if you don’t like wearing a bike helmet, you might like to read this…

Posted on December 13th, 2010

This post has been updated: February 2014.

A coupla posts back I mentioned I don’t wear a helmet all the time. Which prompted some of you to want to lock me away from your children (should I corrupt them into not wearing theirs). But many more of you shared some very good info about where the research and laws are all at. I’ll stress, before you read on, that my argument is against the compulsory laws. It’s not against your choice to wear a helmet if you personally find that, after weighing up the evidence and risks and your own personal situation, you would rather stick one on your noggin.

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Plus, I should point out, again, I do wear a helmet on long trips and when I’m racing, that is, not on familiar roads in my neighbourhood when I cycling at a mindful pace.

There are two separate questions when discussing this topic:

1. Are helmet laws good for society?

2. Are helmets going to protect you personally if you do come off a bike?

Me, I’m more interested in the former. Especially when you consider the following…

Helmet laws make riding more dangerous

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.

Plus, cities where more people ride are safer…it’s called the Smeed’s law.

Also, there’s this: While-ever helmet laws are the government’s response to cycling safety, other measures (infrastructure, campaigns) are side-lined.

There’s inconclusive proof helmets save lives or limit injuries

The “science” on whether helmets actually protect us personally is very inconclusive and no randomized controlled trials have been done on the safety of bike helmets. Indeed, the latest – and most comprehensive – study, focusing on Canada, and published in BMJ found compulsory helmet laws had negligible impact on injuries. There are so many variables entailed that cloud a definitive conclusion:

  • People who wear helmets are more cautious, therefore less likely to crash. This is a thread that comes up in a lot of studies – helmet-less riders are defensive riders.
  • Similarly, studies show “risk compensation” kicks in – helmet riders can be more complacent and take more risks. Ditto drivers – one study shows drivers are more considerate of riders without helmets. This means there are more people beings “saved” by helmets, skewing data.
  • When helmets are compulsory, and people don’t choose to wear them (ie they wear them reluctantly and without commitment), they’re often worn incorrectly.

Chris Rissel, an associate professor in Sydney University’s school of public health, has stopped wearing his cycling helmet. He co-wrote a paper published in the Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety that looked at the number of cycling-related injuries admitted to NSW hospitals between 1989 – a year before helmets were made mandatory in this state – and in 2008. It found an initial small drop in the number of cycling head injuries, with figures flat ever since.

Helmets have been shown to prevent injury from “linear speeding”. But many accidents occur from “angular” accidents caused when the head is rotated. Helmets actually CAUSE head rotaion. Bill Curnow, the president of the Cyclists Rights Action Group in Canberra, reviewed the scientific literature for a 2008 book, Transport Accident Analysis and Prevention

“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, says Curnow, while ignoring the role of angular acceleration in causing brain injury, due to rotation of the head.”

This from Dr Paul Martin (“a medical specialist…involved in the resuscitation of trauma victims and their subsequent management in the operating theatre”):

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. 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. If there was a mandatory car-occupant helmet law would you all comply?

 

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

Not nearly as high as the hysteria would have us scared into believing. The problem is:

Vulnerability is confused with danger when it comes to bike helmets.

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

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

  • 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.

Some extra factoids to fuel fires (thanks Dr Paul):

  • 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.
  • Helmets are tested to impact speeds of only 19.5km/h (the speed of impact if dropped 1.5m) and to pass they only have to not break. 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).
  • A bicycle helmet will not protect your face, nor will it protect something which I’m extremely protective of – my cervical spine.
  • The ‘new and improved’ helmet standard now differs in two key areas, both of which make a mockery of the last standard and suggest that making bicycle helmets mandatory by law unjust. Firstly, the straps now have to stretch to allow the helmet to come off after the ‘initial impact’ (how does the helmet ‘know’ if the initial impact is going to be the ‘big one’?). Contrast this to the last standard which said it must not move from your head…Secondly, visors and other appendages must be of such a design to not increase rotational forces on impact. This is ironic given that the last standard did no test whatsoever for rotational effects, despite being asked to do so for almost 10 years. So are they saying it is important now or not?
  • Helmets which currently comply with the AS/NZS2063 standard, but won”t comply with the updated standard, will be illegal to sell after June 30, 2011. However, these very helmets will be perfectly legal to wear after June 30, 2011. This makes a law forcing people to wear them, plainly ridiculous.

You can all make of the above what you will. And choose from there.

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  • Lauren

    I would love to not wear a helmet when riding. I hate them, they just make me sweaty and the strap irritates my skin under my chin. The common sense part of my brain tells me that I’m a smart and cautious rider and if I had an accident a helmet wouldn’t help all that much but unfortunately when I was a kid my older cousin was knocked off his bike while not wearnig a helmet and was in a coma for a few days so I’m scared stiff to not wear one.

    [Reply]

    kathlyn Reply:

    Whether or not you enjoy wearing one isn’t it illegal in Australia not too? I have been pulled over by the police before for not wearing one, and I wasn’t in a dangerous area or anything. They told me off and took down my details. I’d rather be safe then sorry and don’t want to get a new one ripped again by the police. Wear your hair in a plait or low ponytail if you love your hairdo so much. Or catch a bus or train if so concerned with your carbon footprint and don’t want to drive. Looking like your wearing a cateloupe on your head doesn’t match the aesthetic of cruising round on a vintage bike, but… who cares. Do the right thing.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    If it means less people cycling then it is not the right thing.
    More people cycling means a higher demand for safe cycle infrastructure, and more recognition of cyclists. This would do far more to improve safety then by forcing people to wear helmets in a car dominated landscape.

    [Reply]

  • Tina

    I can’t believe I’m reading this. Just to let you know, I had a bicycle accident while riding on a riverside path and got hit by another cyclist (it’s not always cars that hit you). I hit my head on a banister. I had a back injury and fractures and a painful neck injury. The helmet smashed into tiny pieces. The doctor and the police told me if I hadn’t worn one I’d be dead. But yes, protecting one’s hair is much more important than protecting one’s brain. It is totally irresponsible blogging about how research suggests it’s not important to wear a helmet. I can’t believe I’m reading this.

    [Reply]

    Nina Reply:

    Hi Tina,

    I agree 100% with you. I don’t mean to be rude when I critique Sarah Wilson’s blog, I really don’t. And I do apologise if this criticism comes across as derogatory or laden with vitriole. But when Sarah has such disregard for science, such sheer inability to actually look over the data and research, it just blows me away.

    Here she goes again promoting ignorance over rationality. And it’s such a shame that she is a journalist with such an avid fan base. If she could be bothered to do a quick review of the literature she would have found numerous scientific reviews, including the Cochrane Review which systematically looks over the available literature. Although this study was first published in 1999, it has been assessed as up to date in 2006. It is not a review of one article, or one document – but a review of papers from numerous academic journals. You can find it here if you are interested: http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab001855.html

    Sarah, I can teach you how to search medical journals and reviews if you like?

    It is clear that bike helmets do play a huge role in protecting cyclists from head injuries. I also suggest the transcript from ABC’s background briefing from Sept 19 2010. That can be found here. There is no doubt that there is a debate surrounding helmet use. But this does a much better job at covering the helmet debate than Sarah’s attempt. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/backgroundbriefing/stories/2010/3011382.htm

    “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.’ So I think it’s supported by the evidence on the ground as well.” – Michael Dinh, Emergency Department at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

    The odds of serious head injury are increased fourfold in those not wearing helmets. So I think people really need to get over their stupid “oh my god I’m sweating” or “oh my god it’s going to ruin my hair!”. Big deal! Is aesthetics and vanity really more important than good safety?! If you ask Sarah, the answer is an emphatic yes. Stop worrying about what you look like, for Christ’s sake surely your health and safety is more important.

    Again, I’m constantly frustrated by Sarah’s inability to read and her tireless promotion of stupidity. I don’t know why I continue to waste time on this blog when I disagree so ardently with absolutely everything Sarah writes. I guess it’s like watching a car crash. With a pedestrian. With no helmet on. It’s messy, ugly and it didn’t have to end up in such a state. This blog could be so much better than it is. It doesn’t “make life sweeter, better”.

    Tina, I’m really glad to hear that you survived that horrible injury. Helmets do absorb the force, that’s exactly what they are meant to do. Unless they are old or not fitted properly, I don’t know how Sarah attempts to argue with physics. It is irresponsible blogging, but as is the entire blog.

    [Reply]

    Stephen Reply:

    Nina, I’m sorry you needed to describe people like myself and other pro-choice campaigners as promoters of stupidity. Really, a lot of us are really quite intelligent people who are prepared to look beyond the scare stories and wave after wave of statistics thrown at us by the pro-helmet group. Also, for most of us it has absolutely nothing to do with helmet hair or vanity – possibly the most ludicrous claim that people like yourself are forever throwing up for want of a better argument.

    You want to know why we want these laws repealed? Because we are passionate about promoting cycling as a perfectly safe activity that anyone, no matter their age, sex or physical ability, can take up. We actually understand that, next to improved infrastructure, more people on bikes means a safer environment for all of us. We know that helmets, despite what the legislators, surgeons, compliant media and pro-helmet types like yourself are forever claiming, are not as safe as we are told, and that many cyclists still die when wearing one. We are fed up with the continual scare campaign directed at such a simple and safe activity, and that the terrible result of this is a tiny percentage of Australians using bikes as their primary form of transport. A lot of us have probably been to European cities and seen what the exact opposite of Australian policy has achieved: a dramatic increase in bike use among young and old. We are devastated by the disaster that is the bike share scheme in Melbourne, a scheme which has been an incredible success in may cities around the world. All of this because Australia, along with New Zealand, thinks it is so much ahead of the world in terms of safe cycling policies. Nina, Australia is often used an example of what not to do in terms of cycling policy. We do not have a lower accident rate than nations without helmet laws. By reducing cycling numbers and failing to invest in proper infrastructure we are actually achieving the opposite effect. People like yourself are complicit in making cycling more dangerous for the rest of us because you have been brainwashed into believing that just handing out helmets to rest of us will solve all the problems.

    You know, what really baffles me – no, stupifies me – is that so many cyclists are the major promoters of helmet laws. Why on earth do you wish to maintain cycling as some elitist peripheral activity? I am just so fed up with the nauseating self-righteousness and paternalism of people like yourself, acting as if non-helmeted riders are utterly reckless and idiotic. How on earth would you survive your own moral panic during a trip to Berlin, Lyon, Barcelona or Paris, where “stupidity” abounds everywhere. Seriously, there is a growing movement against these laws, and I for one am delighted that public figures like Sarah have been brave enough to take on the enthusiastic adherents to nanny-statism like yourself. What we need is a new generation of cycling advocates to replace the current mob who have done such a useless job up until now.

    There. I hate to be rude, but I will not take being labelled “stupid” lying down.

    [Reply]

    Nina Reply:

    Hi there Stephen,

    Thanks so much for the reply. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of a debate and I’m glad you’ve filled me in on your opinion.

    First let’s just address the vanity point. I was not assuming anything – my comment was directly related to Sarah’s statement “I like to dress exactly how I like to be dressed for the day and not have my outfit stop me from riding a bike (and, instead, drive).” To me, this sounds like a helmet is an aesthetic burden – too out of place to wear with a trendy outfit. While I do realise they are not the most fashionable accessory, I still believe that sometimes this just needs to be sacrificed.

    I believe you are quite right in asserting that if more people were to ride bicycles, then the roads would be a safer place – in that crashes would probably occur at much lowers speeds between cyclists than between a cyclist and a car. However I fail to follow your argument which seems to assume that helmet wearing promotes fear, and that ridding helmets would automatically result in more people adopting cycling as a mode of transport. There is little doubt that cyclists are still killed on the roads -even with helmets. The idea is that serious brain damage is reduced were you to impact with something at high speed. My problem was not the debate surrounding helmet use, but more the bad coverage offered by Sarah. Picking a few studies here and there to support your argument does not offer a valid or reliable assessment. This is why I urged Sarah to look into meta-analyses, at least to get an overall feel for ALL the data currently out there. You can’t just handpick which studies you include simply because they support your belief.

    You have clearly pointed to the main reason for such low bicycle use yourself. Rather than helmets, it is insufficient infrastructure that leaves Australia behind in terms of cycling campaigns. How you could combine and confuse the two does not make sense. Improve infrastructure, and accidents would probably decrease – even if you left helmet laws unchanged. Helmets hardly made cycling seem like an “elitist peripheral activity”, and I’m quite surprised that anybody could make such a judgement like that. I’m not too sure how exactly that works, it’d be great if you could explain?

    Nauseating self-righteousness and paternalism, – and ‘nanny-statism’ – is quite an interesting description too. Perhaps you should campaign against seat belts, airbags, ABS-brakes and all other safety equipment in your car as well? They are all mandatory. What sheer nerve, making cars safer for everyone! That is completely selfish, you’re right! The fact is these measures are there for a reason – to at least reduce the impact of a collision. Unfortunately these things need to be made into law for the greater good, and the only person to benefit is the individual involved. Perhaps we shouldn’t focus on what serves most good to most people in society when clearly ignorance will always act as a barrier to good reason. People often ignore any advice contrary to their own well-formulated biases. My advice to you is to reassess whether your convictions measure up in light of all the information out there, and try to figure out whether your pinning the lack of cyclists on the right thing.

    Australia is not very pro-cycling, although that is hardly a consequence of safety measures like helmets and I don’t think you should confuse the debate even further. Perhaps you should move to Europe until Australia has developed an infrastructure system which you deem satisfactory?

    And not a problem, I don’t think you were being ‘rude’ – just very ignorant and closed minded.

    Jenni Reply:

    In my experience, having fallen 4 times (once due to a car, once another bike and twice with no other party involved), I can vouch for the protection a helmet gave my head, if for no other effect than reducing the injury it would almost certainly have sustained. I certainly wouldn’t have liked the burn type grazes I’ve had on other parts of my body on my head and the resultant scars (nice red or white patches)!

    People fall from their bikes for a number of reasons and riding in “safe” areas does not prevent this eg I’ve seen the results of single bike accidents on wet bike paths. Not protecting you head, when you can do so with little inconvenience is just plain dumb. Even if it was not compulsory to wear a helmet, I still would and intend to when bike riding overseas next year.

    Stephen Reply:

    One more thing Nina, I’d just like you to have a look at the following image:

    http://velo-city.org/child-transporters/pack-max-duo.jpg

    What do you see here? Is your rage building up inside you? Do you feel the need to tell this woman that she is irrational and stupid? Is she recklessly endagering the lives of her children? Are you going to email her those links you provided above? Do you think this woman cares more about her own vanity than safety?

    Seriously Nina, I want to know what you’re thinking. I can tell you what I’m thinking. I find images like that life-affirming, but at the same time it thoroughly depresses me that we’re never going to see images like that in this country while our current self-defeating attitude to cycling prevails.

    [Reply]

    Nina Reply:

    Wow Stephen – perhaps the question is whether rage is eating you?!

    Personally, yes – I feel like she is endangering the wellbeing of her children. Were they to fall, their fragile little heads would slam against something hard with no cushioning to absorb the impact. I can’t judge whether she cares more about vanity – my comment was based on Sarah’s need to dress impressively even when bike riding. I feel the same way I’d feel if I saw a mother with three kids hanging out the car window – negating a safety measure with no good reason to.

    And Stephen – would the image not be life-affirming in the same way – even if there were helmets? Does a safety measure really erode the freedom and joy that bike-riding brings? If so – why and how? Your anger doesn’t seem to be at helmets, but rather the lack of opportunity here to ride the streets like that. Like I said before – helmets are not the barrier to riding, your argument that this is what is hindering Australia is completely and utterly unfounded.

    Dave Reply:

    Nina,

    Before proclaiming that Sarah promotes ignorance over rationality, you might want to polish up on rationality and logic yourself. I’ve read the cochrane reviews and can tell you for a fact that there is not a single study in there that supports the thesis that mandatory helmet laws improve cycling safety. If you think there is, please point it out to me.

    Your argument in support of helmet laws is based on a logical fallacy – the non sequitur. There is little doubt that helmets are great for what they are designed for: reducing linear declaration during low speed impact. A helmet may offer benefit if you are in an accident and may even save your life in some circumstances, but it does not then follow that mandating helmet usage makes cycling safer.

    Your conclusion would only be valid if helmet legislation had no impact on cycling levels, cyclist and motorist behaviour, or other externalities. Yet there is an abundance of evidence that demonstrates this is not the case. Both VicRoads and the RTA observed a 30% – 40% reduction in cycle trips immediately following the introduction of MHLs. These observations have also been reproduced in studies from overseas and accepted by govt.

    At the same time, cycling levels are not linearly correlated with injuries. Doubling the level of cycling results in approx 1/3 reduction in injury and fatality rates – the so-called safety-in-numbers effect. Again, this effect has been reproduced in numerous studies. There is also the issue of risk compensation where both cyclist and motorist behave differently when the cyclist is helmeted.

    Finally, if helmet legislation did have a positive impact on cycling safety then places with high helmet usage would be the safest to ride in. Yet the opposite is true. It is over 20 times more dangerous to ride a bike here (with helmet) than in the Netherlands (which has very low rates of helmet usage), 18 times more dangerous than Denmark and over 10 times more dangers than Europe as a whole. How could this be if helmet laws made cycling safer?

    So you see, helmets can be great if you are in an accident, but mandatory helmet laws are very bad for cycling safety. They act as a serious disincentive to cycling and thereby make cycling more dangerous for those that continue. They also allow govt to avoid safety measures that work but are more expensive – separated infrastructure & legal protection for cyclists and pedestrians.

    I’m not sure why people such as yourself have such zeal for helmet laws. I’m guessing it is because you are failing to distinguish between safety when in a collision vs safety from not being in one in the first place. If you want to wear a helmet, that’s great – no one should stop you. But why should your perception of safety be forced upon the rest of society who don’t share your views?

    RE the mum on the bike photo – if you actually understood the data behind the issue here, you would realise that allowing your children to ride with helmets is Australia is far more ‘reckless’ than allowing them to go helmet free in Europe.

    Happy riding & merry Xmas

    [Reply]

    Nina Reply:

    Dave,

    Have you missed the point? Nobody is arguing that mandatory helmet laws reduce the chance of collision. The argument is that it improves the safety of the cyclist by decreasing the force were they to collide with something or fall off their bike. The whole basis of my argument is that if a cyclist were in an accident, a “helmet may offer benefit and even save your life”. Is this not reason enough to wear one, or are we vouching for the ‘it’ll never happen to me’ argument?

    There simply has not been enough studies done on whether mandatory helmet laws adversely impact cycling rates and if this is your argument – that helmet laws should be done with to promote a fitter society and encourage cycling – then you are simply promoting an irrational trade off, considering Australia is not equipped like European countries for a rise in cyclists.

    I find your statement that “cycling levels are not linearly correlated with injuries” problematic. Nobody is arguing that the more you ride, the more likely you are to be injured. There is always a chance of collision whenever a cyclist jumps on a bike, just as there is a risk of an accident whenever a motorist gets in a car. These risks are always there – it’s just about thinking ahead and protecting yourself were that to happen. This means taking necessary precautions that are proven to work in the worst situations.

    Again you are simply confusing correlation with causation. Just because the Netherlands has lower rates of helmet usage does not mean that this is the cause of increased cyclist safety in these countries. It is not helmet laws you are arguing here, and again I urge you to read up on the huge differences between Australia and other countries. There are several other factors at play that clearly influence cyclist safety. To compare Australia with Europe at this time is like comparing apples and oranges. For example, in Netherlands, Germany and Denmark cyclists have extensive right of way, far better traffic education for both motorists and cyclists, separate facilities for cyclists along busy roads/intersections, and heavier taxes on car usage/ownership which encourages cyclists far more than in Sydney. I find that constantly pinpointing the low level of bike riding in Australia on a simple “oh it’s the mandatory helmet” argument is confused, too simplistic, and flawed.

    “Very bad for cycling safety” is another argument that makes no sense. They are not a disincentive to cycling – the dangers of motorists, inferior infrastructure and general lack of education acts as the deterrents.

    “Helmets can be great if you are in an accident” – that has completely summed up my whole argument so I don’t really see what your point is. Helmets aren’t for show – they aren’t just there for nothing, they were designed for ensuring the increased safety of a cyclist were they unfortunate enough to find themselves in such a position. With your logic, oxygen masks shouldn’t be on aeroplanes because they don’t decrease the risk of a mid-air accident occurring. It seems that you are just not a fan of common sense safety measures designed to help out if the worst happens.

