Study reveals increased accidents and injuries after helmet law

Abstract

The injury rate has tripled since the helmet law.
By increasing the risk of accidents, helmets have made cycling more dangerous. 

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A recent study reveals a steady increase in cycling injuries after the helmet law. Between 1991 and 2000, arm injuries doubled (indicating a doubling in accidents), while head injuries increased by 40%.

cycling_injuries_following_helmet_law

A 1996 cycling survey in Sydney revealed that cycling counts were 48% below 1991. According to the census, cycling in Sydney slightly decreased between 1996 and 2001.

sydney_cycling_counts

This indicates that the risk of accidents more than tripled, consistent with other studies.

The study reports a reduction in head injuries since 2006. This coincides to a resurgence in cycling, with many of the new cyclists not wearing helmets. Head injury rates decreased while fewer cyclists wore helmets. Oblivious to this, the study attributes the reduction in injuries to spending on cycling infrastructure that occurred mostly in Sydney after 2009.

Oddly, this study was used as the basis of a newspaper article defending the helmet law. The usual scaremongering tactics are there, suggesting that helmets protect against serious brain injuries, even though they are not designed to do so. The propaganda did not fool many people though, as the comments below the article highlight.

Despite the large increase in head injuries while cycling almost halved, the study claims:

the benefit of MHL to lowering head injuries

Oddly, the study fails to mention the reduction in cycling.

What’s going on?

It is odd for a study to ignore the increase in accidents and injuries, and the decrease in cycling after the helmet law. The rise in injuries is obvious from the main graph in the study. This blindness to negative side-effects of the helmet law is similar to another study affected by confirmation bias.

This study was funded by a government who, struggling to justify its counterproductive policy, is funding more “studies” to defend it. This trend was reported here.

This did not fool a UK reporter:

As the fallout from Australia’s failed bike sharing schemes continues, it seems we haven’t seen the last of government-funded research showing that helmet laws are great actually, thanks very much.

The authors, Olivier, Walter and Grzebieta, previously published a paper in 2011 claiming to “end the debate about the effectiveness of cycle helmet legislation”, but which was severely criticised by fellow boffins

the government of NSW has commissioned research which (surprise!) finds the effect of their helmet law is massive and sustained, ignoring the uncomfortable fact that helmet wearing rates have actually fallen back significantly without any accompanying jump in head injuries.
The authors fail to consider long-term trends in admission protocol when comparing arm:head injury admissions over two decades. They also include all types of minor flesh wounds, bruising etc. which you would certainly hope would be prevented by helmet use, rather than looking at a reduction of critical injury / death which is what public health policy should be worrying about, when the alternative is serious sedentary disease.
It’s generated some nice headlines and superficial reinforcement for the helmet law (which is probably what the government were really trying to commission), but this is far from the conclusive study that is being spun in the media.
Opposition to helmet legislation in Australia continues to grow and academics on the other side of the fence are unlikely to struggle to dismiss the conclusions of this paper.

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