06 November 2009

Sue, Mr Rubbo and Australian Bixis


Some of you may remember Sue Abbott, the Australian woman fighting her ticket for cycling with a helmet. The Australian documentary filmmaker Mike Rubbo made a film about her getting ready for court, which we blogged here.

Mr Rubbo made a film following Sue on the day she showed up in court, which you can see above. She lost her case, which wasn't really a surprise, but the judge didn't really take her position seriously, which really is his job. Sue has now decided to appeal, taking her battle for bicycling freedom to the next level.

Good luck to her. We haven't had bicycle 'activists' in Denmark for many years but we certainly used to and anyone fighting to ride a bicycle as they see fit gets our respect. Not least because it's also about questioning society's tendency to ignore the problem - the automobile.


Mr Rubbo was also present at a bicycle conference in Melbourne where a bike share programme was presented. With this film he explores the problems of implementing a bike share programme in a city with mandatory helmet laws. The woman interviewed calls it a 'vexing problem' and she proposes making cheap helmets available FOR SALE at convenience stores and fast food outlets that are open late.

Basically, you want a bike. Before - or after - you get a bike the idea is that you go to a shop or fast food joint somewhere [hopefully] nearby and buy a cheap helmet. Then off you go.

Kind of defeats the purpose of ease of use and accessibility. Making helmets available for borrowing doesn't work due to the issue of sanitation. Lice and happy-sounding skin diseases like Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus are among the reasons that make sharing helmets undesirable in such schemes. There is no cost efficient way to sanitize helmets in bike share programmes. Australian authorities have known this for ages and don't really know how to tackle the problem. Buying a helmet for a short trip from A to B seems a bit far-fetched.

We'll see how things turn out in Melbourne.

62 comments:

Anonymous said...

The woman interviewed who calls it a 'vexing problem' fundamentally fails to understand the helmet industry. Cycle helmets are cheap to make, very cheap less than $3 and yet they retail for over $40. It is all about profit. There is a lot of money in selling fear.

Ryan said...

McGill University wanted BIXI to do something about helmets. They wanted some sort of helmet rental with each bike.
BIXI gave three reasons as to why they wouldn't, only one I can remember was hygiene.

In Vancouver some residents want a BIXI like system, however with BC's helmet law I don't see it working.
Am I suppose to carry my own helmet around with me all the time in case I opt to take one of the bikes?
What are tourists suppose to do?

2whls3spds said...

I was actually threatened with a citation earlier this year. I was riding my tour bike..sans helmet through a small town in NC that has a local helmet ordinance. The state nor the nation require a helmet to ride. I pointed out to the officer that I was on a state maintained road, if wished to issue the citation, go ahead but be prepared for a court battle. He declined. Some laws make sense others don't. Mandatory helmet laws are in the don't category.

Aaron

Herve said...

Mr Rubbo makes a very good point.

Bixis would be a fantastic way to promote cycling in Australia. They are comfortable and easy to ride, perfect for short trips.

In Australia, less than 1% of people cycle to work! Actually very few people cycle at all. Car usage is ubiquitous, causing traffic jams and pollution. Largely because of the subsequent lack of exercise, many Australians are overweight and obese, requiring expensive medical treatment.

Unfortunately, the govt in Australia does not do much to promote cycling. Very few bicycle paths separating bicycles from cars have been built.

Actually, the govt is DISCOURAGING bicycle use by imposing a compulsory helmet law, despite its very limited benefits. It may sound silly, and it is. Rather than build bicycle paths to protect cyclists, force them to wear a helmet! No wonder cycling is so unpopular.

Compulsory bicycle helmets are a major impediment to popular bicycle usage, especially for short trips. That's why the issue is important.

Some people have been fooled to believe that the compulsory bicycle helmet law is about safety. It is not. The key to bicycle safety is to separate car traffic from bicycle traffic, as Europeans already understand very well.

It seems to me that the compulsory helmet law is about pretending to do something about safety, while neglecting to build the necessary bicycle paths.

A costly mistake for the health & quality of life of Australian unfortunately ... while the medical bill keeps rising for the govt.

Kim said...

Mike Rubbo understanding of the value of wearing a helmet is some what sketchy, he proposes that the law be changed so the helmets only have to be worn by riders who ride above 25Km/h, yet helmets are only designed to provide protection at speeds of below 20Km/h. Such a change to the law would only serve to make helmets even more pointless than they already are.

It was also interesting to see the girl at the end who liked having a helmet, but didn't know how to wear one properly. The helmet she was wearing was too far back on her head, if she was unlucky enough to fall off whilst wearing it like that, she would most likely suffer greater injury than she would have done had she not been wearing on.

Kiwehtin said...

For Ryan-

Just to correct the details of your post, it wasn't McGill University as such that was pushing for the Bixi programme to include helmets, but rather a neurologist on the McGill faculty who is well known for his campaigning for helmet wearing (and if I'm not mistaken, compulsory helmet laws). I've tried to find his name both over Internet in general and on the Gazette web site, but get no results.

Remember this came up just a few weeks after the programme started, when a woman pedalled through a red light on Ontario street and was killed by a car or truck driving through the cross-street on a green.

LGV said...

we need helmet because cars ! the solution is to remove all the cars...

Loren said...

I'm done reading this blog. I'm tired of reading posts railing on helmet use. Why not focus on trying to get people to ride bikes instead of fighting about whether helmets are a good idea? For people who wear helmets, it's really not a big deal. They're cheap and easy to put on. What's the frickin' fuss? Just throw one on and stop worrying about it. Meanwhile there are a ton of other issues that are a hell of a lot more important. I wish your blog spent more time on these issues.

Michael said...

Kim, I do now that helmets are primarily for low speed crashes, and that is a flaw in my proposal.

It's also something to take into account in the cost/benefit analysis of their usage.

As for the girl at the end of my film clip who is not wearing her helmet correctly according to you, the reach of this blog such that hopefully she will see the clip and take note of your advice.

Foolishly, when filming her, I forgot to take contact details.

Copenhagenize.com will find her, or she it, I'm sure. Cheers, mike

lagatta à montréal said...

Loren, it is an important issue because of the constant threat of helmet legislation, which would wipe out the decades of work some of us have done to increase bicycle ridership and develop a culture of cyclng in normal office or urban-casual clothing. This is why it remains a key struggle. Nobody is denying your right to wear whatever you want. But you are damned well not telling me what to "throw on" my body. Any religious or helmet fundamentalist who tries that will find himself the worse for his bother.

Of course in Montréal there are no helmets with bixis - think one of the other reasons might be that there is know way of knowing whether a helmet has been dropped hard and rendered useless.

A minority of bixi users wear helmets, and simply carry their own around with them. That includes tourists. But most people wear normal urban clothing and are bareheaded or hatted. While I have seen a few helmets on bixis, I haven't seen a single "lycra lout" get up on one.

