Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Australia to Drop Compulsory Bicycle Helmet Laws?

Australia is yet again debating the relative merits of helmets for cycling.

This notion is even more controversial since Australia was the first country to introduce a mandatory bicycle helmet law back in 1991.

Associate Professor Chris Rissel (one of the authors of the 2008 national report Cycling - Getting Australia Moving, which had the sub title of: Barriers, facilitators and interventions to get more Australians physically active through cycling) believes that "What it does is it puts people off cycling and makes people think that cycling's a dangerous activity, even though it's a really healthy thing to do and it increases people's physical activity."

Then there's Professor Frank McDermott (former chair of the Victorian Road Reauma Committee - also known as "the man who spearheaded the original campaign to make bike helmets compulsory.") saying there is no question that if the current laws were overturned, head injuries would rise.

Both experts in their respective fields and both no doubt correct in their observations. Rissel says, "You've got helmets creating a barrier to cycling, particularly spontaneous, short-trip cycling". And McDermott cites studies showing "... head injury frequency was reduced about 50 per cent in those wearing bicycle helmets."

One bike rider interviewed made the comment, "But the more cyclists on the road the safer it is for each cyclist as an individual, and helmets are a barrier to getting more people cycling. More cyclists also means less cars and higher demand for safe cycling infrastructure."

Richard Birdsey vice-president of the bike advocacy group, Bicycle New South Wales see road safety, not helmet laws, is the biggest turn-off for potential cyclists.

Here again we see that often issues are neither black nor white, but rather grey.

Maybe if we focused on improving cycling infrastructure that made riding bikes safer, and a more acceptable form of short distance transport, then the helmet conundrum would simply cease to be an issue.

Rissel wants to see a trial for two years in one city to see if repealing the bicycle helmet legislation increases cycling participation, and/or any change in the volume of head trauma case. The Sydney Morning Herald does note that he still supports helmets for children and those riding longer distances.

1 comment:

  1. Statistics that I have seen show that head injuries have risen since helmets became compulsory. It should be compulsory for people under the age of 12yrs.