1) Cycling is safer in non-helmet law countries Few people realise that, because helmet laws reduced cycling, they also reduced safety in numbers. Countries with low helmet wearing rates have more cyclists and many fewer deaths and injuries per kilometre cycled – see below.
2) “Helmets not even in top 10 of things that keep cycling safe” - UK Cycling expert Chris Boardman UK Cycling policy adviser, Olympic gold
medallist and world record holder, Chris Boardman, explains: “Helmets not even in top 10 of things that
keep cycling safe" … “It’s
time for the cycling community to put the debate about mandatory cycle helmets
to bed and get across the message that helmet use is one of the least important cycling safety
talking about making helmets mandatory ‘massively puts people off’ cycling.” Boardman likened the culture of helmet use among keen cyclists to people wearing body armour because they have got used to being shot at.
3) Laws reduced cycling, not injuries per cycle-km When Australian helmet laws were introduced, surveys showed fewer people rode bicycles. At the same observation periods, time of year and the same 64 sites in Melbourne, 1110 fewer cyclists (36%) were counted post law in 1991, but only 297 more cyclists wore helmets. This implies that more cyclists were discouraged from cycling, than were encouraged to wear helmets.
The graph below (from http://cyclehelmets.org/1194.html) shows numbers of head and non-head injuries before and after Victoria’s helmet law. The only plausible explanation for the large reduction in non-head injuries is that (as also demonstrated by the observational surveys) the helmet law discouraged cycling. Although head injuries may have fallen slightly more than non-head injuries (suggesting there might have been a small benefit from increased helmet wearing), this is clearly not the dominant effect. In fact, dividing numbers of injuries by the amount of post-law cycling indicates that, compared to what would have been expected without legislation, helmet laws increased injuries per cyclist.
4) Misleading information Qantas felt pressured to complain that the carbon tax had a major impact on its financial problems http://www.businessspectator.com.au/news/2014/3/7/carbon-markets/qantas-pressured-carbon-stance-report Organisations that rely on government funding may face even greater pressures. The misleading claims about helmet laws from two government-funded organisations are described at http://www.cycle-helmets.com/helmet-law-spin.html together with evidence that, after allowing for the effects of speeding, drink-driving and other road safety initiatives, cyclists were no safer than would have been expected without helmet laws. The confusion was compounded when Canadian researchers claimed that Ontario’s helmet law had not reduced cycling without telling people that the non-enforced law had only a temporary effect on helmet wearing rates cyclehelmets.org/1244.html In 2013, a comprehensive evaluation failed to find any benefits of helmet laws in Canada[2, 3].
5) Reduced cycling = substantial health and environmental damage When helmet laws were introduced, questionnaires and telephone surveys found that many people cycled less, e.g. 51% of school children said they had not cycled because of helmet laws, not safety concerns nor other reasons. In Western Australia, the equivalent of 64% of adult cyclists in Western Australia said they would ride more except for the helmet law - www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1410838/
Before helmet laws, cycling to work was becoming increasingly
popular, especially in regional areas – see census data on cycling to work (above). Cycling was generally considered healthy and safe
away from the capital cities. These
areas suffered big reductions in cycling after helmet laws were introduced, from
which they have never recovered, perhaps because the laws made cycling seem
less safe as well as less convenient.
Capital cities tend to have busier roads and longer travel times, so proportionately fewer people cycled to work even before helmet laws. In areas where cyclists already wear helmets because of perceived danger, helmet laws are less likely to discourage cycling than regional areas where cycling is generally considered safe and helmet wearing is low. UK surveys show a much higher helmet wearing rates in London (69.5%) than elsewhere (29.9%). Although many people say they don’t cycle because of safety, the same concerns are expressed by Australians in areas with many safe, low-traffic roads. This suggests that helmet laws (which make people think that cycling is unsafe) are perhaps an even greater deterrent than actual road safety conditions.
