Some time back I mentioned I don’t wear a helmet all the time. And that I don’t support mandatory helmet laws (MHLs). Over the years these admissions have triggered heated (and, sadly, misinformed) feedback. I wrote this post to explain why I arrived at my conclusions. It’s not a vain preference; my stance is based on sound science and I encourage anyone disturbed by my position, particularly those who get a little abusive in their response, to read the below, do their own research also, and to feel free to point me to legitimate and non-vested science I might have missed.

Update: I have, yes, updated this post March 2019.

There are two separate issues when discussing this topic

…and they shouldn’t be conflated.

The first: Do helmets work?

The second: Do mandatory helmet laws work?

I’ll stress, before you read on: I’m not anti-helmet. I’m against the the mandatory helmet laws here in Australia. In fact, my interest in the topic emerged when I started questioning why Australia and New Zealand are the only countries in the world with all-age enforced MHLs. It seemed odd.

Update: According to Freestyle Cyclists, while New Zealand still has MHLs, the level of enforcement has dropped dramatically – to neglible levels – over the past five years, with national road policing manager, Inspector Peter McKennie saying their focus is on “people not wearing seatbelts, driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs or fatigue”.

Thus, Australia remains the only country in the world bogged down in this mess.

Does the rest of the world not care about the collective noggins of its citizens? Or do they not have them for good reason? Turns out it’s the latter.

If you’d like to read the column I wrote for News Ltd on this matter click here. Note: the headline isn’t mine.

Update: The few other jurisdictions that did have partially enforced laws (most didn’t issue fines) have since repealed or reformed them, including Mexico, Israel, Bosnia-Hertzegovina and Malta.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 5.30.42 PMBut let’s discuss the various elements of the two aspects of the argument. Be warned: the issue requires nuanced thinking!!

There’s no conclusive proof helmets save lives or limit injuries. In fact, the opposite.

The “science” on whether helmets actually protect us on an individual basis is very inconclusive and no randomised controlled trials have been done on the safety of bike helmets.  The trials that have been done, however, point to the fact they don’t actually save lives. This Canadian one, published in BMJ, is a case in point. Which is part of the reason why the rest of the world don’t have MHLs (although only part of the reason; the main one is explained below). There are so many variables entailed in how this can possibly be so:

Helmets actually cause head rotation in a large number of bike accidents.

Helmets have been shown to prevent injury from “linear speeding”. But the majority of head injuries from bike accidents occur from “angular” accidents caused when the head is rotated. Hmmm. Bill Curnow, President of the Cyclists Rights Action Group in Canberra, reviewed the scientific literature for a 2008 book, Transport Accident Analysis and Prevention. He writes, “Scientific circles had ‘widely discredited’ the theory that linear acceleration is the main cause of brain injury, yet helmet makers had made a huge investment in this theory and designed their helmets accordingly, while ignoring the role of angular acceleration in causing brain injury, due to rotation of the head.

It gets worse.

Soft-shell helmets were approved a while back;  they’re more comfortable and airy than previous ones. This is what most people wear these days. But wait for this:

They were approved despite advise that they caused increased rotational forces.

These helmets are tested to impact speeds of only 19.5km/h (the speed of impact of being dropped 1.5m) and to pass they only have to not shatter. If a helmet shatters, of course, it’s failed. As Dr Paul Martin at St Vincents, Sydney: “A helmet smashing into pieces is actually a sign of the helmet failing to work as it should. The foam needs to compress significantly if any forces are to be attenuated. If it cracks or breaks before the foam compresses then it has done nothing to help you. The documents can be read in full at your local state library (the main one is AS/NZS2063 and the testing documents are AS/NZS2512).

The new helmet standards mandate that the straps now have to stretch to allow the helmet to come off after the ‘initial impact’. As Dr Paul says, “How does the helmet ‘know’ if the initial impact is going to be the ‘big one’?”

Helmets that don’t comply with the updated standard are illegal to sell but not illegal to wear (if you can follow that logic) I.e. You might have a helmet that you bought before the updated helmet laws, but you can still wear it… which makes a law forcing people to wear such helmets just a bit ridiculous).

A bicycle helmet will not protect your face…nor your cervical spine.

Which is kind of important.

Helmets make riders – and drivers – less cautious..

…therefore more likely to crash. This is a thread that comes up in a lot of studies – helmet-free riders are defensive riders. Similarly, studies show “risk compensation” kicks in for bike riders. That is, Helmet riders can be more complacent and take more risks. Ditto drivers. One study shows drivers are more considerate of riders without helmets.

If an accident is bad enough to cause brain damage, helmets don’t prevent said brain damage.

This from anaesthetist Dr Paul Martin who encounters many bike accident victims in the trauma unit he works in:

A bicycle helmet will not prevent brain damage if the forces involved are so great that you would sustain brain damage without a helmet. You will certainly prevent superficial injuries but that’s about it. In fact, this is a major reason why they’re good to wear for sport cycling. There is nothing worse than having to abandon a race with a scalp laceration. I do not wear a bicycle helmet most of the time. When competing, I’ll wear one.