    The idea that it is helmets alone that discourage government spending on transport infrastructure is absurd. It all sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory. Governments hold little accountability for what they spend on, because their electorates generally aren’t concerned about long time gains. Again you can not blame a lack of facilities on mandatory helmet laws. I’m sure that Europe didn’t develop such a pro-cyclist strategy overnight and these are issues of funding, long term planning and demand that have nothing to do with the safety benefits of helmets (which is at the crux of what I am arguing.)

    A zeal for helmet laws is simple – it is not the absence of mandatory helmets that reduce the risk of collision. This is due to other factors as stated above. I just fail to fathom that cyclists would not want to ensure their own safety at all times.

    And you know what, the only reason mandatory helmet laws should be in place are for those who may not understand or realise their importance. Would you send your kid off down the street without a helmet, knowing that if they fall off they are likely to sustain increased head trauma and facial injuries? You might as well unbuckle your seatbelt when you’re driving, since you’re more likely to adopt defensive driving strategies and according to you – avoid a collision. This does not change the fact that sometimes you are not to blame – and if you’re hit by a truck who happens to be speeding and in the wrong lane, well, you’re the one worse off. It is probably true that most of the time, the cyclist is not in the wrong. It’s the attitude of motorists, etc. If this is the case, and until this is rectified, wouldn’t you want to protect yourself as best you can or are you simply invincible?

    Yes – safer in Europe. Due to all the information aforementioned in this post. This simply does not mean that kids in Australia should go helmet free. In fact, it’s evidence for the opposite: if it’s more dangerous then surely we have an obligation to protect them as best we can? If this knowledge is out there and known, well, perhaps we shouldn’t make it mandatory. If cyclists don’t really care about head injuries, and if they are that naive to believe that defensive driving will serve as adequate protection from other motorists, then it is their body and they should be able to jeopardise their wellbeing as they please. It just seems to go against all common sense!

    Happy and safe riding to you also – Merry Christmas.

    Stephen Reply:

    Hi Nian,

    Actually, I’m not ignorant and closed-minded. Without trying to sound conceited, I’m actually educated, well-read and someone who refuses to associate myself with any form of ideological or political groupthink. My stance on helmet laws has absolutely nothing to do with any selfish or vain motives, but rather a fervent belief that they have had a disastrous result on cycling participation in this country. I’d appreciate it if you did not accuse me of confirmation bias. I’m not one of these campaigners that cherry-picks statistics for the sake of promoting my argument. I’m not going to provide links to certain anti-helmet sites that I myself believe use junk science to promote their argument.

    By the way, I actually don’t own a car. Just thought I’d add that because you assumed that I did. I’ve been riding a bike for three decades, not for sport or fitness, but to get me from A to B. It used to be a lot easier riding before people like yourself jumped in and decided that you knew better than me. I could easily observe your way of life and give you advice on how to protect yourself, but I’ve got confidence that you can manage your own risk as well as I do. It’d be an absolute relief if you and the rest of your self-appointed guardians of moral conformity could afford me the same luxury.

    I actually found Sarah’s quote about wearing the same outfit for the day to be quite pertinent. I’ve never purchased or worn cycle-gear in three decades of riding. When my partner asks me to ride to the shops to pick up some groceries I simply walk out the door, unlock my bike and ride off. When I spent time in Amsterdam I always saw people riding to resaturants, cafes, bars, etc, day and night, in normal clothing. As I said, aesthetics is not an issue with me, but if people do feel it is an issue then that’s a whole bunch of cyclists we’ve lost. The spontaneity and casualness of cycling is the biggest victim. You might think that such people don’t deserve to ride bikes, but I feel they have just as much of a right as anyone else. I believe in bringing cycling back to the people and away from the people who feel they know better.

    I’m quite happy to accept that helmet laws vs insufficient infrastructure is a moot point as to why cycling has such paltry participation levels in this country. The problem is that governments will not bother to invest in infrastructure while cycling levels remain at around 1% of the population, and it’s my belief, along with many others, that it is indeed helmet laws that are to blame for this. An author of a recent pro-helmet piece in Crikey quite seriously claimed that, contrary to popular opinion, cycling has been “positively booming” in this country in recent years. How on earth he came to this conclusion absolutely baffles me, and this is what angers me so much about the pro-helmet group: they are truly satisfied with mediocrity in terms of cycling numbers. I’d like to believe that we could do a hell of a lot better than this. It’s a pity that so many other people don’t share this view.

    I’m not going to back away from my claim that cyling is too much of an elitist peripheral activity. Not one inch. Take this extraordinary paragraph about the Melbourne bike share scheme from Wade Wallace’s Cycling Tips blog at The Age website:

    “I think the helmet law is a good thing however. Very few people who don’t own a bike will be magically converted into a cyclist because of the appearance of the bike share program anyway. The helmet law acts as a filter to sway non-cyclists away from using this program, which would be much safer for everybody. It’s dangerous riding amongst pedestrians, trams, vehicles, etc. if you don’t know what to watch out for. If you don’t own a helmet, you probably don’t have the basic skills to ride in heavy traffic. Certainly not everyone who does own a helmet is qualified to ride in traffic, but it’s a massive first step in the right direction.”

    What an utterly disgraceful and patronising thing to say. Who on earth has the right to say that ordinary people should not be riding bikes in the city when these are the very people who the scheme is supposed to attract? It’s elitist garbage, trying to categorise cycling as an activity that only experienced enthusiasts like Wade should practice. You can find this sort of nonsense all over the web, and you’d be amazed how many people actually agree with such rot. I’ve spent a considerable amount of energy trying to encourage people to ride bikes, but how on earth am I supposed to compete with this kind of phoney in a major broadsheet?

    I could go on forever but there’s no doubt we are at polar opposites on this issue. You seem so utterly self-confident in your convictions that I’d sooner convince the pope that homosexuality is not a sinful activity. Your views on that woman riding with her kids are a case in point; no woman in the world would do anything whatsoever that endangers the life of her children, and yet you confidently declare that she is doing just that. I have a lot more faith in people making their own decisions Nina, and yet you honestly believe you know better. I have a son and he sits on the back of my bike with a helmet. This is my choice, and that’s how it should be with everyone.

    Sorry Sarah. Hate to get so combative on your blog. Great to see you in Treadlie magazine. (You should read that mag Nina.)

    [Reply]

    Nina Reply:

    Hey Stephen,

    What a nice and quick reply. The reply to Dave combats a few of the arguments you’ve bought up re: comparisons between Aus and Europe.

    The car example was a simple analogy. I like the statement about managing your own risk – I have no doubt you attempt to ride safely and defensively. I also mention in my response to Dave that it’s about protecting yourself against the actions of others. Were you to be hit by a car or hurl off your bike in some freak accident, I’m sure you’d have appreciated the helmet. I’m really glad to hear that aesthetics is not an issue with you, but nor am I suggesting full-blown head to toe cycling gear, knee pads, shin pads etc, etc. There has to be a good balance, and again it’s only the cyclist’s safety that will benefit.

    I think it’s unfair to stereotype all pro-helmet advocates as satisfied with “cycling mediocrity”. There are certainly motorists who do not want cyclists on the road, but I am not one of them. In fact, I often see cyclists on a busy motorway near my place and I have not once impatiently overtaken or cut them off. Rather I’ve kept a safe distance behind them and have hoped that other motorists do not lose patience with those opting for a far healthier, greener mode of transport. Let’s try and steer away from your harsh generalisation of all motorists, who in your books seems selfish and impatient.

    I do not generally agree with comments written in the age re: bike share program, but I believe you may have misconstrued his meaning? What I took away from it is the notion that non-cyclists do need to be trained and gain experience before they venture out on the busy roads. It is true that “It’s dangerous riding amongst pedestrians, trams, vehicles, etc. if you don’t know what to watch out for”. I take it he means that without experience, it’d be like venturing out into a battlefield completely unprepared. This, again, is not the fault of the cyclist – there is often a dangerous attitude on the road. I see it when I’m driving, and I don’t feel safe there as a motorist myself. I’d be terrified to ride a bike on the roads with the current attitudes of motorists, in fact, this is what has kept me from venturing out. There is no way in hell that I’d even consider riding in heavy traffic without a helmet. I think the key word that you mention is ‘experienced’ – until the roads improve and behaviour changes, cyclists are at risk and I doubt that you can debate this fact.

    I take it you mean “self-confident in your convictions” as an insult, which is fine. You too have strong beliefs which you are entitled to have. Again – I am not saying the woman is trying to endanger her children intentionally. Perhaps she simply doesn’t believe there is a chance of an accident occurring. In this case, it’s just naive and short-sighted. Of course there is risk, as there is in everything! Her own decisions are fine, – for herself. But she has a duty of care to her children and if she knew that a helmet could possibly save their life, then I too have faith that she’d make a rational choice. Like I said to Dave – perhaps it should be your choice. If you do not want to protect yourself as best you can then that’s your prerogative, I just don’t see why not.

    And why are you apologising for some good, productive debate? Isn’t that the whole point? I did not realise that time has passed so quickly, but I look forward to another slightly-angry reply!

    Cheers,
    Nina

    PJB Reply:

    Nina,
    In reply to the quote you used from Michael Dinh, from the RPA,
    “When all you have is a hammer it’s funny how everything looks like a nail”. If you work in trauma, you will see horrific injuries period. Add to this the group-think from 20 years of (all be it well-intentioned) mandatory laws and almost everyone is convinced that cycling is a dangerous activity.
    From that point of view, every bike rider that appears in the ED becomes proof positive that cycling is dangerous (especially if you do not ride a bike yourself) and that you are at such risk that you must be forced by the law to protect yourself.

    Funny though, with the far greater number of head trauma car accident victims (driver, passenger or pedestrian) that present in EDs round Australia, there has been no similar call for mandatory “driving helmets”. Yes, seat belts were mandated but they only restrain your body, they don’t stop head injuries especially from side impacts. For head trauma, the only action has been some public service ads suggesting that you should (if you can afford it) buy a car with side air curtains. The design for a “Motoring” helmet exists and could be mandated tomorrow. Even wearing a bike helmet in a car would be safer.

    When Prof Frank McDermott proposed (and then tirelessly lobbied for) Helmet laws for cyclists in the ’80s, the figures he used showed the risk of head trauma to cyclists was on par with that of pedestrians. Motor vehicle occupants, on the other hand, had by far the greatest risk of head injury. But only cyclists were singled out for compulsory laws.

    The day I see trauma surgeons (and/or other ED staff, and/or Prof McDermott) leaving hospital wearing a “pedestrian helmet” to walk to their car then changing into a “driving helmet” to travel home, then I will trust their objectivity in telling me that my chosen activity (cycling) is so dangerous that I must also wear a bike helmet at all times.

    [Reply]

    Chris Reply:

    If that day ever came, would we would have truly lost the plot.

    It could be a good thing though; people might decide to ride bikes instead of wear a helmet in a car.

    Dave Reply:

    @Tina – sorry to hear about your accident but its been shown that wearing helmets in cars could prevent far more injury and save many more lives than bike helmets do ( http://www.monash.edu.au/muarc/reports/atsb160.html ). Do you also support mandatory helmet laws for motorists?

    No one should stop you from wearing a helmet if you choose to, but why should others be forced to wear a helmet just because you want to wear one?

    [Reply]

    KC Reply:

    Why not have people wearing helmets in cars? I’d support that.

    Does anyone remember a family from the 90′s who used to drive around Melbourne in a yellow Mitusbishi Star Wagon with the whole lot of them wearing stackhats? I saw them a few times back then and it was awesome.

    No one is forcing you to wear a helmet. They are just saying there is a financial penalty for not wearing one. That offsets the financial cost to society for patching up people with injuries that could be avoided.

    Anyone who doesn’t want to wear a bike helmet should have to carry the equivalent of an organ donor card that says “do not provide first aid in the case of head/facial injury” so that society does not bear the financial burden. They should also check with their friends and family that they don’t care if the person is injured and won’t have to care for them if they are disabled. Chances are, no matter who selfish or recklesss they are, there is someone who would be upset if they were injured.

    As for Dr Paul Martin, he reads like a someone with a barrow to push rather than a credible researcher. His arguments are very patchy and his conclusions are very flawed.

    [Reply]

    Stephen Reply:

    KC, your own argument is so flaky and hyperbolic that I had a bit of a chuckle reading it. The most selfish and reckless riders I see on the road are actually wearing helmets, and statistics also show that most bicycle injuries and deaths still occur to people wearing helmets. It is an enormous fallacy to believe that this kind of protection has a postiive impact on cycling accidents, and that helmetless riders are making up all the numbers in the hopsital wards. I for one feel disgusted with your suggestion that the fines I pay for not wearing a helmet should somehow balance the medical costs of all those idiotic helmeted riders I careering see down busy city roads every day of the week.

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    @KC

    I’ve never said I was a researcher in this field and have never implied that I was. I am certainly a Medical Specialist (Anaesthetist – after 14 years of post school study; I’m no fool) who is not afraid to speak out against a law which was ill-founded from the start. I constantly am exposed to the horrors of trauma yet I don’t let such anecdotes cloud my better judgement. My practice is evidence-based.

    The only ‘barrow’ I’m trying to push is the one that encourages everybody to read broadly, think critically & make educated decisions.

    I didn’t always feel this way about helmet laws. When the law came in I was racing road bikes and I wore a helmet – it was just part of the gear and I didn’t want road rash on my scalp – I never fell off despite some serious cycling but I knew the helmets limitations. I used to be one of these one’s that yelled at other cyclists for not wearing a helmet… and then I started to do some reading… The more I read, the more I know that mandatory helmet laws are a bad idea; particularly if you look at the big picture. It has also allowed for governments to do little to implement strategies to make cycling truly safe… infrastructure.

    Your argument of the ‘financial burden’ is concerning… where do you draw the line? Would you suggest we don’t give healthcare to:
    - smokers?
    - the obese?
    - sunbathers who refuse to use sunscreen?
    - car drivers who were breaking a law when they injured themselves?

    Such commentary says more about you as a human being than anything else. Our healthcare system doesn’t discriminate – you are suggesting it should.

    KC wrote:
    “No one is forcing you to wear a helmet.”

    Actually, they are forcing us to wear a helmet – by law. By not wearing a helmet, we are breaking the law. Many people are very uncomfortable with this so they either begrudgingly wear one, or don’t ride a bicycle.

    Tom Nockolds Reply:

    @KC

    What an unpleasant message you have: suggesting that first aid shouldn’t be provided to those that happen to not be wearing a helmet when they get injured on their bicycles.

    If you want to talk about financial burden, then let’s talk about the fact that cyclists are generally fitter and healthier than non-cyclists (helmeted or not makes no difference) and as a result have a much smaller burden on our health system than those that don’t cycle. From what I’ve read it’s very clear that the health benefits far outweigh any elevated risk of injury from cycling.

    It’s also a widely acknowledged and rarely contested fact that helmet laws discourage cycling. Even promoting the wearing of helmets in countries that don’t have mandatory helmet laws has been proven to discourage cycling. Australia is one of the fattest countries in the world and our society has to bear a huge burden in terms of cost and social impact because of our diet and sedentary lifestyle. Some very credible estimates put it at 20 times more dangerous to NOT ride a bike at all than it is to ride a bike, helmeted or not. We should be doing everything in our power to remove the barriers to safe and healthy activities like cycling. When we talk about the ‘bigger picture’, we’re talking about issues just like this.

    Like Paul Martin, I haven’t always felt this way about helmet laws. Helmet laws in Australia were introduced when I was in my teens and I was taught by a powerful government campaign that you’d have to be an idiot to not wear a helmet when cycling. I became interested in the topic at the end of last year and started reading more about it and was shocked to discover that these laws were brought in on the basis of, well, basically nothing concrete apart from a well-meaning idea that they might be of benefit. I was shocked to discover that Australia and New Zealand are the only countries that have such laws. Most of all I was shocked that there really is very little evidence that helmet laws have made cycling any safer in Australia – there’s probably slightly more evidence that exists which says helmet laws have made cycling MORE dangerous in Australia.

    I now feel like a bit of an idiot for allowing myself to be brainwashed into believing the lie about cycle helmets. It reallly is staggering to me just how much I’ve shifted away from thinking that helmet laws are a good idea.

    GO FOR IT!!! Hop into the barrow:

    http://www.ecf.com/3500_1
    http://www.ctc.org.uk/desktopdefault.aspx?tabid=4688
    http://www.cycle-helmets.com/
    http://www.cyclehelmets.org/index.html

    Tom Nockolds Reply:

    If you want to talk about financial burden, then let’s talk about the fact that cyclists are generally fitter and healthier than non-cyclists (helmeted or not makes no difference) and as a result have a much smaller burden on our health system than those that don’t cycle. From what I’ve read it’s very clear that the health benefits far outweigh any elevated risk of injury from cycling.

    It’s also a widely acknowledged and rarely contested fact that helmet laws discourage cycling. Even promoting the wearing of helmets in countries that don’t have mandatory helmet laws has been proven to discourage cycling. Australia is one of the fattest countries in the world and our society has to bear a huge burden in terms of cost and social impact because of our diet and sedentary lifestyle. Some very credible estimates put it at 20 times more dangerous to NOT ride a bike at all than it is to ride a bike, helmeted or not. We should be doing everything in our power to remove the barriers to safe and healthy activities like cycling. When we talk about the ‘bigger picture’, we’re talking about issues just like this.

    Like Paul Martin, I haven’t always felt this way about helmet laws. Helmet laws in Australia were introduced when I was in my teens and I was taught by a powerful government campaign that you’d have to be an idiot to not wear a helmet when cycling. I became interested in the topic at the end of last year and started reading more about it and was shocked to discover that these laws were brought in on the basis of, well, basically nothing concrete apart from a well-meaning idea that they might be of benefit. I was shocked to discover that Australia and New Zealand are the only countries that have such laws. Most of all I was shocked that there really is very little evidence that helmet laws have made cycling any safer in Australia – there’s probably slightly more evidence that exists which says helmet laws have made cycling MORE dangerous in Australia.

    I now feel like a bit of an fool for allowing myself to be brainwashed into believing the lie about cycle helmets. It reallly is staggering to me just how much I’ve shifted away from thinking that helmet laws are a good idea.

    GO FOR IT!!! Hop into the barrow:

    http://www.ecf.com/3500_1
    http://www.ctc.org.uk/desktopdefault.aspx?tabid=4688
    http://www.cycle-helmets.com/
    http://www.cyclehelmets.org/index.html

  • Kim

    I think if my head was going to get smashed into concrete or a on-coming car I’d like to have some form of protection for my skull. Being a cautious rider means nothing when other vehicles are involved. You’re very brave Sarah…

    [Reply]

  • Emma

    This is a tough issue. Places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen have huge numbers of cyclists, and no compulsory helmet law. However, they also have incredible cycling infrastructure: Bike superhighways, intersections where bikes get priority, huge multi-lane bike lanes, bike-only streets… Until our bike infrastructure prioritizes bikes with separated lanes and drivers actually notice bikes on the road, I will be wearing a helmet most of the time.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    This is a reply to Emma & Kim.
    I at first was a supporter of compulsory helmet laws, but now I am not. There is also a difference between people wearing helmets by choice, and people wearing helmets, because it is against the law not to. I actually would wear a helmet in Australia regardless of the law. The problem with compulsory helmet laws is that they discourage cycling, and in particular bike hire schemes.

    Furthermore if compulsory helmet laws were such a big factor how come the safest places to ride a bike, not just by a bit, but by far (the Netherlands & Denmark), dont have compulsory helmet laws?

    Compulsory pedestrian and motoring helmets will save lives but noone is wanting these laws brough in, then again, why not. If it all about impact protection, I am sure motorists would not have any objection to compulsory motoring helmets.

    [Reply]

  • http://goldenactivetransportation.com Gussy

    Great article! To the naysayers, i don’t think Sarah is any more brave than someone that jumps in a car without thinking about the possibility of death, or someone that decides to walk to work or catch a train.

    Keep up the good work.

    @Tina, of course the Police and the Dr’s said that, they are part of a “culture of fear”. Your skull can protect against a lot of things, It is also stronger than foam. I would lay more blame with the irresponsible cyclist and infrastructure than with helmets.

    @Kim, if a car is involved, it doesn’t matter if you wear a helmet or not, your still getting a trip the the hospital.

    [Reply]

  • Jasmine

    I was about to agree with Kim above, but then remembered – when I was in Japan I never once wore a helmet, and I was riding my bike fairly long distances (like into the surrounding cities etc). However, the main difference there? Perfectly legal and acceptable to ride on the footpaths. When Japan briefly experimented with banning bikes on footpaths, accidents increased enough that they immediately allowed scrapped it.