Anonymous said...

Australians are a rare breed.

They are obsessed by safety and ignorant about safety at the same time. That's why you see this girl insisting she mush wear a helmet, yet not knowing how to put one on.

Did you also notice she was wearing dark clothes? Not the best idea if you are cycling on open roads as there are so few bicycle paths in Australia. The number one reason to get killed for cyclists in Australia is to get hit from behind by a car. Bright clothing is really important for visibility on open roads, yet not widespread.

To have somebody like that thinking they are "safe" because they wear a helmet is actually dangerous.

Maybe one day Australians will realise that bicycle safety is primarily about separated bicycle paths. Don't expect the Australian govt to do much about it though. It has chosen the easy path of pretending that bicycle safety is all about helmets, with the results you can see in the video.

Ryan said...

Kiwehtin:
thanks,
I should have indicated that it wasn't the entire University. I was going to post the link but it's no longer up on the Gazette's website.

Anonymous said...

LGV said
"we need helmet because cars !"

Sorry LGV, but a helmet won't save you if a car hits you from behind at 60 km/h. This is the most common way to get killed as a cyclist in Australia. This is something cyclists really need to be aware of.

sexify said...

What I see in this Bixi/helmet conflict is an excellent opportunity for informed people to bring up the problems with mandatory helmet use for a wider audience to mull over.

Adam

Cargo Cult said...

I wrote a letter to one of our local papers about the absurdity of starting up a bike share programme in this city, with its compulsory helmet laws. I suggested that tourists would be better off spending a couple of extra dollars for a tram ticket to get around — that would at least spare them the extra $15 it would cost to purchase a helmet from a convenience store. They would also be interested to know that the beautiful and safe parks surrounding the central business district do not allow bicycle usage (a recent police blitz in the Carlton gardens saw dozens of cyclists hit with $250 fines)! The traffic police have also conducted two recent blitzes on cyclists in the CBD - I myself was pulled over twice to have my perfectly roadworthy bike inspected for proper maintenance and appropriate lighting, as well as being lectured to like a schoolboy about the (ever-increasing) number of areas where bicycles were not allowed.

Mike Rubbo's films also included vision of a crossing in Carlton that I use every day of the week. As you can see, just about every cyclist takes off at the green light as if they are commencing a stage in one of the grand tours, and as Rubbo also points out they are all in the hunched-over position to gain maximum speed. This is how the majority of cyclists ride in this city, as opposed to the relaxed images of upright cyclists in Copenhagen and Amsterdam. I strongly believe this is one of the reasons so many people here are convinced that compulsory helmet laws are appropriate, in that they see so many people riding fast and taking unnecessary risks.

As for the final image of that female cyclist in Fitzroy, she perfectly represents the case for optional helmet usage. She feels unsafe on a bike — so be it — but I get the feeling that her helmet may give her a false sense of security (even if she's not wearing it correctly).

Just a cyclist said...

"20km/h" is a widely cited, supposed protection level of cycle helmets. It's frequently cited by politicians who want to make a case for mandatory helmets as for instance in the UK, where the issue was brought up by an MP who cited the EN 1078 standard for cycle helmets, simply quoting "20km/h" as an energy, which it is not, unless of course mass is specified.

Its difficult to find information on this but the wikipedia entry for the european standard "EN 1078" is somewhat cloudy on the mass ("Impact energy criteria: < 250g") but does mention an approx speed of 5,5 m/s which conforms with the "20km/h" figure. Elsewhere (http://www.cyclehelmets.org/papers/c2023.pdf) impact energies are stated in joules.

Having spent some time doing the math it turns out that the impact energies indeed works out when calculated using the 20km/h (12 mph) figure together with the stated weights of the headforms used for the tests.

BTW it also turns out that the stated maximum impact energies occurs when the same headforms falls from a height of about 1,5 m.

Now you do the math.

Dominique said...

I live in Copenhagen now and ride to university every day, I have ridden my bike all over the roads of Provence for the last four years, I rode my bike to work daily in Denver Colorado for another 5 years, and before that in Ottawa Canada for the first 30 years of my life. That is near 5 decades of urban cycling.

I have known in each country good, safe cyclists end up off their wheels with long lasting medical needs and chronic pain... and a few with permanent injuries from silly, silly non-car related accidents. A dog, a kid, a squirrel, a moment of inattention... it doesn't take speed or anybody else around for a fall to be an awkward one or a bad one.

I wear a helmet for a single reason and it is NOT the drivers: my head is what I live by and it is worth protecting. It's as much a no-brainer as wearing a seat belt in a moving car: better safe than sorry. If it is a slight inconvenience to lug a helmet around, it is nothing compared to a lugging a wheelchair.

So... do what you want by all means but PLEASE don't pretend to love freedom more than those of us who wear helmets do. There are better freedoms than that of going through life as if sh*t didn't happen.

Good luck in your helmet-free cycling and I hope you can enjoy riding without having to go on a crusade against others, be them drivers or cyclists.

Anonymous said...

>Herve: "The key to bicycle safety is to separate car traffic from bicycle traffic, as Europeans already understand very well."

This is true for rural roads, however, in cities, this is usually a very bad practice. Separated bike pathes are death traps at their intersections with roads, beacuse cyclists are invisible there. Bike lanes are much safer, because cyclists are seen by motorists in the intersections. We are fighting our local politicians in Hungary on this issue all the time.

On helmets: Holland has the lowest cyclist accident rate in the world. Nobody wears helmet there. Cyclist safety is in the numbers. The more cyclists ride the roads the safer it is for everyone. The Australian government makes cycling more dangerous by discouraging cycling by the helmet law. I wear helmet for sport. I do not see the reason for wearing a helmet for utility cycling.

Mikael said...

Dominique: please remember your helmet when walking and, most importantly, your motorist helmet. Two transport options where you have a higher risk of head injury than cycling.

Anon 22:11: Proper bicycle infrastructure with separated lanes are far from 'death traps'. You have so little science to back up your claim. Proper separated lanes merge with the traffic for the past few metres before the intersection.

You should really read John Pucher's report, downloadable here, for more inspiration and information.

On my recent trip to Budapest, all the talk was of lobbying for separated cycle tracks because of their proven track record.

Michael said...

Lagatta a Montreal, I went to your web site but could find nowhere to leave a message.

Since you seem to be so well informed about how Bixis have gone in their first summer on the roads, I'd love to know what the accident and head injury rate were.

This is very pertinent to the helmet argument, to deciding whether helmets are just a fear campaign or not. We know, from Bixi research and what you say, that few Bixi riders are helmeted.

We can assume that Bixi bought many new and non riders to city riding for the first time.

No only that but with their lights for night riding, it means Bixis were being picked up at night perhaps outside bars and pubs. It could be a recipe for disaster.


