Saturday, July 24, 2010

Compulsory helmet laws adversely affect health

Melbourne's multimillion dollar bicycle share scheme is proving less than popular, with reportedly fewer than 70 users a day. The scheme was only recently introduced and could yet attract large numbers of users but this is unlikely owing to one minor problem: all Australian cyclists must, by law, wear a helmet. Thus users of the bike scheme must either provide their own helmet or ride without head protection, hoping they will not be stopped and fined. Now whereas regular users of the scheme might be prepared to carry a helmet with them when not riding, impromptu riding, by tourists for example, is effectively prohibited.

Scheme advocates are unhappy with the impediment imposed by the helmet requirement:

Melbourne is the only city in the world to have introduced a bike-share scheme and retain its compulsory helmet laws.

''It should never have been started without this being sorted out,'' Mr Rubbo said. ''But now that it has, when it fails it will be a real missed chance.''

He said only a handful of cities and regions around the world had made bicycle helmets compulsory - and all but a few were in Australia.

''Are helmets really justified? How do all these other countries not value the heads of their citizens as much as we do?''

A visiting urban planner noting:

Good ideas tend to travel and this idea, that you simply must wear a helmet when you cycle, has not. What does that tell you?

You are the fattest country in the world, you should be encouraging cycling, not convincing people it's dangerous.

Roads Minister Tim Pallas is confident the scheme will ultimately prove popular despite the helmet requirement and is adamant that the law will not be changed:

''Bicycle helmets save lives and lower the severity of injuries,'' his spokesman said. ''In line with Victorian road laws, helmets are compulsory for people using Melbourne Bike Share.''

But according to information – including detailed studies – available here, helmets do little to improve cyclist safety. For example:

A positive net health impact emerges only in dangerous bicycling environments under optimistic assumptions as to the efficacy of helmets. Resolution of the issue for any particular jurisdiction requires detailed information on the bicycling environment. In dangerous bicycling environments, even with very optimistic views of helmet efficacy, the calculations suggest helmets will not improve bicycling safety to acceptable levels and, as such, legislation may serve to distract attention away from more useful bicycling safety initiatives.

And the health of those who would otherwise ride a bike is adversely affected by the helmet requirement.

In jurisdictions where cycling is safe, a helmet law is likely to have a large unintended negative health consequence.

Here in Western Australia most adult cyclists can be seen to wear helmets but school-age kids tend to ignore the requirement knowing it's a huge hassle for police to try to apply the law to children. It's a perverse situation with those mature enough to make an informed decision about wearing a helmet choosing to wear one so as to avoid a fine while youngsters flout the law with virtual impunity.

Update: A diiferent point of view at Vex News.


Anonymous HRT said...

"...........and, as such, legislation may serve to distract attention away from more useful bicycling safety initiatives".

Cripes. Must be topless legislation. I don't think sub para less legislation would do it.

4:43 AM  

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