    [Reply]

  • http://sweeter-living.blogspot.com/ Kris

    I always wear a seatbelt, even if I am driving 100 metres down the road, and I’m not a bike rider, but if I was I would always wear a helmet.
    And yes, cycling may very well be no more dangerous than being a pedestrian, but a very dear friend of mine was once one of those pedestrians hit by an out of control car while she was standing on the footpath waiting for a tram so it can, and does happen.

    Each to their own I guess…
    I must say though that the risk for me just isn’t worth it.

    [Reply]

    PJB Reply:

    Kris,
    I’m not sure if you are saying that you support Mandatory Helmet Laws for all cyclists or just expressing a personal choice for helmet wearing if you were to ever ride a bike.

    But if you can ask yourself this:.
    Your friend was injured by a motor car as a *pedestrian*. So to be consistent, do you now wear protective gear whenever you walk anywhere there are motor vehicles close by i.e. the footpath?
    Would you similarly support the government making it mandatory for every pedestrian to wear a helmet and/or “fluro” clothing whenever they go outside their own property?
    If not, why not? After all, you claim close experience of how dangerous being a pedestrian can be.
    Surely you must be concerned that you are only a moment away from being a pedestrian victim of a motor car as well. Shouldn’t you be doing everything possible to be safe?

    [Reply]

    Brunski Reply:

    It seems that the suggestion is that it’s best that pedestrians wear helmets as well. I think that it should go further and make it compulsory for other activities such as ice skating. Frightening stuff.
    Considering some of the other comments posted, maybe we should make it against the law to buy junk foods, cigarettes (for sure) and refuse outright the sale of ice cream to fat people as we have to enforce what is “good for them”.

    Another post above, describes abuse from drivers towards cyclists not wearing helmets, (or abuse towards cyclists in general for that matter). The culture is all wrong here. It seems to me possibly an anglo thing, (or the down-under variant given that issues are mostly confined to Oz & NZ) to want to impose righteousness, political correctness, and personal choices on everyone else. This is particularly nauseating when examples are not taken from the rest of the world. We need more curtesy, patience & less aggression.
    My way of thinking is that education and choice should be the mainstay of a good society. Laws & impositions should apply when actions effect other people.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Good argument then for compulsory pedestrian helmets. If we are fair that is.

    [Reply]

  • Sergina

    As there are more bike riders in Japan than there are drivers, I can see more of a logic why the Japanese don’t wear helments.

    However, concerning this:

    ‘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; a mile of walking must be more “dangerous” than a mile of cycling…” The proportion of cyclist injuries which are head injuries is essentially the same as the proportion for pedestrians at 30.0 % vs. 30.1 %.’

    Does this take in to account that there are hundreds of thousands more pedestrians than cyclists? and by there being more, the likely hood of pedestrian accidents are ofcoarse going to be greater.

    I would disagree with this post as well. Helmet safety is pretty important; especially in Sydney were the culture has not yet been completely catered for.

    [Reply]

  • Claire

    I don’t think that just because you are only as likely to get injured cycling as you are walking means that you shouldn’t wear a helmet. Statistics mean nothing when you have an actual accident and the helmet is the difference between a brain injury and a scrape. Australia’s cycling infrastructure is not yet at a stage where it is safe to ride around without a helmet. Helmets are the law, so wear one.

    [Reply]

    Sarah

    Sarah WilsonSarah Reply:

    Claire, this is a good point “Australia’s cycling infrastructure is not yet at a stage where it is safe to ride around without a helmet.” I think part of the reason less people are riding is because of helmets. I think in this “inbetween” stage…we need to encourage a bit of leeway, so that we get more people on the roads riding and, thus, more tolerance, ergo, more safety.

    [Reply]

    PJB Reply:

    But Claire, if pedestrians are as likely to get injured walking as I am cycling then shouldn’t they (you?) as pedestrians also be wearing helmets and/or other protective gear.
    Shouldn’t the government immediately expand Mandatory Helmet Laws to cover everyone undertaking activities with similar risks to cycling?

    Yes! Everyone in a public space withing reach of an errant motor car driver must, by law, be compelled to wear retro-reflective fluro clothing and body armor. Imagine the savings in human suffering and trauma ward costs.

    But lets go a step further. As people not protecting themselves from foreseeable injury can now be assumed to be responsible for its effects. All victims of any type of violence will now be assumed to be liable unless they have undertaken (at their own cost) some form of defensive (martial arts) training or were carrying a defensive weapon.

    Silly?? why yes… Yet we are fooled into believing that cyclists alone should be forced to submit to laws implemented without consultation or evidence of effectiveness, that the general population would regard as onerous were it applied to them.

    [Reply]

  • Jane

    I agree each to their own. I wear a helmet when I think the situation warrants it, so not if im riding along the beachfront (its not a road) or on a bike path but yes on a busy road. It’s the same sort of decision I make if I choose to jaywalk. Funnily enough though I don’t drive 5 metres without my seatbelt on.

    [Reply]

  • Caroline

    After being hit by a hit run driver while on my bicycle and being left unconscious in a ditch with a broken back, my helmet too was smashed to pieces. Dr’s told me that because of the extent of the force my body took that the helmet saved brain damage if not my life. I know they are ugly and uncomfortable but it is the ‘it will never happen to me’ attitude that is naive. Many overseas cities have wonderful bike infrastructure and the communities have always had cyclists around (Holland for eg) but Australia leaves a lot to be desired in providing decent bike paths in cities and motorists are not as educated and attuned to looking out for cyclists.

    [Reply]

    Chris Reply:

    Sorry to hear your misfortune Caroline.

    I don’t doubt the helmet would have helped you, but don’t you think it would have been better if infrastructure, and road rules existed which would have prevented the hit and run in the first place.

    A hit and run is serious crime, but you wouldn’t think so when you see people getting let of for such acts:

    http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2010/11/wednesday-on-tuesday-system-shall-set.html

    Helmet, or no helmet you still got hit by a car. This is enough reason for most people not to ride. Helmets laws don’t stop people from riding, it’s the fear of a tone of metal and glass moving at speed that really resolves peoples minds on this issue, and stories such as yours.

    It could even be argued that helmet laws make motorists even more complacent. Inner city melbourne, in my mind, is the lunatic nevana fo car drivers.

    [Reply]

  • Erin

    I fell off my bike as a child – I had loosened my helmet strap because it was uncomfortable, it came off and I ended up in intensive care with a head injury and still have the scar to show for it.
    Even with this in mind, in some situations – like popping down to my local shops – I wouldn’t wear a helmet. I certainly would in traffic though.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.areyoumyghost.com Renai

    I always, always wear one. I’ve flipped my handlebars and landed head first on the pavement twice.

    The first time I wasn’t wearing a helmet. While I didn’t suffer any brain damage (well, that’s debatable) I did break my two top front teeth out and had to go four months with no front teeth, and was out $10,000 US.

    The second time I was wearing a helmet. It hit first, I skidded on my head, and I was fine.

    I’ve also been hit by cars twice (neither time my own fault), and hit by other cyclists as well. Seattle is supposed to be bike friendly but is really just a mess.

    Brain damage isn’t the only awful thing that can happen when you don’t wear one. I can handle not looking cute for a few minutes on my bike. I can’t handle having a fucked up face for longer than that.

    [Reply]

    baudman Reply:

    So the helmet would’ve saved your teeth? :S

    [Reply]

  • Rob

    I have ridden in New York City, without any issues.

    If it’s good enough to ride safely in a city of that size, it’s good enough for Australia. Everything else is just more nanny-state behaviour.

    [Reply]

  • Michele

    At the tender age of 12 my son was hit by a car while riding his bike on a suburban street. He was catapulted across the bonnet of the car and thrown 10 feet into the air before he landed on the road. The police estimated that the car was travelling at 70 kph just before it hit him – luckily for him his helmet took the brunt of the impact – he suffered some minor injuries and has some scarring that will always be visible but he is alive and well and for that I am eternally grateful.

    I can see both sides of the argument but all I can say is “thank god he had his helmet on”!!

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    I am sorry about that, but again, what was the dangerous thing in this situation, has it the helmet, or the CAR? Cars are the danger, and the best solution is to treat them as such. If a car hits a cyclist, and the car driver is at fault they should at the very least lose their license for 2 years, and their car should be crushed.

    To use an analogy, if there is a bull in a china shop you limit and control the bull, you do not limit and control the customers in the shop. The car is the bull. Cities belong to people and cars should be treated as visitors at best (banning them would be better), we should not tolerate agressive stupid drivers. Driving a car should be seen as a privalidge not a right, and drivers should pay their full cost on society, which is far more then what they pay now.

    [Reply]

    Fi Reply:

    Did you read it?? She’s saying the helmet saved her son, not complaining about dangerous drivers not paying fines etc.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Cars create the danger to cyclists. Also cars are dangerous to other car drivers and passengers. It makes as much sense to have compulsory helmet laws for car occupants. Secondly, no one is saying people cannot wear a helmet, they are saying helmet use should not be compulsory. Helmet laws, for whatever reason stop people cycling.

  • Carmel

    Hear hear, totally agree. I commute by bike in Sydney every day and don’t wear a helmet, and I would like this to be my choice rather than a wilful breaking of the law. I’ve commuted by bike for 12 years in London and Sydney and never had an accident. Cycling is not an extreme
    sport, it’s a regular mode of transport and when I pootle down the street in a frock I would love to be among others similar to me, too much in Sydney I am a notable exception. I also think motorists need to be educated as to how to treat cyclists on the road. After all, we’re road users too.

    [Reply]

  • Jake

    Yes, the police and the doctors create this ‘culture of fear’ because they have a secret alliance with the manufacturers of bike helmets where they split the profits.

    This blog post is ridiculous and irresponsibile, and anyone supporting not wearing bicycle helmets is exactly the same. Do you honestly think the government just made up laws requiring helmets to be worn just to get a few laughs? I guarantee you can find research and statistics anywhere to prove any point. You can find research saying smoking isn’t bad for your health at all. The vast, vast, VAST majority of research proves bike helmets promote safety. You’re plain dumb if you believe otherwise.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Sorry, but the most dangerous activity on a per Km or per time travelled basis is being a pedestrian, and therefore if you follow the protection logic, then pedestrians should have to wear helmets. Furthermore driving injuries would be reduced if car drivers had to wear helmets. So the logic of the compulsory helmet people goes out the window.

    Furthermore, if we follow logic, and try and create safety, then we have to understand the following facts:-

    1) The cost of Driving to the community in terms of traffic accidents has be estimated by the university of queensland (conservatively) to be in excess of $17 BILLION DOLLARS ANUALLY. On this point, over 25 000 people are injured in Australia a year from car accidents. Ovfer 1400 a year are killed. Note that these are the figures from total vehicle accidents, only about 6 were cyclists of the 1400. We could save money if we made car owners have helmets and use them, and that is a fact.

    2) A sedentary lifestyle costs $3 billion dollars a year.

    3) The BTRE (Beaureu of Transport and Regional economics) suggests that the POLLUTION from motor vehicles in Australia causes over 2000 premature deaths every year in Australia, with the majority of general (not Greenhouse gas), pollution in cities originates from motor vehicles.

    3) If you think cars are needed in cities then again the figures suggest that commute times going back to ancient history are around 30 minutes on average, and the car has simply created the distance, in other words the car creates distance and then offers itself up as the solution to the problem it created. Furthermore when (even given ideal traffic conditions), when one calculates the time it costs to pay for a car into travel times most cars are slower in cities then bicycles. Furthermore cars average 18 km/h in Sydney and bicycles average 17 km/h, and this is for all trips in the inner city, not just peak hour.

    4) The average car is only up to around 15- 20% efficient meaning that only around 20% of the power in the car actually goes into moving it. Furthermore the car weighs considerably more then its occupant, and when the actual fuel used to move the occupant is considered then only around 1% of the oil used goes into moving the occupant. This means that only 1% of the oil wars that we have fought in, a blood spilt goes into moving a person in a car. How Stupid.

    5) On point 4, ever heard of peak oil?

    6) Conventional bicycles can have some detrimental side effects, because a persons body is only in contact with the bike on 3 small places, and some research suggests that this in some instances can have a detrimental health effect (particularly for men). This is not to say people should not ride bikes, as the health benefits far outweigh the problems. However, the best type of bicycle/ tricycle is a recumbent, but once again what is there to stop people riding recumbents F*&#ing CARS, and particularly those stupid SUV’s.

    Furthermore it is harder to fall off a recumbent.

    7) Look around the world at the compact people friendly ciies such as Venice, and then compare them to the car friendly cities like Houston Texas, Where would you want to live? A place with noise? Danger? or a safe place with fewer or better still no cars? Roads and parking take up between 30% & 50% of the valuable space in a city.

    Do people want to live in pleasant surrondings or congested, noisy, dangerous places full of pollution where you cant see over the road because of the curviture of the earth?

    The problem with many of these arguments about helmets is that they ignore the real villian CARS. CARS & CAR DEPENDANCY ARE THE CAUSE OF THE DANGER, NOT A LACK OF HELMETS!

    If we must have cars then we should at the very least put in place laws to make it the responsibility of car drivers not to hit pedestrians, or cyclists and seperate them. We must also penalise car drivers who hit vunerable people appropriately, EG have their car destroyed and lose their license for at least 2 years for a first offence.

    Furthermore we should not say, that we will put in a cycle track or walkway if we can fit it in, we should say, we will put in a road if we can safely fit it next to the cycle way and seperate footpath.

    [Reply]

  • Dr Paul Martin

    A few comments:

    Stories of head injuries are unpleasant for all concerned and when the result is permanent, truly tragic, but unfortunately this ‘level of evidence’ is as good as hearsay. If medical practice in this country was based on anecdotes I wouldn’t go to a doctor! I have some comments in specific response to some of these anecdotes:

    - it is impossible to know if the helmet did anything at all following an impact, no matter how much you believe it did. It is irresponsible of the doctors or police to make such an assumption but they know they can say such things as they’re impossible to disprove – that doesn’t make something true…

    - 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.

    - Helmets are tested to impact speeds of only 19.5km/h (the speed of impact if dropped 1.5m) and to pass they only have to not break. 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).

    - I can guarantee you that if a car hits your head at 70km/h you will die, helmet (even motorcycle helmet) or not. I would put all my life savings on that bet.

    - A bicycle helmet will not protect your face, nor will it protect something which I’m extremely protective of – my cervical spine.

    Sarah, your readers will be interested to know that there is a ‘new and improved’ helmet standard coming out next year which differs in two key areas, both of which make a mockery of the current standard and suggest that making bicycle helmets mandatory by law unjust.

    Firstly, the straps now have to stretch to allow the helmet to come off after the ‘initial impact’ (how does the helmet ‘know’ if the initial impact is going to be the ‘big one’?). Contrast this to the current standard which says it must not move from your head…

    Secondly, visors and other appendages must be of such a design to not increase rotational forces on impact (this is the rotational acceleration causing Diffuse Axonal Injury that Sue Abbott was talking about in court). This is ironic given that the current standard does no test whatsoever for rotational effects, despite being asked to do so for almost 10 years. So are they saying it is important now or not?

    This notion that mandatory helmet laws should go when the ‘infrastructure’ is right is silly as this will be a never happen – by whose definition in any case?

    There needs to be more focus on what is the real problem here. We also need to teach schoolchildren how to ride safely, rather than popping a helmet on and sending them off ‘protected’.

    Here is an excellent website by David Hembrow on what makes cycling safe (Hint: safety equipment only makes some people feel safer – it is a symptom of a diseases bicycle culture)

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    I should also add that helmets which currently comply with the AS/NZS2063 standard, but won”t comply with the updated standard, will be illegal to sell after June 30, 2011.

    However, these very helmets will be perfectly legal to wear after June 30, 2011.

    This makes a law forcing people to wear them, plainly ridiculous.

    This is all about choice given the absence of evidence that mandatory helmet laws have had the desired effect.

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    (the last sentence had a typo – diseases should be diseased)

    [Reply]

    Claire Reply:

    Dr Martin, I think it is great that you have taken the time to respond in such a detailed fashion and I do agree with much of what you say: that helmets can create a false sense of safety, that it is impossible to know if a helmet saved you from a permanent injury when you had an accident, that a car hitting you at 70 kms/hour will injure you as much if you were wearing a helmet as it would if you were not wearing one.

    But I stand by my ‘infrastructure’ comment. Having moved from a city with low consideration for cyclists (Melbourne) to a city with much higher consideration for cyclists (Canberra – although I do think it could be better here too), I know which city I would feel safer riding in without wearing a helmet. I will not even ride my bike on a cycle strip on the actual road, which means I will not ride my bike in Melbourne at all. I don’t feel safe at all doing that. The cars are right there next to you and the true bike lanes come and go, depending on the route you take.

    Whereas I may consider not wearing a helmet on a bike path that has several metres between me and the traffic. Although it may sound contrary to the ‘false sense of safety’ point, I know that if I don’t feel safe on my bike (or in my car), without a helmet I will not feel safe and I will act like a nervous P-plater on the roads once again – and THAT is just asking for trouble! :) I would rather feel that little bit safer with my helmet on and ride more confidently and (I believe) more safely.

    Riding inches away from the cars doesn’t feel safe – not for the cyclist and not for the driver. It’s a lot more nerve-wracking and I would rather we be as far away from each other as possible. The more we invest in cycling infrastructure, the safer we will all feel and the more cyclists we will see out and about.

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    Hi Claire,

    I agree with you that infrastructure for cyclists is extremely important. I don’t think this should justify the view that mandatory helmet laws should remain until the infrastructure is ‘good enough’ – by whose definition? The reality is that it will never, ever be deemed good enough and the laws will stay, much to our detriment.

    To build a healthy bicycle culture (ie. bicycles for TRANSPORT), we need:
    - quality infrastructure built to a high standard (see The Netherlands for advice), AND, not OR
    - laws that protect vulnerable road users (pedestrians & cyclists), AND, not OR
    - priority at intersections give, in order, to pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and lastly, personal motorised transport, AND, not OR
    - removal of the mandatory bicycle helmet law.

    We have a Catch-22 situation and now the poor infrastructure that bicyclists are left with is an excuse to keep this ridiculous, ill-founded law. Often ‘new’ infrastructure is as bad, or worse, than no infrastructure at all! I avoid roads when I can and fortunately, in Queensland, we can ride on the footpath (and through parks) legally.

    Your comments highlight that whether or not you wear a bicycle helmet should be a matter of choice, based on your perceived safety. Hence the law should go so you can make that choice.

    Personally, I want to see more Dutch-style infrastructure here. They know what works and what does not. Why we, as Australians, seem to feel the need to ‘reinvent the wheel’ is beyond me.

    We need to plan for the movement of people in our cities… not cars.

    Regards,

    [Reply]

  • Dr Paul Martin

    @Jake

    Quote:
    “The vast, vast, VAST majority of research proves bike helmets promote safety.”

    Please direct us to this research which ‘proves’ bike helmets ‘promote safety’.

    Also:
    “You can find research saying smoking isn’t bad for your health at all”

    Again, direct me to any recent (last 20 years) evidence of such. It is so bad for you health (compared to not cycling with a helmet which is actually better for your health) that we should be banning smoking (and junk food; and sunbaking) immediately as these all have enormous costs to society. Why don’t we? That’s right… people are allowed to choose.

    I would suggest that all these folks that feel so strongly about the benefits of bicycle helmets being mandatory (that’s the issue here folks, not that you should/shouldn’t wear one – it should be up to the individual) should be heavily promoting the use of compulsory car occupant helmets.

    If you don’t agree with car occupant helmets then it is hypocritical to suggest that bicycle helmets should be mandatory (for all occasions: bike paths, foot paths, quiet rides in the park, etc).

    There is a reason why motor racing drivers wear helmets – their risk is higher than ‘normal’ driving. Similarly it is perfectly reasonable for a sport cyclist to wear a helmet while competing as the risk of a fall is much higher than if they were popping down to the shops.

    This trend in the comments for people to justify bicycle helmet laws in case you are hit by a car is very big worry. Bicycle helmets are not and were never intended to be for protection from impacts with motorised traffic. Please get this into your heads!

    The fact that so many people seem to think they are, reinforced by anecdotes, is a real concern. I know it will do nothing to help me if I’m hit by a car which is why I steer clear of traffic when possible and cycle very, very carefully. I’ve not fallen since I was 10 years old and even that was without a helmet – and I was deliberately increasing my risk. I knew the risk and I took it.