Helmet laws make riding more dangerous

OK, so let’s jump to the second issue: the mandatory laws. Do they work?

Well, no. Which is the main reason why other countries around the world have scraped MHLs. Papers have been published in Canada showing no effect on hospitalisation rates for cycling injuries in provinces with helmet laws when compared to provinces without helmet laws.  In Australia (Jim Lemon, also of UNSW) showing declines in head injuries to cyclists in NSW following helmet mandation were as a result of decline in participation and other road safety measures introduced at the same time, with no change attributable to helmets.  And just last month from California, a hospital based study from the LA district public hospitals showing helmet wearing had no positive impact on reducing head injuries amongst cyclists admitted to hospital following accidents.

In fact, the laws have a negative impact on safety and wellbeing that goes way beyond arguments about “inconvenience”, “curbing of freedom” and bad hair. Folk who go at me on forums and yell at me from their cars,  as well as jocular journos on morning shows who mock me (without thinking there might be some nuance and research  in the equation), automatically assume I’m just lazy, entitled or vain in my stance. No! The most crucial factor is this:

Helmets deter people from riding.

In fact, studies show they are the #1 deterrent. Bikes account for up to 50% of trips in many European cities and towns.  Australia is still stuck on the 1% it has been at for 25 years.  As Freestyle Cyclists say, public bike share schemes flourish in Europe and the United States, while Australia plays host to the dud failures in Melbourne and Brisbane, thanks to our helmet laws.

Now you might think that’s a trifle point. No! The impact of so many people not riding a bike is huge. Read on…OK, so we now arrive at this next point:

Regular riders live longer because the health effects of cycling far outweigh the risk of death from crashing.

There is ample data to back this, referring to the fact the cycling fast becomes a very effective form of exercise for many people when they don’t have to wear helmets. Check out this:

According to the Australian Heart Foundation mortality from lack of exercise accounts for 16,000 deaths a year. How many people die from bike accidents? 40 a year.Click To Tweet

Less riders on the road means more dangerous bike conditions.

Cities where more people ride are safer…it’s called the Smeed’s law. Look it up. Now, don’t dismiss this point as “too hard” to put in place, arguing, “But Sydney’s roads are not like Amsterdam/Copenhagen/Paris”. With obesity, road congestion, CO2 emissions etc as they are, we must think longterm about this issue. Amsterdam’s cycling conditions are as they are because someone thought longterm and in a nuanced fashion.

While ever helmet laws are the government’s response, other (actually effective) measures are side-lined. 

Think about what goes on in this country (and, indeed, on my social forums when I mention the issue). We go feral about people not wearing bike helmets (yell out windows, write horrible things on Instagram posts). And then we go feral over any efforts to build cycle paths or promote campaigns geared at rider awareness, initiatives that actually work (and that see cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Paris safe cycle zones).

Can you see the madness, people?

When helmets are compulsory and folk wear them reluctantly and without commitment, they’re often worn incorrectly.

Not so when people voluntarily wear them, which is always an option, regardless of MHLs.

As I say, all these factors have stacked up for other governments. But not ours.

A peer reviewed study published in March 2014 looking at the costs and benefits of a bicycle helmet law for Germany  found:

For Germany, the benefits of a law that obliges cyclists to wear helmets are smaller than the costs. From an aggregated welfare point of view, Germany would therefore lose from introducing such a law.

In December 2013, the final report of the OECD International Transport Forum Working Group on Cycling Safety recommended member countries consider that bicycle helmet laws increase crash risk and discourage cycling participation with negative health and safety consequences. We are a member of the OECD.

Plus the fines don’t work

Alan fromFreestyle Cyclist points me to the fine hike in NSW from $71 on the spot to $330 that was introduced in March 2016. Data from the National Cycling Participation Survey carried out as part of the National Cycling Strategy, show declines in cycling throughout Australia in the time period 2015-2017.  State by state data compared show a significantly greater decrease in NSW than elsewhere in the country.

Plus, seriously, what’s the *real* risk of head injury?

Not nearly as high as the hysteria would have us bludgeoned into believing. In Australia, about 40 people from bike accidents each year, not all of which are from head injuries.

The problem is vulnerability is confused with danger when it comes to bike helmets.

Yes, cyclists are vulnerable. But the danger – the real risk of injury – is minimal.

There are many safety studies that have been done on the issue. This one is a good overview. But a few interesting factoids I’ve collated along the way which might assist you in making up your own mind:

  • Cycling is less dangerous than being a pedestrian. Indeed, six times as many pedestrians as cyclists are killed by motor traffic, yet travel surveys show annual mileage walked is only five times that cycled. The proportion of cyclist injuries which are head injuries is essentially the same as the proportion for pedestrians at 30.0 % vs. 30.1 %.
  • UK research has pointed out that it takes at least 8000 years of average cycling to produce one clinically severe head injury and 22,000 years for one death.
  • In the first 400 days of Dublin’s bike share, 1.3 million trips were made (average duration 16 minutes), equating to 3.7 million kilometres of riding, not one incident. Not one.

