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12 Comments

  1. 1

    Daryl Sadgrove

    I find this discussion fascinating. My view is that rather than having a ‘tit for tat’ argument about experimental design, we should remind ourselves that we are not the only country with cyclists, or have looked at cycling safety and participation – we don’t always need Australian research to resolve these types of issues. It amazes me is that for a country which is renowned for having such a ‘laid back’ attitude, we seem to be completely obsessed with safety and have become incredibly risk averse. The fact that NZ and Aus are the only two countries in the world that have seen the need to legislate helmet wearing for cyclists seems at odds with the experience of the rest of the cycling world. Do we have more injuries from cycling? Do we have more dangerous roads? Do we not have enough cycling infrastructure? I have cycled in many countries around the world, those with lots of cycling infrastructure and those with little, the argument that Australia needs helmets because of these arguments is simply not true. We have significantly less injuries from cycling than any other country in the world. Our roads are some of the safest in the world by any standard, yet our perception is that our roads, and that cycling, is extremely dangerous. Studies show that australians perceive that we lack cycling infrastructure, yet comparably we have more separated cycleways and shared cycleways than almost any city in the world. I see the point in wearing a helmet in some circumstances, but I also don’t believe it should be mandatory. We are not really that different from the rest of the world on this issue. Surely the fact there has never been a strong argument or evidence to support helmet legislation by any other country in the world, all of which do not mandate helmets, is reason enough to take a rational look at this legislation.

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  2. 2

    ggm

    I’d be interested in the stats on how more marginal helmets could be, and still be epidemiologically measurably useful.

    Smaller, lighter, more gaps, different construction, more or less present on the head/neck..

    Any amount of alternate design might make them foldable, or more portable in other ways and still deliver demonstrable benefit.

    Cycling helmets *used* to be 5 bands of sorbothane rubber and a strap. Did they do any good?

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  3. 3

    Edward James

    I have noticed the number of school aged children who do not wear helmets. If I ride my push bike I wear my helmet because I have a license to drive and ride, which I do not want to risk. I notice a lot of competitive mountain bike riders use fair dinkum helmets. Hot and heavy by comparison but more effective in extreme down hill sport. As I have written before if Helmets are such a good thing why are they not compulsory for all road users. Short answer. Politically unpalatable! I have never forgotten the woman I seen who had hit a power pole, not hard. But her head hit the pole through the drivers side window a full on helmet may have saved her. Edward James

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  4. 4

    Son of foro

    Do policy makers have to factor in ‘what if’ questions?

    In this case, something along the lines of: What if an increase in people riding bikes without helmets lead to an increase in accidents featuring head trauma or death, the bad publicity / safety fears from which would result in fewer people riding bikes.

    Would we not then be back at square one?

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  5. 5

    Dave S

    I’m going to ignore the following assumptions that the author of this article made as being too ridiculous to take seriously:
    1) That people who said that they had not ridden a bike in the last year but would ride one if helmet laws were repealed would only move up into the “less than once per month” category.
    2) That a person who rides a bike once per year may be considered a cyclist.
    3) That the aim of 2011-2016 National Cycling Strategy is to double the number of people who ride a bicycle at least once per year, rather than to double the number of regular riders, or to double proportion of trips taken by bicycle.

    So that leaves us with the author’s eventual figure that repealing helmet laws would result in an increase in the at-least-in-the-last-month cycling participation rate of “only” 32%.

    My question then, is in what world does the author live, where if aiming for a increase 100% over 5 years, a 32% increase achieved near-instantly with no cost whatsoever is anything less that a incredibly worthwhile venture?

    Yet the author dismisses this enormous gain as inadequate, promoting instead high-cost strategies that are allegedly proven to work, though no actual evidence, nor estimates of gains, are provided. Why not take the free 32% gain, and then (or simultaneously) figure out how to get the remaining 68%?

    As for the question by “Son of foro” in the comments – there is no safety question, as it’s perfectly evident from not only the vast majority of the world, but also within Australia* that areas that do not mandate helmet laws tend to have higher participation rates and better safety records.

    (*The Northern Territory allows cycling without a helmet, and has the highest participation rate in Australia, as well as the lowest injury/fatality rates.)

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  6. 6

    Luke Turner

    This is a fairly lightweight criticism of Professor Chris Rissel’s research from Tim Churches. Rissel’s claim that cycling would levels would double with repeal of helmet laws is a rough and ready estimate – but a generally sound one.

    We know for certain that many people would ride more if helmets were optional, but we don’t know whether these people would ride once a year more, or become daily cyclists. But it’s a fairly safe guess that cycling levels would increase by 60-100%. After all, when the laws were introduced, numbers declined by 40% (which if reversed is equivalent to a 67% increase).

    Churches claim that levels would only increase by 17% is complete nonsense and suggests he did not even read Rissel’s paper. People who haven’t ridden in the last year are not the only people who are deterred from riding by helmet laws. 40% of weekly riders, 33% of monthly riders and 24% of yearly riders also said they would ride more if helmets were optional.