    [Reply]

  • Rachel

    You know, I find this article pretty ridiculous. And very irresponsible. I know the government makes some outrageous laws, but the fact is, if you can protect yourself as much as possible, why wouldn’t you?

    As a journalist Sarah I would assume that you would present BOTH sides of the argument; clearly this just serves as an post to justify why you personally don’t wear a helmet. People can use statistics to support their agenda, and that is exactly what you have done.

    As pointed out in other comments, we don’t have the great infrastructure of other places around the world yet, frankly ours is still dismal, if we did it would be a different story and I could understand not wearing a helmet, regardless I think that encouraging people not to wear a helmet is extremely negligent. I

    [Reply]

    PJB Reply:

    Rachel,
    You say “I know the government makes some outrageous laws, but the fact is, if you can protect yourself as much as possible, why wouldn’t you?”

    Paraphrasing my reply to Clare above…

    Do you wear retro-reflective fluro clothing and body armor when you are out walking? “…if you can protect yourself as much as possible, why wouldn’t you?”

    Have you undertaken some form of defensive (martial arts) training or do you carrying a defensive weapon? “… if you can protect yourself as much as possible, why wouldn’t you?”

    Don’t be fooled into believing that cyclists alone should be forced to submit to laws implemented without consultation or evidence of effectiveness, that you would regard as onerous were it applied to any other normal activity.

    [Reply]

  • Rachel

    You know, I find this article pretty ridiculous. And very irresponsible. I know the government makes some outrageous laws, but the fact is, if you can protect yourself as much as possible, why wouldn’t you?

    As a journalist Sarah I would assume that you would present BOTH sides of the argument; clearly this just serves as an post to justify why you personally don’t wear a helmet. People can use statistics to support their agenda, and that is exactly what you have done.

    As pointed out in other comments, we don’t have the great infrastructure of other places around the world yet, frankly ours is still dismal, if we did it would be a different story and I could understand not wearing a helmet, regardless I think that encouraging people not to wear a helmet is extremely negligent.

    [Reply]

  • Kim

    In 40 years of riding a bicycle on the road I have never felt the need to wear a helmet and I never suffered a head injury, although I have fallen off a few times. As a scientist, I have looked at the evidence and found that the case for promoting the wearing of helmet in everyday use to be extremely weak, which leads me to question the motives of those who do.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.cyclized.blitzing.com Jonathan Daly

    The infrastructure argument is nonsense! I’m from Dublin and Melbourne has better facilities for cyclists. Yet there are no mandatory helmet laws, more cyclists and less accidents….and a hugely successful bike share scheme. Even in north American cities which are similar to here there are no laws. How many people are on the planet and how many are subject to mandatory helmet laws? About 25million! Why is that? Bad ideas don’t travel! The negative impact of this law in Australia is constantly cited in Europe as a reason to never have one.

    “it is difficult to remove by logic which was not put there by logic in the first place” Gordon Livingston, MD

    [Reply]

  • Tom Nockolds

    Sarah, thanks for this great post.  Someone has already said you’re brave and I’m going to do the same but for different reasons: As a public figure, you’re brave to bring up this topic which is close to being taboo in Australia.

    What amazes me is people’s willingness to just accept that bike helmets are a good idea without making any effort to understand or research this complex issue.  Even with the concise summary in your post of some of the research findings and with links to further material for reading, it seems that some of the people who commented above have simply ignored what they’ve just read and instead become outraged that someone would have the audacity to even suggest that mandatory helmet laws aren’t a good idea.

    It’s no exaggeration to say that Australians have been brainwashed into believing that helmet laws save lives.  We believe it, we know it, we feel it to the core of our beings that helmets make us safer and nothing will convince us otherwise.  We just don’t realise that helmet laws make terrible public policy and it’s not even clear that helmets themselves actually work.

    Mikael Colville-Andersen put it beautifully in Melbourne earlier this year when he said something along the lines of: ‘there are only two countries in the world which have introduced nation-wide mandatory helmet laws: Australia and New Zealand.  Good ideas tend to travel fast…’ This idea hasn’t gone anywhere in 20 years.  Instead, Australia is held up as the textbook example of why mandatory helmet laws shouldn’t be introduced.  We don’t realise it, but we’re a laughing stock overseas when it comes to our helmet laws.

    I urge all of you who disagree with the sentiments in the post to go back and have another read, do some research and try to understand that it’s not as black and white as we’ve been made to believe.

    If we can agree to disagree about how effective helmets are then we can agree that helmets shouldn’t be mandatory and then we can all relax and get back out there to do that normal, fun and safe activity of riding our bikes and feeling the wind in our hair (or not, the case may be).

    [Reply]

    Tom Nockolds Reply:

    Jonathan, you put your post up while I was typing mine: sorry. it seems we were thinking of the same thing at the same time.

    [Reply]

  • http://northcountrygent.blogspot.com/ Tony

    Oy, you’ve opened a big cycling can of worms here, Sarah. There’s been much debate over this for quite some time on the cycling blogs and people seem to be very passionate one way or the other.

    I’d like to point out that in Holland, where there may be more cyclists per capital than anywhere else, and the streets are busy and congested, almost no one wears a helmet. In fact, my aunt, who lived in Rotterdam, said that the only people wearing a helmet were “the handicapped and the Americans”. She may have exaggerated that a bit, but you get the idea.

    Personally, I like to use a bit of common sense. I live in rural Alberta, Canada and do a lot of cycling. When I ride to work through our little town, I don’t wear a helmet. When I’m riding on certain highways where I know the traffic is heavy and drivers more careless, I wear a helmet. When I’m mountain biking I always wear a helmet. Helmets have their place and are effective but people should be left to their own common sense. I feel it’s not the government’s place to get into this debate. They should be more concerned with real problems and laws protecting it’s citizens from real harm.

    If you have two minutes, watch this little video. It’s rush hour in Utrecth, the 4th largest city in the Netherlands. You’ll find mostly organised cycle traffic with the odd law breaker, very little noise (the train station is behind and that makes the most noise), but you won’t see even one helmet.

    http://www.vimeo.com/12306923

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    Good comments, Tony. This interested me:

    “There’s been much debate over this for quite some time on the cycling blogs and people seem to be very passionate one way or the other.”

    Often people think that this ‘debate’ is about whether or not you should wear a helmet. It is not. It is about helmet laws

    This is a debate about whether, based on the limited evidence of the efficacy of mandatory helmet laws, we should be forced to wear a bicycle helmet whenever we ride a bicycle or whether we should be able to choose to wear one based on our assessment of risk and the type of cycling we’re undertaking.

    It is about choice.

    [Reply]

    Jason Reply:

    Great vid. I wish we could live like that. Problem is, Australians really love their cars don’t they?

    [Reply]

    Dave Reply:

    @jason

    The Dane used to have massive traffic problems in the 60′s but chose to do something about it. Here is what one of their pedestrian streets used to look like
    http://www.istp.murdoch.edu.au/ISTP/casestudies/Case_Studies_Asia/european/07.jpg

    The US has much higher car ownership per capita than here in Oz yet NY has managed to reclaim lanes for bikes and close times square to cars, while improving traffic congestion and commute times.

    All it takes is for normal people to start saying that roads should be for moving people, not cars.

    [Reply]

  • coshgirl

    I have also been riding a bike for almost 40 years and have while I have been hit twice by vehicles (both drivers admitted full responsibility for the ‘accident’ – unsurprising as around 87% of driver/cyclist collisions are the fault of drivers) and fallen off a few times I have never come near to hitting my head. I don’t know where this idea that cyclists land on their heads comes from (well apart from the helmet manufacturers and the entire motoring industry that wants to make cycling appear as dangerous as possible so we all stick to cars). If you fall off, your instincts are always to put your hands down first to protect yourself, much as they are when walking. As such, I would never go cycling without wearing a pair of padded gloves… I also feel safer not wearing a helmet because I have better visibility and awareness of what is going on around me, and as I am not so visibly ‘protected’ I feel that drivers are more able to see the fellow human as opposed to the anonymous helmeted cyclist ahead of them. What keeps me safe on the roads is using the ‘life saver’ – the glance over the shoulder favoured by motor cyclists – making clear eye contact with the drivers behind and letting them know that I am watching what they are doing. Forewarned is forearmed as they say. Anyway, as I said at the start, the real dangers on the roads are motorists, and all this concentration on forcing cyclists to wear helmets and blaming cyclists for accidents just lets the motorists off the hook. Why is nobody targeting motorists’ attitudes towards cyclists? Drivers can and do literally ‘get away with murder’ on our roads each and every day, and worse still, the law allows it.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.givingbackgirl.blogspot.com Lisa

    I have three bike-loving boys, I’m a bike loving mum and ride mountain bikes and road bikes regularly. If I don’t wear my helmet my kids wouldn’t understand and would try not to wear theirs. It is my responsibility as a parent to set a responsible example. I tell them their heads are like egg shells. I believe in personal choice but when it comes to their lives, my kids will never have a choice. Not on my watch. And thank you Sarah for all the well thought out debate and considerations but for me, old fashioned common sense will always prevail. And I will always wear a helmet.
    ps. just wondering if Dr Paul has ever been out riding and had a car door opened on him or caught the edge of his tyre in a random pothole.

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    “ps. just wondering if Dr Paul has ever been out riding and had a car door opened on him or caught the edge of his tyre in a random pothole.”

    1) No, as I never cycle in the door zone, even if the ‘bike lane’ says I should. I ride in the middle of the car lane if I absolutely must ride on such a road. I’ve never, ever been ‘doored’.

    2) If I can’t see the road 20m ahead of me clearly, I slow down. I’ve not fallen off my bike since I was a child on my BMX bike – and I was doing a jump!

    I cycle for 99% of all trips (groceries, visiting friends, movies, restaurants, you-name-it, my wife and I ride it) – I don’t cycle much for the ‘sport’ or the ‘fun’ of it – although I do really enjoy riding my bicycle. I do 5,000km per year and this is not counting any cycling for sport or fun – all practical trips.

    A few other tips which keep me out of trouble:
    - I slow down in the wet, at night and on unfamiliar routes (I give myself extra time to be safe)
    - I avoid busy streets at all times and don’t cycle on roads with speed limits above 60km/h
    - I will always test my brakes in the wet, particularly when changing from one surface to another
    - I bought a bike which makes cycling in all conditions safe and practical.

    A helmet won’t help with ‘being doored’ by the way! I’d be more worried about a tension pneumothorax from fractured ribs/lung trauma…

    [Reply]

    Tom Nockolds Reply:

    Wearing a helmet is very unlikely to protect from injury in the event of an accident. It worries me to think of all the children out there being indoctrinated into a way of thinking that says if they wear a helmet then they’ll be protected from opening car doors, random potholes and other dangers encountered when cycling.

    Like all forms of personal transport, bike riding carries some risks (roughly equivalent with the likelihood of being injured when walking or driving). Being vigilant and defensive is the best way to avoid these risks.

    [Reply]

  • http://freedomcyclist.blogspot.com Sue Abbott

    Great post, Sarah!!!

    What a country( hey!) that can be ‘arsed’ with dishing out fines and convictions for unhelmeted cyclists – totally underpinned by the oil industry of course!! I will never understand how the RACV won the tender for the Melbourne Bike Share programme – basically a commercial reality in a bid to keep cyclists down – when it fails as it surely is, the powers-that-be will be able to say ‘we gave it a shot but Australians just aren’t into this sort of stuff’

    …only thing is there is a huge grass-roots movement galvanising itself & ‘happening’ – the genie is out of the bottle and we are taking our roads back, with or without helmets – our choice!!!

    (…and re the whole ‘I-was-wearing-a-helmet-that-smashed-therefore-protected-my-head-argument’, would the same apply if an individual was wearing an egg and it smashed and they were ok?…)

    [Reply]

  • Kerry from Melbourne

    The thing I don’t understand is not so much why people are passionate about wearing helmets but why they are passionate about everybody else wearing one. If you feel better wearing one, then by all means wear one.

    I can see how motorists would be upset. A cyclist without a helmet looks unsafe and if I hit them, I might hurt them. No worries though if they have a helmet.

    But why would fellow cyclists be so committed to forcing helmets on everybody else?

    [Reply]

  • Dr Paul Martin

    Kerry said:
    “I can see how motorists would be upset. A cyclist without a helmet looks unsafe and if I hit them, I might hurt them. No worries though if they have a helmet.”

    That statement is concerning, although I don’t think you meant it that way. I think it is really worrying when motorists somehow ‘feel better’ if they hit a cyclist who was wearing a foam dome than if they were bareheaded.

    It is an opinion that I come across regularly. I’ve had nurses I’ve worked with, when they find out I usually don’t wear a bicycle helmet, say things like, “what about the poor driver that will knock you off your bike?”

    I hope they’d feel bad about hitting me no matter what I was wearing.

    In reality, I find that when I cycle without a helmet I’m overtaken with more caution by most motorists and they give me more space. I make a point of waving and smiling and it is almost always reciprocated.

    [Reply]

  • Kerry from Melbourne

    I didn’t say anybody would feel better about hitting somebody with a helmet but they feel safer driving around them. Perhaps that’s part of the shrill cry that we can’t get rid of helmets because the infrastructure hasn’t been built yet. Safety gear means cyclists are safe and there won’t be consequences from driving without due care. It is safely overcompensation. That study from Bath in the UK a few years ago supports your observations that motorists overtake helmeted riders closer than unhelmeted. And for myself, I believe I cycle more defensively when I’m not wearing a helmet because I’m much more aware of my vulnerabilities.

    I think I understand why more dangerous road users would want mandatory safety equipment to shield them from consequences. And why insurance companies push for them to make sure they can blame incidents on cyclists not wearing helmets. And why politicians want a quick and easy option for making cycling safer without actually having to make any difficult decisions.

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    Totally agree with you there, Kerry.

    [Reply]

  • Daniel

    ” bicycle helmet will not prevent brain damage if the forces involved are so great that you would sustain brain damage without a helmet.”

    I would assume concussion is excluded as a ‘brain damage’ ?

    My list of safety items; (in order of importance)
    1.Gloves
    2.Shoes
    3.Helmet
    4.Glasses

    I cant see how this can include concussion. what does the doctor think about unreported concussions and what impacts that can have on this study ?

    Does this research apply to NFL / horse racing etc ?

    Daniel.

    [Reply]

    Mia Reply:

    NFL is as an interesting one, as not all full-contact football codes wear them, and other sports (like boxing) which have a much higher rate of concussion and head injuries dont, either. I wonder whether the use of helmets is to make NFL appear more dangerous/ manly and drive up ratings?

    [Reply]

  • Stephen

    Sarah has clearly stated in both her posts that she wears a helmet on some occasions while doesn’t on others. This is called adults being able to assess and manage risk, which is what any grown-up in society should have the skills and freedom to achieve on their own. It’s not an argument against helmet use; it’s an argument against mandatory helmet laws. Sarah believes, like I do, that a lot of trips she makes on her bike do not warrant the use of a helmet. The government, however, believes it is better at making this decision than Sarah, myself or any other individual. Therefore a leisurely ride along a bike path is deemed as unsafe as a ride on a bustling city road during rush hour. It’s ludicrous, it’s disastrous for bike usage, and it’s maddeningly paternalistic, but we persist with it nonetheless.

    Sarah, I think it’s awfully brave of you as a public figure to express these views. There are many cyclists out there who, like the government, are hell-bent on deciding what’s best for you, and you will receive many more emotive stories of skulls being spilt over the pavement as well as the usual abusive remarks. As someone who has been trying for years to have this law overturned I commend you for daring to go against the flow. Remember, common sense has become a euphemisim for groupthink in this country. We really need more critical thinking on this subject.

    Regards,

    Stephen, Fitzroy North, VIC

    [Reply]

  • Marty

    Maybe this debate, which is very constructive, is about choice and the apparent lack thereof regarding helmets, that some posts feel is their right? We are all entitled to those rights as we remain a democracy – despite what Julian Assange is experiencing. Choice is a double-edged sword and thankfully, people’s passion (not necessarily the government’s) to compel others to their way of thinking should be seen as a gift not a burden – it shows they care enough about you to take their time to convince you of their conviction. It is your choice to accept and adopt their choice or thank them and continue as you wish. Your insurance is your choice; be it bike skills, take your chance, continue to push for better infrastructure or something else.

    Risk of injury can be reduced with a helmet. The extent to which it achieves this is entirely situation dependent. Making absolutes is nebulous and so subjective, so why bother. Just like other insurance, whilst optional, will reduce the effect of incidents on others. Property insurance in the tragic bushfires and absence by some to have insurance, has meant higher premiums for us all, that’s the nature of insurance. Interestingly, the ‘stay or go’ policy remains optional despite the large loss of life experienced so recently.

    I can think of worse things to be enforced to do… but that is my choice.

    P.S. Agree with Dr Paul – pneumothorax is a big deal, having recovered from an off at 66 which trashed my helmet and do just assume that it saved my head from more than the two touch points evident today. Again, it’s my choice to believe it saved me – I don’t need stats, just experience.

    [Reply]

  • Bill

    I find this debate extremely hard to follow, experts, such as Dr Paul, tell us one thing, then other experts tell another. When I know Dr paul is either misrepresetning the infomration about the ehelmet standards, either deliberately or not, makes me question every piee of evidence he puts forward.
    Dr Paul is right, there is a new standard for 2063, introduced in 2008, only helmets which comply to the new standards can be sold – not till June next year, the retention system, has been changed due to issues of strangulation of children using the helmet for activities that weren’t riding a bike.
    All this debate does is move attenditon away from the severe lack of attention to infrastructure, education and social marketing that has been lacking so dramatically since this law was introduced.
    In Australia, the spend per capita by the federal government on bicycle infrastructure has included the $40million stimulas package, that year it was $2 per person, in Holland, they average $50 per person every year, thats why our cycling safety is lacking

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    From The Sydney Morning Herald (November 19, 2010):

    “The standard, known as 2063:2008, is designed to force manufacturers to improve the safety of helmets in three ways.

    It requires them to use a softer polystyrene in the shell providing more cushioning for the brain, to use straps that will stretch sufficiently in an accident to allow the helmet to come off a rider’s head, after absorbing the initial impact and to ensure sun visors do not twist a cyclist’s head excessively when hitting the road.”

    I am unable to get this information from SAI Global directly (aka Standards Australia) to see the technical summary. If you have a copy, Bill, please let me know.

    The changes have nothing to do with ‘strangulation of children’ at all – that’s ancient history for anyone following bicycle helmet laws! The advice for that, as it has been for many years, is that children must not wear a bicycle helmet for any activity other than riding a bicycle or similar device and they must be supervised at all times.

    You’ll find this advice on the documentation accompanying any new helmet – it is there. This was added following the tragic death of a child by strangulation – they were not riding a bicycle.

    I agree that this helmet law discussion takes some focus from other discussions but that should not be used as an excuse to ignore it as an issue. We need to build a healthy bicycle culture, not expand a series of subcultures.

    Quality infrastructure, built to a Gold Standard; law changes to protect the vulnerable; priority given to pedestrians-cyclists-public transit… and then cars; and repealing mandatory bicycle helmet laws all need to occur in unison…

    [Reply]

    Dave Reply:

    @Bill – you are absolutely right about infrastructure. Real safety comes from not being in a collision in the first place and cycling infrastructure plays a very important role in fixing this.

    I think you are wrong about Dr Paul misrepresenting helmet standards. Everything he said about them is true:
    1) they are only designed for low speed impacts – the test involves a 1.5m drop.
    2) high speed impacts require much greater protection. ASNZS2063 explicitly states that they are not to be used with motorcycles.
    3) Currently they must stay in place on impact. The opposite is true of the new standard.
    4) It is currently illegal to wear a helmet that doesn’t comply with ASNZS2063. Next year it will be legal to wear a helmet that is illegal to sell.

    Helmets are great at what they are designed to do but helmet laws are a joke.

    [Reply]

  • Jonathan Daly

    Infrastructure is simply an excuse…I posted previously that there are many countries outside of Holland, Germany and Denmark where there is comparable or less infrastructure than in Australia, yet there are no mandatory helmet laws. The single most important barrier which must be addressed to foster a culture of cycling is fear. Fear associated with cycling has been physically, institutionally, and socially created through silly health and safety regulations, placing the emphasis of road safety and enforcement on the vulnerable not the cause of the risk (i.e. motorised traffic) and the promotion of ‘safety gear’. The increased focus on safety has created a culture of fear, which is often abused to meet commercial and political aims – a common problem in western societies.