Finally, would you wear a helmet in a car? Walking in the street?

This is kind of where the ludicrousness of the MHL logic could take us, if we wanted to be pains in the arses: Do you wear a helmet when in a car? If not, why not? The risk of a serious head injury in a car is much greater than on a bicycle. Ditto walking around town. Should we extend MHLs to everyone leaving the house each day?

You can read a stack more by the Bicycle Network  and their full review of MHLs in Australia here. And you can get more involved in things with and follow them on Facebook.

Now that you’ve read all this, and have taken on the more nuanced arguments and science, what are your thoughts?

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Samantha

    Its the same crappy shit she wrote dont act like u wrote this u jst went along and said lets do something *COPY/PASTE*
    Well their i think she wont notice a thing unless she says havnt i seen or read this already

  • Richard

    Interesting debate – I live in the UK and commute about half the year. I’m a keen XC/single track/enduro rider but I also do a lot of road riding especially on my commute. I always wear a helmet and have done since I got into the sport 15 years ago. I’ve fallen over as a kid in a playground and banged my head – it really really hurts and I know wearing a helmet would have been less painful; but frankly I was special enough as a kid and wearing a helmet in the playground would not have helped the cause much!

    So far I’ve also broken two helmets mountain biking but whether they did much I’m not sure as both times no rocks where involved but instead softer ground.

    One of my friends was hit by a car wearing only a beanie hat – we often joke around with the parody ‘last night a beanie saved my life’ but the fact is he survived in tact.

    So, I think it’s a personal choice and should remain one. I think the bigger problem we need to tackle is infrastructure and people’s attitude towards cycling. Since the late 19th century cars have been the focal point of our streets – that needs to stop. Streets are for the people and cars should be very much lower down on the list of priorities.

    Get out and ride 🙂

  • Cassie

    Nina – you are a voice of reason in the chaos that is this blog. Thank you.
    Ps. I don’t think Sarah W is a big fan of meta analyses somehow…..

  • Anth

    I totally disagree with this post. Altough helmet wearing is compulsory, it saves lifes. In CBD Melbourne especially, the cyclists race down Swanston street and could easily be taken out by cars. To put fashion over health is not on. I’m sure people can deal with “hat hair” over a smashed face.

  • Sarah Garnett

    I agree Kathlyn

  • Guest

    Just wear a bloody helmet!

  • More accidents happen in the home, and so we should make it law to spend less time at home. Always wear a helmet, no matter what you are doing, just in case, and it’s probably good to wear a rubber suit and keep yourself earthed so as not to get any possible electrocution. You can never win the safety argument, but when will it stop. I remember a surgeon in the 80’s who was trying to get people to wear helmets while driving in a car, and he had good statistics to back it up. Just make it illegal to snow ski, skateboard, rollerblade, scooter, climb trees, play in the sun without a hat etc etc….

  • Barbie

    Totally sick of the nanny state mentality. Let’s hold everyone’s hand doing everything. I am a “helmetless” bike rider [albeit I do not ride on main roads – just in my local neighbourhood]. I spent my whole childhood riding bikes and all sorts of bikes without a helmet – my dad owned the local bike shop. I have never known anyone to have fallen off a bike and damaged their brain or encountered life threatening injuries. Just tired of being told how and when to do everything. I am a good person, a law abiding citizen [except for the helmet part] and despite the “laws” I will continue to ride without a helmet. Viva la wind through my hair. Peace and out!

  • CuriousKate

    My son came off his bike and hit his head on rocks. He was not wearing a helmet despite our rule of ‘you must always wear a helmet’. Seeing your child lying prone, helpless and injured is traumatising. It was so distressing for his younger brother and sister who found him. One stayed with him, the other came running for help. It is traumatising to see the ambos working with your child. To see him loaded up into the ambulance and following it from behind as they rushed him to hospital while the other children are crying in the backseat. It is traumatising to see doctors working on him, calling the Royal Children’s Hospital for direction and advice (we were at a very small country hospital who don’t ‘do paeds’). To hear them discuss fractures, head and neck injuries, severe concussion and even talking about sending him to Melbourne via Helicopter. It is traumatising to have your injured child in hospital, screaming “take my eyes out” “the light is killing my eyes” and other such strangeness. It is traumatising to travel to Melbourne in the back of an ambulance with your child – not knowing what is really happening. It is traumatising to arrive at the big city hospital and the staff attend to your child as if he is a piece of cottonwool. As if his neck was broken, or his back. As if your precious child is broken and unrepairable. It is traumatising to see your child head into the MRI and not know. It is an experience that we could have prevented. Or at least it would have been no where near as serious had he been wearing a helmet.