6) Safety in Numbers and the decline in Australian cycling In 1985/86, a National travel survey showed that 3.9% of all trips in Australia were by bike. At least 85% of bicycle trips were for transport purposes (suggesting that the survey did not cover recreational cycling). The same amount of cycling today (2.24 km per person per week, about 85% for transport purposes) would generate estimated health, environmental and other benefits of $2.4 billion per year.
In the 2011 National Cycling Participation Survey, there was 60% less transport cycling per person than the 1985/86 survey – an estimated loss of $1.44 billion (60% of $2.4 billion). The latest survey in 2013, reported a substantial reduction in cycling compared to 2011, implying even greater losses compared to the amount of cycling per person in 1985/86.
In 1985/86, cycling accounted for 1.6% of trips in Sydney and 5.0% in the rest of NSW. If the upward trends in cycling to work (in census data) had continued, NSW would have enjoyed many additional health and environmental benefits. Instead, with entrenched helmet laws, the NSW Household travel survey (covering Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong) found that cycling represented 0.6% trips, a far cry from what might have been.
With evaluations showing little or no benefit from the increase in helmet wearing, the lost health and environmental benefits and reduced Safety in Numbers from discouraging cycling more than outweighed any benefits of helmet laws.
Those continuing to cycle are not deterred by helmet laws, so are likely to wear helmets even if the law is changed. The main benefit of helmet-law reform will be to attract non-cyclists and occasional cyclists back to bicycling, and so generate substantial health and environmental benefits. An overseas study reported that, even accounting for other forms of exercise, people who did not cycle to work had 39% higher mortality rates than those who cycled to work. As well as health benefits for new and lapsed cyclists, existing cyclists will benefit from improved safety in numbers – a win-win situation.
7) Public bike scheme drove Paris ‘Cycling Mad’ Elsewhere, public bike schemes are generating renewed interest in cycling. Velib drove Paris ‘cycling mad’. For 181,982 residents using Barcelona’s public bike scheme, the estimated annual change in mortality compared with car users was 12.46 fewer deaths because of the increased physical activity, compared to 0.03 more deaths from road traffic incidents and 0.13 deaths from air pollution.
Ten million miles were cycled on New York’s public bike scheme in its first 5 months. Membership in November 2013 was 90,000, 1.5 times the expected number for the end of the first year. NY’s Dept of Transport states that "Since 2000, there has been a 72% decrease in the average risk of serious injury experienced by cyclists in NYC, while the number of trips by bike has nearly tripled"
Dublin’s public bike scheme began with 400 bikes. It had 47,000 subscribers in its first 12 months with over 1.1 million journeys made on the bikes – an average of about 10 trips per bike per day. By August 2011, the scheme had 550 bikes, 58,000 subscribers and over 2.2 million rentals. Expansion started in November 2013, by which time the bikes had been used for over 6 million journeys, as part of a 14-stage plan to bring the scheme out into the suburbs and increase the number of bikes to 5,000.
Not wanting to wear a helmet (25%) and difficulty finding a helmet (36%) were found to be major barriers to Australian BikeShare schemes. Dublin’s success, with about 10 trips per bike per day, or the other cities show in the graph below from Elliot Fishman’s paper is a far cry from Melbourne’s 0.7-0.8 trips per bike per day or Brisbane’s 0.3 trips per bike per day.