    Essentially we have absolved motorised traffic of any responsibility for the safety of other road users. If that isn’t bad enough, we then force other road users to wear all kinds of “safety gear” because clearly they are the cause of the risk. And to top it off we enforce financial penalties for road rule infringements that are on a par with those for ridiculously high-powered, multi ton metal vehicles, as they are obviously equally dangerous.

    Society absorbs this fear mongering and facilitation and then adopts the belief that cycling is dangerous and, through misplaced care and concern, advise friends, family and colleagues that they shouldn’t ride a bicycle. Of course commonly held beliefs or social norms are then adopted by government who promote more health and safety policy which becomes legislation in our workplaces and our personal lives and the culture of fear becomes ever more embedded in society.

    Can anyone explain why less than 0.5% of the world’s population are forced to wear helmets when riding a bicycle? OR Why over 99.5% aren’t?

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    @Jonathon Daly

    I agree wholeheartedly with everything you’ve written.

    Here are some of Mikael Colville-Anderson’s takes on this ‘Culture of Fear’.

    We need more Good Sense Against Nonsense!

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    I messed up the HTML.

    Here is the link for Culture of Fear.

    [Reply]

    Jonathan Daly Reply:

    This is truly part of the wider social issue of fear creation and a loss of common sense / wisdom. This is a great Ted talk by Barry Schwartz which really explains the problem – http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_our_loss_of_wisdom.html…helmet laws are really an outcome of the loss of wisdom.

    [Reply]

    Jonathan Daly Reply:

    it must be contagious :)

    http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_our_loss_of_wisdom.html

  • Madison

    i’m not going to comment on the helmets (cos my last one got deleted!), but i did think this was a nice story today about bikes.

    Lavish Christmas bonuses are somewhat a thing of the past. Most of us feel a bit like Bob Cratchit this time of year.

    But, IKEA chose to deliver a shiny new bike under the Christmas trees of its U.S. employees this year.

    And, like most IKEA products, it was delivered in a flat box containing a large number of disassembled parts, along with one of IKEA’s iconic instruction booklets.

    The 12,400 bikes were specially designed for IKEA employees, and won’t be sold in stores, making them instant collector’s items.

    The company decided on the gift as a way to say thanks, and to encourage a healthy, and environmentally friendly lifestyle.

    http://daveibsen.typepad.com/5_blogs_before_lunch/2010/12/ikea-employees-receive-a-bicycle-under-their-christmas-tree-delivered-the-ikea-way-assembly-required.html

    [Reply]

  • Chris

    Interesting arguments all.
    While “safety” has been the main argument, I’m a little surprised that no-one has raised “fashion”.
    At the moment, helmets are mandatory so when people wear one, they don’t consider if they may look out of place or not. There is no social pressure in the decision.
    If we remove the law making it mandatory, it is my personal opinion that there are people out there who would not wear a helmet because wearing one would make them uncomfortably stand out (there are less PC ways of expressing this, of course) – even if they thought it was safer. Social acceptance would play a big part in choosing to wear or not to wear – especially for teenagers.
    And yes, I have done zero research to back this up. It is, as I mention, a personal opinion.
    It is also my opinion that the law should be scrapped and adults given the freedom of choice.
    If some real research shows that wearing a helmet is safer, I’d support a law making it mandatory for children under 16 when riding on public roads.

    [Reply]

    Denis Reply:

    I agree with Chris and think that the discussion went in the wrong (different from original) direction.
    Wearing a bike helmet is compulsory in Australia and I can’t see that the law will change. Since wearing a helmet is a must and a helmet will protect your head in some circumstances, NOT wearing a helmet is unlawful, so why won’t we concentrate on how to make wearing a helmet more appealing to the riders istead of discussing the medical stats and questioning the law.
    That’s what Sarah wrote at the beginning of her post:”I like to dress exactly how I like to be dressed for the day and not have my outfit stop me from riding a bike…” This is applicable to many (if not majority) of the riders, particularly women, teenagers and kids. At the recent Ausbike show in Melbourne I bought a helmet fashion cover from a european Co called Tortugaz. I’ve seen a few riders here in Melbourne wearing their fashion helmet covers and they come in a variety of different designs. I bought mine for a practical reason – to protect my bold head from the sun but, sure, for many-many riders the fashion, the look and the colours will be a motivator as you can look cool without the need to buy a new helmet ea. time you change your outfit. Maybe this is a simple solution and can help, like in Sarah’s case, to look good and feel comfortable to wear a helmet and make sure that kids, teens and the rest are wearing helmet without forcing them. I’ve googled them and you can have an idea what I’m talking about on their website or watch a short clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62ApmFRgt2Y

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Australia is one of the few countries where helmets are compulsory, and we have one of the lowest cycling rates, and this is one of the reasons. We blame and chastise the cyclists and do too little to chastise the drivers who drive dangerously around cyclists. A foam helmet will not protect you from a collision with a car. If we seriously wanted to make cycling safer we would have tough laws on drivers who pass too close, or are agressive to cyclists and we would enforce them. We dont do that though, instead we blame the victim. Typical backward attitude.

    [Reply]

  • Sarah

    Lots of comments and arguments for each side of the debate. I think the thing to keep in mind when deciding if today’s trip/route is a helmet or a non-helmet one is that it’s called an ACCIDENT because you’re not expecting it to happen.

    Unless you can tell me that a helmet INCREASES the risk/severity of injury, I’m sticking with the “why wouldn’t you wear one?” idea.

    (Apologies for the capitals, not intending to be shouty, just to emphasise)

    [Reply]

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  • Dasher

    Sarah I am thrilled you have taken up this conversation again, despite the angry comments last time (and they will keep coming). I will not reiterate what others have said before me (and probably more eloquently!) but instead second everything Dr Paul Martin and Sue Abbot etc have said.

    I was talking to my sister about MHL on the weekend and explained how they were only tested up to speeds of 19.5km/h. Straight away she pointed out that even school zones are 40km/h, so a testing at such low speeds isn’t at all relevant for on-road cycling!

    The laws need to change. I find it strange that children are allowed to cycle on the footpath but only until the age of 12. Can you imagine a 13 year old riding with traffic? Why don’t they extend the age limit to 16? This is the age you’re allowed to get your learner license and it would make more sense if this was the age to become a road user for all methods of transport, including on-road bicycles. No wonder people forget the simple joy of cycling once they become a teenager.

    [Reply]

  • Gav

    I hate wearing a helmet, however I find that in Australia when I don’t wear one, car drivers are super aggressive towards me, as though “Well, you don’t care about your safety, why should I?” I’ve had a few motorists actively cut me up and shout “Where’s your helmet, dickhead!?” etc etc.

    I definitely notice the bad vibes when I don’t. Having said that, I do subscribe to the thought – wearing a helmet makes me less likely to cycle, it makes me look less vulnerable to car drivers, and it makes cycling look like a niche, dangerous activity.

    [Reply]

  • bikefish

    as I understand this, the very best way to reduce bicycling injuries is to increase the number of people on bicycles, with or without infrastructure. When numbers of bicyclists go up, numbers of injuries (not just RATE, but NUMBERS in most cases) go down. The big problem with helmets – whether or not they protect the individuals who wear them – is that they discourage people from riding bikes. So if I wear a helmet – even if it actually does save my life in a crash – I may be contributing to other people’s injuries because my helmet makes cycling seem dangerous and keeps those life-saving numbers low.

    [Reply]

    Tom Nockolds Reply:

    @bikefish – brilliantly put! I wholeheartedly agree with you there.

    This is the number one reason I won’t wear a helmet any more: I no longer want to be part of anything that portrays cycling as dangerous.

    Cycling isn’t dangerous; cycling is safe, easy, fun and normal, so I always try to make it look that way when I’m out on my bike. And I have to say that it looks very much like Sarah Wilson would portray that image when she’s cycling out there with all her fashion-sense and common-sense along for the ride.

    [Reply]

  • Alistair Merrifield

    “No randomized controlled trials have been done on the safety of bike helmets.”

    Yeah…. might have a problem with ethics here…. you would have to randomise subjects to wear bike helmets/not wear bike helmets, put them through a crash and look at resulting head injuries. Good luck getting that one through! :)

    The next best studies are observational studies (following a cohort through time being the best option). With an observational study, you can look at associations – but you can’t draw conclusions about causation (or not) – like a RCT. With the studies in the link, you have to be VERY careful with interpretation of results (as discussed in the link) .

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    There is studies done concerning injuries and fatality rates of cyclist on both a per KM and a per cyclist basis between countries that do and dont have compulsory helmet laws. Guess what. The 2 safest countries to ride a bike in are Denmark, and The Netherlands, and they DO NOT have compulsory helmet laws.

    Noone on the pro compulsory helmet side of the argument can counter this reality!

    [Reply]

  • gval

    Dr Martin,
    I support your point that a reasoned cost benefit analysis may not support helmets due to the many health benefits of cycling outweighing risks etc.

    Do you really don’t have any firm basis for saying “A bicycle helmet will not prevent brain damage if the forces involved are so great that you would sustain brain damage without a helmet”? How do you know this? You’re taking an educated guess that its true, aren’t you?

    Your saying that a helmet doesn’t reduce the risk of, for example, fracture skull, or of diffuse axonal injury, even though there would in theory be a (albeit marginal) reduction in the deceleration force to the skull and brain with a helmet than without. Its hard to see how the physics wouldn’t support this idea. To make out its all or nothing, massive head crushing, brain mushing force or a few bruises doesn’t really make sense. Obviously there will be a continuum, and in some range the helmet may make a difference, surely? Or am I missing something?

    g

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    Hi G,

    The AS/NZS 2063 standard includes tests which ensure that the deceleration forces do not exceed 250g. For a helmet to do this for the test, it must compress the foam by 6mm – remember, the test is conducted at an impact speed of 19.5km/h (a drop from a height of 1.5 metres).

    Why this figure of 250g? Because the helmet will ‘pass’ the test, that’s why.

    The reality is that the threshold for serious brain injury is probably much, much lower than this – in the order of about 100g! See here and here (the table at the bottom in interesting)

    If the helmet doesn’t compress by 6mm following a 19.5km/h impact, the deceleration force must have exceeded 250g. If it cracks & breaks it has done little to decrease deceleration of the head at all.

    I’d love a Neurosurgeon to comment here as this is beyond my area of expertise, despite being able to do the sums and understand the physics. What it does tell me is that apart from protecting my head from lacerations and nasty bumps, a bicycle helmet is going to do little to protect my brain if my head is going to sustain such forces – the helmet would have to be many times bigger to make much of a difference… and then I’d worry about breaking my neck – much more disabling I can assure you!

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    Of course this means that for a bicycle helmet to decelerate the head (from the AS/NZS2063 test speed of 19.5km/h) at 100g, the foam on a typically 3cm thick helmet would have to compress by half its thickness – ie. 1.5cm. That’s quite a lot of compression.

    If you want to decelerate your head at ‘only’ 50g, then you need to compress 3cm of foam to do this at 19.5km/h. Clearly if the foam is 3cm thick, this is impossible as only the air-spaces between the polystyrene can actually compress!

    For the non-physics minded: 1g is the acceleration of your body due to gravity. An acceleration of 2g would make you ‘feel’ twice as heavy, at 4-6g sustained, without a g-suit, in the upright position you will most likely lose consciousness within seconds

    I know this might be boring to many, but it highlights the limited efficacy of these devices and my concern that people are putting too much faith in them… and ‘faith’ really is the right word here.

    There is no doubt that a bicycle helmet will prevent minor injuries but lets not get carried away with what they’re capable of doing. These calculations make me further question the merit of the law requiring all bicyclists to wear helmets. They were introduced to prevent death & brain damage but no data has demonstrated this at all.

    The recent ‘study’ by Dinh et al. from the RPAH inadvertently showed that there was a disproportionately higher number of helmeted cyclists being admitted to hospital as the helmet wearing rate in the community was much, much lower than their reported levels (although they failed to mention this…)!

    Do helmeted cyclists take more risks? Interesting…

    [Reply]

    Daniel Reply:

    Are you proposing we increase the specifications of helmets to ensure they protect ? Certainly seems to be the case…

    i don’t think you can randomly extrapolate the numbers of deceleration as the density of the ‘foam’ is not always the same. And whats to say the end result wouldnt be 1mm… you cant just halve the G load and halve the compression. It may decelerate the first 100g in 10mm and take 20mm to decelerate the remaining which is what i’d expect to see on a graph.

    I dont think this debate is really about the technical aspects or even if the figures match up (injuries vs non injuries whilst wearing helmets) I just think its purely about preference.

    I find wearing a helmet such a non event that i’ll wear it (just in case). Others passionately disagree.. I am not sure i’m willing to passionately agree :)

  • http://www.jacintafleur.com jacinta

    I stopped cycling when the bike helmets came in. The shade visors were so small on them I couldn’t cycle without getting sunburnt. So I stopped.

    However, wearing a bike helmet (actually, we wear a speciald derby helmet that protects the top part of the back of your neck) when rollerskating and playing roller derby is a different matter. A skate to the head hurts. Helmet saved my roller derby skull many times.

    [Reply]

  • Dr Paul Martin

    Daniel Wrote:
    “Are you proposing we increase the specifications of helmets to ensure they protect ? Certainly seems to be the case…”

    I’m proposing that we are told the truth (mainly by Government & the Media) about what protection a bicycle helmet can truly offer. There is no doubt that it will reduce minor injuries – which are just defined as ‘head injuries’ in many studies – and that’s a good thing, however the level of protection they offer is so low that a mandatory law requiring all bicycle riders to wear one really is unjust.

    The standard should be improved as much as possible, I agree, but the choice to wear a bicycle helmet should be up to the individual.

    The Foreword in the AS/NZS2063 Standard document even explicitly states:

    Helmets which comply with this Standard are considered suitable for cycling activities where the wearer may be thrown or fall from a height, particularly while mobile. They are not, however, to be used by motor cyclists on public roads or in other public places where the various State and Territory Traffic Regulations require the use of helmets complying with AS/NZS 1698:2006, Protective helmets for vehicle users, nor are they to be used for high-speed sports such as motor cycle racing and car racing.

    The protection given by a helmet depends on the circumstances of the impact and the wearing of a helmet cannot always prevent death or injury. A proportion of the energy of an impact is absorbed by the helmet, thereby reducing the force of the blow sustained by the head. The structure of the helmet may be damaged in absorbing this energy and any helmet that sustains a severe blow should be replaced even if damage is not apparent.

    To achieve the performance of which it is capable and to ensure stability on the head, a helmet should be as closely fitting as possible consistent with comfort, and it must be securely fastened, with the retaining strap under tension at all times.”

    What happens when you’re on a bicycle, riding at motorcycle speeds (downhills, say) and you come off? Reading between the lines, this foreword would suggest that a bicycle helmet is unsuitable… There is no definition of ‘hight speed’ either… The last paragraph is in contradiction with the ‘updated’ standard which requires straps to allow the helmet to ‘come off’ after the ‘initial impact’!

    Daniel Wrote:
    “i don’t think you can randomly extrapolate the numbers of deceleration as the density of the ‘foam’ is not always the same. And whats to say the end result wouldnt be 1mm… you cant just halve the G load and halve the compression. It may decelerate the first 100g in 10mm and take 20mm to decelerate the remaining which is what i’d expect to see on a graph.

    The density of the foam is irrelevent – the distance to stop the head is what is relevent. It is simple physics. To decelerate an object from 19.5km/h to 0km/h and keep the deceleration below 250g at all times, the distance required to decelerate that object must be at least 6mm. If the road is incompressible, the helmet shell incompressible, then the only thing that is compressible between your head and the road is the helmet foam.

    Of course, everyone seems to neglect the fact that the human scalp is an excellent protective device for the skull – it slides on the skull, it is compressible, etc. The downside is that if the force is hard enough, it splits – and scalp lacerations while often insignificant, tend to bleed a lot – making the injury look a lot worse than it really is.

    [Reply]

  • Gav

    If you had to wear a helmet every time you got on a bus – would you take buses more or less? Same if you had to wear a helmet every time you got in a car, would you drive as much?

    [Reply]

  • Dr Paul Martin

    Why I am opposed to Mandatory Helmet Laws:
    http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/advocacy/mhls.htm

    [Reply]

  • Marty

    Wow, this debate is such an valuable resource to digest – so much info from Nina & Dr Paul, certainly an incredibe bookmark to pour over. Thank you all & keep the debate going.

    FYI – I cycle with a helmet ‘cos I feel naked without it. I also windsurf with a helmet ‘cos face down in the water unconscious after a knock and it’s all over… safety #1 for me & my son.

    Love the intro to the ABS background story : ” Climate change is a cake walk”… too true

    [Reply]

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  • http://besswess.wordpress.com Jennifer

    I love that so many people got their undies in a bunch over this one!
    Here is a little secret:
    I don’t wear a helmet when I am on a motorcycle either. :)

    [Reply]

  • Dr Paul Martin

    Add your voice to helmet choice:

    http://helmetfreedom.org/

    Helmets are good, helmet laws are not. Help repeal mandatory bicycle helmet laws in Australia.

    [Reply]

  • James

    If helmets actually were the thing that saves cyclists lives, then how is it that you are 6 times less likely to die in an “accident” on a bike in the Netherlands, and around 4 times less likely to die in a bicycle crash in Denmark, both of these countries DO NOT HAVE BICYCLE HELMET LAWS. There is nothing that the pro helmet laws people can say to get around this reality.

    To borrow a line from Mickael Collville Anderson, ( a Danish cycling advocate). If you have a wild bull in a china shop full of people, you inoculate and carstrate the bull, you dont bubble wrap the people and hide them from the bull. This enalagy pertains to cars and bicycle’s (and pedestrians), we should be restricting urban cars, not cyclists. This is what happens in Denmark, and the Netherlands.

    If you want to make cycling safe, dont make it appear dangerous and put in place bandaid solutions like compulsory helmet laws, what we should be doing is restricting the users of the dangerous vehicles and that is the car drivers.

    [Reply]

  • James

    Oh Nina, why dont we have compulsory helmet use for car occupants, and pedestrians, since statistically that saves lives?

    [Reply]

  • Tom

    Cycle Helmets equals Being Brainwashed, In over forty years of cycling, I’ve never worn, and never will, cycle helmets are for brainwashed idiots.
    Tom, Crystal Palace, London

    [Reply]

  • Jim

    I’m a brainwashed idiot. My wife is a brainwashed idiot.

    We are idiots because we wear bicycle helmets, two of which are in little pieces due to accidents.

    I repeat: I am very stupid for wanting to protect my brain due to inconclusive and contradictory studies.

    Jim

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    Jim,

    I agree with you and I disagree with Tom’s statement, also. There is nothing stupid about wearing a bicycle helmet, not at all. I’m all for choice on the matter and polarisation of the argument (much like Nina has done with her response below), is really unhelpful.

    Helmet laws which make it a legal requirement to wear a bicycle helmet when on a bicycle, at all times, no matter what you ride (except if you are a paying pedicab passenger… go figure) and where you ride it are not a good idea and are not good for a healthy bicycle culture.

    Almost all people who are opposed to mandatory helmet laws are not opposed to helmet wearing. Being anti-helmet and anti-helmet law are two very different kettles-of-fish and I am certainly not anti-helmet (but I would like to see their testing procedures improved).

    Happy cycling – with or without your helmet… that should be your choice.

    Regards,

    [Reply]

    Jim Reply:

    Dr. Paul,

    Are you agreeing that I’m an idiot?! Just injecting some much-needed levity here.

    I’m reading a WWI memoir right now, so the relative safety merits of a bicycle helmet in 2011 have me in a giddy mood. Soldiers just assumed they were going to die back then.

    Helmets are contextual. For instance, a terrible car-driving friend once gave me a ride. I kept my motorcycle helmet on as an editorial. No, he didn’t drive any better.

    Jim

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    Haha! No, I’m not agreeing with THAT part of what you were saying, Jim! Not at all.

    Interesting you mention the soldier story – sadly to counter they just invent better armour piercing bullets… awful.

    I totally agree that helmets are contextual (which is why making bicycle helmets mandatory by law is not the right way to improve cycling safety) and I can think of numerous occasions where I’ve wished people (patients) had worn a motorcycle helmet in their car before an accident.

    Car helmet use makes far more sense than bicycle helmet use (from a risk reduction perspective) and yet you would be laughed out of the room if you suggested it. Why? Because almost every adult regularly drives a car; few regularly ride a bicycle and even fewer ride a bicycle for… god forbid… transport. I do and I don’t regret it. I could afford a fancy sports car (I’m that age…) but I’d rather bike.

    Jim Reply:

    This looks intriguing: http://newsfeed.time.com/2010/10/22/we-live-in-the-future-introducing-invisible-bike-helmet/

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    Yes, I’ve seen that some time ago. It has some problems though, the main one being cost and the fact that it is single use only.

