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Byron Shire
March 2, 2021

Treated like children

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Dr Richard Harvey’s assumption that an objection to mandatory helmet laws (MHL) is an objection to wearing helmets couldn’t be more wrong.

I always wear one and certainly not because I’m obliged to by law. But then, on my electric bike, I tend to ride further and faster than most. Tootling around at less than 10km/h as most cyclists do, there is far less of a need but, MHLs or not, increasingly people do wear them.

I, like many parents, put helmets on my kids long before MHLs. They are, indeed, a really good idea.

His other assumption, that we would have complete disregard for our personal safety unless we are treated like children and compelled by law, is equally false. Studies in Europe with no MHLs and Canada where a handful of provinces have MHLs but many don’t, show a universal increase in helmet use close to on par with Australia and others with MHLs. However, without the drastic reduction in bicycle usage wherever MHLs were introduced. Education is a lot cleverer and more effective than laws like these.

There was a 40 per cent reduction in cyclist deaths here when MHLs were introduced. Of course, not mentioned, is that not all deaths are from head trauma, but it’s still a figure widely used to justify the laws. That figure becomes considerably less significant when we understand it was accompanied by a 50 per cent reduction in bicycle use.

Just because it’s a law doesn’t make it a good law.

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  1. Robin Your support for helmets I must agian state is admirable. But I have to again question the idea that MHL does not increase helmet use and that it has been shown to reduce cycling. Denis’ study in Canada showed helemt use was higher in proviinces with MHL and that it did not impact on cycling . In some European countries – notabley Holland – helmet use is very low and in spite of thier low speeds and low rate of accidents per cyclist km they have a lot of cyclists and so a lot of accidents and a high rate of head injuries from those accidents .

    The forty percent reduction in deaths has been shown by Oliver et al and is over the time since the introduction of cycling and they made it quite clear they have taken into account any confounding factors like the drop in the number of cyclists following the introduction of MHL. The high rate of helmet use QUT road safety research has shown – over 90% in QLD – is not acheived anywhere without MHL.

    QUT research also shows that rate of compliance is not matched among young males and plainly it is not acheived in places like the Bay where a youth culture of following fashions and risk taking behaviour precails and the law is not enforced. You are quite right education is needed and part of that should be educating young people on the importance of setting an example as you do to our kids, but some enforcement particualry around the times of the day and the year when kids are out riding to accompany those messages would also be useful.

    It is is a good law that works elsewhere in Australia reducing injuries and we should make to sure it also works here. Putting aside the MHL aspect, any ideas you might have to get the message out in the shall we say “sui generic” Byron community and particualry among our guests here would be helpful too.

  2. Do you realise what you just wrote? A 40% reduction in deaths (not all from head trauma) since the introduction of MHLs doesn’t remotely correlate with the 50% reduction in cycle use we experienced. That’s even less justification for MHLs. You also stated In some European countries – notabley Holland – helmet use is very low and in spite of thier low speeds and low rate of accidents per cyclist km they have a lot of cyclists and so a lot of accidents and a high rate of head injuries from those accidents without, however, providing figures. Bearing in mind those figures must be solely confined to head trauma, you may just find that helmets, whilst a good idea, are not the lifesaver you imagine.

    • One percentage refers to the drop in cycling numbers at the time of introduction of MHL. There was a drop in the number of people cycling but it was not 50% and a percentage% of people cycling does not equate to cycling exposure. Occasional cylists were less likely to buy helmets which were expensive when MHL was introduced and some stopped cycling at least for a period. Now they are cheap there is no cost barrier to even the casual cyclist. The 40% refers to the reduction in deaths since MHL – not just the immediate years after – taking into account the lack of any robust evidence of any fall in cycling exposure over the decades since the introduction of MHL.

      I am away from home and do not have at hand the numbers relating to Netherlands, but I think it is well know that there are a lot of cyclists there, and that unlike other Northern Europeaen countries most adults do not use helmets. Again I do not have the references at hand but a study comparing injuries on admissions to hospitals in Netherlands and Victoria showed the higher rate of head injuries in Netherlands. They have created a great and very safe cycling environment there compared to car dominated countries like ours but because of the sheer numbers of cyclists involved head injuries are a problem and the Nehterlands road safey institute called for MHL for kids and the elderly.

      I can only repeat agian the summary conlusion of meta-studies – reviews of other studies – by bodies like the Netherlands and Norwegian road safety institutes, the UK Minsitry of Transport, and UNSW’S 2014 meta study which all found the evidence of the sum of various worldwide studies supported helmet use. That is why most countries encourage their use even though they do not mandate it. You are right they are by no means a lifesaver from all cycle injuries; they are relatively less effective in crashes with motor vehicles and more effective in preventing harm from single bike crashes .


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