The mandatory helmet law debate has been ongoing for several years. On one side, the legislators are claiming that this law is essential to guarantee cyclists safety. Opposing groups, however, assert that the mandatory helmet laws are driving people away from adopting bicycles as a transport mode. Last year, a study conducted across Canada brought an interesting perspective to the issue, as reported by Momentum Mag.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia analysed data from Canadian jurisdictions with different helmet legislation regarding mandatory use while cycling. The academics investigated the association between hospitalisation rates and sex, age group, helmet legislation and bicycling mode share.
The study indicates that mandatory helmet laws are not correlated with hospitalisation rates regarding brain, head, scalp, skull, face or neck injuries. The main variables that impact hospitalisation rates are gender and mode share. Females had lower rates of injuries than males, primarily due to a more cautious approach, taking fewer risks on the road.
Where cycling has a higher mode share, the hospitalisation rates were lower as well. Other studies indicate that more cyclists will reduce the number of vehicles and increase the drivers’ awareness to bikers. As we reported in a previous post, safer cycle infrastructure attracts more cyclists, thus generating a positive cycle in which the larger number of bikers then increases the pressure towards even more infrastructure improvements.
This research doesn’t suggest that bikers should not use helmets. Rather, the point is that in order to effectively reduce bicycle-related accidents, governments should direct their efforts towards increasing cycle usage, developing safer cycle lanes and promoting safer behaviour amongst cyclists.
Photo credit: ABC
On my 20km cycle-commute, over 4 years now, I travel along a harbourside shared-pathway near my office. One morning as a took a bend, three guys with the tailgate of a van backed-up to the shared pathway were unloading a life-raft pod, fully across the pathway, to load onto a local dolphin-cruise vessel. To avoid one guy I swerved to the right edge of the path. My front wheel dropped off the edge and so I lost steering as well as balance and fell back onto the pathway. As I fell to the concrete surface my jawbone, cheekbone and orbital (eye-socket bone) progressively took the impact. Later, examining my helmet in hospital (check-up only, no fractures), I found that those three bones had protected the helmet from sustaining even one scratch. I believe that helmets have been over-hyped from the outset, and were introduced via a coercive and grubby deal between Commonwealth and states that had more to do with federal funding for road-building rather than cycling-safety. Thereby a widespread deterrent to cycling was introduced, across climate zones that are some of the least conducive globally to such a ‘safety’ device. The efficacy of Australian helmet laws need to be tested against international benchmarks of helmet-use, of injuries actually prevented/ mitigated, and of cycling uptake/ usage. Ideally we need to find a place that once had helmet laws and repealed them so as to measure the effects. As the safety-in-numbers phenomenon grows and general profile of the cycling mode-share increases, including the sharing economy, we need to reconsider compulsory helmet-wearing’s strategic need and national cost-benefit including foregone population-health benefits. If cyclist safety was so front-and-centre in the aforementioned deal, why is the construction of safe cycling facilities in the same corridor of the Federally-assisted road schemes not also compulsory and a condition of funding?