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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Cycle safety

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Dr Richard Harvey, Coopers Shoot

In reply to Robin Harrison’s comments on bicycle safety (Letters March 20). I submit the current updated research supporting the wearing of bicycle helmets.

In the USA the 2015 Department of Transportation statistical survey, a study of bicycle injuries (including 818 deaths), came to the conclusion that ‘bicycle lanes and helmets’ may reduce the risk of death.

Almost 75 per cent of fatal crashes involved a head injury, and 97 per cent of cyclists who died were not wearing a helmet.

An Australian study, by the University of NSW in 2016 came to the same conclusions. The worldwide study of more than 64,000 cyclists, showed cycle helmet use reduced the risk of fatal head injury by 65 per cent.

I do agree that the number of participating cyclists decreased in the 90s when helmet laws were introduced. But we, as cyclists, need to remember cycling on our terrible roads is a dangerous activity.

We need many more designated bicycle lanes, but please obey the law (and protect your head) by wearing an approved helmet. It’s been proven to work.

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  1. There needs to be more depth into this subject. In Australia there seems to be a re-think from both the statistics above in the US and in Australia up to 2016.
    There has been a recent report that Australian motorists are deliberating targeting cyclists. Of course when a car rams into a cyclist at speed no cycle helmet will save him or her. Motorists when they see a cyclist, they de-humanise the cyclist and just see that person on a bike as some inhuman OBJECT taking up space on the road. Therefore the vehicle nudges that cyclist off the road.
    The reports above are not really updated. The recent media reports have come to light in the past month or two about Australian motorists in a predatory way targeting cyclists.

  2. I’m afraid the good doctor uses the same kind of language and inferences used by all helmet promoters, not entirely inaccurate but misleading.

    “Almost 75 per cent of fatal crashes involved a head injury….” neatly missing the fact that almost all of those fatalities were due to reasons other than head injury, and that the head injury could have been nothing more than a scrape, having absolutely no effect on the cause of death.

    He doesn’t reference the Australian study which showed a 65% reduction in head injury from helmet wearing, but I’m assuming that it is the one by Jake Olivier, who has been criticised many times for his lack of rigour in his research about helmets. Like many helmet proponents, he starts with the conclusion and works backwards. All the long term, large scale, reliable on peer review research shows at best no benefit from mass helmet wearing, and at worst, an increase in risk.

    Cycling is much safer in countries where everyone cycles but no-one wears a helmet than it is in countries where few ride a bike but they all wear helmets, so whatever makes cycling safe, it isn’t helmets.

    Wiser men than me have said “if you don’t understand what’s going on, follow the money” and cycle helmets are incredibly profitable, offer little protection and can’t be taken back when they fail. They are a licence to print money and are at least as profitable as drugs but with none of the risks.

  3. Most road safety bodies and health and transport authorities countrIes in Europe, provinces in Canada, states in the US, and the UK encourage cycle helmet use. They base thier recommendations on their own meta studies of the research into helmets or the work of others including Oliver’s 2014 meta analysis . Wiser people follow the money – the recommendations of those international authorities – and encourage helmet use. There is also broad acceptance that MHL increases helmet use. A study by Professor Narelle Haworth, director of QUT’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q) CARRS-Q studies observed many thousands of bicycle riders across Brisbane and other areas of Queensland and overall wearing rates are greater than 95% . Denis et al’s cross provincial study in Canada similalry found MHL led to higher rates of helmet use.

    What is more contested is the extent MHL impacts on cycling exposure and so health. Reserchers of course go beyond superficial observations that countries wiht high rates of cycling and low injury rates per cyclists – that plainly is a result of better control of motor vehicles and better infratructure . It has never been shown is that there would be any significant uptake in cycling if MHL were dropped. The drop in cycling following the introduction of HML here is well recorded but researchers debate if it had a significant impact on cycling longer term and whether the cyclists who stopped when helmets were first introuced were likely to have lost significant net health benifits from casual occasional cycling . In Canada Denis found no difference between MHL provinces and those that did Nnot have MHL. A number of studies point to some drop in cycling among male adolescents. who are also the largest non-compliant group. But that has not led to any call by parents here to remove the law, and it is parents who are responsible for balancing excercise and transport options for their kids and their risk taking behvaiour . Humans brians do not reach their full capacity to assess risk until thier mid twenties and it would appear some young adults take longer than others to put thier adolescent behaviour behind them.

    MHL has broad community support in Australia but it has not been supported by the sorts of social marketing and targeted compliance applied to other initiatives like seat belt wearing and drink driving campaigns. Dr Harvey’s call is a timely reminder to all adult cyclists in our area to set an example to our vulenrable kids cycling on the roads , but it should be accompanied by a push to create the sort of environment that we know encourages cycling – good infrastrucre and slow vehicle speeds where cars and vulnerable road users share the road.


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