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Australia’s helmet law disaster

By Sgt.Bungers - 8 May 2013 60

Helmets make sense in extreme cycling conditions… such as mountain biking or high speed road cycling. On paved paths away from motor traffic, it’s arguable that a casual cyclist pottering along at 15km/h is unlikely to receive much of a benefit from wearing a helmet should they come off. That’s certainly the way the rest of the world sees it.

In discussions regarding compulsory cycle helmets, it’s imperative that we consider the ~16,000 people who die of obesity related diseases in this country each year (well over 10 times the road toll). We are one of the fattest countries in the world; an epidemic that’s devastating families whilst costing our health system and economy a fortune.

With figures suggesting an 80% reduction in cycling within some demographics upon the introduction of compulsory helmets in Aus; would the repeal of the laws deliver an overall benefit to the health of the Australian population by increasing incidental exercise and decreasing obesity levels?

Luke Turner from the IPA has nicely summarized everything I dislike about compulsory cycle helmets in Australia:

Australia is one of only two countries in the world with national all-age mandatory bicycle helmet laws (MHLs).

Introduced by state and territory governments under threat of cuts to federal road funding in the early 1990s, the idea that it should be a criminal offense for an adult to ride a bicycle without a helmet has since then only been copied in New Zealand (1994) and a handful of regional or local jurisdictions (mainly in North America).

Israel experimented with national legislation, but repealed the law in 2011 after a four year trial. It’s no mystery why the rest of the world has shunned making bike helmets compulsory. From almost every perspective, helmet laws have been a disaster.

There are many objections to MHLs: they don’t improve injury rates, discourage regular recreational exercise in an era of high obesity, and are an unnecessary and unjust intrusion into individual freedom.

The first criticism of bike helmet laws is simple-they don’t do what they’re intended to do.

The most extensive study of the real-world effects of MHLs on injury rates was by Australian researcher, Dr Dorothy Robinson from the University of New England, who found ‘enforced helmet laws discourage cycling but produce no obvious response in percentage of head injuries’.

Even after 20 years and plenty of research, there is still no compelling evidence that Australia’s compulsory helmet laws have reduced injury rates on a population-wide basis.

While there is evidence that wearing a helmet will provide some protection from a knock to the head, the benefit is small. Severe head injuries amongst cyclists are not particularly common, and helmets do not prevent all or even a high proportion of those that might occur, but rather provide some marginal decrease in the likelihood of injury.

The reasons that the protective benefits of helmet-wearing are not evident across the whole population are not completely known, but almost certainly have something to do with the significant unwanted side-effects of helmet laws.

MHLs change people’s behaviour and perception of risk. Some cyclists take more risks while riding with a helmet than they would without, while studies have shown that some motorists drive closer to helmeted cyclists, than unhelmeted ones. This tendency for individuals to react to a perceived increase in safety by taking more risk is known as risk compensation.

Importantly, helmet laws severely reduce the number of cyclists on the road, leading to increased risk among those who remain through reduced safety in numbers, a researched and acknowledged influence on cyclist accident and injury rates.

Unsurprisingly, compulsory helmets have also discouraged cycling.

When the laws were introduced in the early 1990s, cycling trips declined by 30-40 per cent overall, and up to 80 per cent in some demographic groups, such as secondary school-aged females.

Today mandatory helmets are still a major factor deterring people from riding. A recent survey from University of Sydney Professor Chris Rissel found 23 per cent of Sydney adults would ride more if helmets were optional-a significant proportion given that only about 15-20 per cent of people ride regularly at present-and that amending helmet laws to allow adult cyclists free choice would lead to an approximate doubling of cycling numbers in Sydney.

MHLs are the main reason for the failure of Australia’s two public bike hire schemes. Brisbane and Melbourne are the only two cities in the world with helmet laws to have attempted public bike hire. While schemes in places like Paris, London, Montreal, Dublin and Washington DC have flourished, Brisbane and Melbourne have amongst the lowest usage rates in the world.

To facilitate increased cycling participation, the City of Sydney has recommended that current bike helmet legislation should be reviewed.

