Thursday, August 22, 2013

Side effects of bicycle helmet law are poorly reported

(Photos: latest yummy gateaux I've eaten)

There is more substance in the above birthday cake than there is in bicycle helmet law which instead is comprised of a high proportion of spin and bias, showing no real benefit of improved safety to cyclists.

Preposterously compulsory helmet requirements focus on less important outcomes in order to mask actual road safety statistics so as to make them look better than they are, and over and over again we note bias in the way adverse effects of helmet laws are reported.

You have to wonder whether there isn't some subtle pressure on academics at UNSW to publish studies that will be noticed rather than record the 'here & now' reality of cycling safety in Australia...

So let me state it for you on behalf of 'bottomless-cup' publicly funded academics :

$$$ cycling safety in Australia is a load of old rubbish,

$$$ helmet laws are a load of old rubbish, and

$$$ the ACCC should step in now and declare, 'enough is enough: helmets and their mandatory compulsion are not fit for purpose - we're recalling the regulations effective immediately.'

...sigh if only!


  1. Let's get the law repealed and get more people riding!

  2. Here is a pic of a young Indigenous cyclist from Northern Canada:

    Nice photo, but also a reminder than as in Oz, the Aboriginal peoples live in dire inequality up here too...

    (At least nobody is spoiling his pleasure by making him wear a foam hat).

  3. Sue,
    You as:
    '...(what is the) 'here & now' reality of cycling safety in Australia'

    Here's one answer, from Gerard 2010:
    Cycling rates are relatively low in Australia, but cyclists comprise about 1 in 40 traffic crash fatalities and about 1 in 7 serious injuries;dn=344729582861979;res=IELHEA

    So that is the answer... that cycling safety in Australia is dire. I don't think that anyone could interpret this as being 'looking better' than what it is. It is terrible.

    Whether you agree with MHLs or not, cycling safety in Australia is appalling. Improving infrastructure, driver culture, urban design and legislative change will improve cycling safety. All helmets do is improve your odds of getting away without a head injury after the fact. The real issue is prevention of collisions with cars.



    1. Seamus, I completely disagree with you that 'all helmets do is improve your odds of getting away without a head injury after the fact' and completely agree with you that 'the real issue is prevention of collision with cars' - so first up let's repeal mandatory helmet laws which are in and of themselves a distraction, and then let's get on with business of eliminating the abundant opportunities that cars have to collide with cyclists so catastrophically.

    2. I have no issue with MHLs being rescinded.

      Should this promote more cycling on public roads and/or more riding on public roads without a helmet, than the rates of head injury will increase, including fatalities.

      Until infrastructure, legislative change and culture catches up that is the grim reality. See what happened when cycling rates increased in the UK recently without a commensurate increase in infrastructural reform:

      If you wish to rescind MHLs than you must be sanguine about an increase in head injury rates. I am ok with this as I believe that the trade-off in head injury rate increase is worth the increase in liberty. What is your rationale?

      if you deny that helmets reduce head injury than you are running counter to the best evidence.



    3. Seamus do you have the exposure data for the UK article you keep trotting out? Changes in number of kms ridden, changes in number of cyclists, percentage of cyclists KSI who were and weren't wearing helmets? Seems to be required to draw the conclusion you draw. But I agree good infrastructure is the best way to keep cyclists safe. Maybe the cyclist "super highways" in London contribute to the problem?

    4. Hi anonymous,
      My point is not to explain all the variables contributing to the spike in cyclist injury and deaths, and I'm fully aware that correlation does not equal causation without a clear causative factor; however, my point is this:

      1. cycling has an element of danger, largely attributable to collisions with cars

      2. any increase in cycling rates will lead to increased exposure and more injury and deaths

      3. helmets (despite the prejudice displayed on this site) does mitigate against head injury

      4. any increase in cycling participation coupled with a decrease in helmet wearing and exposure on public roads will lead to greater morbidity and mortality.

      Now I'm comfortable with that... a net incerase in liberty is worth the increased injury and death rate that will ensue 9in my opinion).

      Until anti-MHL propnents will also admit this than you're arguing from a false premise.

      The Guardian article is illustrative that increasing cycling rates correllates with increased exposure and increased morbidity and death. The death rate per population in the Nehterlands is higher than Australia's (this is apropos of nothing - the exposure rates in the netherlands is , of course, far higher and it is a safer activity than in Australia) my point being that taking people out of cars and onto bikes will lead to greater morbidity and mortality 9as cars are safer for commuting) UNTIL infrastructure, legal change etc catches up.

      The truth is that if we increase cycling and remove MHLs we will probably see more deaths and injuries UNLESS infrastructure is increased contemporaneously. I'm cool with that - let aduslts decide their own risk.

      You could at least admit that this is likely.



    5. Hi Seamus,

      I've seen that Netherlands comparison a few times - what is the story there and why do you bother to indulge if it is apropos of nothing? "If only we had the same surf life saving record as the Swiss then we'd stop the litany of tragic drownings on Australian beaches?". It's just nonsense, but when it makes its way into government policy then it's deceitful nonsense.