    Another issue is that the acceleration required to set it off appears quite mild when you analyse the footage. I would need a guarantee that it won’t go off if I sneeze violently or shake my head!

    Interestingly nobody ever comments on what it is supposedly protecting you from… it is CAR that is hitting the cyclist (at only 20km/h in this clip).

    While I’m sure this might make car drivers feel better about hitting a cyclist, I’d rather be nowhere near cars when riding – give me Dutch Infrastructure any day to keep me away from their 2 tonnes of metal.

    There was a video of a sideways fall from a bike with the dummy wearing the headbag but unlike a real human, the dummy doesn’t try and save itself by putting it’s arms out and protecting its head – something we instinctively do which is why arm & leg injuries are so common in bicycle falls (add to that dental trauma, not avoided by a helmet I might add). Such a test is completely unrealistic.

  • http://www.ninapace.com Nina Pace

    Hey Jim,

    If you clicked “notify me of follow up comments via email”, I’m pretty sure you’ll regret it like I did.

    There comes a time when you just stop arguing with idiots. In fact, I think I’ve completely reversed my own opinion. Before when I commented, I was all for compulsory helmet laws. After all – it is for the rider’s own good. Then I thought about it again, and it occurred to me – their own safety is their own problem!

    Let them win a shining Darwin Award!

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    Nina,

    I agree that Tom’s statement is destructive, but so is yours.

    By implying that anyone who doesn’t wear a helmet is an idiot worthy of a Darwin award, you have essentially lowered yourself to his level (assuming he wasn’t referring to the law, rather than the helmet).

    I don’t wear a helmet all the time and I can assure you I am no idiot. I realise that my safety is, as you say, often my ‘own problem’ and as a result I choose my route carefully, I cycle slowly and carefully, I don’t take risks and I mostly don’t wear a helmet.

    When I’m out on my sports bike ‘training’, I will wear a helmet as the very nature of that type of cycling increases your risk, albeit slightly (They didn’t wear helmets in the Tour de France until 2005 and they weren’t dropping like flies….).

    Cycling is safe. Special safety equipment if made mandatory, makes it look dangerous. I have not fallen from my bike since I was 10 years old and I cycle in excess of 10,000km per year.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    I dont think the pro compulsory helmet people should be calling people idiots.
    Firstly none of them deal with the reality that the safest places to ride a bike on either a per Km or per cyclist basis by a significant margin are Denmark and the Netherlands, and these 2 countries DO NOT have mandatory helmet laws.

    Secondly, since car driving is dangerous, so to is being a pedestrian, why not have compulsory helmet laws for car drivers, or pedestrians. The reason is that there would be less people driving (although I believe this would be a good thing), or less people walking.

    The dismall failure of the bike hire schemes in Australia show that compulsory helmet laws are a problem.

    It is also a reality that when compulsory helmet laws were put in place the rates of cycling decreased.

    People who argue against compulsory helmet laws are not saying that people cannot wear helmets, they are saying they should not be compulsory.

    There are good reasons to be against compulsory helmet laws.

    The other thing is, I find that the people who are all for compulsory helmet laws either mainly drive a car everywhere or dont do much if any bicycle riding.

    If people seriously want cycling to be safer, they should encourage people to ride a bicycle. They should also be creating decent bike lanes. Most of all they should make car drivers more culpable if they hit a cyclist or a pedestrian, and they should support restricting cars in cities.

    This is what is done in both the Netherlands and Denmark. But no, we put restrictions on people engaging in healthy activity. We dont restrict car drivers or make them slow down. In the Netherlands, small neighbourhood roads where they have no cycle lanes are restricted to a speed limit of 30 Km/h. When cars are allowed to go faster they usually have a phisically seperated cycle lane, and they dont often mix pedestrians and bikes. The infrastructure and attitude keeps people safe, not helmet laws.

    Again the safest place to ride a bike, does NOT have compulsory helmet laws. A fact that CAGERS can’t deal with.

    [Reply]

  • Jim

    Nina,

    Yep, self-determinism is a wonderful thing;^)

    On the other hand I’m an idiot…what do i know?

    Jim

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    Again, one person calling all bicycle riders who wear helmets ‘idiots’, doesn’t make it so, so ignore such commentary as it is unhelpful.

    Likewise, people calling all helmetless riders idiots & Darwin award winners is equally unhelpful. There are nations full of helmetless riders and with much safer cycling statistics that ours.

    Such people can’t think all Dutch are ‘idiots’ & fishing for a Darwin award… surely…?

    [Reply]

  • http://www.ninapace.com Nina Pace

    How do I unsubscribe from this thread now?
    Until Sydney’s infrastructure equals or excels that found in Europe, helmets should be used simply as a safety measure. It’s like comparing apples and oranges – you just can’t compare Aus with the Netherlands, or any other Euro country, not now – statistically or otherwise. To do so is to ignore the state of our roads and the dangers of our own system – we’re in a very, very different situation to our counterparts in Europe. And this is what seems to be completely ignored by people who throw around statistics from overseas.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Then the answer is to make our infrastructure like that found in Europe, not to restrict cyclists.

    Why not mke car drivers wear helmets, there has been many deaths on our roads involving cars and some of them involved head injuries. So why not make motorists wear helmets?

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    Nina Pace wrote:

    “How do I unsubscribe from this thread now?”

    Down the bottom of the page under “Manage your subscriptions”

    Nina Pace wrote:
    “Until Sydney’s infrastructure equals or excels that found in Europe, helmets should be used simply as a safety measure. It’s like comparing apples and oranges – you just can’t compare Aus with the Netherlands, or any other Euro country, not now – statistically or otherwise.”

    …none of which has anything to do with mandatory helmet laws or why they were introduced.

    Nina Pace wrote:
    “To do so is to ignore the state of our roads and the dangers of our own system – we’re in a very, very different situation to our counterparts in Europe. And this is what seems to be completely ignored by people who throw around statistics from overseas.”

    So you are saying we should ignore overseas studies which the authorities here use as justification for mandatory helmet laws too then? Studies such as Thompson, Rivara & Thompson (USA) and the awful Cochrane review based on it and other (overseas) studies? Or is it just a ‘Euro-thing’?

    Good… that’s settled then.

    So then let’s look at all the studies done in Australia which show that mandatory helmet laws are working… oh, there aren’t any! Whoops.

    You know the Queensland Government recently commissioned a study into helmet use, etc (they wrote a letter to me telling me as much), to be undertaken by CARRS-Q here in Brisbane. The study was supposed to have reported back in September 2010. There has been no word about it despite my requesting the summary a few times…

    Why would they not make it public? Could it be that the result might actually show that a mandatory helmet law isn’t a good idea? Pure speculation, but I’m determined to find out…

    [Reply]

  • http://www.ninapace.com Nina Pace

    Correct re infrastructure, but in the meantime safety measures are a must.

    Car drivers are forced to wear seatbelts. It’s the law. So why aren’t motorists complaining about how this is so ‘restrictive’? Probably because they realise seat belts (and air bags, crumple zones, etc) all save lives. Car designs attempt to minimise force on the occupant. Unfortunately I don’t know of a bike that has an air bag, or a structure that will absorb some of the force if it’s impacted. So I’m happy to continue wearing my helmet. I’d like my brain to remain in tact thanks.

    Helmets = safety measure. Simple as that. Just can’t figure out why the hoo-ha over something that’s so easy to implement. Yep, can be uncomfy, especially when you’re sweaty. But is that really a big deal?

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    If you can’t get your head around why car occupants should wear helmets before bicycle riders (based on the injury risk per hour of travel) then try this one:

    If you believe that helmets are an indispensible safety measure then why are pedicab passengers exempt from wearing them (and they prefer it that way I might add…)?

    Seatbelts, if not worn by the driver and they lose control it is almost impossible to regain control – they are now a danger to others. Similarly, seatbelts not worn by passengers make them projectiles in the event of an accident and are a risk to other occupants. Such laws are more about protecting third parties as much as they are about protecting the individual.

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    I should add that in the UK they have rubbish infrastructure too (see here) for cyclists and nowhere do they have a mandatory helmet law… although some non-cycling, car-driving Northern Ireland MP wants to introduce them.

    …and their peak cycling bodies (ie. the CTC, etc) are vehemently opposed to such laws. But I know that no comparison will be good enough for some…

    [Reply]

    Stephen Reply:

    The Dutch way:

    Emphasis is placed on protecting cyclists by improving infrastructure and shifting the onus onto motorists. Car parking limitations in town centres makes driving an unattractive option. Strict liability means that the driver’s insurance is deemed to be responsible in a collision be a car and a cyclist, with the result that motorists are extra careful around bikes. Utility cycling is promoted above everything else so men and women of all ages and ability feel perfectly safe getting around by bike. Absolutely no one wears a helmet.

    The Australian way:

    The car rules. Cyclists are given a bit of space on roads and advised to make themselves as visible as possible so as to assist motorists in seeing them. Hardly any disincentive is pushed on to motorists in busy urban areas. Because of the inevitably high rate of bike/car collisions causing injury and death to cyclists, mandatory helmet laws are introduced. Everyone is now happy because while cars are carrying on their merry way of knocking cyclists off their bikes, at least some of the cyclists are not suffering serious head injuries. Cycling numbers remain low. and the majority of people who do take to the streets are sporting or fitness-related cyclists who have the confidence to throw their bike in and around heavy traffic. Utility and everyday cyclists remain a tiny minority. The majority of cyclists and cycling organisations accept the medicore remedy of helmet laws with religious fervour, while people who dare challenge such an unacceptable state of affairs are labelled “idiots.”

    Well, I’m proud to be an idiot.

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    An excellent precis, well said.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Well Said Stephen

    [Reply]

  • http://www.ninapace.com Nina Pace

    Thanks Dr Paul for the how-to.
    Good luck on your quest to banish those awful helmet laws!

    [Reply]

    Dr Paul Martin Reply:

    I find it amusing how, when someone argues poorly and runs out of things to say, they finally resort to a personal attack, either downright malicious or just subtly patronising… thanks, Nina.

    By the way, I’m not the only person in this country who would like to see the end of mandatory helmet laws. In a poll last year in Melbourne’s Age asking “Should Melbourne Bike Share be exempt from mandatory helmet laws?” there were almost 14,000 responses and the result was that 73% said ‘yes’… clearly I’m alone here.

    I’ve thought long and hard and read widely and helmets are good (for what they’re designed for) but helmet laws are bad…

    [Reply]

  • Trish

    Fantastic debate. I’ve read all the comments (OK, I might have skimmed over a few). Regardless of your view on whether or not a helmet will prevent an injury to your head in the event of a crash, you can’t possibly argue with the statistics regarding the number of people riding bikes in Australia vs the rest of the world (and then the statistics regarding the numbers of accidents, the health and well-being of cyclists, the quality of the air we breathe… etc).

    The same people that enforce the rules about wearing helmets in Australia should be directing equal energy towards developing and buiding infrastructure that would provide cyclists with the kind of safe, easy ride into work that those lucky bastards in Copenhagen enjoy.

    [Reply]

  • Nick

    Where did you source that splendid image from? Its fantastic! Any information about it would be greatly appreciated.

    [Reply]

  • Jane

    It’s taken the best part of two days (in installments) to read this commentary and this is my small take.

    It seems that cars are the issue. To remove or significantly reduce the probability of riders colliding with high speed projectiles seems rather sensible. There’s a few ways “we” can do this… we can sit around and wait for “them” to construct the fabulous infrastructure, or we can actively take responsibility for our own choices (heads) and ride on bike paths, designated bike routes, the footpath if need be (tut tut!) and start to enjoy the experience of riding. As our designated cycling areas become clogged the need to improve them will be self-evident. No sane government would risk public safety by allowing something they provide to become unsafe – would it? ;).

    The worrying part of mandatory anything is the removal of a human being’s motivation to gather and examine evidence and make a choice for them self. We need to encourage people to look at the evidence and make a choice for self that best reflects their needs and situation. In doing so they will be able to fully appreciate and respect the effort that their fellow cyclists take when making their own safety assessment.

    During my European jaunts it has been a delight to toodle about on a bike unhindered by the anger, aggression and judgement of fellow road users. This experiences perhaps say something about Australia’s mood and attitude as a whole as related to sharing the roads… no, that’s probably too simplistic an argument.

    Thanks for the great reading. Dr Martin your resources and commentary are terrific.

    [Reply]

  • Lexy

    Confession:

    Helmetless – I ride a one-gear bike. With plastic flowers on it. And speakers I got for $2 somewhere. and an evil eye charm a superstitious aunt put there one day. I ride my bike to parties with a dress and 12cm heels on. I ride on the footpath if there’s no bike lane and I only sometimes remember road rules (I’m from the country, there wasn’t any traffic where I grew up and I’m still not used to it). AND I BLOODY WELL ENJOY IT. If wearing a helmet when riding horses isn’t mandatory (at least not for over 18s) then why should it be for bikes? I’ve never fallen off mine once whereas I’ve got a couple of scars/broken bones/scary stories about the four-legged neighing variety.

    [Reply]

  • Sarah

    a good debate for once…i’ve enjoyed reading. so now for my 2 cents….

    many people quote the stats re. how much cycling use dropped after the introduction of mandatory helmet laws in Australia. this is no biggy. the law came in, people didn’t have a helmet, it took them a while to be bothered going to buy one, or to afford to buy one, and some obviously never went back to it. cycling numbers did increase in the years following and it did take quite a long time to return to prior numbers. HOWEVER, I don’t see any studies being quoted that survey the population of non-bike-riders to specifically ask them if the reason they don’t ride a bike is because they would have to wear a helmet (please point me to those studies if they are out there). i simply cannot believe that is the case for the majority of the population, so i find that whole argument to be bogus.

    and i agree that you simply cannot compare Australia with other countries such as the Nederlands. their cycling culture and infrastructure and the public’s relationship with cyclists has evolved over a long period of time. they didn’t suddenly turn around and say, ok, you no longer have to wear a helmet, but we aren’t going improve driver/cyclist education or infrastructure, so good luck to you all!

    and i’m sorry, but cycling in Australia IS dangerous. i ride smartly and defensively and i am frequently astounded by the lack of care and awareness many motorists have on the road, both towards other drivers and cyclists. i don’t care if I look like a nerd with my helmet lights and occasionally a flouro vest. but you can’t seriously say that those accessories don’t make you more visible than a rider dressed all in black without lights. it simply isn’t true that it only makes you feel safer: it reduces risks.

    re. the failure of the Melb bike share scheme. no shit that it failed! the real failure was in failing to address the helmet law issue BEFORE spending millions on implementing it. seriously, who signed off on that idea and thought it was going to work?

    i really doubt that the V8 commodore that skimmed my arm as it passed me too close in the left lane (of 3 lanes mind you) yesterday would have given me any extra room had i been wearing a helmet. unfortunately there is a couldn’t-give-a-shit-about-much-else-than-interest-rates attitude among the population that is going to need a hell of a lot of effort to shift. and while I don’t have the answers, I’m certain in my own mind that not wearing a helmet isn’t going to change that attitude one bit.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Sarah, I dissagree. You can compare Australia with other countries, and it is a fair statement to say that despite the fact that they dont have compulsory helmet laws it is safer to ride a bike there.

    It is totally true that this is down to other factors, and this indicates that it is not helmet laws that are the thing that protect cyclists the most. Logic would dictate that if we want more cycling, we copy the countries in which cycling is extremely popular, and ignore the countries (such as ours) where cycling is not popular.

    Why is it that the car is the sacred bull in the china shop? In extending this metaphor further we allow the bull in the china shop to roam free, but instead scold and bubble wrap the cyclists and the pedestrians (the customers).

    What we should be doing is restricting the bull (the car).
    Many drivers will always be antagonistic to cyclists, because they are horrid people, to say the least. You will not change that. What you can change is their behaviour, by putting in place the necessary laws and properly enforcing them. Also you can do this by protecting cyclists and restricting cars by converting lane space or parking space to seperated bicycle space. Tamming the bull (the car) and not the cyclist.

    For the life of me, I cannot see why we put in place enforcable helmet laws (and we are set aside as an example by other countries of why not to do so), and yet we do not place legal restrictions on cars which pose the real danger.

    I am not sure that you are aware of this, but in countries such as Holland, if you as a motorist hit a cyclist, you are deemed responsible, unless you can PROVE that the cyclist was at fault.

    The suggestion that The Netherlands and Denmark had a cycling culture that developed over a long period of time, and that therefore we should just wait, or accept that we will never be anything like that is irresponsible. Firstly, Australia did have a good cycling culture, before the massive uptake of cars. Secondly in the 60s and 70s far fewer people were bicycle riders in Denmark and the Netherlands, as car culture took over, and it was the governments of these countries which took steps to reverse some of this.

    We need to put a strong case for cycling, particularly as transport, and a focus on cyclists and what we wear does not help. It is cars that pose the danger, and it is cars that should be restricted. The arguments for this are solid:-

    Car accidents in Australia kill over 1400 people each year
    Hospitalisations from car accidents are over 22 000 people a year and cost the country over $17 Billion.
    Car pollution contributes to the premature death of around 2000 people a year in Australia.
    Traffic congestion, which building more roads will not solve sosts many billions.
    A lack of exercise costs Australia $1.5 Billion.
    Throughout history the time taken to go from place to place has not changed since the advent of the car (in other words cars first create distance and then offer themselves up as the solution to the problem they created).

    Cars cost people a good portion of their budget, and it is simply not fair, that people are basically forced to have a car because of the poor design of our cities and the lack of protection for people taking other forms of tranport.

    Peak oil is near, and we will soon see a permanant decline in the production of oil, and since oil is required in modern times for hospital drugs, food production, and vital transport, why are we continuing to waste it by encouraging people to drive?

    There are many more good arguments.
    The point is though, that we over here in Australia are backward. We are one of the few countries in the world that have compulsory helmet laws, and we are set aside as an example of why not to put laws such as this in place. Isn’t it time that we argued for restrictions on cars which pose the real danger, instead of restricting cyclists.

    At the time of writing this, I am jelously watching a video on Schiermonnikoog, an island to the north of The Netherlands, where there is basically no cars. I can see how pleasent life could be,

    Motor vehicles are the problem not bicycles. I say we restrict cars not cyclists!

    [Reply]

    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    Rottnest Island off the coast of WA is like that, no cars. Only emergency vehicles like police & ambulance, the island is only 7km long so everyone bike rides. It’s a great place to holiday.

    [Reply]

    Primal Tuna Reply:

    …and you still have to wear a foam hat there! Gotta love Australia…

    At least in the Northern Territory you can ride on bike paths and footpaths with a helmet being optional. No surprise they have the highest mode share in the country for bicycle use and a greater percentage of women cycling. Coincidence? I don’t think so…

    Dave Reply:

    @sarah,

    The Heart Foundation and Cycling Promotions fund recently conducted a randomised survey of 1000 Australian households (this survey size gives a margin of error of 3% on the following results) http://www.cyclingpromotion.com.au/images/stories/MediaReleaseDocs/CyclingPromotionFund_Riding_a_Bike_for_Transport_Survey_Report_2011.pdf

    People who currently cycle but would ride more without helmet laws: 16.5%
    People who don’t ride but want to but are put off by helmet laws: 15.7%

    The number one reason people don’t cycle more is safey convenience. The best way to encourage more cycling is more bike lanes physically separated from traffic (84.4% agree).

    Helmet laws don’t discourage everyone, nor is getting rid of helmet laws the only way to encourage cycling. But helmet laws do discourage cycling by making it less convenient and seem more dangerous than it is. So repealing our helmet laws are one important step of many to increase cycling, and it is also the cheapest from a public policy point of view.

    [Reply]

  • Steve

    Dr Paul Martin says “I can guarantee you that if a car hits your head at 70km/h you will die, helmet (even motorcycle helmet) or not. I would put all my life savings on that bet.” Sorry Doctor! I was hit by a driver at 80kph and I’m obviously very much alive today. I was hit from behind, impacting the bonnet of the car first, going onto the laminated windscreen, knocking the sun visor off and landing on the road. Apart from an torn ACL, two molar teeth being broken, and losing a lot of skin, I came out of it very well considering. I had a helmet on at the time of the accident and continue to wear one today when I ride.

    There’s a lot of opinions on here, and a lot of it seems to relate to urban riders (Holland, Japan and Australia have been mentioned) who would be lucky to ride any faster than 19kph, but what about those who ride mountain bikes? I ride one, and I know mountain bikers ride considerably faster that 19kph at times. Do I ride with a helmet? Absolutely and those I ride with, and others I see riding on tracks, all do as well. Would those I ride with, ride without a helmet on? No way!

