Dutch know that would kill their cycling culture.

  6. Hi Lagatta,
    You've understood nothing I've written if you think that I consider the main danger to Australian cyclists is something other than cars.

    I have no issues with helmetless cyclists participating in utilitarian cycling. is there something in what I've said that would have you believe otherwise? Or do oyu belong to the 'if you're not with us you're against us' school of thought?

    Australia is not the Netherlands - not by a long shot. And do you know what? Nowhere in the world is The Netherlands - bacuse it is unique in its urban infrastructure and lack of car reliance. France, Britain, Italy etc all have 5% or less... 5 times less than the Netherlands.
    Australia had a cycling participation rate of less than 2% back in 1976.... We had our opportunity then to change our urban infrastructure and make our cities and towns more cyclist and pedestrian friendly. We didn't. That's the story, not the presence or absence of helmets.

  7. Great blog Sue! The Pro Helmet lobby fail to see how damaging they are to cycling for enjoyment and casual trips to the shops. If true cyclists wanted to encourage cycling they would embrace their brothers and sisters enjoying a casual ride without 10+ minutes to put on lycra, shoes and plastic hat.
    The more cyclists on the road in Aus would mean that drivers would not be so confronted when they encounter cyclists on the road.

    Mandatory cycling hats really came about through people thinking it was a great idea and the group think taking over . . .. it has been such an abject failure in terms of promoting cycling except for the lycra clad mamils purchasing a different hat per year to keep up with their mates . . . .

    Let's let adults make their own decisions on how to best protect themselves.

    Jamie K
    (only anonymous to protect me from the trolls)

    1. Hi Jamie,
      If that's the wya you pitch a anti-MHL platform then good luck with changing the exisitng laws.

      You have to press your case with evidence, not derision and cant.


      seamus gardiner

  8. Obviously nowhere else is the Netherlands, or Denmark, but it is a matter of studying best practices and applying them to other situations - not copying "worst practices", such as the Australian all-ages foam-hat law.

    1. worst practise would probably be the UK - which has no MHLs, a substantial recent increase in cycling and a substantial recent increase in cyclist injury and death. IE infrastructure and urban design has failed to keep up with cycling participation.
      I don't believe that the UK should get MHLs, by the way, just that helmets are only part of the picture - iunfratructure,culture and legislation is the main game...

  9. Steve, thanks for heads up re the spam - sadly your comment was deleted too when I got rid of the spammer - sorry!!!! & thank you