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Time to make wearing cycle helmets optional?

By John Hargreaves - 6 June 2014 26

bike-helmets

I was reading that excellent and representational journal, The Canberra Times last Monday (2 June) and saw the implosion of the Young Liberals in the items for discussion at their conference. The article showed some insights into the minds of the next generation of Liberals. Mind you, Gary Humphries was a significant leader in the Young Liberals and he’s not right winger enough for some (although my spies tell me that the Young Liberals are split in their support for Gazza or Zedley).

The article (and the stuff must be true cos it’s in The Crimes) showed how dangerously far right some of these folks are and just where did they get this stuff from anyway?

There was some really loony stuff in this article and I recommend it reading to people who want to be outraged or need a good laugh. Like the re-introduction of caning in schools (by people who have never had six of the best), CTP and licences for bicycles, privatising public housing and public access to a national sex offenders register.

But credit where it is due… as a wise American once said “even a blind warthog finds an acorn every now and then”. In this bucket of garden nutrient is something worthwhile.

They are recommending the abolition of compulsory wearing of bicycle helmets. This is a sensible position to take. Bicycle helmets can be dangerous and can because of the increase in head mass, cause diffuse axonal injury (DAI) which is the increased acceleration of the rotation of the spine causing the spine to snap and cause quadriplegia or death. Bet you didn’t know that!

The introduction of this compulsion in Australia was done with insufficient scientific investigation and all attempts to get the federal Department of Transport in the last thirty years to provide scientific justification for its position (lamely followed by the states under fear of reduced road funding) has proved futile. That’s because it doesn’t exist.

But scientific investigation into the possibility of DAI through helmet use has been conducted and is critical of the compulsion to wear bicycle helmets. The Cyclists Rights Action Group (CRAG) in Canberra has bookcases of scientific papers on the subject.

There is a mood across Australia to reverse this compulsion. In Queensland a parliamentary committee has recommended the compulsion be removed as has the Brisbane City Council. And indeed in Adelaide only recently, a protest ride occurred calling for the abolition of that compulsion. This was reported on Radio National (an actually reliable news source).

In the ACT CRAG appeared before an Assembly Inquiry into Vulnerable Road Users in December last year. It put the case to that committee that the justification for compulsion was not there and that the public should be warned of the dangers of wearing bike helmets. If that committee had any courage it would recommend to the Assembly that the law be changed to make it optional with appropriate warnings.

But before you get off your high horse and say that helmets save lives, let me agree that they help prevent soft tissue injuries, cranial hairline cracks but don’t stop DAI and in fact, increase the likelihood of DAI. A man died in Wanniassa after a collision with a car and died of the effects of DAI, as reported by the Coroner.

So let’s forget about the emotive but scientifically unjustified bunkum and have safe laws around cycling which encourage cycling and reverse the downturn in cycling in our most cycle friendly city.

What’s Your opinion?


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26 Responses to
Time to make wearing cycle helmets optional?
1
m_ratt 8:44 am
06 Jun 14
#

The lack of any citation of any actual studies indicating causation between bicycle helmets and increased DAI risk/consequence aside…

In analysing the Wanniassa death of a cyclist, was there any indication that his DAI would actually have been reduced significantly enough to prevent his death, had he not been wearing a helmet? (Ie, has it been shown that wearing a helmet actually contributed to his injury and thus death, or would it have occured even without the helmet?)
Have you considered that had a lack of helmet reduced his DAI, that it would instead have increased his risk of catastropic brain injury, again resulting in death, or a lifetime of significant disability?

What’s your position on motorcycle helmets for moped/motorcycle riders? Motorcycle helmets are substantially heavier. Mopeds can be negligibly faster than bicycles, especially in inner city traffic. Would you support the removal of mandatory motorcycle helmet laws in (low speed) inner city traffic?
If not, why not, given your rationale above?