    I’ve been a Paramedic for nearly twenty years, and I’ve been to a number of bike accidents in that time. Everything from kids falling off at low speed in the family driveway to major accidents involving vehicles and simply people crashing at speeds higher than the magic 19 kph. Damaged pride, abrasions, bruises, fractures, varying degrees of head injuries and sadly, death, all make up memories that will stay with me for life. I could talk all day about the things I have seen at accidents, and why I think helmets made a difference to many I have treated. Sadly, helmets will not save everyone of course, but I still think they make a difference.

    The fact is, statistics can be found for just about anything you like to justify, and depending on the way the statistics were gathered, you can make statistics say anything you like to justify a position. A professional statistician friend of mine explained that to me once, and I felt a whole lot different about relying on statistics afterwards. Based on what I have seen and experienced, I’m much more inclined to be in favour of wearing helmets, and a lot less on statistics.

    Bike riding has an element of risk with it, the moment your get on the bike. Depending on the type of riding you do, you’re decision about where and how you ride, the concentration of other riders and driver of vehicles around you, the surface you ride on, the time of day, weather etc etc, the risks associated with cycling will change depending on things such as these. Should we stop living because of these risks? Of course not! We accept there are risks, and we make the decisions we do based on the risks after we have considered them. Simply because a helmet doesn’t provide neck or face protection won’t stop me wearing a helmet. Wearing seat belts doesn’t stop people being killed in vehicles either, but most of us (I’m surprised there are still some who won’t wear a seat belt!!) still wear a seat belt when we’re in a vehicle. There is a belief, and I think somebody would be very brave to suggest, that wearing a seat belt has not reduced the number of deaths of those in cars since it became law to wear a seat belt in a motor vehicle. Wearing seat belts, along with better driver education, improvements in roads, improvements in vehicle design etc have all help reduce the number of fatalities in motor vehicles. Why then do we have this aversion to wearing a helmet to reduce the likely hood of a brain injury

    Based on what I have seen, and having seen people in Brain Injury Units, I’m very happy to wear a helmet, even if it does look uncool, makes my hair sweaty, the strap feel itchy under my chin etc etc.

    [Reply]

  • Pingback: look who else rides a bike and doesn’t wear a helmet… | Sarah Wilson

  • mel.

    ohhh kaaayyy! so i totally get ya with the being able to wear whatever you want n not have your helmet destroy your outfit….but really !? PRIORITIES!!
    i have been knocked off my bike by a lady in her car who was driving down her own street in the afternoon, and changed something on the radio, small street in a suburb in byron bay, and BOOM! a light collision from the front of her car and my back tyre, and over the handlebars i gooooo!! face hits ground first, scraping off my top lip, bike lands on me; chain rings in the shoulder, and then if thats not enough, somehow the stand came around and tore my upper thigh open !!! SEVEN STITCHES! i was 300 metres from home, she was about 100 m from home. i was injured, and lost a looootttt of blood [in fact, there was an epic bloodstain on the road for about a year afterwards !] BUT! this could have been oh so much worse if my dad hadnt INSISTED CONSSSSTANTLLLLYYY that i wear my helmet. he even got me a stylish one!! my helmet cracked and my head is in tact! small scar above my lip, large scar on my thigh, and my shoulder cracks sometimes…but hey!! i can think! i can control my fingers by thinking about it. I VOTE FOR THE HELMET!! YOUR OUTFIT ISNT WORTH IT LOVE!

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    The question I have for you is this. Was the driver charged? Did they lose their drivers license? I know these things would not have effected your injuries, but if motorists where held properly accountable for their actions, then they would be more alert and this would happen less often. I dont believe that compulsory helmet laws save lives because they put people off cycling. However it should be up to individual choice. You should have sued the driver.

    The problem is cars. Restrict the drivers and these things would not happen.

    [Reply]

  • Kaitlyn

    I can’t believe you are all quarrelling about this! I read it, enjoyed it and moved on! Doesn’t mean I agree or disagree, but I love reading about a totally different perspective on cycling! A cyclist myself, I wear a helmet because it’s illegal not to in Melbourne! But loved the post. Take a chill guys :)

    [Reply]

  • Leonie

    Hi Everyone.
    My husband is a pedestrian and cyclist. He has been hit by cars while riding twice while on quiet local suburban roads, he has never been hit while walking. The first time he was hit he landed on his helmet, the doctors said he may not be around if his head had been crushed like his helmet was. He sustained broken ribs. The second time he broke his back and now has permanent pain from the injury.
    Not only would my husband never ride without a helmet, he also uses bike tracks! i want him around for a long time.
    By the way my uncle was hit and died while riding his bike to work leaving behind 2 young children. But stats apparently say it hardly ever happens.

    [Reply]

  • Zara

    Hi Sarah, I can’t dispute the facts you have laid out on this one, but wanted to share a personal story. When my mother was a child, her and her two sisters were riding their bikes home from school, when her 7 year old sister was struck by a car, and died on impact when her tiny skull hit the road. For a long time, my mother resisted allowing my own sister and I to ride a bicycle, even after all those years, the horror was still too real for her. I’m sure all your stats are 100% valid, but I think that once someone has had a personal experience of being in that tiny percentage, against the odds, that has experienced this, it seems really trivial to decide not to wear a helmet. Because of convenience, or coolness, or whatever. Even if it was futile and wouldn’t save you from major injury, I feel like at least you would be doing something proactively to protect yourself. and if the worst were to happen, you wouldn’t be left having to wonder, if I had been wearing a helmet, would it have made a difference? I also think there are probably quite a number of emergency room doctors who would dispute that helmets don’t prevent head injuries. I love your blog, but to be honest, this seems like a pretty silly argument to get hung up on, and perhaps you should have spoken to some people who have tended to cyclists head injuries, rather that just quoting stats out of a study. Just my 2 cents!!

    [Reply]

  • Jon

    Hi Zara

    I moved here from Europe 3 years ago. Some of my work is in cycling planning and policy and some in health and safety. I am not anti helmets but I am anti helmet laws. I’ve been amazed by this country’s obsession with health and safety. The value of common sense seems to have been lost. I have lost count of the people I have met here who tell me that a helmet saved their life. The fact is, no one can prove this, unless they are prepared to repeat it in a controlled experiment. I’d also like to share a personal experience that further clouds this idea that helmets are by default a good thing. As a 10 year old I was knocked off my bicycle by a car and I hit my head first on the car, then on the road. I only had a concussion. I wasn’t wearing a helmet. Explain that? My view on the helmet law is best expressed by Gordon Livingston, who said ” you cannot remove by logic something that was not put there by logic in the first place”.

    [Reply]

  • Lori

    WOW! I gave up halfway thru these posts – too much! I’ve recently started cycling again, and I hate the helmet. I live in a dreadfully hot climate – pushing 100 degrees, with comparable humidity – and the helmet makes my head feel like it’s a roast beef in the oven!! It simply builds up too much heat and gives me a headache, quickly. I don’t want to stop riding because of the health benefits, and so have been thinking of ditching the helmet of late.

    Of course, helmets don’t make cycling any safer – they just protect your head if you wipe out. I know this. However, I don’t see that promoting helmet safety makes people think that cycling is dangerous – it just made me think “wow, if I whack my head on the ground, that helmet may help!” In no way, shape or form did I think “eek! a helmet is worn by some? oh my, I’m gonna die if I bike ride!” Unless you already have a head injury, would you REALLY think that way? doubt it!

    My perspective is this: I am from America, where we’re just all about obese and lazy, lazy, lazy. People on bikes are mocked as “green tree huggers” (pro-environment), and people riding in the road with cars are pretty much universally hated, as they’re in the way of us driving like maniacs to wherever we’re driving. Cycling isn’t promoted, few places have trails or are bike-friendly. Lance Armstrong is “that crazy bike guy with cancer.” That about sums it up. Where I live, there is a helmet law, but I may flaunt it and ride without in the really hot weather. For me, it’s a matter of “are the risks of riding without a helmet and faling outweighed by the health benefits I’ll get by riding without one?” You bet. And for the really hot weather where it can be a struggle to want to ride at all, you betcha! As far as the other personal-safety laws like seatbelt laws, there is a bigger picture: if you’re in a car crash without one, your chance of serious injury is far greater, as you go flying headfirst through your windshield and eventually go splat, it is very, very expensive to fix you. And with no national healthcare system, and so few people with good private insurance, or any AT ALL, somebody’s gonna get stuck with bill, and it’s usually the hospital. Which drives healthcare costs up for everybody, and can drive a hospital out of business altogether, which benefits nobody. Obviously, the number of car drivers vastly outweighs the number of bike riders, and so the “big picture” can become a huge finacial issue quickly.

    What’s interesting where I live is that it is a senior community with golf cart paths running along all the roads within the infrastructure. You can go anywhere here in a golf cart – you don’t even need a regular car. The golf cart paths are for carts and walkers – bikers are supposed to ride in the road with cars. I won’t do it! Then I’m having to deal with carts, and cars, and a LOT of senior people who shouldn’t be driving at all because of age-related issues — slow reaction time, inattentiveness, physical impairments, inability to see the road, let alone bikers! I’m riding in the residential streets at night, when traffic is low, or on the golf-cart paths. I feel safe there – the carts go slower than cars, and the paths are flanked by grass, which I can safely turn onto if someone is careening in my general direction. Am I breaking some law, if only of the neighborhood? Too bad. That’s how I choose to make myself safer, and I don’t feel less worthy of protection than the golf carters!

    I think people here that are anti-helmet laws are just sick of the government micro-managing us. Especially since they do so little to protect our environment, which is killing us, our dirty water systems, our poverty and crime rates, our crap economy, etc. Really, aren’t there bigger fish to fry than a crackdown on me not wanting to keel over from heat stroke because I wore my helmet in 100 degree weather? Intead of turning on each other, pro- and anti-helmet law bikers, why not focus on encouraging our respective governments to do something statistically significant to keep us safer??? :)

    [Reply]

  • http://rawlingsviolins.com Julyan Rawlings

    To argue against wearing cycle helmets is stupid and dangerous nonsense. In the last few years I have seen several instances of helmets preventing serious injury both on the road and mountain biking. As a result of wearing helmets none of the riders went to a hospital and so would not have been recorded in any statistics. The hospitals see people when helmets fail to work not when they do.
    Why do you think you are less likely to have an accident on a short trip than a long one ?
    Do you not bother with seat belts in cars either ? I travel around ten thousand miles a year in my car and for the last twenty years I have not had an accident. I don’t use this as an argument not to wear a seat belt or have an air bag in my car.
    It is strange that you can become so exercised about preventing the health consequences of eating the wrong food whilst ignoring the health consequences of smashing your head against tarmac.

    [Reply]

    Jon Reply:

    Clearly you are new to the debate…

    Your points are old hat and don’t hold up to scrutiny…no one is arguing against wearing helmets, the argument is against helmet laws!!!

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Do you even ride a bike Julyan?
    Its funny that the people most in favour of helmet laws mostly dont ride a bike or seldom ride a bike it seems. Yet where everyone rides a bike in places such as The Netherlads. Few wear helmets. But oh no,we in Australia with our 1% of trips by bike know better then the Dutch with their 25%.

    Why dont we have to wear helmets in cars, or as pedestrians that also could save lives. I suspect that the motive behind the Pro helmet laws people is to keep cycling rates low.

    [Reply]

    Julyan Rawlings Reply:

    Yes I ride a bike. I am a trained mountain bike leader and have been heavily involved in mountain bike and road racing for the last six years. Four years ago one of our leading road racers here in Scotland died after being hit by a van. He was not wearing a helmet and he would have lived if he had been. He left a widow and two small children one of them severely autistic. He was an extremely experienced cyclist who trained for thousands of hours on the road.The van driver was found to be completely at fault and prosecuted.
    Last year at a time trial that that my son was competing at a fifteen year old boy crashed badly at high speed and broke his neck. He was wearing a helmet and as a result he survived and has made full recovery. If you had stood by the side of the road trying to comfort the boys mother as he was taken away by helicopter I think you would see the point of helmets.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Firstly, no one is saying people cannot wear helmets, we say that it should be down to choice. It is also sensible to wear a helmet road racing. I am sorry that someone died whilst road racing.

    However. There is no way to know that a helmet would have saved him. More importantly the issue was that he was hit by a van.

    There is also a big difference between racing, and cycling for transport. The biggest danger of cycling for transport is cars. The sane thing to do is to control the car drivers, and where possible have seperation. That is why places such as The Netherlands are safer for cycling despite the fact that few wear helmets.

    The other fact is that rightly or wrongly is that cycling for transport suffers, and the helmet laws are one reason. In the Netherlands 25% of trips are by bike, in Australia 1% of trips are by bike. Racers, should wear helmets, but thats not the issue.

    Im not to interested in sports cycling and if people do that, then for them helmets should be compulsory. The reason I am against mandatory helmet laws for regular cycling, is that it gives people 1 less reason to get on a bike to go to the shops or go to their friends place. Furthermore the act of driving then makes it more dangerous for other cyclists on the road, more so then that cyclist wearing a helmet.

    Ask yourself this question honestly. Would you feel safer riding a bike around fast moving cars with a helmet, or seperated from cars and around other cyclists without one. This is what it comes down to.

    If we want more safety for transport cycling which should be the primary focus we can get more safety if more people ride bikes and then demand the infrastructure. If few people ride bikes calls for decent cycling infrastructure are ignored, or token, unsafe infrastructure is put in.

    Compulsory helmet laws are one reason people dont cycle, and that is the point. People say, I need to go to my friends ill ride my bike, then they cannot find their helmet so they drive instead.

    I would like to see cycling as natural, and one time it was. You wanted to ride your bike somewhere and you just got on your bike and away you went. Now people get dressed up especially and wear helmets, and we allow people to drive near cyclists like idiots. Its all backward. A bike should be seen as a natural form of transport, not some peice of sports equipment or toy.

  • Lana

    Guys, I have found a solution for everyone!
    Keep your heads and brains protected, your helmets clean and hygienic, your hair looking good without that dreaded helmet-hair look and the law happy by investing in a nifty, clever “Airhead” http://twowheelcool.com/

    [Reply]

  • Veri

    Another UK study found that “There is now a considerable amount of scientific evidence that bicycle helmets have been found to be effective at reducing head, brain and upper facial injury in bicyclists. So perhaps the reason why less cyclists die in road accidents than pedestrians is because cyclists wear helmets!?

    It’s easy to use ‘factoids’ to support an argument without context or qualification. But can anyone really argue that it’s just as safe not to wear a helmet than it is to wear one? Besides, it’s illegal!

    [Reply]

    jac Reply:

    Besides its illegal! Now that funny!
    Veri there are countless stupid laws made by Governments all over the world every day, thats why people protest. Civil disobedience happens every day.
    I have just come back from the Uk where over the last several years where many health and safety laws are becoming too restrictive and problematic for business and government. Thank goodness due to sense prevailing some of these stupid health and laws are being relaxed and or abolished. The moral of the story is. just because some thing is law doesn’t mean it cannot be changed.

    [Reply]

  • http://blog.isowhey.com.au ian chapman

    Its so interesting reading everyones views, there will always be yayers and nayers on ANY subject. I have just come back from Europe, spending 3 months riding (usually) around busy London on Boris Bikes, no helmet laws there, I read a study stating that cars are actually MORE careful around NON helmet wearers!
    I could not have done this in Sydney – I think we need to look at laws and their effects in places like Europe to see what/any effects there are (Gay marriage for example – society i believe has not fallen apart there and beastiality is not legal either!). Again it is about freedom of individual choice. Yes, helmets can save lives, but the debate is far bigger than just that fact.
    Bike riding is SO successful in Europe, I cannot understand why so many are against Clover’s ideas to bring the same enjoyment to Australia…

    [Reply]

  • emel

    I am wondering if any of you anti helmet people have young children you are teaching to ride bikes. Kids learn by example, what example are you going to set for them?

    [Reply]

    Primal Tuna Reply:

    Yes, just like all those irresponsible, dangerous parents in most other countries in the world… Just look at the terror on this child’s face and the clear disregard for his daughter’s safety…

    Seriously, parent your own children and keep your ‘concern for others’ inside your head.

    See more here: http://cyclingdutchstyle.com.au/

    [Reply]

    emel Reply:

    I’m a primary school teacher. Unfortunately due to the many parents who no longer assume responsibility for teaching their kids ‘life basic’, I won’t keep my concern for others inside my head. Enough said.

    [Reply]

    Primal Tuna Reply:

    The main points (which you’re failing to grasp) is that bicycle helmets in their current form are not as effective as we would like to ‘believe’ and the evidence supporting making them mandatory is totally absent. As an educator I am surprised at how quickly you assume everyone here is ‘anti helmet’.

    I’m indifferent to helmets – wear one if you like, encourage your children if you like – but I’m very much against making them mandatory and so it would seem are 99% of Governments around the world. Explain that. If we are such ‘leaders’ on this subject why is it that after 20 years nobody (other than NZ) has followed.

    My children don’t wear bicycle helmets and they have banged their heads a few times – minor bumps & cuts. It teaches them how to ride safely and NOT fall off in the first place – just like I did as a child. They haven’t hurt themselves in years. They are excellent and when I compare them to friends’ uncoordinated & unsupervised (yet helmeted!!) children of the same age I just have to laugh…

    If you think helmet use is THE most important thing that improves the safety of cycling then I’m glad you’re not my children’s teacher!

    Primal Tuna Reply:

    That image: http://cyclingdutchstyle.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/NormalPeople04.jpg

    [Reply]

  • Steve

    I’ve been a Paramedic for nearly twenty years. I’ve been to countless bike accidents in that time, and not once have I treated anyone who was sorry they were wearing a helmet! A number of the accidents involving bikes have been serious ones, and I’ve never heard someone complain about the fact they had a helmet on. Of the patients who were conscious, they have always made a comment about how grateful they were wearing a helmet.

    Some of the people I have seen with brain injuries, can no longer feed themselves or do any of the basic functions that healthy people take for granted. Some cannot talk, or play with their kids, they can’t lead the life they hoped to with their partner.

    Wearing a seat belt in a car doesn’t always save your life in a serious accident either, but MOST people are still prepared to wear one. Why is a helmet any different? A helmet won’t save you in every accident either, but if it saves me from some of the life changing injuries I’ve seen, then I’ll happily wear one.

    Steve

    [Reply]

    Dave Reply:

    Good points Steve but you are overlooking some important issues.

    Why is a helmet different from a seatbelt? 2 big reasons are:

    - seatbelt laws don’t discourage driving but helmet laws discourage cycling. There was over a 30% drop in cycling when the laws came in and studies repeatedly show that helmets are the primary disincentive to cycling for over 20% of the population (infrastructure and perceived safety being the other biggies)

    - there is plenty of evidence that shows seatbelt laws save lives, but not for helmet laws. Just about every pro-helmet-law study only shows that helmets can help in an accident (which they clearly can) or they ignore confounders like the drop in cycling rates.

    I’m also sure that if you find a motorist in an accident who wore a helmet, not one would have been sorry they were wearing a helmet. Or struggling swimmer not sorry for wearing a life jacket. Or skin cancer patient not sorry for wearing hat & sun screen. But none of these are good enough reasons to force everyone to wear protective equipment in every circumstance.

    So the real question is this – a what point is the risk of an individual activity sufficient enough to justify laws for personal protective equipment? And when do the negative consequences outweigh the benefits?

    With cycling (whose risk profile is similar to walking or driving) the justification just isn’t there. And when you consider the 20:1 health benefits of cycling, you only need a 5% decrease in cycling for the social health benefits of helmet laws to be negated.

    [Reply]

    Primal Tuna Reply:

    +1

    [Reply]

    jac Reply:

    Hi Steve,
    You say you have been a paramedic for nearly 20 years.
    So i am writing this to ask your opinion.

    In just one season of my son ( aged 12) playing Rugby league ( and i didn’t go to many games). I watched several children bundled in to the back of ambulances, some with broken arms and legs, some with head,neck and or spinal injuries.
    Half drunk parents on the side line cheering at the carnage.
    Concussions pretty much happened to some poor kid every game. Some sidelined for a week or two.
    Even our top flight sport stars are not immune to these serious injuries. Those concussive injuries have been linked in alarming numbers to early onset of Parkinson’s and other debilitate diseases.
    These injuries and diseases cost countless billions to our community very year.
    Knowing this do you think its time we banned all if not most codes of football and or other dangerous sports or do you think we need to see things like protective clothing mandatory, with police presence at games to enforce and fine those not wearing state approved safety gear?