    This happened 8 years ago. He is now 19, his siblings are 18 and 15. They ALL wear helmets whilst cycling, skateboarding, scootering because of what happened.

    Helmets save lives. Helmets save serious injury. No doubt in my mind.

  • Wow, what a great debate. I’m on your side Sarah. I saw a lady who looked to be in her 70’s calmly riding her bike up a very steep hill in Paris, she had beautiful clothes on, beautiful fishnet stockings and a lovely hat – not a helmet. My friends and I could not stop looking at her, firstly because we were struggling to WALK up the same hill and secondly because it was obvious she had been riding up that hill probably most of her life – with no helmet. We saw the same thing everywhere we went in Europe – I’ll admit it – I don’t ride my bike because I hate wearing a helmet.

  • Julius Zuben

    If I didn’t wear a helmet I would probably be in a coma if not dead right now. I can still remember my helmet hitting the road as I fell off the bike

  • Emma

    Laws are made to protect people from their own stupidity. Exhibit A ^

    • Sofia

      Smoking should be banned then, along with fast food. I feel it’s stupid to smoke and eat that crap so… There should be a law protecting people from stupid behaviors… Where do we set the limit?

  • Tsue

    Ok, I get this, riding without a helmet reminds me of when I was 8 years old. Unfortunately, last night when driving out of Byron I came upon a recent accident and there was a body still in the road. Very confronting, it was a 66 year old man who had been cycling and his head injuries were so sever when he was hit by a car that he didn’t survive. This is the reality.

  • Jen

    Sorry Sarah, totally disagree with you. It’s just commonsense to wear a helmet. Would you drive your car without wearing a seatbelt???

  • O’Mafonzie

    All statistics aside: just watch one person with brain injury go through rehab and acceptance that she will never again work as a teacher. All because she hated helmet hair. A minor accident with a pavement stone did that. We think motorcycle riders should, horse riders should. But we are invincible?

  • Trish

    I was hit by a car reversing from a driveway when I was 14. I went over the bonnet of the car and landed very awkwardly (doing loads of damage to my ankles but not breaking anything). By the time I’d gotten off the ground my helmet was not on my head so I have no idea if it actually protected me at all. That was the first time I’d been wearing a helmet but the third serious accident I’d had on my bike (which I used to ride everywhere as a child/teen). Now in my 30’s with dodgy ankles and hips, cycling for me is only a recreational activity at a very reduced speed and definitely off the road.
    It would make the whole experience much more enjoyable to be able to enjoy the wind through my hair and not have to deal with a sweaty mess afterwards which invariably happens when wearing a helmet, regardless of ventilation. Given the minuscule chance of my actually having an accident where a helmet would prevent me from serious injury I would much prefer the option of wearing a helmet rather than committing a criminal act if I choose not to.

  • Aletha

    You might be very interested to know that in China, where I spent 3.5 months living and riding a bicycle every single day in one of the worlds craziest traffic and densely populated places (Hangzhou), I can say that I did not wear a helmet, no one wore a helmet and that people both in cars and on bikes ride/ drive safely together. The whole time I ever saw an accident was with a woman who was an on e-bike which is like an electric moped. She crashed into the side of a van and she had a helmet. I also lived in Darwin for 2 years recently, rode alllllll over town no helmet and no problems 🙂

  • mand

    What a load of bull! Stop being vein and wear a helmet like everyone else!! Your reasoning is ridiculous…Would you prefer kids not wear them??

  • Kylie OBrien

    If you gotta go, you gotta go so wherever you be let your mane fly free x

  • Renee

    sorry but I work in healthcare with head injury patients and trust me… wear a helmet! plus I don’t want my taxes paying for people’s stupidity and subsequent medical costs. I usually love your posts sarah but this is crazy

  • 1. Helmets do save lives.
    2. If your main concern in life is how you look, you have a bigger problem than whether or not you’re breaking laws.

    I’m a bike-riding helmet-wearer and I never give a thought to how I might look. I also wear seat belts and obey speed limits and don’t take illegal drugs. Wow, I must be an unimaginative, repressed moron.

  • Beatrice

    Hi Sarah, I love your website and your posts. I am Hashimoto too. Very helpful… Thank you. I am French, 43, living in Amsterdam and just read your post on helmets which makes me smile. I learnt biking without a helmet and I bike without one all the time. My daughters (8 and 5) as well. Like all the Dutch do also, from 4 years old till 75 yo (may be more; one day I saw a very old lady on her bike…).

  • Paul Goodsell

    Sarah, you’re tremendous at picking and choosing your facts, aren’t you? One day your followers will see through it.

  • Paul Goodsell

    Sarah does have a disregard for science. She argues, constantly, that scientists are bias, have vested interests, and so on; yet has biases and vested interests–big time!–herself, as someone that cashes in so unquestionably on her arguments as she does.