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2
Kellamity 10:23 am
06 Jun 14
#

Forget if helmets really save lives or not, if I don’t want to wear one it should be my business. I frequently take my bike in the car to the beginning of bike paths and ride them without coming anywhere near a road, or a car. In summer I’d rather be wearing a hat to keep the sun off than a helmet that’s not protecting me from any actual dangers. I shouldn’t be risking a fine to do so. I wear one when I ride on the road (or alongside the road) but again that should be my choice. This is such a nanny state though that I doubt they’d ever make helmets optional again.

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3
basketcase 11:02 am
06 Jun 14
#

No helmet, no treatment at public expense. You decide.

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4
John Hargreaves Ex M 11:46 am
06 Jun 14
#

Kellamity said :

Forget if helmets really save lives or not, if I don’t want to wear one it should be my business. I frequently take my bike in the car to the beginning of bike paths and ride them without coming anywhere near a road, or a car. In summer I’d rather be wearing a hat to keep the sun off than a helmet that’s not protecting me from any actual dangers. I shouldn’t be risking a fine to do so. I wear one when I ride on the road (or alongside the road) but again that should be my choice. This is such a nanny state though that I doubt they’d ever make helmets optional again.

This is a big issue for CRAG. Incidentally, I’m not a member of CRAG but am well acquainted with them and support their views. they believe that it is an infringement on their civil liberties to be required to wear helmets. They don’t see the similarity with seat belts as seat belts have scientifically proven efficacy whereas the wearing of bicycle helmets does not.

Also, the rate of cycling fell 14% in the year the compulsion was introduced. it is surely a health plus which is being eroded.

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5
John Hargreaves Ex M 11:52 am
06 Jun 14
#

m_ratt said :

The lack of any citation of any actual studies indicating causation between bicycle helmets and increased DAI risk/consequence aside…

In analysing the Wanniassa death of a cyclist, was there any indication that his DAI would actually have been reduced significantly enough to prevent his death, had he not been wearing a helmet? (Ie, has it been shown that wearing a helmet actually contributed to his injury and thus death, or would it have occured even without the helmet?)
Have you considered that had a lack of helmet reduced his DAI, that it would instead have increased his risk of catastropic brain injury, again resulting in death, or a lifetime of significant disability?

What’s your position on motorcycle helmets for moped/motorcycle riders? Motorcycle helmets are substantially heavier. Mopeds can be negligibly faster than bicycles, especially in inner city traffic. Would you support the removal of mandatory motorcycle helmet laws in (low speed) inner city traffic?
If not, why not, given your rationale above?

Space prevented me from citing studies. I will compile a list of citations for those sceptics. be aware also, that there has been none offered to justify legislating such an imposition. Even FOI has failed to elicit any scientific evidence to support the pro helmet position.

What CRAG would like to see is a public debate with experts on both sides providing their evidence for the community to judge whether they should be obliged to wear helmets. Their position as it stands now is that they would be supportive of the option to wear or not to wear provided that customers were given a fact sheet showing the justified positions in favour or not of the wearing of the helmet.

Also, did you know that Australia, NZ and the UAE are the only three countries in the world where it is compulsory to wear helmets. in other places it is optional and in the UK, they have repealed the law requiring the wearing of helmets. If we are in the minority, perhaps we should get with the program.

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6
John Hargreaves Ex M 12:02 pm
06 Jun 14
#

John Hargreaves Ex MLA said :

m_ratt said :

The lack of any citation of any actual studies indicating causation between bicycle helmets and increased DAI risk/consequence aside…

In analysing the Wanniassa death of a cyclist, was there any indication that his DAI would actually have been reduced significantly enough to prevent his death, had he not been wearing a helmet? (Ie, has it been shown that wearing a helmet actually contributed to his injury and thus death, or would it have occured even without the helmet?)
Have you considered that had a lack of helmet reduced his DAI, that it would instead have increased his risk of catastropic brain injury, again resulting in death, or a lifetime of significant disability?

What’s your position on motorcycle helmets for moped/motorcycle riders? Motorcycle helmets are substantially heavier. Mopeds can be negligibly faster than bicycles, especially in inner city traffic. Would you support the removal of mandatory motorcycle helmet laws in (low speed) inner city traffic?
If not, why not, given your rationale above?