    Jac

    [Reply]

  • Steve

    If someone doesn’t want to wear a helmet and that stops them riding a bike, then so be it. That’s there choice! It’s strange I think to simply not ride a bike because people allegedly don’t like wearing a helmet. We live in a strange world!

    As for wearing a helmet driving a car…… people don’t have crumple zones like cars do, and we obviously don’t absorb the impact like modern cars are designed to do. There are also modern cars which have multiple airbags built into their design.

    The type of injuries and deaths we saw in vehicles many years ago, have decreased with the improvements in design and safety features. The human body riding a bike is exposed just as is since the invention of the bike. A helmet offers a degree of protection, but obviously there is a point where a helmet doesn’t provide much protection at all. I think protecting yourself from potential serious injury by putting a helmet on your head makes sense.

    My point was that just as people for the most part don’t argue about having to put seat belts on, why is it that people argue about having to wear a helmet?

    I guess after seeing the injuries I’ve seen, and the amount of people who fortunately didn’t survive their injuries, I’m an advocate for helmets.

    What makes the issue a lot more personal, is that I survived being hit from behind from a car that collided with me at 80kph (by the drivers admission!) and I was wearing a helmet.

    Whether we choose not to wear sunscreen, not use seat belts, smoke, use illegal drugs or not wear a helmet, etc etc that’s everyones choice to make. I’m only asking people to consider the potential risks of making their choice not to wear a helmet.

    I’m not an alarmist, just a realist!

    [Reply]

    Dave Reply:

    Steve – the facts simply disagree with you. As a paramedic, I find it pretty odd that you don’t think motorists get head injuries these days or that helmets wouldn’t reduce their head injuries.

    Cyclist may not have crumple zones or airbags but neither do they have 1000+kg of metal & glass traveling at high speed. Cyclists, motorists & pedestrians all have similar rates of serious head injuries (25-30%). Motoring helmets would save hundred more lives than cycling helmets would but you don’t seem to be supporting those. Why not? Because of convenience (the argument you accept for motorists but not for cyclists) See here http://www.monash.edu.au/miri/research/reports/atsb160.pdf

    “I’m only asking people to consider the potential risks of making their choice not to wear a helmet.” – No you’re not. You are telling people they must wear a bike helmet at all times regardless of the circumstances, and supporting a law that does the same.

    I can understand why you would always wear a helmet. I can think of many circumstances where wearing a helmet is a very smart thing to do. But what you are saying, what you are supporting, is a law that criminalises a safe healthy activity. The rest of the world manages perfectly well with helmet choice (only Oz & NZ have national, all age laws), and they do it typically with much safer cycling than we have.

    So no, you’re not a realist because this is what cycling is like with helmet choice and traffic planning that prioritises people over cars. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swqaAIkGtpA. And yes, you are an alarmist because you are singling out a safe and healthy activity for special protective laws whilst ignoring a whole range of other activities with similar risk profiles like walking & swimming.

    [Reply]

  • Kerry from Northcote

    @Steve. Yes, it is a strange world, but mandatory helmets do stop people from riding. But the questions here should be 1) is cycling really dangerous enough to require government intervention? Given that cycling is less dangerous than being a pedestrian (oh, if only one life could be saved…), let’s pass mandatory helmet laws for them as well (as well as for people who climb ladders, those who fall off their couch, etc). And 2) are helmets really effective? Perhaps they help somewhat with head injuries, up to the 15km/hr they are designed for, and a single blow (not really going to help when hitting the ground if the helmet was already broken by the impact of the car), but does nothing for brain injury (rotational injuries, brain shaking) and can tend to increase those injuries by increasing the size and weight of your head, leaving a nearly 0% improvement in safety (Elvik 2011).

    Lifting mandatory requirements for helmets doesn’t need to change anything. I mean if you want to wear your helmet, then by all means carry on. If somebody currently cycles in Australia, likely they have accepted helmet wearing and will carry on wearing one no matter. That is probably more an indication of feelings of relative safety. A large amount of separated infrastructure would probably see a bit of a drop in helmet wearing, since really, cycling isn’t dangerous. The real danger is the drivers. Yes, I ride on some 80km/hr roads as well. But then I’m in the very very small percentage of people who will carry on cycling no matter what the conditions. But for the rest of the population, we are sending out the signal OH MY GOD CYCLING IS SO DANGEROUS DON’T EVEN TRY IT, while at the same time telling drivers that if they hit me when they are not paying attention sending a text that they won’t have to feel guilty for killing me because I’m wearing a helmet (infused with magic fairy dust which will protect me from anything they can possibly throw at me).

    Happily you survived the 80km/hr hit, but unless you were wearing a hard shell motorcycle helmet, likely the helmet only had a very small impact on your injuries. They are designed for the amount of force of somebody falling off of a bike (they are tested by dropping them with a 1 kg weight from about a metre). So, very likely it wasn’t the helmet which had much of an influence over your safely.

    The craziest thing is that cyclists are regularly forced to endure conditions where they are constantly exposed to 80km/hr drivers. In a health and safety mad culture like Australia, why in the world does that continue?

    [Reply]

  • Steve

    Dave, I didn’t suggest that motorists don’t get head injuries. I’ve seen plenty. My point was about the relative safety of being in a vehicle with the added safety features of a car compared to riding a bike.

    Neither did I suggest, or am suggesting that motorists wear helmets.

    I’m asking cyclists to consider wearing a helmet. It’s a cyclists choice if they don’t want to wear a helmet. Their choice to wear or not to wear a helmet! Simple!

    I’m a realist and not an alarmist whatever you care to think I am. Perhaps you might like to walk in the shoes I do at work for nearly twenty years and see if your opinions don’t change.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    “It’s a cyclists choice if they don’t want to wear a helmet”.
    No it is not and that is the point. It is the law that cyclists wear helmets.
    No person that I know of is telling cyclists not to wear helmets, and no person that I know of is against helmet use. People are against helmet use laws.

    Secondly if wearing a helmet in a car saves lives the why not make motoring helmets mandatory? The reason we dont is because we pander to motorists.

    We restrict cyclists in our cities and not motorists. The reality is that there are fewer deaths per bike trip in The Netherlands and Denmark, and practically no one wears a helmet.
    The reason is that they actually do real things to protect cyclists and they make motorists accountable. We dont really care about cyclists safety in this country we just pander to the car lobby.

    [Reply]

  • Steve

    It IS a cyclist choice regardless of what the law says about wearing a helmet. Cyclist have a choice to either break the law or not. There are people, as we know who will make a choice to do things in spite of what the law says in regards to their decision, just as there are cyclists who ride a bike without a helmet in spite of the law.

    [Reply]

    Primal Tuna Reply:

    Err… No, it is the law. When something is made compulsory the lawmakers are sending the message that you have NO choice.

    Many people who would like to ride occasionally without a helmet (particularly on bike share) don’t want to break the law, risk a fine or a trip to court (yes, this DOES happen) so they either begrudgily comply, cycle less or not at all.

    Riding a bicycle without a helmet is better for the individual and society than not riding at all. Cycling is a broad activity: from a 10km/h cruise on a granny bike to a 50km/h 40km time trial race. Just like with driving and motor racing… where the level of ‘equipment’ required differs enormously… Not all cycling trips require armouring up. You cannot ignore the worldwide evidence on bicycle use and safety and how making helmets mandatory does no good whatsoever.

    For the record I race as an amateur with a helmet and I ride my cruiser to the shops and work at a leisurely pace without a helmet. I do so illegally and I don’t like that but I’m willing to thumb my nose at this law. I ride over 20,000km per year so I think I know what I’m doing…

    [Reply]

  • Steve

    Whether it’s the law or not, YOU and every cyclist STILL have a choice. You have made your choice not to wear one when you ride your cruiser. You do it by your own admission, “illegally” and choose to “thumb your nose at the law”. That’s your choice. My point is, regardless of what the law says, you and others make a choice to break the law.

    I don’t deny that you know what you’re doing considering you ride 20,000 km a year, but people still find themselves involved in accidents despite their experience.

    On the basis that, and what I’ve seen and experienced first hand with my own accident (and read here and elsewhere about others accidents), I’m happy to see people wearing a helmet if they choose to do so.

    [Reply]

    Dave Reply:

    Steve – you seem to be confused about choices and liberties.

    If someone puts a gun to your head and offers you your wallet or your life, then you have a choice to give up either. But what you don’t have is the liberty or freedom to keep your wallet.

    Likewise for cyclists and motorists, both have a choice not to wear a helmet, but only motorists have the liberty or freedom not to wear one.

    When people talk about ‘choice’ in the political sense, they are not talking about free will (ie that I’m physically able to do something), they are talking about the liberty to choose (ie to not have additional burdens imposed by the government depending on the choice).

    What you are missing, failing to grasp, or intentionally ignoring, is that we all have the liberty to wear sunscreen or not, to wear a helmet motoring helmet or not, to wear a life jacket or not, but we don’t have the liberty to wear a bike helmet or not.

    [Reply]

  • Tom Nockolds

    Steve,
    That’s not good enough. You can’t support the law in one breath and then say that people still have choice. Forcing people to break the law in order to exercise that choice is not really giving choice at all.
    Cyclists that don’t wear a helmet in Australia are always looking over their shoulder looking for the police. This builds a mind-set that the police are to be avoided, feared and perhaps the enemy. This is a terrible situation that nobody should be forced into just to exercise their so called choice.
    If you really believe cyclist should be given choice then I urge you to reconsider your support for mandatory helmet laws
    For anybody that opposes these silly laws, there is a standing petition so that we can build momentum in the campaign to remove them. Please find the time to sign up at http://www.freestylecyclists.org/

    [Reply]

  • Steve

    It seems to be that people are more concerned about the fact that some people are required by law to do something, (in this case wear helmets), and others, (e.g motorists), don’t have to. We’ve seen comparisons made to other countries here, and that’s fine.

    I support the wearing of helmets for the reasons I have stated. I can understand why there are people who are strongly against it. We’re a country that seems obsessed with restricting peoples liberties in a various ways, and there will always be those who will do their best to try and live outside of the laws that govern us.

    If we’re talking about liberty to choose, I’m glad we live in a land that still has democracy, so all power to the people. If the law changes and we have choice to wear helmets or not, they’ll be lots of people riding bikes without helmets, and plenty of riders who’ll wear them regardless.

    I’m not against rights of people to choose. Everybody has to live with the consequences of their good and bad decisions, but I’m simply saying that based on my experiences, I’m happy to wear a helmet. If others don’t want to, then they simply don’t wear one.

    Good luck with your petition.

    [Reply]

    Dave Reply:

    Steve – that’s a perfectly sensible position.

    The problem is when people try to eliminate the liberty of others to choose, especially in cases where choice has large social benefits like cycling.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Steve you said:
    “We’re a country that seems obsessed with restricting peoples liberties in a various ways”.
    We are not obsessed with restricting the liberties of motorists at all.
    My main point is that we should in all things restrict the rights of people that IMPOSE a danger on everyone else. We do this largely in the rest of society and we restrict everything except motorists. Yet motor vehicle crashes cause the death of around 1400 people each year in this country, and cause 22 000 hospitalisations. Yet we restrict the cyclists and do too little to restrict the real culprits for causing death and danger, namely the motorists.
    With rights come responsibilities, and above all the responsibility not to harm other people, yet we restrict and control the behaviour of the victim.

    We have it backward.

    [Reply]

  • Tom Nockolds

    Steve,

    This came up in another forum today. I’m sure the original author won’t mind me stealing their words and references. The mandatory helmet laws discourage those among us who don’t associate themselves as being cyclists. This results in more of us leading sedentary lifestyles.

    “16,000 deaths and $13.8 billion per year in costs in Australia from inactivity: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/opinion/physical-inactivity-carries-a-longterm-high-cost-20120419-1x9se.html

    “35 cyclist deaths per year (2009): http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/1301.0~2012~Main%20Features~Accidents,%20injuries%20and%20fatalities~189

    “Cyclist deaths might have been slightly higher if a few had not been wearing helmets, but even a politician should be able to see that inactivity is a much bigger problem than a few cyclists not wearing helmets.”

    35 deaths a year from cycling. Some of them would have died from injuries to their bodies, others would have been wearing a helmet that didn’t save them and some would have been sans helmet but that wouldn’t have made a difference. How many of the remaining small number (who would have had their life saved if only they’d been wearing a helmet) have you been unfortunate enough to attend to?

    16,000 deaths a year from complications arising from sedentary lifestyles. How many of these have you seen?

    This isn’t really about choice or liberty – it’s about removing all the barriers we can find that prevent people from leading more active lifestyles. Helmet LAWS are one of those barriers.

    It’s time for our politicians to reform these silly laws.

    Don’t just wish us luck with the petition – sign up so you can become part of the solution to this terrible problem.

    [Reply]

  • Steve

    I’m sorry, but I wasn’t meaning you or those who support your position, and I’m not singling out motorists in this regard either. I was meaning government and beaurocracy.

    I’m not sure motorists (which outnumber cyclists) don’t have many more restrictions placed on them either. There are many restrictions placed on motorists that are not placed on cyclists, some restrictions that the majority of motorists are not even aware of. Eg Modifications to motor vehicles after being bought new for starters. Then there’s what’s in the motor traffic handbook. How many of us know that as well as we should?

    I think we’re talking about restriction of liberties and how some feel an injustice that they are being singled out when other groups aren’t. What I’m talking about is my opinion concerning what I see as the benefits of wearing a helmet.

    I agree with you that we have too many restrictions placed on us, not just concerning wearing helmets. I just have my opinions about wearing a helmet. I don’t expect everyone to share my opinions, and I’m not telling people they have to agree. I’m okay if you choose to want to wear one or not. I’m just wanting to share my opinions with you all, and I’m fine if you choose to go without wearing one.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Despite claims by motorists, bicycles are regarded as vehicles and have “the same rights and responsibilities as any other vehicle” (NSW Road rules).

    So bicycle riders are limited as much if not more then car drivers, so i’m not sure what you are talking about there. The only right that we have over motorists is that we are allowed on shared paths or cycle tracks (the few that exist).

    If people are really concerned about the safety of cyclists then give us more real protection (as in separation) from motorised traffic, and start dealing with aggressive dangerous drivers, who are ignored.

    [Reply]

  • Tom

    Your grass grows too high you get fined
    You cut down a tree you get fined
    You breath carbon di-oxide you are forced to pay a carbon tax to a foreign nation
    You are forced medicated through the drinking water
    You refuse a body scan at the airport and you get a life flying ban!
    You are not allowed to bear arms, only the state
    You don’t pay your land taxes you lose your land
    You are forced to trade with a paper note borrowed from thin air required to be paid back with interest

    Now stand up and call you self free.

    Its about FREEDOM!

    Why do old people not worn us of fascism!

    Its parents responsibilty to look after children not the STATE!

    We are becoming worse than communist China!

    [Reply]

  • http://getwellordietrying.wordpress.com Toria Phillips

    I’m not sure where you got that figure Sarah, but being a cyclist is not the same as being a pedestrian.

    Cyclists ride on the road, pedestrians walk on the footpath. Big difference. As a cyclist, I have been nearly hit by unobservant or ingorant motorists on numerous occasions (and I might add, I am a very safe cyclist and I obey all the road law). As a pedestrian, I’ve never had a problem.

    In South Australia it is illegal to ride on the footpath but even if you do, it can be very dangerous as cars coming out of driveways can’t often see you and you run the risk of being hit.

    As a legal aid lawyer, I often fielded inquiries from clients who had been hit by cars when riding bikes,. I only ever saw one person who’d been hit as a pedestrian and he was very drunk at the time.

    Obviously it is your choice whether to wear a helmet or not but please do not claim that riding a bike is just as safe as walking on the footpath, it really isn’t.

    [Reply]

    Primal Tuna Reply:

    When we think of “driving”, we think of a trip to the shops in the hatchback. We don’t see it as high speed laps on Eastern Creek Raceway in a V8 (with a 5-point harness, roll cage, fire suit & helmet – none of which we have in ‘normal’ cars).

    In Australia, when someone thinks of “cycling” they immediately see the image of speed, technical clothing, road bikes, clipless pedals, grimacing, ‘serious’ faces… etc – none of which is remotely relevant to cycling for transport.

    Quit assuming all cyclists want cycle like you do. Cycling on footpaths is legal in many states and perfectly safe (unless of course you cycle like a ‘typical’ Australian cyclist – fast & furious). Did you know that in the NT footpath & cyclepath cycling without helmets is LEGAL and they pay NO SAFETY PENALTY for this??

    As for helmet laws: they make no difference to safety. That’s a fact. As for helmets: they probably help with minor bumps (which would otherwise hurt… a lot) but don’t think that icecream container on your head is going to ‘Save Your Life’(tm). Cycle like it won’t, that will keep you safe.

    I’d rather see more cyclists out there, helmeted or not – and more slow, transport cyclists would be even better. That’s better for everyone, including the health budget.

    As for my ‘type’ of cycling: I do it all, and while I cycle most of the time slowly on an upright granny bike with a hat but not a helmet (illegally… thanks law!) I’m pretty sure I could run rings around you on my road bike (and yes, I wear a helmet on that).

    Quit defining cycling by how YOU cycle. Thanks.

    [Reply]

  • Lauren

    My sister was hit by a car while riding her bike in Sydney last year.

    http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/national/cyclist-critical-after-collision-in-sydney/story-e6frfku9-1226425846711

    Although implied otherwise by the article, the police later determined the lady driving the car ‘didn’t see her’ when entering a roundabout and subsequently drove into the back of her bike. My sister was thrown forward around 10 metres and took the full impact on her forehead (as evidenced by the fractured eye socket). The main damage was from the traumatic brain injury she received however, and subsequent bleed within her brain. She had surgery immediately once she arrived at hospital and was on life support for two weeks as the medical staff worked to stabilise the swelling in her brain. The helmet she was wearing undoubtedly absorbed some of the impact of her fall as the foam inside was compressed considerably and the plastic top was cracked. Without the helmet all of the impact would of been directly on her head and she would of likely died at the scene.

    Irrespective of the debate around compulsory helmet wearing, I find it quite disheartening that so many people can have such a blase attitude to their own safety. I can’t comprehend that you would choose to put yourself at risk. Unfortunately cycling on the road is dangerous, often through lack of infrastructure and poor awareness and consideration by car drivers. I wish this wasn’t the case but it is, and in the case of car vs. bike the person riding the bike is going to come off worse every time. Even moderate impact to your head can leave you severely brain damaged. Those two weeks we spent sitting at her bed side was undoubtedly the worst time of my life, but if she had chosen to not wear her helmet that day we would of probably been planning a funeral. I personally wouldn’t want to put my family through that if at all possible so I wear a helmet every time I ride my bike. Just like I wear a seat belt every time I am in a car. I know these things might not save me in a crash, but at least I’m doing my best to mitigate the risks.

    At the end of the day it’s up to you whether you wear a helmet or not, I just hope you would consider the impact on your loved ones if you choose not to and are injured as a result.

    [Reply]

    James Reply:

    Why not take idiot drivers who cannot see off the road then this would not happen at all. Again, in countries where they don’t blame the victim and where no one wears helmets it is safer.

    Maybe it has more to do with allowing motorists to do whatever and get away with it, not actually investing in real infrastructure and blaming the victim, then it has to do with wearing a polystyrene hat.

    Maybe if we saw cars as imposing the danger, rather then blaming the cyclists.

    To paraphrase Mr Collville- Anderson. Its like having a bull in a china shop, where you allow the bull to rampage free, and you bubble wrap the china and the people.
    The sane thing is to control the bull.

    [Reply]

  • Pingback: Q&A Wednesday: Do you wear a bike helmet? : A Conscious Life

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  • jac

    The bottom line is Bicycling is a perfectly safe activity compared to any other activity, sport or pastime, and as an adult we should be allowed to make adult decisions about our own safety. It’s not rocket science. If Governments are interfering with this pastime then maybe they need to be looking at ALL codes of football that help fill our emergency wards every day of the week, with Brain, neck and spinal injuries. Police have got enough on their plate without “Johnny no stripes” running around like headless chooks issuing a range of fines for what is essentially a pathetic law.

    [Reply]

  • jac

    The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.
    Ayn Rand

    [Reply]

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  • 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.

    [Reply]

    disqus_KYplOuMZC2 Reply:

    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 .
    Peace

    [Reply]

  • 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?

    [Reply]

  • 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 :)
    PEACE

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  • disqus_KYplOuMZC2

    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!
    peace

    [Reply]