  • Jane

    This is a really tricky debate. Firstly, I’m a bike rider who HATES helmets. Secondly, my husband’s brother died when he was 16 from falling off his bike whilst not wearing a helmet (he was not hit by a car – he merely misjudged a gutter, fell off and hit his head on the pavement – went home with a headache, went to bed and never woke up). I also want to see more people on bikes and am well aware that helmets are a big reason why some people don’t ride. But I have also seen numerous people come off bikes in peleton’s or commuting where no car has been involved at all and it’s obvious from the way their helmet has been smashed to pieces that it saved their life. I definitely think helmets protect our heads and sure, chances are if you’re hit by a car it’s not going to end well, but I’m more worried about the accidents we have that don’t involve cars. I was a committee member of a State bicycle association and we had many a debate about helmets. I also distinctly remember a motorcycle protest ride a few years back where they were protesting having to wear helmets by not wearing helmets. Of course, there was an accident and one fellow fell off his Harley, hit his head and died as a result! On the helmet protest ride. Tragic.

  • Melissa

    I posted a photo of me riding a bike on Facebook and I wasn’t wearing a helmet…. And was crucified! I loved your article! Thanks Sarah! Mel xx

  • Roxie1983

    I’m sorry but as an experienced emergency care nurse I have to say helmets are life saving….. in the fact they ,may prevent you suffering a brain injury that will destroy your life as you know it. you are riding on a road, with cars who often have no regard for cyclists. blind spot anyone? so no matter how cautious you are it is impossible to predict what others around you will do. Yes if you fall off and receive direct impact to the helmet it will break…. better that than your skull. It also helps to absorb some of the impact so your poor fragile brain doesn’t rattle around in your skull so hard causing it to bleed…..alot. Think bowl of jelly shaken hard and the sloppy mess you are left with. I’m sorry they don’t look great or they mess up your hair but they are not a fashion item….. they are there to protect you and prevent you from eating pureed food and wearing a nappy for the rest of your life. Please be sensible people and be safe.

  • Better safe than sorry

    You obviously haven’t been in an accident yet. I have been and the helmet saved me from sustaining major head injuries. My hair wasn’t pretty, but my brain is currently functioning well enough to strong disagree with this post.

  • Sharon

    Nina – I don’t know much about helmets and the protection they give. And to be honest I don’t really care. But I must say that if I didn’t have to wear a helmet I would ride my bike. I have a bike but I never ride it. I hate the helmet.
    Before the helmet laws came in I used to ride my bike a lot. But not at all now.

    I would like helmets to be optional. I would like to choose. And I would like to ride without one.

    • anono

      It almost pains me to say this, but I agree they should be optional. I just cannot conceive why someone wouldn’t use one. I hope you’re safe (and lucky).

  • Sim

    As an ‘ emergency services attendant’ I am shocked to read this..
    Here’s the thing .. Accidents are called accidents for a reason. Yes, so a helmet is annoying or whatever. But, would you not wear a seatbelt in your own car because it creases your clothing? THINK about it for a second.. WHAT IF.. Just WHAT IF that car that you didn’t see coming around the corner hit you? WHAT IF.. that dog that you didn’t see runs into the front wheel of your bike and you fly head first over the handle bars.. WHAT IF you had worn your helmet and you could’ve lessened or even prevented a major head injury and yes, even death as a result from a head injury. IN FACT.. MORE accidents occur in areas where people are ‘comfortable’ with their surroundings and decide to let go a little.. A little advice.. THINK.. ITS YOUR BRAIN YOU ARE PROTECTING HERE! Who cares about a sweaty head or flat hair?! Look.. Just wear you helmet, okay?:)

    • disqus_KYplOuMZC2

      anyone who worries about the “whats if’s” in life that much needs to spend less time being an “emergencies service attendant’ and more time living a relaxed more mindful life and chill out and forget about what ifs . What if you wrapped yourself in cotton wool and sat there till you died? you’d sill die. so there what if? it’s complete rubbish and this is why our accident and emergency units are over flowing, cause people like your well educated self waste so much time not using your common basic sense. You are quite passive to publish such a comment when your on a different page your leading a different kind of life and people who get intot what if accidents are either in the same brain wash or involved in an ACCIDENT. Shit happens dear it would be a boring old world if it didn’t. You’d have no job 🙂

    • Guest

      maybe you should cut your wages and spend more time out of your job as an emergencies services attendant . Been so caught up with the what ifs and maybes will bring you to your grave. Live in the moment and take off your helmet and feel mother nature whisper in your ear. You won’t hear that on call, all you hear is the misfortunes of misguided people who forgot about using there head to think and got it hit instead. Helmets block the use of common sense, more more value then brittle plastic and foam!