Cycling is generally a safe activity, the health benefits outweighing the risks from traffic accidents by a large margin. British research suggests life years gained through cycling outweigh years lost in cycling fatalities by a factor of 20:1. A recent study of users of Barcelona’s public bike hire scheme puts this ratio at 77:1.

Given that MHLs reduce cycling numbers so dramatically and produce such a small (or probably non-existent) safety dividend, it’s probable that the laws create a net health and financial burden on the community and health system.

By any measure, health problems associated with a lack of exercise are a far greater problem than cycling head injuries in Australia. According to the Heart Foundation, lack of physical activity causes 16,000 premature deaths each year, swamping the 40 or so cycling fatalities.

It makes little sense for Australian governments to be conjuring questionable attempts to ‘encourage’ exercise while at the same time maintaining legislation which actively discourages and prevents people from partaking in a simple form of exercise like cycling.

Each year police issue tens of thousands of fines to Australians for engaging in a peaceful activity which poses no danger to any other person or property. Some have even been imprisoned for refusing or being unable to pay bike helmet fines.

Australian cyclists who want to ride sans-helmet are being prevented from doing so, not because it’s reckless or dangerous, but simply because this already safe and healthy activity might be made marginally safer with the addition of a helmet. This is surely a flimsy basis for incarceration.

The best judge of when a helmet is necessary is the individual, who can take into account the particular circumstances of his or her ride. Downhill mountain bikers and high-speed road warriors would probably overwhelmingly still don lids if given the choice. Those out for a sedate ride on bike paths or on short local trips might be more inclined to want to feel the wind in their hair.

MHLs are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are inconsistent. Pedestrians and car occupants are each responsible for more hospital patient days for head injuries than cyclists. Despite this, few argue that compulsory walking and driving helmets are essential for safety.

After 20 years, the results are clear: the compulsory bike helmet experiment has failed. We need to amend the law to allow adults the freedom to choose if a helmet is necessary when they cycle.

Some will still choose to wear helmets at all times, and this is a totally reasonable decision. However in many situations it is perfectly safe to go without and Australia should join the rest of the world in allowing this simple freedom.

Original Article

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Australia’s helmet law disaster
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Dilandach 12:24 pm 10 May 13

howeph said :

You didn’t reply

Of course I didn’t, you didn’t have the decency to answer anything I asked and instead went on a rant about how you should be rewarded for riding a bike while dodging questions.

I originally had more typed out but it is just summed up as this:

The notion that helmets contribute to the perception that cycling is a highly dangerous activity which has a flow on effect in being responsible for the obesity epidemic just shows your arguments are flawed and are filled with nothing but personal opinions, straw clutching, exaggeration and misinterpretation. The poll thread goes to show the desperation that you’ve resorted to.

tuco 11:36 am 10 May 13

A note to Aeek and howeph. You are kind enough to refer Dilandach to a study of cognitive dissonance and logical structure. I’d suggest Dilandach google on over to the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Aeek 10:52 am 10 May 13

Dilandach said :

You know you’re on the bad side of a discussion when you’re coming up with nonsensical statements in a failed attempt to prove a point, any point.

I can see you know that.

howeph 10:44 am 10 May 13

Hi Dilandach,

I don’t know how many times you want to keep on going around the merry-go-round but I’m up for one more.

(The quoting has gotten all mixed up so I’m just going to use “You said” and “I said”)

I said:

Great. Show me where my logic or reason is wrong.

To which You said:

Because you’ve just been raging on about something you personally don’t like being responsible for people not riding bikes when there is zero evidence of having to wear a helmet being the primary reason behind it. Its a laughable argument

It’s a little unclear exactly what your meaning is here, but I get the gist. The points I’d make is that:

a) Me being frustrated or angry about something doesn’t make what I’m saying untrue.

b) There is evidence that helmet laws stopped people riding their bikes which I have linked to repeatedly and
do so again here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1410838/?tool=pubmed#__sec3title You just refuse to look (an example of confirmation bias http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias).

c) If it’s a “laughable argument” then it should be easy for you to disprove. You could do this by clearly stating the assumption(s), or logical step(s) that I’ve gotten wrong and provide a counter argument (not just an opinion) or better yet, some evidence to show that I am wrong.