If on the other hand the accident rate was no higher than before it would strongly suggest that the helmet laws are bogeymen, frightening people about outcomes which are unlikely.

So does anyone have the stats on the accident rate in Montreal last summer compared with the one before? Mike

Anonymous said...

Cargo Cult said...
the beautiful and safe parks surrounding the central business district do not allow bicycle usage (a recent police blitz in the Carlton gardens saw dozens of cyclists hit with $250 fines)! The traffic police have also conducted two recent blitzes on cyclists in the CBD - I myself was pulled over twice to have my perfectly roadworthy bike inspected for proper maintenance and appropriate lighting, as well as being lectured to like a schoolboy about the (ever-increasing) number of areas where bicycles were not allowed.

Hey Cargo Cult.

Was is wrong exactly with the state govt of Victoria? Do they have a policy of discouraging bicycle usage? Why did they invite a company to set up a bike share scheme in Melbourne when they try so hard to discourage cycling at the same time?

It doesn't make any sense. I can't see the Melbourne bixi scheme having any chance of succeeding with a hostile govt and police.

I have noticed that the state govt in Victoria takes the "nanny state" to the extreme. The nanny state is bad enough. It tends to take responsibility away from the individual, who usually is best placed to make its own decisions depending on its own circumstances. It hands over that responsibility to some remote bureaucrat who cannot be aware of everybody's specific situation, and cannot possibly know more than all the people collectively.

The result? Personal responsibility decreases. When people are told what to do, they tend to think less for themselves. Some people make the assumption that complying with the law is all they need to do for their safety. When you treat people like idiots, they start behaving like idiots. This is when this type of micro-regulations become counterproductive.

Why do people put up with it? Isn't anybody protesting against govt over-regulation? Is there any group defending civil rights over there? The govt is stepping on citizens rights in the name of "safety". Where will it stop? It sounds like one of those nightmare scenarios from a fascist state from the 20th century. I'm glad I don't live in Melbourne.

Anonymous said...

Those of us who do not enjoy the benefits of socialized medicine cannot afford to coddle the irresponsible members of society who insist on riding without a helmet. They want to be free of "oppressive government regulations" until they fall and crack open their heads. Then they expect the rest of us to pay for their brain surgery.

Denmark is a coddled society that breeds elitist thinking and out of touch individuals. Danes are not in a position to preach to the rest of us.

Hypocrisy!

Herve said...

Anonymous said...
Those of us who do not enjoy the benefits of socialized medicine cannot afford to coddle the irresponsible members of society who insist on riding without a helmet. They want to be free of "oppressive government regulations" until they fall and crack open their heads. Then they expect the rest of us to pay for their brain surgery.

Hey Mate, It would really help if you educated yourself a little bit before posting such silly rants. Did you know that most cyclist killed in Australia were wearing helmets?

Even the Australian govt own research cannot find a link between wearing a helmet in real life (not in the lab) and reduced cyling injuries. You can check it for yourself here. http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/roads/safety/publications/2006/pdf/death_cyclists_road.pdf

I believe the irresponsible ones here are the ones who think they are safe because the are riding with a helmet. That's dangerous thinking.

Cycling safety has nothing to do with helmets. Despite all the brainwashing that we have been enduring in Australia, with slogans such as "If you don't need a head, you don't need a helmet", it doesn't make it true.

The dutch know something about safe cycling. They build plenty of bicycle paths, without requiring helmets. They have real world proof that their system works. Our system doesn't. Why can't we build bicycle paths instead of forcing people to wear helmets in Australia?

By the way, how happy are you to pick up the medical bill arising of increasing obesity? In 2008, 25 percent of Australian schools students were overweight and 20% were obese. If the govt didn't discourage cycling through ineffective laws like the compulsory helmet law, bicycle usage would be higher.

Increasing bicycle usage has many community benefits in terms of better health, fewer traffic jams, less global warming emissions. The cost of traffic jams & medical costs in itself is huge. How do you compare that with an ineffective law to force people to wear a nearly useless helmet?

Get ready for the rising medical bill. Think about this generation of obese children getting older.

Cheers.

Herve said...

I found out a bit more about the cost of obesity in Australia.

In 2008, It has been estimated at $58 BILLIONS per year.
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/girth-by-sea-obesity-costs-58bn/story-e6frg8y6-1111117266524

To put it in perspective, it is almost 3 times what we spend on public hospitals today. It is also more than what the federal government spend on the education budget for the whole country.

I would love for the compulsory helmet nazis to pick up the bill. Frankly, I am not that keen to be forced to pay for it as well.

Cheers,

Just a cyclist said...

Herve, as I mentioned above, the cycle helmet is designed to mitigate a fall from 1,5 meters on level ground, and approximately 1 meter if it is not level (as a curbstone).
Yet, it nearly always demotes other safety considerations in cultures devoted to its grandeur.

When a scientific paper sceptic of the australian helmet laws was published by dorothy robinson in 2006 a rebuttal from her opponents was - hold on to your seat - a referral to an other paper that claimed that cycling, in order to have health benefits, needed to be done daily for at least a consecutive 45 minutes at a minimal pulse rate.

How's that for a hypocrisy?

Just a cyclist said...

or rather, at a determined minimum pulse rate (if I remember it correctly)

Falmouth Wheelers said...

I support helmet use,but not helmet laws.My helmet saved me from serious injury,when I crashed into rocks my fault.But were of no use at all in crashes with cars and lorrys.And who says we have to wear them on our head?

kfg said...

JaC: This is entirely at odds with the seminal work of Dr. Kenneth Cooper; who found that it was 12 minutes three times a week.

The pulse rate in question is that roughly equivalent to riding at 25 kph, i.e, well below that associated with athletic training.

The vast majority of habitual transportational cyclists will meet or exceed these conditions in just getting about. In fact what was shocking to Dr. Cooper was the lack of fitness of America's military cadets compared to the really rather slight degree of exercise required to attain it (and this was back in the days before 24/7 television and video games).

Anonymous said...

"Did you know that most cyclist killed in Australia were wearing helmets? "

I would hope so, since helmets are sensibly required by law. Without them, the death rate would easily double.

In Denmark, people ride on govt. subsidized bicycle paths that are often completely separate from traffic. Many ride heavy, upright bikes and since the country is mostly flat, it makes no difference. You cannot begin to compare Danish cycling conditions with those in most other countries. As you know, most Australians ride in traffic.

Good luck. You're going to need it. And don't ask for our money for brain surgery when you fly over the handlebars and land on your head. As you should know, that's a very common accident on a bicycle.

Ryan said...

Anonymous, why should we be left paying for people who don't eat well or exercise? After all more and more people in the English speaking world are suffering from heart disease and obesity.