      "International fatality data for cyclists, as shown in the table above, shows that the Australian rate is significantly less than countries where there are no mandatory helmet wearing laws. In comparison to the Netherlands for example, Australia’s fatality rate per 100,000 people is nearly five times lower."

      Whereas the Netherlands participation rate is much more than the Australian participation rate and the Netherlands fatality rate per km cycled is ***much*** lower than the Australian rate - mendacious mutterings of men gives me the pip. And this sort of misuse of statistics is a bare faced lie.

      I wonder as to your position - if you think repealing MHLs will result in more death and injury then how can you justify it? Or is it like the Netherlands comparison? The rate may not change but more participation will change the absolute numbers?


    6. Hi anonymous,
      The Netherlands statistic was not brought out to push a barrow for aor or against helmets... merely to point out that even in a the Netherlands they have a couple of hundred people killed a year from cycle commuting.

      The Brirtish example was brought out to show the correlation between cycling increase and injury/mortality increase in a country with poor cycling infrastructure.

      You ask: 'if you think repealing MHLs will result in more death and injury then how can you justify it?'

      mmm... exactly. That's my point to you. I can justify it because we should be free to assess our own risks as adults, despite that risk taking leading to more morbidity and mortality.

      This is hte point that you fail to grasp: more cycling and less helmet wearing will lead to more injuries and deaths.

      If you wish to argue against MHLs (from the basis that it will increase cycling participation and increase personal liberty) than you'll have to reconcile this within your argument. Not to me, by the way, but to the voter.

      If rescinding MHLs leads to more cycling participation than exposure will increase. More cyclists will be injured or will die as a result. Like I said, I'm happy to trade liberty for mortality but it appears that you have not thought through this consequence.



  4. The other day, when picking up some take away food, I chatted with a lady forced to smoke her cigarette outside the restaurant. I ridiculed the damn stupid plastic hat that I am mandated to wear and she tut tutted and said oh no it's very important - after rolling my eyes I asked how many times she'd ridden a bicycle in the past 10 years, which of course was never, and then asked whether or not she would have found occasion to if she wasn't forced to wear a damn plastic hat. Could see the light bulb go off. It's odd the way the human mind works.

    1. Good when you see the light bulb go off on that. Just on the smoking thing though I was talking to a doctor, who was also a campaigner on another issue, the other day who told me that as long as the government refuses to ban smoking completely they have no argument for any other victimless crime law like helmet law. Probably an angle we could take up.

    2. 'Sigh' to anonymous' encounter with smoking woman and her views on bicycle helmets...

      ...and interesting point, Peter!

  5. Hi Sue you must have heard about Boris riding in Melbourne without a helmet?
    It's in the news in the UK.

    1. I love that man - he is a legend - Boris for Prime Minister of Australia!!!!!

  6. Hi Sue!

    This from the Active Transportation Canada blog:

    Velo-city is the world’s premier international cycling planning conference. The four day event offers delegates from around the world a chance to share best practices for creating and sustaining cycling-friendly cities, where bicycles are valued as part of daily transport and recreation. Conference details.

    Since 1980 conferences have been held in cities including Copenhagen, Paris, Dublin, Brussels, Barcelona, Munich, Montreal and Vancouver. And most recently the conference was held in Vienna. We are delighted that Adelaide will be the first city in Australia to host the Velo-city Global event. See video.

    Find conference details and video at the above link (funny, bloody helmets everywhere except for the single cyclist doing something remotely risky: a bareheaded woman on a high unicycle!)

    Alas I won't spend the considerable sum and the very long trip to go somewhere I have to wear a plastic hat (Pity, as I'd love to see the fauna and flora of Oz) but I certainly hope there will be actions, conferences and other interventions against the dire impact of that idiotic law.

    I'm no Tory to put it mildly, but bully for Johnson to enjoy the sunshine of your mild winter with the wind in his hair. He's right about the helmets, of course, but should do more to cut the number of Londoners being crushed to death by lorries...

    1. Yes, Lagatta, he certainly caused a stir over here...good thing too in my opinion!

      But here's hoping he gets more strategically involved with London and cycling because so much needs to be done and could be done.

  7. A compulsory helmet law is a symbolic thing. Its a symbol of the dominance of the motorist. Its an expression of raw power.
    The arguments over practical efficacy (which are in any case inconclusive and contested) are rather besides-the-point, the real point is a political one. Politics matter.

    I'm struggling to think of a helpful analogy that isn't too extreme, but, well, there are obvious ones, more extreme but still involving the same principle, and involving the forcible imposition of dress-codes on disfavoured outgroups - often justified in terms of 'it makes them safer' even as those who actually create the danger are ignored.

    Symbols are important.

    And I speak as a cyclist who 9 journeys out of 10 (when I don't forget) wears a helmet.