  • Sim

    As an ‘ emergency services attendant’ I am shocked to read this..
    Here’s the thing .. Accidents are called accidents for a reason. Yes, so a helmet is annoying or whatever. But, would you not wear a seatbelt in your own car because it creases your clothing? THINK about it for a second.. WHAT IF.. Just WHAT IF that car that you didn’t see coming around the corner hit you? WHAT IF.. that dog that you didn’t see runs into the front wheel of your bike and you fly head first over the handle bars.. WHAT IF you had worn your helmet and you could’ve lessened or even prevented a major head injury and yes, even death as a result from a head injury. IN FACT.. MORE accidents occur in areas where people are ‘comfortable’ with their surroundings and decide to let go a little.. A little advice.. THINK.. ITS YOUR BRAIN YOU ARE PROTECTING HERE! Who cares about a sweaty head or flat hair?! Look.. Just wear you helmet, okay?:)

    • Poncho

      How many motorists with head injuries, people with skin cancer & smokers with related disease do you simply ignore to fuss over an injured cyclist?

  • Alison

    I would be dead if I had not been wearing a helmet in 2004. Enuf said.

  • Poncho

    I’ll agree with helmet laws only when we stop kiding ourselves & force by law all motorists to wear helmets, all sun seekers to wear sunscreen & all smokers to quit.

    Until then, stop trying to hold my hand for one activity while excercising apathy & blindness to these other more statistically significant risks!

  • This is great discussion! As we have this conversation we find that so so so many people are just wearing them because they don’t want to be ‘pulled over by police’ not because they feel safer.

    If we think wider than our personal selves I’m pretty sure obesity is killing more of our friends and family than cycle accidents (on the way to work).If wearing a helmet is limiting people from wanting to/or actually committing to cycling more (I have commuting in mind) well then is it the “right” thing.

  • Sabrina

    Dude. Wear a helmet. It’s just being silly not to.

    • Henry Sheil

      Well Sabrina, calling people silly for choosing not to wear a helmet is just ……….silly.
      Did you actually read the article? Did you understand any of it?

  • Will

    I’ve been cycling for 45 years and i’ve come off four times in that time – but never once come close to getting a head injury. The reason i refuse to wear a bicycle helmet is because it’s impossible to get them with wide brims and no holes. I always wear a wide brimmed hat when i’m outdoors and i’m not going to go out in the hot sun on a bicycle without that same eye and skin protection. I know a wide brimmed hat gives me considerably more protection from *real* health threats than a helmet will.

    • Guest

      what ifs and maybes of life. What if? people stop making a big deal about read the post with a smile of gratitude or if you disagree what in gods name are you doing on this influential ladies, webpage. Helmets are brittle plastic , what if it wasn’t , if it was air , fresh air, people may have more freedom to use common sense rather than relying on on the famous helmet to be there bulbar .

  • jenny

    theres an invention called the invisible helmet —

  • Dean

    I agree with most of what you’re saying but after smacking my head on the road quite hard a month or so back after being driven into I was glad of the helmet. No a head ache or even a mark on my head – marks in other places but not the head 🙂

  • Rachel

    Hmm, I would love to see this argument broken down more. There is very little real information given and I’m failing to see where it is more beneficial to ride WITHOUT a helmet than to ride with.

    This line is intriguing: “Helmets deter people from riding. But regular riders live longer because the health effects of cycling far outweigh the risk of death from crashing. There is ample data to back this.”

    But tell me more about this “ample data;” I would love to hear it as I’m interested in this idea if there is, in fact, ample data.

    I get that having a bike accident that results in some kind of traumatic head injury is in the minority, but why would this = not needing to wear a helmet. Should people not wear seatbelts? Should we not be mindful of our health since we get sick less often than not? Should we disregard other common safety standards just because we potentially won’t get hurt? This seems pretty illogical and uninformed to me.
    The argument that helmets won’t prevent brain injuries is not convincing to me. If a helmet prevents any injury – albeit “superficial” – I feel it’s worth it to wear one.

    Again, the REAL question in this debate is not “Do helmets save lives?” or “Is it likely that you will die from riding a bicycle?” – it is, “Is there any reason NOT to wear a helmet?” That’s what I want to know. Until I learn of a scientifically-backed answer as to why it’s not good to wear a helmet, I’m going to keep wearing mine, even if it only prevents a small scratch on my head.

    • WryGuyHi

      Well, by miles travelled, cycling has the same injury and death rates as walking. So if we accept your argument that there is no good reason to not wear a helmet when cycling, then you should also wear a helmet when walking.

      Likewise, the largest number of head injuries, by far, happen when driving. Which means that if the government wants to gain the biggest reduction in head injuries through legislation, then they should mandate helmets for everyday driving. If you support mandatory helmet laws for cycling you should also support mandatory helmet laws for driving.

  • niico100

    You have a typo – you say “People who wear helmets are more cautious, ” – you mean “People who DON’T wear helmets are more cautious, “

  • niico100

    The doctors have absolutely no way of knowing that you’d be dead. That isn’t based on any scientific evidence – just ‘common sense’.

    According to actual scientific research cited in this piece – it may well make little difference.

    I would want to at least see double blind scientific studies proving their value before believing statements defending helmets.