    As these figures indicate, compulsory helmets are a significant hindrance to cycling becoming a mainstream and legitimate form of transport. If you are just going to ride your bike once a year in the park for a bit of fun, then the helmet law is probably not going to put you off that trip. But if you want to use a bike as a main or even primary form of transport, perhaps in place of a car, then the unwanted inconvenience of being forced by law to wear a helmet at all times, in all situations, becomes a significant disincentive for many people. I am one of those weekly cyclists who would most definitely ride more if I could choose to leave the helmet at home at times.

    However I completely agree with one thing that Tim Churches says: we need to look at what the European countries have done and emulate that. Better cycling infrastructure and lower speed limits are essential to increase cycling, as is repealing helmet laws. It is not a co-incidence that none of the European countries with high rates of cycling have helmet laws.

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  7. 7

    SBH

    Speaking personally, wearing or not wearing a helmet is not what I think about on a bike. I’m far more worried about innattentive drivers, aggressive drivers, ignorant drivers, bad road surfaces, dickhead cyclists who are a danger to themselves and others, poor road markings, wayward pedestrians, bad attitudes and car doors.

    I have a feeling that many people don’t cycle because its scary and if we addressed the causes of their fear as summarised above, more of them would cycle.

    This debate over helmets just seems misdirected and counter-productive.

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  8. 8

    Dave

    “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.”

    If only Tim would take his own advice. No country in Europe has an enforced all age mandatory helmet law. What they do and what has been shown to be very effective is to remove barriers to cycling and reduce the primary danger faced by cyclists: getting hit by a motor vehicle.

    Mandatory helmet laws are a significant (but clearly not the only) barrier to increasing cycling participation. This is especially the case for the type of cycling that has the most beneficial social externalities – utility cycling from A to B that replaces motor transport.

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  9. 9

    Dave S

    SBH – Inattentive, aggressive and ignorant drivers, as well as wayward pedestrians, are all problems that can be solved by getting more cyclists on the roads, thereby forcing other roads users to recognise the legitimacy of cyclists, and forcing them to pay more attention to us. The helmet laws are a barrier to getting more cyclists on the roads.

    Take Denmark as as example. The only pedestrians that ever stray onto their bike paths are tourists: http://satwcomic.com/n00bs-off-the-road

    As for other approaches to solving these problems, would you like to try to calculate the cost of building separated bike paths all over every city in Australia, and running education campaigns for all drivers and pedestrians, perhaps including retesting of drivers with bicycle-specific material in the driving exams, and then compare this cost and the time required to implement it with the time and cost required to revoke mandatory helmet laws? And while you’re at it, perhaps reconsider why you think the two approaches are mutually exclusive, or otherwise how revoking helmet laws could possibly be counter-productive?

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  10. 10

    Daryl Sadgrove

    Here are three very powerful stories of why we should develop more cycling infrastructure in Australia.

    http://www.achsm.org.au/Blog.html?year=2011&month=6&ItemID=18&count=1

    Reply
  11. 11

    Family Mazin

    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 is not useful to so many Australians who want quality infrastructure so that they can cycle safely. People are not SO vain or stupid to think about head fashion or protection before *all other factors* when they want to ride a bike.

    In fact, a lot of people (including me) 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 the premise of Rissel’s research which is to blame helmet laws on low ridership.

    Rissel conveniently ignores the multitude of factors that gave rise to a decline in ridership during the 80s and 90s. Yes, the helmet laws came about, but they occurred in a climate of heavy investment in Australian roads and car infrastructure, the general rise in car ownership and individual wealth/status that drove demand for cars, the rise in car brands and visibility and the simultaneous absence of anywhere safe for a regular rider to ride.

    In short, the CONSTANT NOISE given to helmet debates will do nothing to give us the roads and cycleways we, as tax payers, have a right to.

    What Rissel and committed cyclists in this debate should be doing, is raising awareness of the wholesale FAILURE of councils and State governments to deliver us infrastructure that can be shared by riders properly with all other vehicles.

    On a personal level, there are MANY roads where I would not dare to ride in Sydney – helmet or no helmet. They are just too dangerous. Cars are dominant and cyclists are forces to use these roads instead of dedicated cycle roads and cycle highways.

    The helmet debate is a storm in a theoretical tea cup.

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  12. 12

    Family Mazin

    Oh, and anyone that suggests (such as the extremist well know Copenhagen blogger) the ridiculous idea that we must force car drivers to wear helmets too – is purely ignorant. Cars have the equivalent of a helmet: it’s called a mono-coc chassis with airbags and mandatory seat belts. Are the anarchists going to argue for removal of those as well? Maybe it will give us more car drivers if we make seat belts and airbags optional? See, Rissel’s logic doesn’t work…and that’s because there is more to factor in than helmet-use when going for a ride.

    Thank god there is some sanity and intellectual rigour on Crikey unlike so many bike blogs.

    Reply

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