8) Sydney Public Bike Scheme hinges on helmets ”The City of Sydney is considering a bicycle hire scheme, but only if it wins an exemption from compulsory helmet laws.” http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/bike-hire-plans-hinge-on-helmets-20120304-1ub4f.html
9) Injuries per million hours of cycling doubled or quadrupled following NZ’s helmet laws A recent investigation considered injury rates of cyclists in NZ from crashes involving motor vehicles and other crashes. Over the years since helmet laws were introduced, the roads have become safer for pedestrians, but cyclists have not enjoyed the same level of improvement. In fact there has been a dramatic increase in cyclist injuries from crashes not involving motor vehicles, e.g. quadrupling from 11.6 to 45.9 injuries per million hours for 19-19 year olds. There has also been a dramatic decrease in children’s cycling (79% for children aged 5-12 and 81% for 13-17 year olds (52 to 10 mins/person/week). The big increases in injuries not involving motor vehicles suggests that relatively safe activities such as transport cycling declined considerably, offset by some increase in riskier mountain-biking and sports cycling http://cycle-helmets.com/new-zealand-road-users.html
10) Qld Parliamentary Inquiry not convinced that helmet laws are justified
A recent Qld Parliamentary Inquiry into cycling issues stated that “the Committee is not convinced there is sufficient evidence of the safety outcomes of compulsory helmet wearing to justify the mandating of helmet wearing for all cyclists of all ages regardless of the situational risk. The Committee recommended that the Minister for Transport and Main Roads “introduce a 24 month trial which exempts cyclists aged 16 years and over from the mandatory helmet road rule when riding in parks, on footpaths and shared/cycle paths and on roads with a speed limit of 60 km/hr or less”
11) Suggested Changes to Transport Policy
· The fact that a Qld Parliamentary Committee is not convinced helmet laws are justified demonstrates that the benefits of helmet laws are questionable. Israel and Mexico City came to similar conclusions and repealed their helmet laws.
· Many cyclists will continue to wear helmets, even if the laws are repealed. However, repealing the laws will encourage more people to take up cycling for transport and enable public bike share schemes to be as successful in Australia as in other cities. Encouraging cycling will make it safer – a ‘win-win’ situation.
· In European cities, many people cycle to pubic transport stations for their daily commute. This allows door-to-door travel and extends the ability of public transport to provide more frequent services, due to the larger catchment area, another win-win situation that improves transport, public health and the environment.
· As part of the current policy review, evidence on bicycle helmet laws should be reviewed. This could be done initially by a subgroup of the Transport Working Group, or by the entire group TWG. The above evidence and references to further information has been compiled to assist the process.
7. Munro, C., Australian cycling participation 2013. Results of the 2013 National Cycling Participation Survey., 2013, CDM Research. Commisioned by the Australian Bicycle Council. Available at: http://www.austroads.com.au/abc/australian-cycling-participation-2013.
14. Kelly, O., Major expansion of the Dublin bike scheme begins today in Irish Times, 28 Nov. Available at: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/major-expansion-of-the-dublin-bike-scheme-begins-today-1.16094622013.
17. Finch, C., L. Heiman, and D. Neiger, Bicycle use and helmet wearing rates in Melbourne, 1987 to 1992: the influence of the helmet wearing law., 1993, Rpt 45, Monash Univ Acc Res Centre: Melbourne.
Suggested Changes to the Transport Policy
Key information on the amount of cycling before and after helmet laws in Australia
The effect of the laws can be determined by comparing injury rates before and after the laws were introduced. Victoria was the first Australian State to introduce bicycle helmet laws, on 1 July 1990. Over the next few years, all other States passed similar legislation, because of threats by the Federal Government to reduce road funding if States failed to comply with a 10-point road safety program including bicycle helmet laws. New Zealand (NZ) also introduced a bicycle helmet law in January 1994. (Carr, Dyte and Cameron, 1995, Robinson, 2001, Hendrie, Legge, Rosman and Kirov, 1999, Marshall and White, 1994, Robinson, 1996)
The data in Figs 1-5 show large increases in helmet wearing, but no major change in %HI, over and above the general trends. These trends may relate to new diagnostic techniques (e.g. CAT scans), changes in admission policies (as in SA), and safer roads (leading to lower impact speeds in collisions, reducing the risk of head injury - Janssen and Wismans, 1985). Thus it seems impossible to conclude from %HI data that helmet laws have any large or significant benefit.
Despite the lack of obvious change in %HI in response to increased helmet wearing from legislation (Figs 1-5), proponents of helmet laws have claimed the laws were effective. They usually fail to mention important aspects of the data, such as the similar trends in %HI for all road users (Fig 3), that non-head injuries fell by almost as much as head injuries (Fig 1), or the large reductions in the amount of cycling (see next section).
Click here to read the full article a discussion of cost-benefit analyses, the causes of brain injury and other information on how helmet laws have been evaluated.