You said, quoting me (I hope this quoting works):

howeph said :

howeph said :

Mandatory helmet laws and the scare campaign to support it IS stopping people from ridding
Source: http://www.cyclingpromotion.com.au/content/view/526/9/

Case in point, not even a mention of helmets or the helmet law in the article. You’re just projecting what you dislike and drawing an extremely long bow to come up with your wild conclusions

Sorry, I was paraphrasing the argument that I had mad a few comments earlier that I shall provide again here in full for you:

The main reason people don’t ride is because of the ongoing scare campaign required to sell and sustain mandatory helmet laws.

“Cycling Promotion Fund (CPF) and the National Heart Foundation of Australia has found more than 62% of Australians want to be able to ride a bike for transport, but road safety fears are keeping bikes in the shed and off the road.”
Source: http://www.cyclingpromotion.com.au/content/view/526/9/

More evidence of the ongoing scare campaig was the press release posted here yesterday:
http://the-riotact.com/police-and-michael-milton-want-you-to-share-the-road/103238

You wouldn’t know it from those scary statistics provided, but the average number of cyclist fatalities from road accidents in the ACT for the same period 2000 – 2012 is:

0.4

One death each in 2005, 2006 and 2012 and two in 2010.
source: http://www.bitre.gov.au/statistics/safety/fatal_road_crash_database.aspx

Lots more information is available at http://helmetfreedom.org/908/how-safe-is-cycling-in-australia/ that will help me draw that bow.

You said:

No one is saying that cycling isn’t safe.

Lots of people are saying that cycling is unsafe (see above).

You said:

This is hardly a right reason for sticking it to the man its not even a reason, its just straight up tin foil hattery.

I’m not actually “sticking it to the man”. In my first post to this thread where I described my own feelings (please note this is not an opinion. I AM THE AUTHORITY about my own feelings):

howeph said :

But in my case, the reason why I didn’t ride a bike for so long; it was as a misguided form of protest against people telling me what to do for no good reason!

I thought “You can’t tell me what to do. If I don’t ride at all then they wont have made me wear a helmet”. Stupid I know but it’s not a rational thing (just like some people don’t like fishing).But with approaching middle age, a family and the beginning of a beer gut I realised that riding to work was the most sensible way of getting some exercise.

That doesn’t change the fact that every time I *have* to put on a helmet to ride my bike I hate it. I’m an adult, perfectly capable of assessing the risk and deciding to wear or not to wear a helmet.

Notice how I used words and phrases like “misguided”, “stupid”, and “not a rational thing”. This is called being reflective, and honest with yourself. I provided this information so that people, like you, could clearly see where I was coming from.

Also, it might have slipped your notice, but nowhere have I said that I will never wear a helmet, nor that you should never wear a helmet.

You said:

If you really want to ride ‘free’ then man up and accept the repercussions that would come from it. You should be arguing at the same time that if you were allowed to ride without a helmet you would support having to pay full medical costs for any associated injuries from not riding a bike. Not being covered by medicare or private health, completely out of your pocket. Whether your fault or not.

We have already had this argument. I refer you to my comment #4 where I said:

The article you referenced indicated that the medical cost *might* have been reduced by $64 million if those riders had been wearing a helmet. However if you compare this to the NSW health budget of $18.3 billion that would represent a saving of just 0.003%.

But do you know what one of the biggest costs to the health budget is… heart disease. One of the primary causes of heart disease is obesity and lack of exercise. Studies have shown that even a small amount of regular exercise significantly reduces your chance of heart disease. So I would argue that getting more people to get on their bike saves health costs. Perhaps we should get a rebate?

You didn’t reply.

Dilandach, here is a challenge for you. Answer the question relating to the photos that I linked to at the end of comment # 45.

If you find it hard to answer those questions, if feels like a trick or a trap, then may I suggest that it is you who is confused on this issue [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance%5D.