Or people who suffer from brain injuries as a result of car accidents? Shouldn't motorists be forced to wear helmets? They have higher rates of head injuries after all.

kfg said...

"As you should know . . ."

Ah yes, the old combined argument by assertion AND argument by projection. A lovely compliment to your oxymoronic you lose/you lose argument; each of which INDIVIDUALLY is a sure sign of conclusion by a priori dogmatic assumption with a basis in self assumed innate superiority - the stock in trade of the religious fundamentalist.

Just a cyclist said...

I really don't like to quarrel but I would like to remind anon@19:18 not to take "luck" for granted too much just because he's wearing a helmet.

If that is the case then maybe he'd be safer without one.

Herve said...

kfg said...
"the stock in trade of the religious fundamentalist"

It's not quite religious fundamentalism, but it's pretty close.

Let me give you a bit of background history.

In the late 1980's, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau conducted lab research (ie, theoretical research, not real world) on bicycle helmets. It concluded that helmets CAN reduce head injuries in some low-speed impacts.

From this narrow basis, the govt decided to introduce a compulsory bicycle helmet law, disregarding civil rights. This was done with almost no community consultation at all.

The immediate result of the law was to discourage cycling. Cycling usage dropped by one third.

Most people still refused to wear helmets though.

The govt then used advertising to associate helmets with bicycle safety.

In advertising, you don't need scientific proof. Actually, you don't need any proof at all, It doesn't even have to be true. All you need to do is associate a strong positive emotion with your message. In this case, associate a feeling of safety with wearing a helmet.

It was throughout the media, very difficult to miss. You would switch on the TV to find a "police safety expert" tell you about the need to wear a helmet for your safety. There were slogans like "if you don't need a head, you don't need a helmet". It didn't have to be true, but it was really effective.

After that, the 'conventional wisdom' in Australia is to put on your helmet in order to be safe. Many people assume that's all they need to do to be safe. That is actually dangerous thinking, but not many people understand that.

With this conditioned thinking, you mainly get knee-jerk emotional reactions.

Almost like a religious fundamentalist.

Adrienne Johnson said...

Anon and anon and anon....

Government subsidies, for anything from roads to maternity leave to diabetes induced amputations to counseling for victims of domestic abuse to school lunches to treatment of brain injuries comes from one place- tax payers. Taxes pay for EVERYTHING including the initial research that created the internet that you currently go around making silly pronouncements on without bothering to put your name to because your statements are uninformed and cannot withstand scrutiny.

And yet, I have to pay for them anyway. Is there a helmet that can protect me from that?

Herve said...

Anonymous said...
"when you fly over the handlebars and land on your head. As you should know, that's a very common accident on a bicycle."

Did you know that, in Australia, the most common way to get killed on a bicycle is to get hit from behind by a car?

How do you think a helmet is going to help if a car hits you at 60 km/h?

On Australian roads, it is a good idea to wear bright clothing so that you are more visible to cars, your greatest source of danger.

Let me suggest to you that this is more important for your safety than wearing a helmet.

Mikael said...

Landing on your head? Maybe you're riding the wrong kind of bicycle.

Sue 'sans' helmet said...

wow! to helmet or not to helmet - me never! - i go back to court in february 2010 having appeared last monday in the district court - i have written to the PM and all the premiers and chief ministers asking them to repeal the laws, and will continue to do so - we have to have this debate in australia and it's next to impossible at the moment - none of our media our interested and the cycling organisations refuse to communicate with me - they are very committed to the helmet spin, no doubt in many way$

lagatta à montréal said...

Sue, I'm so glad to hear from you, though sorry about your problems and ESPECIALLY the cowardice and treason of so-called "cyclists" organisations in your country. Vélo Québec here, the largest and most moderate group in Québec, pulled out of a government advisory board as they are trying to bring in a helmet law for minors. Needless to say, the more radical among us are even more adamant - whether the people in them wear helmets or not. (see the website in my link - Le Monde à bicyclette, which was a pioneering ecocyclist group here founded in 1975).

Claire Morrissette, one of the founders, was also an early advocate for what Mikael would call "cycle chic" - cycling in normal clothing and looking good. We brought out booklets on subjects like cycling to work.

This is really tragic in a country like yours where one can cycle year round - just avoiding the late afternoon heat in the Austral summer as much as possible, and given the many health and environmental problems caused by car dependency.

Hang in there and know there are people very far away who support your struggle to cycle on a normal bicycle in normal clothing.

-------

On another note, Mikael is absolutely correct about how much head-over-heels bicycle design contributes to such injury risk in the first place. Any time I've fallen, I've fallen on my side - perhaps hurt arm or leg. Never "over handlebars".

Kiwehtin said...

Another note to Ryan-

The only link I could find in the Gazette was the following discussion with a short summary of the article:

http://communities.canada.com/montrealgazette/blogs/soundoff/archive/2009/07/05/307627.aspx

I couldn't find any similar report in any of the French newspapers here though. The McGill University site does have a press release from 2005 about head trauma caused by irresponsible cyclists and presents as fact a claim "that bicyclists who wear helmets reduce their risk of brain injury by 88 percent" which, as far as I understand from having read such statistics, is a distortion of what they actually say. (I seem to remember that these statistics have to do with all kinds of head injuries lumped together, including scrapes and cuts, and not brain injury as such.)

It would be interesting to see what statistics there are about injuries to Bixi users, but I haven't seen anything mentioned out there yet.

Michael said...

Absolutely Kiwehtin, we need as a matter of urgency, the cycle accident figures from this summer in Montreal, number and type, esp head injury stats.

Lagatta, I tried to communicate with you through your blog, but could see no way to do that.

Can you please, both of you, make every effort to find get and release these stats.

If the rate showed no particular increase, or even a mild one, tracking the increased use graph but not going above it, this will help immensely to argue here that the helmet is a bogeyman used to scare people in Australia.

I've lived in Montreal for 30 years. (See the recent post on my blog "and so to Bike" http://datillo.wordpress.com/

I know Montreal compares quite well with Melbourne in lay out, in street character.

Melbourne is the possible new home for Bixi next year, a Bixi scheme crippled by the helmet laws most probably

So the stats. on Montreal before and after Bixi, will be crucial to our argument, especially since we can assume, and perhaps back up with figures, that Bixi brought onto the roads lots of first time local riders with presumably less bike/traffic skills, and also visitors who would not have known the city well.

Both of these categories, un-helmeted (we also need the helmet use rate) should have increased the accident rate dramatically if cycling is as dangerous as the helmet advocates want us to believe.

Small accident increase, or none, and we have the most powerful argument possible against helmets.

Do what you can please to supply the above. There are journalists who might wake up and show a little courage with such stats.

Mikael, you helped me get in touch with Sue, which started this present push, can you make sure Lagatta and Kiwehtin see this?

