Scrap bike helmet laws

Associate Professor Chris Rissel, from the Sydney Universitie’s School of Public Health asserts that helmets put people off cycling and points to the very low risk of head injury to people who ride along quiet streets. He also points out that head injuries in cyclists declined BEFORE the helmet laws were introduced. The story is on the ABC News website.

The research paper of  A.Voukelatos and C.Rissel is called “The effects of bicycle helmet legislation on cycling-related injury: the ratio of head to arm injuries over time”Bicycle helmet legislation – Rissel 2010. The researchers examined over 40’000 cases of cyclist hospitalisation over a 20 year period, looking for a correlation between head and arm injuries. Their paper was based on the assumption that even if the numbers of cyclists has dropped over time, the relative injury rates (head versus arm) should remain unchanged unless some factor is differentially impacting on one type of injury, for example, helmet use reducing head injuries but not affecting arm injuries.

The Interview Record is here

The item attracted dozens of comments.

The “West Australian” also picked up the story West Australian Bicycle Helmet Laws not needed

Earlier related post on our website:

Argument-on-the-effectiveness-of-bike-helmets-continues

$584-10-fine-for-not-wearing-a-bicycle-helmet

Brisbanes-cycle-hire-scheme-and-bike-helmets

Better-fat-than-dead (deals with the innitial lack of success of the Melbourne bike hire scheme

Safe riding advice, including a comment on helmet use

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There is also a paper by Delia Hendrie of the University of Western Australia, who seems to confirm a reduction in head injury for cyclist after the introduction of the helmet laws, but leaves open if that could also be due to the reduction of cycling activities after the helmet laws were introduced.

An earlier presentation made by Bruce Robinson in 1996 questions if the legislation resulted in a decrease in head injuries.

The Cyclist Action Group wrote to Chris Rissel, and we received his paper as a result.

From: Bruce Robinson

Dear Prof Rissel,

I saw your statements in the West Australian and on the ABC News Online. I am not sure if you are aware of the WA data which strongly supports your suggestion that helmet legislation should be revoked.  As I understand it, the WA Hospital Morbidity Database, which goes back to 1971, is of world standard and allows a very detailed assessment of bicycle crash injuries, and also the essential comparison with similar injuries to other road users. Hendrie’s paper is unique in that it compares head-injury rates compared to the rates of other injury types amongst cyclists to similar ratios amongst other road users.  This seems an obvious way to overcome a lot of the biases in the more simplistic approaches to head injury rates. I think there is a very good case that public health levels in WA have been significantly reduced due to the helmet legislation.  (a) the helmet legislation has been very largely ineffective in reducing the risk of head injury (for reasons which escape me) and (b) the public health benefits of physical activity greatly outweigh the marginal risk of not wearing a helmet if one chooses. I am concerned that the “injury prevention industry” seem to over-rule a more general public health perspective in the bicycle helmet legislation debate. I enclose a copy of Delia Hendrie’s helmet evaluation paper (while she was at UWA), and a link to an early amateurish one I presented at a conference in 1996 ( www.helmets.org/veloaust.htm ) (The Hendrie report was published as part of the proceedings of a conference sponsored by the Road Safety Council in 1999.   The paper is available (but not easy to find) on the WA Office of Road Safety website at

http://www.ors.wa.gov.au/_layouts/getAsset.aspx?URI=2467742&REV=1&RCN=D09#223020

Bruce Robinson, President, Cyclists’ Action Group

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