Dilandach 12:04 pm 09 May 13

Aeek said :

Many times, as I looked down past the ankle height armco barrier at the tree tops far below, I have thought “My helmet will protect me”.

You know you’re on the bad side of a discussion when you’re coming up with nonsensical statements in a failed attempt to prove a point, any point.

Dilandach 12:02 pm 09 May 13

[‘not riding a bike’]

should be ‘not wearing a helmet’

Dilandach 11:59 am 09 May 13

howeph said :

Dilandach said :

Logic or rationality isn’t something you’re appealing from.

howeph said :

Great. Show me where my logic or reason is wrong.

Because you’ve just been raging on about something you personally don’t like being responsible for people not riding bikes when there is zero evidence of having to wear a helmet being the primary reason behind it. Its a laughable argument

Dilandach said :

They’re not being stopped from riding, put on a helmet and ride.

howeph said :

Mandatory helmet laws and the scare campaign to support it IS stopping people from ridding
Source: http://www.cyclingpromotion.com.au/content/view/526/9/

Case in point, not even a mention of helmets or the helmet law in the article. You’re just projecting what you dislike and drawing an extremely long bow to come up with your wild conclusions.

Dilandach said :

Of course protecting against head injuries should come second to bike hair and sticking it to the man.

howeph said :

“Helmet Hair”, whilst a reason for some, is largely a straw man argument. And what’s wrong with “sticking it to the man” for the right reasons?

Cycling is safe.

No one is saying that cycling isn’t safe. This is hardly a right reason for sticking it to the man its not even a reason, its just straight up tin foil hattery. A helmet is hardly an inconvenience, its not even a minor one.

If you really want to ride ‘free’ then man up and accept the repercussions that would come from it. You should be arguing at the same time that if you were allowed to ride without a helmet you would support having to pay full medical costs for any associated injuries from not riding a bike. Not being covered by medicare or private health, completely out of your pocket. Whether your fault or not.

Erg0 11:28 am 09 May 13

howeph said :

Dilandach said :

Logic or rationality isn’t something you’re appealing from.

Great. Show me where my logic or reason is wrong.

Any argument which relies on the assumption that others are currently dumb, but will become smart if we just changed one little thing, is hard to classify as rational.

howeph 11:04 am 09 May 13

Rollersk8r said :

So I say fine, go ahead, change the law. I’ll keep wearing my helmet but chances are you’ll get away with it 99.9% of the time if you don’t.

Thanks Rollersk8r. That’s all we want.

Dilandach 10:56 am 09 May 13

howeph said :

Ghettosmurf87 said :

What we need is a register of self-righteous morons who believe that they always know best.

Couldn’t agree more. Lets call it the “Wowser Register”.

Supporters of mandatory helmet laws can top the list.

But only below the petulant children who only don’t want to do something because someone is telling them they should without any rhyme or reason.

Someone said so! Oh boy that means I gotta stick it to the man and rebel against it.

howeph 10:54 am 09 May 13

Dilandach said :

Logic or rationality isn’t something you’re appealing from.

Great. Show me where my logic or reason is wrong.

Dilandach said :

They’re not being stopped from riding, put on a helmet and ride.

Mandatory helmet laws and the scare campaign to support it IS stopping people from ridding
Source: http://www.cyclingpromotion.com.au/content/view/526/9/

Dilandach said :

Of course protecting against head injuries should come second to bike hair and sticking it to the man.

“Helmet Hair”, whilst a reason for some, is largely a straw man argument. And what’s wrong with “sticking it to the man” for the right reasons?

Cycling is safe.

Aeek 10:54 am 09 May 13

Many times, as I looked down past the ankle height armco barrier at the tree tops far below, I have thought “My helmet will protect me”.

Rollersk8r 10:40 am 09 May 13

Not needing a helmet when you’re going for a slow ride is the same as not buckling the kids’ seatbelts because you’re only dropping them to school. But guess what – I see people riding without helmets and kids being dropped to school without seatbelts EVERY SINGLE DAY.