By the way, it seems that the December conference is, sadly going to fail in producing firm agreements on emission reductions.

I see the best thing that could happen now is is that countries like ours are confronted by the success of your bike use, your wind-farm programs, and take home some sobering thoughts on where we've let ourselves down, in the case of cycling by using the helmet as an excuse to do nothing about true bike safety, which is under the wheels, not on the head.

Mike rubbo

Melbourne Cyclist said...

Sue - you're awesome, keep going!

I had a bit of a heated discussion with my officemate yesterday, who's currently transporting himself around in a four wheel drive, but talking about starting to cycle to work. At the moment, he's a touch anti-cyclist, in terms of them being too slow and getting in his way on the road, but he's smart and open-minded, so it's not all bad.

Anyhow, we got to talking about the possible Bixi scheme, and how the helmets were the big issue. His suggestion was that Bixi users should be allowed to ride without helmets on 'safe' areas (he listed a few quiet, shared ped/cyclist, or non-car areas), but should be fined if spotted riding on roads with cars without helmets. I pointed out the irony of him saying people could be allowed to not wear helmets in the exact situation that they were designed to help in, and vice versa. His eventual thoughts were "but who's going to kill themself just falling off on the bike path? Come on!".

This is how good the advertising has been here - even smart people believe that wearing a bit of polystyrene will protect you from motorised traffic :-(

Adrienne Johnson said...

Mel. Cyclist- A new campaign slogan! "Helmets! The cure for Hummers!" : )

Sue- Kick 'em where it hurts- in the logic center!

Herve said...

Hi Sue,

I would like to congratulate you on your courageous fight against this ill designed law.

You are not alone in this fight for common sense.

This law was full of good intentions in 1990. By now, the weight of evidence is clearly against it, especially if you consider the rising problems it exacerbates.

It is time to reconsider the wisdom of this law.

There is no evidence that, in the real world, compulsory helmets have improved safety at all.

Yet the government persists with this mistaken policy. Why?

The safety=helmet fiction is convenient because the govt doesn't have to build bicycle paths, and people don't have to think about cycling safety; "Put on your helmet & you will be safe, Mate".

Most importantly, the majority of Australians simply don't care.

As someone already commented on this forum, "Why should we build subsidised bicycle paths for a minority of the population?"

These people fail to notice the collateral damage of this narrow thinking.

The cost of traffic jams in Autralia was estimated at $9.5 BILLIONS in 2005. By 2020, it is expected to rise to $20.4 BILLIONS. Let's say it might be $12 billions in 2010.

The cost of obesity was estimated in 2008 at $58 BILLIONS.

So these people are effectively saying this "We don't want to spend $2 billions providing bicycle paths, but we're OK to pay $70 billions for obesity & traffic jams"

I am not suggesting that increased bicycle usage will wipe out obesity & traffic jams. But even if it only decreases them by 10%, the bicycle paths will pay for themselves within 6 months.

Last year, there was a big uproar in the media after the obesity report was released, showing that the cost was already at $58 billions and rising quickly. The govt raised the alarm, questioning how are we going to afford this alarmingly increasing cost, urging people to change their behavior quickly.

A few politicians came out in the media, saying how people should eat more healthy foods & exercise more, and how they are going to take some initiative to resolve this critical issue for our society.

A few weeks later, it was all forgotten, everything was back to normal.

Meanwhile, the state govt in Victoria (i.e., Melbourne) goes the extra mile to discourage bicycle use ... in the name of safety ... despite a complete lack of evidence.

Melbourne Cyclist said...

Adrienne - nice!

I'm thinking maybe your pedestrian crossing suggestion might be a good way to go - in collisions, motorists claim not to have seen cyclists, but if we were all cycling around naked...?

Anonymous said...

I am planning to travel to Melbourne and would love to be able to use the bixies. I would like to ask people from Melbourne a few questions:

Is there many cyclists there? Why does the govt discourages cycling with all these rules?

How many bicycle paths are in Melbourne?

Is it true that you should wear bright visible clothes to be safe as a cyclist in Melbourne?

How are tourists from Europe going to find out about the many cycling rules than seem to exist in Melbourne? How would we know whether it is OK to ride through a park or on a footpath?

How are tourists from Europe going to learn the skills necessary to ride safely in Melbourne?

Thanks in advance.

Melbourne Cyclist said...

Anonymous: wow, quite the list of questions, and few answers as defined as the questions!

Ok, numbers of cyclists. Nowhere near as many as Copenhagen et al, on a par with the 'average' place in the UK probably (i.e. not as many as Oxford/Cambridge!). I've seen numbers ranging from 5% to 10% of modal share, but that doesn't really quantify things. On some routes - for example the bike paths up St Kilda Rd during peak hour, there are loads of cyclists, on others, for example City Rd during peak hour, there are none (very sensibly!). The vast majority of bicycle journeys I take, I will see other cyclists during the journey. Maybe not many, but always some.

Why does the govt discourage? -rolls eyes- Good question. Very good question. The easy answer is to insult their IQs in very base terms. Alternatively, Aus has a history of sprawling development because we've got lots of space (20million people now, in a space equivalent to the mainland USA), and thus has been following the 'LA model' of ruddy great roads going *through* places to get from work/home/shops/etc. Having said which, the centres of cities clearly show the ages of when they were founded, back when a horse and cart was high tech - more compact, easier to get around. There's also the whole thing of keeping the car manufacturing industry happy - they're subsidised industries here. And of course the fact that a lot of our decision makers grew up in an era when you had to have a big shiny car to show people you were a success - only poor unsuccessful people rode bikes (or took public transport - another area where we're not too bad, but could be a whole ton better). Anyhow, enough on the politics - there are better people working hard to change things. Not enough of them I don't think, but they exist, and they're trying to expand their departments and influence, so we'll get there!

Bicycle paths - I have no idea how many. And I doubt stats such as "nine paths, totalling 35km" would help anyway. There are quite a few nice paths for pottering about looking at the scenery - for example all along the Yarra river, including on both sides in the Southbank precinct (shared with pedestrians). In terms of bicycle highways / separated paths alongside roads, basically none. Quite a few painted on-road line style paths, essentially a small lane on the side of the road, but often alongside parked cars, typically with people who don't check before opening doors, so be careful when using them! In the centre of the city, there are a few painted on lanes, but there's not actually enough width to be safe with a bike and a car alongside, so I'll say none - just take the entire road lane in the city. Swanston St is ok - the only traffic is trams and delivery vans - the vans create problems of their own, but at least they're mostly stationery. Bourke St Mall, between Elizabeth & Swanston/Russell, is pedestrian only. So. If you're coming from somewhere like Copenhagen, the answer is "none, there are no bike paths!", somewhere else, the answer is "there's a few, and more are coming, but they're a bit hit and miss at times (better than nothing though)".