Space prevented me from citing studies. I will compile a list of citations for those sceptics. be aware also, that there has been none offered to justify legislating such an imposition. Even FOI has failed to elicit any scientific evidence to support the pro helmet position.

What CRAG would like to see is a public debate with experts on both sides providing their evidence for the community to judge whether they should be obliged to wear helmets. Their position as it stands now is that they would be supportive of the option to wear or not to wear provided that customers were given a fact sheet showing the justified positions in favour or not of the wearing of the helmet.

Also, did you know that Australia, NZ and the UAE are the only three countries in the world where it is compulsory to wear helmets. in other places it is optional and in the UK, they have repealed the law requiring the wearing of helmets. If we are in the minority, perhaps we should get with the program.

In relation to moped and motorcycle helmets, I have witnessed a broken neck (and resultant death) of a motorcyclist due to his head rotating to snap his spinal cord. It is however quite different for motorcycles as they reach incredible speeds and the collisions are significantly more life threatening overall.

In relation to mopeds, they are motorised cycles and should be treated as cycles. Would you recommend helmets for motorised wheelchairs? A guy I know can get up a hell of a speed on his and he is in the traffic on the main road near where I live.

In the early 1980s, a doctor employed by ACT Health (who has since passed away so I won’t reveal his name but readers of this blog who were around then will know to whom I refer) mounted a campaign for people to wear bicycle helmets inside their cars. It is really all about a sensible risk analysis. And in this instance the compulsion to wear cycle helmets doesn’t stack up.

There is also the compromise position of making people wear them on main thoroughfares but not on shared and bike paths. This may be a compromise position on the way to a sensible conclusion.

The main thing however is that the proponents of compulsion are afraid of the public debate.

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7
cea075 1:24 pm
06 Jun 14
#

Back in 1989, whilst cycling home from school I was hit by a car and went flying through the windscreen. This was before it was mandatory to wear helmets, but my school had a policy that if you rode, you had to have a helmet. I wore it quite loosly, but it was on. Thankfully.
The doctors at the hospital told me and my family that without a doubt, the helmet saved my life.
Three weeks later and with over 200 stitches in my head and a mass of metal holding my leg together I finally got out of the old Royal Canberra. Even if I was up to riding on roads again, there’s not a chance in hell I’d do it without a helmet. And now that I’ve got kids, same rules apply.
In my opinion, helmets save lives.

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8
aussieboy 3:08 pm
06 Jun 14
#

But if we ban helmets, the AFP will have to find something else to do instead of spending their afternoons camped out behind bushes at ANU nabbing students on their way to class!

Helmets are a massive infringement on our personal liberty. Yes, for a given accident, the cyclist will come off better with a helmet than not. But that’s not how it works – when you ride without a helmet you pick different routes, avoid roads and ride slower; with a helmet you just go the fastest way possible because of the sense of security involved. So actually, there’s a way higher chance of accidents with a helmet.

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9
dungfungus 6:32 pm
06 Jun 14
#

aussieboy said :

But if we ban helmets, the AFP will have to find something else to do instead of spending their afternoons camped out behind bushes at ANU nabbing students on their way to class!

Helmets are a massive infringement on our personal liberty. Yes, for a given accident, the cyclist will come off better with a helmet than not. But that’s not how it works – when you ride without a helmet you pick different routes, avoid roads and ride slower; with a helmet you just go the fastest way possible because of the sense of security involved. So actually, there’s a way higher chance of accidents with a helmet.

The idle AFP officers can help the sudden need for Fire & Rescue to hose the gore of the roads while the ambos take the extra victims to the morgue.
When you drive a car do you leave your seatbelt off and sneak around the back streets at a snail’s pace and avoid other motorists?

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10
screaming banshee 8:02 pm
06 Jun 14
#

I have no doubt that I have sufficient mental capacity to type this post because I was wearing my helmet when I came off my bike. To this day some 10 years on I don’t remember what happened but I was a bloodied mess afterwards and my helmet was caved in at the back.

Would I have been wearing a helmet without campaigns such as ‘heroes wear helmets’, who knows, but seeing how my aunt has lived after falling off a 5ft high slide at age 5 I think anything we can do to reduce the risk of head injury is a good thing.