  • niico100

    The evidence is contradictory at best. We must not rely on ‘common sense’ and circular arguments.

    You list a classic one here – this is based on a ‘common sense’ observation, not a scientific study:
    “We see it in the trauma bay in the Emergency Department all the time, that patients come in, having worn a helmet. We see the helmet and it’s cracked and we often say to the patients, ‘Look, you know, that could have been the skull that came in broken.”

    Not science.

    Unlike these:

    Rodgers. Journal of Product Liability 11 pp307-17, 1988

    To examine claims that growth in the use of hard shell cycle helmets had been successful in reducing cycle-related injuries and death, Rodgers studied over 8 million cases of injury and death to cyclists in the USA over 15 years. He concluded: “There is no evidence that hard shell helmets have reduced the head injury and fatality rates. The most surprising finding is that the bicycle-related fatality rate is positively and significantly correlated with increased helmet use”.

    There are also – much more important factors in safety – I see people with and without helmets acting like ignorant fools on the road in London, undertaking traffic and busses, not looking behind, running lights. At best this is a minor factor.

    • anono

      Are bicyclists the only ignorant fools? How about those driving a one-ton vehicle?

  • niico100

    You can’t vouch for this unless you have access to a parallel universe where everything was the same except you weren’t wearing a helmet to see your injuries.

    This is wholly unscientific.

    Indeed the helmet may have contributed to your crash – you just don’t know.

  • Kate Melzer

    I think that drivers who dont pay attention, text, twiddle with their righteous compulsory music systems, forget to indicate, go too slow or fast, tail gate, drive angrily etc etc etc are the real reason we have air bags and seat belts. If we all gave a shit about every other user and didnt have all the ‘safety components and got on bikes we would be safer nations. Oh, and lets not add to the mix, fatigue, distracting kids, heat, alcohol and drugs. Sorry Nina, I think your own research has been plucked and your, well, shall we say, plucked. I hope you stya off your bike, you’re probably a menace because you believe you’re so safe.

  • Veluc

    I hate helmets and that is why I am not cycling anymore, I love cycling but not forced to do with my head what I want to do. It should everybody’s own decision like in other countries as well

  • Tracey

    I hope you suffer from a head injury from not wearing a helmet you stupid woman

    • WryGuyHi

      Keep it classy, Tracey.

  • Chris

    Wow. Just wow. Fair enough you don’t want to wear a helmet but maybe the law is there because it might mean one kid in a thousand wears a helmet that otherwise wouldn’t have and maybe one in a thousand of those kids might survive smacking their head on the concrete. So how about just leave it be and let that one kid live. Mind blowing. Not sure on I want to buy the book now.

    • WryGuyHi

      Did you not read the article? The message is, in your terms, that 1 kid on a 1000 might be saved by the law (its actually much less) but 100 in a 1000 are put off cycling because of the law and grow into an unhealthy life, obesity and other sedentary diseases and an early death (its likely more than that ratio too). Your attitude is shallow and selfish towards those children put off bike riding.

  • waylas roccert

    Kathlyn. You are so lame.

  • waylas roccert

    Step away from the screen. You seem to not know what is good for you.

  • James

    A helmet that broke into pieces is a sign it didn’t do its job. The polystyrene is supposed to compress to absorb energy, not break apart. Doctors and police are likely to say whatever supports what they’ve been told. Have a look to see how many professional cyclists have died over the last hundred years from brain injuries, and note that they were only compelled to wear foam helmets quite recently.

  • Lori Shepard Naon

    My little brother was in the 5th grade when he was hit by a car while riding his bike home from school. His helmet was nearly split in two. If he didn’t have on a helmet that would have been his head. I must say I’m really bewildered by your stance.

  • tedly3000

    I, for one, don’t need government to tell me what I can or cannot wear on my bicycle. It should be a choice, not a law. A recommendation, not mandatory legislation. My head, my choice. You can wear one it makes you feel more comfortable and less vulnerable.

  • tracey

    my partner had an cycle accident 3 years ago every doctor we have seen since have all said if he was not wearing his helmet he would be dead, he nearly died on that day he now has a traumatic brain injury and will never work again I have had to quit my job and be his career.
    to save anyone else going through what we do stick a helmet on your head. simple

    • WryGuyHi

      Trauma doctors tend to say stuff like that, its confirmation bias. Sorry to hear about your partner, but its very possible the helmet didn’t help him survive and is incidental to his brain injury. Helmet are designed to prevent skull fracture and abrasion, they are not designed to prevent serious brain injury and manufacturers do not claim they do. But many doctors do not know that.

      • tracey

        how dare you, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, were you there? did you see his injuries ? seen his scans ? seen his helmet or the damage to his skull NO you have not IT WAS HIS HELMET THAT SAVED HIM. don’t comment on what you don’t know. Easy to have an opinion from a keyboard until you live it don’t comment on it!

        • WryGuyHi

          I am commenting on what I know; I know quite a lot about helmet design, efficacy, and their constraints and limitations.