Melbourne Cyclist said...

Bright visible clothes - sadly, yes, they're a good idea. Our problem is that too many motorists simply don't *look* for cyclists, because we're a relatively uncommon sight. So, cycling well aware of the fact that motorists will do dumb things around you (e.g. the woman who turned across in front of me yesterday when I had right of way - I didn't come close to her because I was already braking before she began turning. She saw me when I was four foot from her passenger window), and making yourself visible are good ideas. Visibility is probably even more important if you're not familiar with the city, and/or are used to cycling in better conditions - it's second nature for me now to look out for certain idiocies, it might not be for you.

Finding out about cycling rules - no idea. I'm guessing the tourist info points might have some of the travelsafe / smart-maps (called something like that), which have bike routes marked out, but I'm not sure if they do, and I'm not sure if the maps have the rules on them. Generally parks etc are well signed, with both signposts and ground-paint showing if bikes are not allowed. Shared paths are also usually well signed, in a similar manner (but saying bikes *are* allowed!). If it's not signed, it's probably a footpath only, and bikes are not allowed on footpaths at all. Having said which, if you're going at a sensibly safe speed, not doing anything stupid, and you're obviously a (polite) tourist, then if you did wind up getting stopped by the police, they'd probably just explain that what you were doing was wrong, and let you go with the advice.

Learning the skills necessary to ride safely in Melbourne? No idea. I'd hope that there'd be some kind of flyers or similar explaining the basics (maybe permanent posters at the Bixi stations?), but as far as learning skills, don't know how they'd do that. In terms of everything I've said above, it's really not *that* bad here - yes, pretty much all Aussie cyclists have had at least one close call with a stupid motorist, and one with a hostile/hooning motorist, and I certainly felt that Amsterdam was a safer place to cycle than the centre of Melbourne (never been to Copenhagen, sorry Mikael!), but then we could just have been cycling in a quiet, out of the way, area, and there are plenty of places in Melbourne that feel as safe as that bit of Amsterdam did.

So, there are problems here, and there is a part of me that worries about the idea of tourists and inexperienced cyclists mixing it with the Melbourne traffic, but I think even someone who's on a bike for the first time since childhood can look at a road and tell with a glance if it's a really bad idea, so I'm hopeful - the more cyclists we get, the more visible we'll be, and the more infrastructure etc we'll get...

cyclist123 said...

Melbourne Cyclist said...
"This is how good the advertising has been here - even smart people believe that wearing a bit of polystyrene will protect you from motorised traffic :-("

The advertising was indeed as effective as it was deceptive. However it backfired, making cycling more dangerous.

How? One reason is the confidence factor. Cyclists wearing helmets tend not to be as careful because they believe they are 'safer'. Elliott and Shanahan Research, in a 1986 study of young people's attitudes to helmet wearing, found that they "believe that approved helmets would save their heads and lives in the event of a serious accident (with a bus or truck)." Such a belief has been made worse by the advertising campaign.
An exploratory study of high school students' reactions to bicycle helmets

This confidence factor also applies to car drivers. A British study found that car drivers tend to drive closer to riders with helmets than those without.
Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender.

Cyclist's confidence was mistaken, as the advertising did not mention that helmets are only designed for impacts below 20 km/h.

This highlights another factor that increases risks. It is the loss of personal responsibility arising from the "nanny state" approach to safety. When people are told what to do, they tend to think less for themselves. Persuaded by the advertising campaign, many people assume that, because you put on your helmet, you are safe.

In counties like ours where the bike infrastructure is limited, accident avoidance is at least as important as accident protection. A rider not lulled into a false sense of security is less likely to wear dark clothing. A cautious rider will use a rear vision mirror, monitoring what's coming up behind. Helmets suppress the accident avoidance mindset, increasing the risk of accidents.

There is also the “safety in numbers” factor. This is something you might have observed as a car driver. When there are fewer cyclists on roads, you tend to be less aware of them than when there are many. As the number of cyclists decreases, the number or injuries per cyclist increases. A number of studies have confirmed this.
Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling. Injury Prevention
As the introduction of the compulsory helmet law caused cycling to drop by about 40% for children, it increased the risks of cycling for the remaining cyclists.

cyclist123 said...

Helmets can, in theory, protect you in a low-speed crash. As somebody mentioned on this discussion, they are designed to protect you “When you fly over the handlebar and land over your head. As you should know, this is a very common type of accident on a bicycle.”

This is a common misconception. Accident research reports that the most common way to get killed on a bicycle is to get hit by a vehicle from behind. 86% of bicycle fatalities are collisions with motor vehicles. The speed at which these occurs is beyond what the helmet was designed for. Unfortunately, helmet or no helmet, you are in serious trouble.

The type of accidents for which helmets are designed for represent only a minority of the serious type of bicycle accidents encountered in Australia. When they are most needed, they are ineffective.

The advertising made people believe that they are ‘safe’ with a helmet. Yet it did not tell them helmets were ineffective in the most common type of serious accident. What about the riders who believe they are ‘safe’ with a helmet, and start riding in conditions they wouldn’t have ridden before, then get injured or killed in a collision with a vehicle? Isn't the deceptive advertising partly responsible for this? Has it really improved safety?

cyclist123 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cyclist123 said...

Could the false sense of safety provided by helmets be more harmful than the protection provided by helmets?

Let's have a look at the evidence, starting with the Australian govt own research reports.
The govt released a study in 1997, aimed at assessing whether helmets had made cycling safer.  It compared injuries the period before (1986-1989) and the period after (1993-1996) the helmet law was introduced.  It reported that cyclist injuries had decreased by 10% relative to other road injuries.  However, It failed to take into account the drop in cycling usage.  Adjusted for lower cycling usage, injuries per cyclist INCREASED.
Helmet wearing and cycling safety

The govt released a report on bicycle deaths in 2006.
After the law was introduced, from 1993 until 1996, cyclist deaths INCREASED over the 4 years.
Deaths of cyclists due to road crashes

This should have been no surprise to the govt, as a comprehensive study by Rodgers was released in 1988.  This was the largest ever cycling casualty study involving over 8 million cases of injury and death to cyclists over 15 years in the USA. He concluded as follows: "There is no evidence that hard shell helmets have reduced the head injury and fatality rates. The most surprising finding is that the bicycle-related fatality rate is positively and significantly correlated with increased helmet use."
Rodgers, G.B., Reducing bicycle accidents: a reevaluation of the impacts of the CPSC bicycle standard and helmet use, Journal of Products Liability, 11, pp. 307-317, 1988

Several independent, non-govt studies have also reported an INCREASE in cyclist injuries after the compulsory helmet law.  
Here is a study made in Western Australia.  It reports that hospital cyclists admissions INCREASED after 1992 despite a drop in the number of cyclists.
Mandatory bicycle helmet law in Western Australia
Here is an article published in the Canberra Times in 1998.  It reported an INCREASE in cyclist injuries in NSW and ACT
Canberra Times article
Here is an Australia-wide study.  It concluded that "risks per cyclist seem to have increased, compared to what would have been expected without the law, implying that helmet laws are counter-productive"
Head Injuries and Helmet Laws in Australia and New Zealand

Far from the claim that helmets would reduce injuries, the compulsory helmet law has resulted in an INCREASE in bicycle injuries in Australia

Paul said...

