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To take this issue further, I would like to see the legislation repealed in one jurisdiction (say, for example, Newcastle or Wollongong) and the effects studied for a couple of years.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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Sometimes :)
I have received information from my (few!) sources in the Netherlands that SWOV has been a thorn in the side of cycling promotion in The Netherlands for many years.

David Hembrow has this to say about it.

The UK child death statistics from motor vehicles is truly disturbing. I remember reading about the number of children that die each year in Australia from driveway 'accidents' recently. I think it was on the ABC website but I can't find the report. The number was high enough to leave me speechless.
And more from the ABC web site

Experts butt heads on bike helmet laws
How interesting to hear from the original proponent of the helmet legislation, Professor Frank McDermott. Of course he would defend his postion, although 20 years on perhaps we are in a better position to see what a mistake it was. Why hasn't the rest of the world followed if it was such a good idea?

I do not claim that the new NSW data published is the "perfect" study, but the conclusions are consistent with studies (examining head injuries among cyclists) from WA, Victoria and New Zealand. ALL of them state that it is likely that improvements in general road safety conditions contributed to the reduction in head injuries among cyclists.

Professor McDermott relies on the "helmets protect the brain" perspective, which no one is seriously challenging. If an individual hits their head the odds are better for that person if they have a helmet. But this, perhaps counter-intuitively, does not mean that helmet legislation is effective in reducing head injuries at the community level, which is what the new data clearly show. The main reason for this counter-intuitive outcome is that the absolute risk of any one person getting a head injury is actually very small, The average person has to ride for a very long distance or very long time before their risk of a head injury becomes appreciable.

With such a low absolute risk, choice about wearing a helmet makes sense. If you ride a lot maybe you should wear a helmet. If you ride less often, do you really need a helmet every time?

On the other side of the argument, if you don't ride or exercise, your risk of become overweight or obese or developing a chronic disease is very high..
Hey Chris,
-"Why hasn't the rest of the world followed if it was such a good idea"
According to the SWOV study linked above:
In Europe the use of bicycle helmets is currently mandatory in Finland (everyone everywhere), Spain
(outside built-up areas), the Czech Republic (children < 16 years), Iceland (children < 15 years), and
Sweden (children < 15 years). Outside Europe, wearing bicycle helmets is compulsory in Australia,
New Zealand, in twenty states of the USA, and in a number of Canadian provinces.
There is a big difference between:
Enforced helmet law
Unenforced helmet law

Most helmet laws around the world are unenforced, which is not that different than if they didn't exist.

Don't confuse the bureaucrat's world with the real world.
Hey Bennelong you still haven't answered my question.

Wouldn't you agree that a 30% decline in ridership was the worst thing that ever happened to cycling in Australia?
Hey everyone!... listen to what Bennelong says!!

A 30%+ decline in ridership is a good thing for cyclists.
The Canadian data is not at all clear, there is not good detail on the numbers cycling before and after law changes. In Ontario the police made it clear that they would not bother enforcing the law. Helmet use went up dramatically for a while and then declined, I think that the number of injuries fell before the law, fell after the law and continued to fall as people stopped wearing helmets.
n Europe the use of bicycle helmets is currently mandatory in Finland (everyone everywhere)

I was in Helsinki for four days in 2007. Rented a bike from a bike shop, the owner was quite ambivalent about helmet rental, if memory serves, he said it was mandatory to wear a helmet .... but there was no penalty for breaking the law.
Now that is an interesting concept. Have the law in place, but no penalty for disobeying it.......would that stop the arguments.........?
Now that might just be the ideal compromise.

The politicians and their armies of paid mouthpieces with a vested interest in holding themselves up as the protectors of reckless and stupid cyclists appear to not be able to stomach the idea that their opinion of MHL is wrong despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Leaving the law on the statute books should soothe their egos, but like so many other obsolete laws, letting enforcement fall by the wayside should result in the same positive outcomes as abolishing it. Of course, this would lack the positive message that cycling is a safer activity to engage in than the current law projects.


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