          Personal experiences don’t change facts, they just enhance or cloud our perception of them.

          I’m sorry you’ve experienced misfortune, but everyday in Australia millions of kids and adults are growing sick and obese from inactive lifestyles. Calling out the BS on the false perception of safety that helmets create is of the utmost importance so we can get rid of these perverse and internationally unique laws.

    • Blinksy

      Real sorry to hear Tracey, sounds like you wouldn’t wish such a life changing situation on your worst enemy.
      The question of the article then is can we look at this at a population level despite our personal experiences? Are the stats for such horrible life changing events similar or more likely as a pedestrian, riding skateboards, scooters and riding in cars and if so why aren’t helmets mandatory for those? Should ALL people wear helmets 24/7? What is world best practice? Why do other countries use Australia and NZ as reasons NOT to introduce Mandatory Helmet Laws?
      It’s a complex issue and one of the key factors is type of riding… heading down the beach on a cruiser is very different to being on a race bike… the Dutch have more women riding and older and younger people, less accidents and no helmet laws. Yet people are free to choose to wear a helmet…
      I hope none of this was offensive, I do apologise if any of it was. The purpose was simply to look at what was best at a population level as we are all concerned about safety and community. All the best Tracey.

      • traceylux

        I would not wish on any human what we have been through, when you have to help your partner to shower, toilet, and just to function and what a total life consuming thing a brain injury is. Have a serious look at your lives then lose it all, your independence, your life is no longer your own its full of doctors therapist’s, rehab teams chemist bills and day to day struggles and not to mention that you children become your carers how would you feel having your 10 year old helping you pee or having them help you to cross the road. There is NO cure for a brain injury only prevention, are we that shallow a society that we are more worried how our hair looks? you can quote studies till the cows come home I know in our situation it was his helmet that saved his life if he did not have it on I would of buried him

        • Blinksy

          That sounds really hard Tracey. It’s not about hair, it’s about there being more brain injuries from cars etc… and what best practice is around the world for least accidents… All the best.

          • traceylux

            I get a little high horse I am sorry I just don’t want anyone else to go through what we have, NO family should, the road is harder than your skull, have a long hard look at your other half and think do I want to be wiping his/her bum, am I willing to give up my job, home, any chance of a normal life. and the cost of caring the Australian disability pension is not a lot.
            yes people will crash and not damage anything but is it worth the risk. if the worst happens who will look after you. 98% of relationships break down in the first 12 months after a brain injury it is a risk to great I am wearing my helmet

          • Blinksy

            I think we are looping. Yes we want to avoid this situation. So we need to be mindful that cars etc… are more dangerous and lead to more injuries. That riding as the Dutch do is as safe as walking… All the best. 🙂

  • Jenny

    Only reason not to wear a helmet is if you are vain and insecure about your appearance.

  • emily

    You think its so bad not to wear a helmet. my teen daughter is 13 and she has never wore a helmet. It just makes people not want to ride their bike and get exercise. So you guys can just relax. There has been studies about helmets not helping

  • Blinksy

    My wife is an ER Doctor, she supports removal of MHLs. Why? Because on a population level we are safer without them.

    We’re all concerned about safety… so why don’t we do what the Dutch do… most people getting where they need to with least costs and least accidents…

  • Blinksy

    We’re all concerned about safety… so why don’t we do what the Dutch do… most people getting where they need to with least costs and least accidents…

  • Blinksy

    Are we talking sports cycling or utility cycling?

  • Blinksy

    So you don’t drive your a car without a helmet?

  • Blinksy


  • Blinksy

    Love it! 🙂

  • anono

    Late to the game, but yes, yes, yes!!!!!

  • Alan

    Just one problem, nearly all the facts in this are completely wrong, askew or totally misdirected and misinformed….

    • Blinksy

      Want to supply facts to support this statement? And don’t mention the discredited Cochrane review and let’s keep it to population stats. Cheers

    • burttthebike

      I think what you mean is, the facts as presented don’t match your beliefs, therefore they are wrong. Something you might not have realised yet, is that facts are true independent of our belief in them, and they can still be true even if you don’t believe them.

  • Kenneth Bird

    The auto industry also do not want helmets to even be suggest for car occupants, because it will make motoring look unsafe.

    Some of the biggest advocates fo cycling helmets is the auto industry and their lobbyists. They understand that if ordinary people start to use and understand the utility of the bicycle for local trips, that the car industry will lose out big time.

    Up to 50% of city and town trips are less than 5km. 5km and less is the optimum distance cycling.

    The only way the auto lobby can diminish the threat that cycling and human powered vehicles pose to their revenue is to portray cycling as being more risky than their product actually is. More car occupants are killed per year because of head injuries than cyclists.

  • Daniel MacDonald

    The province I live in, Nova Scotia, Canada, has had a mandatory helmet law since 2014. Here, a helmet protects you from a $151.25 CAD fine, and bicycle seized for up to 30 days.