So why doesn't the Australian government revert its mandatory helmet law if it hasn't worked?

cyclist123 said...

Good question. The answer is to be found in the strange history of this law.

Following on the safety benefits of motorcycle helmets, an assumption emerged that helmets might also be beneficial for cyclists.  Despite a lack of scientific evidence, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Road Safety recommended in 1978 that "cyclists be advised of the safety benefits of protective helmets and the possibility of requiring cyclists to wear helmets be kept under review".

Why such confidence despite a lack of evidence?  Helmets have a track record of improving safety, so few people doubt that helmets would improve safety.  By definition, a helmet is a "protective device".  It seems impossible that helmets may not improve safety, even minimally.

However, today's bicycle helmets, which have a soft shell and a thin layer of polystyrene, are very different from motorcycle helmets, which have a hard shell and are very strong. Bicycle helmets are only designed for low-speed impacts below 20 km/h.  Calling both a 'helmet' is misleading, as it gives people the impression that a bicycle helmet provides a similar level of protection.  In reality, bicycle 'helmets' don't provide adequate protection in an accident with a motor vehicle.

Had bicycle helmets been called 'polystyrene hats' from the start, there would have been less confusion about the level of protection they provide.  History might have turned out differently.  Unfortunately, giving a product a misleading name can have dramatic consequences.

It is likely that most helmet proponents have started with an assumption that bicycle helmets provide a level of protection greater than they actually do. This has created an initial bias that is difficult to counter and still creates confusion.  The misleading bias also makes it difficult to have a rational debate.

cyclist123 said...

In 1985, a federal parliament committee was set up to "review the benefits of bicycle helmet wearing ... and unless there are persuasive arguments to the contrary introduce compulsory wearing of helmets by cyclists on roads and other public places".  Its mandate was biased from the start, with an assumption that compulsory wearing of helmets was needed.  Before it has reviewed all the evidence, the committee expressed its belief that "that all cyclists should wear a helmet to increase cycling safety both on and off the roads".

Standing Committee on Transport Safety. Statement in Hearing of Evidence. Canberra (AUST): House of Representatives, Parliament of Australia; 1985 June 4

That is quite unusual for a committee who is supposed to review the evidence in a neutral manner to openly announce its bias early.  Perhaps because of the misleading safety connotations associated with the word 'helmet', people did not think it was a problem.  Few people questioned that something called a helmet may not improve safety. There seemed to be no need for scientific evidence.

The strongest research the committee found to support its belief was a study by Dr Dorsch in 1985 that claimed that helmets reduced the risk of head injury by 19 times.  In its evidence to the committee, Dr Dorsch said "That was a hypothetical procedure. ... it was based largely on an adult group of cyclists and because we went through a rather hypothetical statistical procedure to arrive at those numbers, I think one would have to be very careful in generalising those findings perhaps to very young bicyclists. ... one has to be very careful in making estimates of how effective universal bicycle helmet usage would be in reducing deaths and serious injuries. In our paper we did, sure, put estimates on it but as a very hypothetical procedure. I was a bit distressed by some of the reports I had seen that suggested that 75 per cent of deaths could be prevented by everyone wearing very good, hard helmets."

cyclist123 said...

One significant body of research was overlooked.  There are two types of brain injury:
1. A direct hit to the skull, potentially damaging the skull.
2. A sharp movement that causes the head to rotate very quickly, causing internal damage to the head.  This is called angular acceleration.  It is the cause of the most common type of brain injury.
Most head impacts from bicycle accidents generally are at an angle. Bicycle helmets can reduce the impact of a direct hit, but cannot help reduce angular acceleration.  Australian research in 1987 showed that the added mass of a helmet may actually INCREASE angular acceleration.
Further research was required to find out which effect was prevailing, to make sure that the negative effect on angular acceleration did not cancel the benefits from protection on direct hits. The committee did not seek further research into this area.
Motorcycle and bicycle protective helmets requirements resulting from a post crash study and experimental research

The Victorian Government's submission to the committee said "The incidence of bicycle helmet use has not yet reached a sufficiently high level anywhere in the world for a scientific examination of helmet effectiveness in injury reduction to be undertaken."
Submission by the Government of Victoria to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport Safety: motorcycle and bicycle helmet safety inquiry, 1985

Despite all this, the committee recommended compulsory helmet wearing.  In 1989, the Federal govt imposed compulsory helmet wearing claiming "overwhelming evidence" it would improve safety.

Paul said...

So what?

cyclist123 said...

Once the government became committed to introducing a compulsory helmet law, it had to find a way to make it work.
There are two types of bicycle helmets:
1. Hard shell.  Theses are the helmets used by BMX riders for example.  They can provide good protection.
2. Soft shell.  Theses are the helmets most cyclist have today.  They provide limited protection at speeds below 20 km/h.  They are essentially polystyrene hats

The govt chose the soft helmet as the Australian standard.  Why?  Because it felt it was more politically acceptable to compel people to wear a lighter & ventilated helmet.

What is ironic about this choice was that the strongest piece of evidence supporting compulsory helmets was research on hard shell helmets.  It was not relevant to soft shell helmets.  Research has also reported that, unlike hard shell helmets which slide, soft shell helmets tend to drag on the road and increase angular acceleration, increasing the risk of brain damage.
Andersson, T., Larsson, P. and Sandberg, U., Chin strap forces in bicycle helmets, Swedish National Testing and Research Institute, Materials & Mechanics, SP report 1993:42

This highlights a lack of due diligence and discipline in this process.  Because of this, cyclists have been forced to wear polystyrene hats labeled 'helmets', providing a false sense of safety.

This marks a shift of focus of the govt policy from "Let's make cycling safer" to "Let's make sure every cyclist wears a helmet".  The govt did not seem to realise that theses two objectives may not be aligned.

Helmet wearing rates became the primary focus of road safety authorities.  They measured helmet wearing compliance, but did not put in place any comprehensive measurement of the claimed safety benefits.  The revelation of a decline in cycling usage was actually discovered as a side-effect of measuring helmet wearing compliance.  Much of the govt research seems to have a narrow focus of "proving" that helmets can reduce head injuries rather than answer real life safety issues like "has the number of accidents and injuries decreased".

cyclist123 said...