And in both cases the risk of actually getting fined for not wearing a helmet or not wearing seatbelts is about the same – very low. So I say fine, go ahead, change the law. I’ll keep wearing my helmet but chances are you’ll get away with it 99.9% of the time if you don’t.

PS. Directly linking obesity rates to helmet laws is absolute nonsense.

howeph 10:38 am 09 May 13

Ghettosmurf87 said :

What we need is a register of self-righteous morons who believe that they always know best.

Couldn’t agree more. Lets call it the “Wowser Register”.

Supporters of mandatory helmet laws can top the list.

Dilandach 10:31 am 09 May 13

howeph said :

Ok,

So if an appeal from reason, logic, risk assessment, statistics, economics, health policy, freedom and liberty doesn’t make you think that mandatory helmet laws are dumb and counter productive…

How about an appeal to your emotions.

Please reflect on these two photos:

http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/nieuws/holland_bikes.jpg

and

http://image1.masterfile.com/em_w/06/12/34/623-06123464w.jpg

Ask yourself:

* Are these people irrationally and recklessly endangering their lives?”

* Should they have a law and fines imposed on them to stop them from doing what they are doing?

Logic or rationality isn’t something you’re appealing from. They’re not being stopped from riding, put on a helmet and ride.

Of course protecting against head injuries should come second to bike hair and sticking it to the man.

howeph 10:18 am 09 May 13

Ok,

So if an appeal from reason, logic, risk assessment, statistics, economics, health policy, freedom and liberty doesn’t make you think that mandatory helmet laws are dumb and counter productive…

How about an appeal to your emotions.

Please reflect on these two photos:

http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/nieuws/holland_bikes.jpg

and

http://image1.masterfile.com/em_w/06/12/34/623-06123464w.jpg

Ask yourself:

* Are these people irrationally and recklessly endangering their lives?”

* Should they have a law and fines imposed on them to stop them from doing what they are doing?

Ghettosmurf87 10:15 am 09 May 13

Diggety said :

We need a nanny state register, where all those who need the government to make little decisions like wearing a helmet for them to sign up.

The grown ups can then continue on in life with the freedom and responsibility to make decisions for themselves.

What we need is a register of self-righteous morons who believe that they always know best.

It is invariably these idiots which, unable to realise that they are not the be all and end all of common sense and good ideas and who ignore regulations put in place to protect them, make stupid decisions that result in accidents, injuries, shoddy construction etc and inevitably cost people more and cause greater government funds to be expended than would otherwise have been the case.

Surely people see everyday that numerous “grown-ups” make awful decisions. Now, if we’re lucky, these decisions only affect themselves, but so often they affect the people and infrastructure around them too. I certainly don’t trust a large percentage of the adult population to “do the right thing” should it stop being the law and become just a guideline or recommendation.

I’m all for personal responsibility, but what in the world is the point of a government if it will not regulate and maintain some form of social contract that ensures a level of structure and harmony in the world we live in?

Or I guess you could just live in pure unregulated chaos?

There is a reason so many people observe that common-sense is anything but common.

IrishPete 10:10 am 09 May 13

bundah said :

I haven’t seen anyone in recent times riding a bike baring a shiny chrome dome but pls feel free coz i’d like to see it 🙂

You’re just a little sick…

Admittedly it tends to be cold on the skull at many times of year, and risking sunburn at most times of year, but a beanie or baseball cap respectively fixes that. Now if only I could get a Kevlar beanie…

But really, the only riding I would do is about 1km to my local shops, so neither sunburn nor the cold really enter the equation.

IP

Erg0 9:53 am 09 May 13

Incidentally, I drive more carefully around cyclists who aren’t wearing helmets because I see their disregard for the law as an indication that they may engage in other risky behaviour while riding. Wearing a helmet is a small sign that the rider is taking steps to manage their own safety.

Correlation != causation, etc.

Diggety 9:50 am 09 May 13

We need a nanny state register, where all those who need the government to make little decisions like wearing a helmet for them to sign up.

The grown ups can then continue on in life with the freedom and responsibility to make decisions for themselves.

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