Category Archives: Media

Calls for more of the same failed policy after increase in cycling injuries

A recent increase in cycling injuries in Western Australia has resulted in the typical calls for “more helmets” as if it was the solution to cycling safety:

One-fifth of cyclists who have been treated over the past four years were not wearing a helmet. 

In Western Australia, more than 30% of cyclists are not wearing helmets. If only 20% of injured cyclists are not wearing helmets, then cyclists without helmets are less at risk of injury that cyclists with helmets.

How are more helmets going to make cycling safer?

Many Australians have been led to believe that mandatory helmets makes cycling safer.

Does it?

In Western Australia, There were 1,244 cyclists hospital admissions in 2011/2012 compared to 640 in 1985/1986, before the helmet law. This is despite 30% fewer cyclists who cycled daily.
The helmet law has:

  1. Reduced cycling
  2. Increased injuries

Since the helmet law, the rate of cycling hospitalisation has tripled. wa_cycling_hospitalisations_2

A similar outcome was found in New South Wales, Australia. cycling_inury_rate_following_helmet_law_2

Why call for more of the same failed policy?

Mandatory helmets have become the standard solution for cycling safety in Australia. Even though the policy hasn’t worked, many people can think of little else. Decades of helmet propaganda have made people switch to automatic responses.

This can be seen in this road safety strategy. Unimaginative bureaucrats can think of nothing better than this to improve cycling safety:

“Develop educational communications to target bicycle riders to increase the use of helmets”

When will we start asking better questions?

Why has the injury rate tripled since the helmet law?

Why are cycling serious injuries in Australia 22 TIMES higher than in the the Netherlands?

serious_injury_per_100m_km_cycled

Why have cycling accidents increased since the helmet law?

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A funny parody of a fearmongering helmet ad

Listen to this.

Contrast it to the original ad.

A bicycle activist has created an amusing parody of a fearmongering ad commissioned by a government agency to promote bicycle helmets.

The ad makes this extraordinary claim:

“Don’t think that little ride to the shops warrants wearing [a helmet]? Well I’ve got news for you. Even on a short ride you can have a big fall and you can suffer a MAJOR brain injury

This is misleading nonsense for two reasons:

  1. The chance of getting a major brain injury while cycling gently to the shops is less than when crossing the street as a pedestrian. To tell cyclists they have been singled out to wear a helmet when their risk of head injury is lower than others makes no sense.
  2. It is suggested that wearing a helmet would prevent a severe brain injury. That is not true. Bicycle helmets are not capable of doing that. On the contrary, they are known to increase the risk of brain injury. It is ludicrous to use brain injury scare tactics to push people towards the “safety” of polystyrene helmets that are known to increase the risk of brain injury.

This ad misleads people by reinforcing two myths:

  1. Cycling is dangerous
  2. Wearing a polystyrene hat makes cycling “safe”

These myths have been refuted many times, like here for example:

  1. Cycling is safer than netball.
  2. Bicycle helmets increase the risk of accidents and injury.

The core message people retain from such ads is that “cycling is dangerous”.  Helmet promotions like this one are known to scare people off cycling. This turns people away from a safe, gentle and healthy mode of transport.

This “message” was commissioned by “road safety” bureaucrats who are very generous with taxpayer’s money to fund propaganda. How can it be money well spent to tell people that cycling is dangerous when other bureaucrats from the health department are spending taxpayer’s money to encourage cycling?

HelmetFreedom has put together an analysis of this misleading ad.

HelmetFreedom has also some sample letters you can use to write to your MP, so that we can put an end such waste of our money.

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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. 

blank

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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Calls to repeal the helmet law in New Zealand

Cycling Health New Zealand

This site is interesting as it presents a broad range of common-sense arguments, taking the perspective of public health. This is broader than the narrow perspective that helmet zealots insists on, claiming that their exaggerated estimates of helmets effectiveness is all that matters, while ignoring the increase in accidents and injuries, and the decrease in public health from discouraging cycling.

Some New Zealand politicians have privately admitted that the helmet law is a failure, and that they wouldn’t mind if it fell quietly into oblivion.

This article highlights how the debate has reached the mainstream media in New Zealand, following research  published by Colin Clarke in the New Zealand Medical Journal in 2012.

It is an interesting approach to increase awareness of the harm done by the helmet law. The loss of health benefits from the reduction in cycling contributed to 53 premature deaths per year. This undermines the helmet believers classical emotional argument: “if it only saves one life”. Despite being unproven, it still fools people.

One cyclist association, the Cycling Advocates’ Network has denounced the helmet law as a failed experiment doing more harm than good, calling for an independent review.

The New Zealand government seems a little bit open minded. They are honest about the limited capabilities of “helmets”, but still don’t acknowledge the harm that the helmet law has done to cycling levels and cycling injuries.

Many comments below the article highlights that many people are aware of that the law has been counterproductive. Some comments suggest that the helmet law is not strictly enforced.

This research is also reported in this article, that mentions an earlier research done last year by the Transport and Health Study group, an independent British society of public health and transport practitioners and researchers.  It is called Health on the Move 2, a book aimed to be “a clear and comprehensive account of what would constitute a healthy transport system.

This is not primarily about cycling. This group of researchers cannot be labeled “anti-helmet”, as some people like to denigrate those who dare to question their beliefs.

The section on cycling can be found here. It is a summary of the recent research on helmets and the helmet law. The report is written in a neutral tone, yet you can sense the frustration of the researchers here:

The failure of mass helmet use to affect serious head injuries, be it in falls or collisions, has been ignored by the medical world, by civil servants, by the media, and by cyclists themselves. A collective willingness to believe appears to explain why the population-level studies are so little appreciated. …. 

The disconnect between received wisdom and the facts is stark.

These are strong words for a group of researchers for whom cycling is not the core focus. It is no surprise to those who have been trying to get helmet zealots to pull their heads out of the sand. It can be frustrating to get people to admit that their cherished beliefs could be wrong, and that they made a mistake, especially when they have no incentive to do so.

It is positive to see such articles in the mainstream media. It shows that the media is starting to pay attention to what is really going on, rather than to pander to common prejudices. New Zealand may not be far from repealing this counterproductive law.

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Help restore cycling as a mode of transport

Cycling in Australia has significantly declined since the helmet law was imposed 20 years ago. Most casual cycling has disappeared. Fear, superstition, and ignorance, fueled by fearmongering campaigns like this one have scared most people off cycling.

Many people have had enough of a counterproductive policy whose main result has been to reduce cycling, at the detriment of  health & the environment.  A new movement called Freestyle Cyclists has been launched, with the aim of reforming this counterproductive helmet law.

You can join the movement and register your support at Freestyle Cyclists.

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First Ad to repeal the helmet law

An Australian cyclist has made the first ad to repeal the bicycle helmet law, after being inspired by the level of utility cycling among all ages in a trip in Italy.   The ad was even available in the mainstream media, not often that australian media shows an ad for free!

The ad invites people to take action through HelmetFreedom.

It has attracted a bit of attention from the media, here and here.

The QLD government felt the need to reply to it , quoting misleading claims made by a “study” it commissioned, even though it had been rebutted here and here.

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