Despite the law and the risk of a fine, many cyclists still refused to wear a helmet.  They did not seem convinced that helmets would significantly improve their safety.

This should have been no surprise to the govt.  People have been cycling for decades.  Cycling is a relatively safe activity.  Statistically, one can expect a severe head injury from cycling once every 8,000 years of average cycling.  Cyclists have the same risk of head injury from traffic accidents as pedestrians.   In Australia, 5 times as many child pedestrians die after road crashes than child cyclists.
Wardlaw M. British Medical Journal 2000;321(7276):1582 (23 December), doi:10.1136/bmj.321.7276.1582
Key facts about injury when cycling in perspective

A compulsory helmet law for motorists would save 17 times as many lives as a cycle helmet law. One does wonder why it is so essential for authorities to force cyclists to wear helmets, and why we don't force pedestrians and car drivers to wear helmets as well.  This policy discriminates unfairly against cyclists.  It is not rational.  Could it be that the policy is mainly about pretending to be proactive about safety? 

The govt faced a difficult task of convincing people that cycling was dangerous, even though it wasn't any more dangerous than crossing the street.  All over the world, people are able to cycle safely.  Why would Australia be different?  Fear, being the most powerful motivator, was used to deceive people.  The trick was to convince people that it wasn't possible to ride a bicycle without hitting your head sooner or later, and the only way to be safe was to wear a helmet.

The govt staged a heavy advertising campaign to change people's perceptions that cycling is safe.  Loaded slogans like "Where's your helmet? ... Don't you realise you will hit your head?" were used relentlessly.  Riding without a helmet was associated with being careless.  People were encouraged to challenge or ostracise cyclists who dared to ride without a helmet, claiming they were "irresponsible members of society" as someone in this discussion claimed.  As they were discriminating against a minority, many people did not mind complying.  For some, it became a fanatical hunt for un-helmeted cyclists.

There were powerful emotional testimonies from people claiming that "my helmet saved my life".  It was exaggerated and unscientific, but it worked in convincing people that they suddenly needed a helmet when cycling.  Various emotional and exaggerated "testimonies" made you believe it was impossible to ride a bicycle without landing on your head.  Authorities, including the police and various people presented as "safety experts", appeared on TV to tell you what you NEED to wear a helmet when cycling, cycling is too dangerous without one.

The relentless propaganda that cycling is unsafe unless you are wearing a helmet subdued more and more people over time.  However, today many cyclists still don't wear a helmet, perhaps because recent migrants have not been affected by the propaganda of the 1990's.

cyclist123 said...

The propaganda on helmets had an unexpected side effect.  The fanaticism encouraged by the campaign has unleashed a number of helmet zealots who felt it was their mission to force every cyclist to wear a helmet.  They react angrily and attack aggressively anybody who dares to challenge their belief.  This fear-driven fanaticism has reached ridiculous proportions compared to helmets negligible safety benefits.  

Many people have been so deceived by the govt propaganda that they are unable to even consider the thought that helmets may not have improved safety.

The propaganda on helmets was a turning point, but not because it had made cycling safer.  It was because the govt felt it could not back down after such a highly visible public campaign.  Its position became entrenched and unyielding.

This made cycling safety a political issue.  Anyone who did not stick to the official mantra that "cycling safety = helmets" was unwelcome and ignored by govt officials.  Many researchers have presented their findings to the govt since the mid 1990's, questioning the safety benefits of the helmet law. They have been treated with an unusual disrespect.  The attitude seems to be: "go away, we don't want to hear this".

cyclist123 said...

Some of the govt's own research reports started to lack scientific discipline.  Despite what the data was suggesting, the "research" found a way to conclude that helmets had improved safety.  Some reports even produced conclusions contradicting the underlying data.  In 1994, the Federal Office of Road Safety (FORS) claimed that adult cycling usage INCREASED as a result of helmet laws in Australia.  This was rebutted by independent researchers, as the underlying data did not support this claim.  In 1997, a study aimed at assessing whether helmets had made cycling safer ignored the drop in cycling usage.  It claimed that injuries has decreased, although they actually increased relative to the number of cyclists.  
FORS. Submission by the Federal Office of Road Safety on mandatory helmet wearing of bicycle riders to Select Committee on Road Safety, Parliament of Western Australia. January 1994.
Helmet wearing and cycling safety

In 2000, a study by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) deplored that "many cyclists continue to ride without head protection", and claimed "overwhelming evidence in support of helmets for preventing head injury and fatal injury."  This claim was rebutted in 2003 by an independent researcher who pointed that the study did not consider relevant scientific knowledge of mechanism of brain injury.  ATSB ignored the rebuttal.  Debate on this issue continued through 2006 in Accident Analysis & Prevention.  ATSB still refused to engage in a debate on this issue.  Yet ATSB advised a meeting of transport ministers on 13 October 2006 that bicycle helmets substantially reduce the risk of brain injury for cyclists and it advocated increased use of them.
Bicycle helmets and injury prevention: A formal review
The efficacy of bicycle helmets against brain injury.
Bicycle helmets and public health in Australia 

It seems that the govt feels stuck in its own position.  It is doing its best to hide the evidence and silence the independent researchers, hoping that this flawed policy will go unnoticed by a public hoodwinked about the benefits of polystyrene hats.

Meanwhile the costs of the negative side-effects of this policy are rising rapidly, making the govt position increasingly untenable. The cost of obesity alone already stands at 58 BILLIONS per year.
Girth by sea: obesity costs Australia $58 billion a year

cyclist123 said...

In summary, the introduction of the compulsory helmet law was initially well-intentioned, but its implementation lacked care & due diligence. This has led to a series of unfortunate steps that have escalated into the current situation.

Here were the key steps:
1. Calling a polystyrene hat a 'helmet', misleading people into believing it provides an adequate level of protection.
2. Failure to set up an independent and objective inquiry into the risks & benefits of helmets.
3. A lack of scientific discipline in assessing the risks & benefits of helmets.
4. An irrational (political ?) decision to force cyclists to wear helmets, discriminating unfairly against cyclists.
5. An obsession with making helmets compulsory at the expense of safety.
6. A highly visible propaganda campaign to deceive people into believing that cycling is not safe unless you wear a helmet.
7. A govt entrenched in its position, stuck in defensive mode.
8. A govt ignoring independent researchers reporting the failure of this policy.
9. Govt agencies producing flawed or biased “research”.
10. Rapidly rising obesity levels and health costs failing to raise the alarm on the increasing costs of this policy.

Consider this: had the govt spent its focus and money into bicycle infrastructure instead, we would have by now an improvement in safety and more cycling, instead of more cycling injuries and less cycling.

Any suggestions on how to get out of this dead end situation would be welcome.

Paul said...

Thanks for that cyclist123.

It's a valuable lesson for other countries.