New report: other factors than helmet legislation led to declines in head injuries in NSW

A new research article published this week documents the rate of head injuries among cyclists from 1988 to 2008. It concludes that “It is likely that factors other than the mandatory helmet legislation reduced head injuries among cyclists.”


The article by Voukelatos and myself is to be published in the Journal of the Australian College of Road Safety, at


and a copy is available now at


There is a story about it in today’s Sydney Morning Herald at


To take this issue further, I would like to see the legislation repealed in one jurisdiction (say, for example, Newcastle or Wollongong) and the effects studied for a couple of years. It is highly likely that there’d be no adverse effects. This would be a realistic step forward, and would provide some much needed local evidence.


Bicycle NSW would have to support a proposal like this, but the new CEO believes that 80% of cyclists support helmet legislation. An informal and unscientific poll I conducted of a group of cyclists at dinner on Saturday polled 75% (6 out of 8) against helmet legislation. Does anyone know what percent of cyclists support or appose helmet legislation?

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There is no doubt that a helmet protects your head.

Wearing a helmet should and always will be encouraged but Australians need to become aware of how detrimental it is to live in a society that is obsessed with personal safety instead of the safety of others.

Nationwide the introduction of mandatory helmet laws resulted in approximately a 38% decline of journeys made by bicycle.

It is undeniable that a 38% decline in cycling was the worst thing that ever happened to cycling in Australia.

One of the results was an increase in unneccesary motor vehicle use and like it or not driving an automobile will always be much more dangerous than not wearing a helmet.

A decline in cycling during the 90's now means that we live in a more unhealthy, unfriendly society.

I remember when kids used to play in the streets (me included)

Today I did 19 radio interviews on the topic of helmet legislation, from stations all across Australia. This is a clearly heartfelt issue and not likely to go away. Thank you to all those who sent supportive emails.

An interesting pattern was evident from the questions and talkback. The majority of people who cycled tended to oppose the legislation and supported choice, but not everyone. The more extreme/rabid responses came from non-riders, or those that had had a crash and believed that 'their helmet saved them'. For some, helmets are just another way to further marginalise people who ride. The occasional riders favoured choice - and these are the people who we want to attract to cycling.

I do think we need a demonstration project, and to take it forward I'll need to find a town or city prepared to participate in such a study, and then work throught the steps needed for a temporary repeal. This will be a long term effort!
Jeez John I hardly think Chris's finances are going to be at risk for making a suggestion?

Also, has anyone been successful in winning a court case because they suffered a head injury while wearing a helmet?
"To try & have a study where people are encouraged not to wear a helmet..."

Nobody suggested that. To suggest it shows you misunderstand the issue, which is to test the effects of the lack of compulsion rather than the lack of helmet-wearing.
John, thank you for your concern in our well being but it's fear of litigation and risk that holds back so many good things in Aust. If Captain Cook had to live with our current WH&S and anti risk society, he could never have left an English harbour, let alone found Botany Bay.

I suggest you take a good look at what the risk of a cycling head injury really is. Here's one little USA site that is quite good although of course it is biased. But then statistics are known for being able to be twisted either way.

By the way, I hope you wear a helmet in the car, playing sport or climbing a ladder. Because there is higher risk in those activities without the benefits of cycling.
There are a couple of kids who were hung by their helmets whose parents could mount a case I suspect. The kids werent riding bikes at the time though.
Another health issue could have possibilities.
I have been suspicious that a government cannot demand the use of a prophylaxis that prevents the use of another which may be more warranted. In this case, having to wear a helmet instead of a hat in the highest skin cancer area of the world.
If you look closely at the regulations, they state clearly that you must not modify the manufactured helmet. I always believed that meant no hat under it or brim attached to it.
There have been murmurings, in both the U.S. and Australia, of litigation. As yet there has only been just enough time spent in the sun, trusting that the government knows best.
Only time will tell.
If [repeal of MHL] saves just one person from a lifetime of suffering due to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression it will be worthwhile.
It was a parody of that lame old argument, John.

I think your sense-of-humour detector may be malfunctioning. Perhaps time for a check up, or at least a good long ride in the country...
Weird comment John. Are you trying to scare him off?

Under oath, no neurosurgeon has been prepared to testify that a helmet will prevent brain injury. Considering the lack of real-world evidence of the effectiveness of polystyrene hats, I don't believe that Chris has much to worry about.

What about the people who pushed for this helmet law with no scientific evidence, based on their own personal convictions like Omar. Why aren't they sent to court to account for the damage they have done? All these people mislead into believing that a "helmet will save them", then hit by a car from behind, killed or seroiusly injured. Who is responsible?

Why assume that repealing the law can only result in increases in injuries? It's essentially been done in NT & it has resulted in the lowest amount of injuries in Australia.

It's the prejudice that the helmet law can only be beneficial that is the real problem.
A prejudice that Omar seems to carry with much zeal.

The problem with this "debate" is that people keep repeating their prejudices and beliefs, but are not interested in looking at evidence that may lead them into a better understanding. That's why we still have this law. Prejudice dominates over evidence.

Religious debates! What a pain.
Why fuel the debate by being so present in this discussion then?

The courts are not set up to overturn a stupid law, they are set up to APPLY the law.
Did you know that Paul gave up on his court challenge because he was advised by lawyers that he didn't have a chance?

The way the law is drafted, there doesn't to be much room for a judge to override it.

Maybe it's just QLD, but it seems that trying to get that law overturned through the courts is a bit like buying a lottery ticket, except that it costs you thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.


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