Anyone that says having to wear a helmet is the reason they don’t ride bikes is an idiot.

I’m with basketcase, if you choose not to wear a helmet while riding you shouldn’t be entitled to free healthcare if you receive a head injury.

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11
Martyn94 4:09 am
07 Jun 14
#

Like all helmet debates, this misses the point. Helmet laws are not (if they are rational) designed to limit head injuries for people who hit their heads. They are designed to improve public health outcomes for the whole population to an extent which outweighs the costs: you don’t have to be a libertarian to known that wearing them costs money, inconvenience and a certain loss of pleasure. And more important, having to do so provokes significant behavioural effects on people’s propensity to ride bikes, and on other road users’ propensity to behave safely around them.

Even if there were undisputed benefits from wearing a helmet once you come off your bike, it beggars belief that this outweighs the other effects – on your chances of coming off in the first place, but much more on your likelihood of being on a bike in the first place. If helmet laws reduce bike injuries, it is mostly (and perhaps more than mostly) because no-one is riding them. Given the public-health catastrophe (actual and looming) from Australia’s (and Canberra’s) staggering obesity issues, anything else seems like very small potatoes.

I have an unusual perspective as someone who visits Canberra, and rides there, for a few months a year, but got my biking habits, and do most of my riding, in non-helmet-law countries. As a committed bike rider, I just suck it up and wear a helmet when in Canberra: but I cannot believe that I would ever have started (as a fat 55-year-old geezer) if Canberra was all I knew.

I also know that Canberra is a pretty-hellish place to ride a bike compared to anywhere else I go. Not primarily because the provision for bikes is useless (though extensive), but mostly because everywhere is just too far from everywhere else. And always will be, so biking needs absolutely all the encouragement it can get.

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12
Martyn94 4:25 am
07 Jun 14
#

screaming banshee said :

I have no doubt that I have sufficient mental capacity to type this post because I was wearing my helmet when I came off my bike. To this day some 10 years on I don’t remember what happened but I was a bloodied mess afterwards and my helmet was caved in at the back.

Would I have been wearing a helmet without campaigns such as ‘heroes wear helmets’, who knows, but seeing how my aunt has lived after falling off a 5ft high slide at age 5 I think anything we can do to reduce the risk of head injury is a good thing.

Anyone that says having to wear a helmet is the reason they don’t ride bikes is an idiot.

I’m with basketcase, if you choose not to wear a helmet while riding you shouldn’t be entitled to free healthcare if you receive a head injury.

Two answers to this. First, the plural of anecdote is not evidence, still less policy. The fact that you sincerely believe to have been saved by a helmet on a particular occasion (and truly for all I know) does not mean that it’s right to make them compulsory all the time for everybody,

Second, even if people are fools to be put off biking by helmet laws, the fact is that they are put off. And you have to cop your share of the bill for their diabetes, gastric bands etc etc. It might be cheaper for you, and a lot more fun for them, if they rode a bike and a few of them hit their heads.

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13
Pity 7:43 am
07 Jun 14
#

Riding on roads, bike helmet should be compulsory.
Anywhere else, rider’s choice.

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14
dungfungus 9:03 am
07 Jun 14
#

basketcase said :

No helmet, no treatment at public expense. You decide.

Another great and sensible idea but like that other great idea recently on a different thread (abolish Sunday penanlty rates in the ACT) it won’t go anywhere as there are already too many stupid ideas that the masses would prefer.

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15
patrick_keogh 9:04 am
07 Jun 14
#

screaming banshee said :

I’m with basketcase, if you choose not to wear a helmet while riding you shouldn’t be entitled to free healthcare if you receive a head injury.

I’m sorry, but I find this particular line untenable, because I would immediately have to add to this list of those who have directly contributed to their own accident or illness:
– smokers who are suffering from a smoking-related illness
– the obese
– drivers who were not obeying the law (speed, alcohol, seatbelts, bald tyres etc.)
– etc. etc. etc.

In summary the health system is not and should not be an extension of the judicial system, we should not use the health system to punish the very citizens who pay for it.

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