Fighting a helmet fine in the Victorian courts


In March 2013, Alan Todd, a steadfast advocate for  Freestyle Cyclists, boldly took on the challenge of contesting a helmet fine in the Australian state of Victoria. His unwavering commitment to this cause led to a surprising outcome – he was granted a good behavior bond. The following account presents his firsthand perspective on the remarkable events that unfolded during this landmark case.


On the 7th of June last year I was stopped by the police in my home town of Kyneton (population 5000), and asked why I wasn’t wearing a bicycle helmet. I had been expecting this for some time, as I never wear a helmet while cycling, so I was quite well prepared. We had a polite conversation, lasting twenty minutes. I explained why I believed wearing a helmet put me at more risk of accident, injury or even death, than not wearing a helmet, and pointed out that only two other countries in the world would consider it wrong of me to make this choice. I think the sergeant had some understanding of where I was coming from, but, like most Australians, is emotionally attached to the paradigm of cycling as a dangerous activity, with helmets offering an effective protection from a clear and present danger. He indicated that if I had a medical condition, or a letter from my doctor, that would be ok, but felt unable to issue me with a warning, as I clearly had intended to break the law.

About six weeks later I got an infringement notice in the post. My choices with this were to ignore it (unwise), to pay the fine of $176, or to ask to have the matter heard at the Magistrate’s Court. I chose the last option, and on the form indicated that I intended to plead not guilty. In due course I received a summons in the mail, to appear at the Kyneton Magistrate’s Court for a mention on the 3rd of December.

Court was due to start at 9.30, so I began at 9.00 by reporting to the registrar, and indicating a plea of not guilty. I was instructed to enter the court and talk to the police prosecutor. He was somewhat surprised that I intended to plead not guilty, as I agreed that I had not been wearing a helmet. I think he would have liked to talk me into changing my plea, but I was firm in saying no. Once I explained how I intended the defence to go, he said that there didn’t seem any point of likely agreement with the prosecution, so we would proceed to a contested hearing without a conference.

I was then sent back to the registrar to arrange a date, which involved an hour’s wait including some interesting free advice from a lawyer who was around for other business, but seemed to spot me as an “interesting case”. After reading through my notes on the Victorian Charter of Rights and Responsibilities he said “just give it a go. You won’t win, but why not have a crack”.

Once the date was made, I was instructed to go back to the court, and wait to be called up by the magistrate. I spent the rest of the morning witnessing the sorry procession before the magistrate of excessive speeding, breached intervention orders and use and supply of cannabis and ice. Called up just before lunch, the magistrate stated the charge, and indicated that we had agreed to a contested hearing. The police prosecutor said that I didn’t dispute the facts, but was to depend on a legal argument involving what he called the Human Rights Charter. I think the magistrate was a bit put out by this (perhaps expecting the sort of vague “its against my human rights” claim), so she asked how I intended to do this. I clarified that it was the Victorian Charter I intended to use, and quoted the specific sections and subsections of the Charter I intended to rely on. This seemed to go down well.

There were two police witnesses to the original infringement, and I was asked if I would require both to attend. I said no, that one would be fine, but requested that I be given a copy of their witness statement, which was agreed. A date was set – 8/3/2013 – with a contested hearing set down for two hours.

Before I left, the prosecutor gave me a card with email for the Central Victoria Prosecutions Case Conference Manager, requesting that I contact them and ask to have the charge withdrawn, having regard to my defence. I asked if it was likely to be dropped, and he said no, but that it couldn’t be dropped if I didn’t make a formal request. (I did subsequently contact them with the request as instructed. The reply came back that they would not be dropping the charge, but would proceed to prosecution on the 8th of March)

I had plenty of time to prepare my case. I had always meant to try and base a defence on the Victorian Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, with a view to securing a finding of not guilty. This seemed to me more worthwhile than pleading guilty, and then entering a plea in mitigation, with a request that no conviction be recorded or penalty imposed. As I did my homework however it became increasingly clear to me that my legal argument most likely couldn’t carry the day. However, in the spirit of “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, I prepared a fairly detailed written submission, with accompanying published evidence on the (lack of) efficacy of helmets. The court was never going to enter into discussion of whether I was right in my beliefs or not (that is not their role), however it seemed important to my case to present evidence to demonstrate that my beliefs were based on sound research, and not just “made up after the event” to avoid paying a fine.

On the morning of my hearing, I presented myself to the clerk of courts as required. He indicated that I would probably be heard in about fifteen minutes, as there was only one procedural matter to be heard before my case. I had informal conversation with both the police prosecutor and the police informant (the sergeant who issued the original penalty notice) as to how the case would be run. There was no sense of hostility from any of us,which was good.

Once we were called to the front to conduct the hearing, the magistrate started by seeking a bit of an outline from both parties on what the matters for contention might be. This was relatively informal, though still quite serious.

I explained my case, which was basically that I held a reasonable belief that riding with a helmet on put me at greater risk of injury and death than riding without a helmet (published material supporting this was documented and made available), that I held this belief at the time of the offence, and that I would be derelict in my duty of care to myself if, armed with this knowledge, I had ridden a bicycle while wearing a helmet.

I explained to the magistrate that, even though I acknowledged that the offence was a strict liability offence and there was no onus of proof on the prosecution to demonstrate “a guilty mind”, I still found myself unable to plead guilty as I could not honestly feel that I had done wrong. I also reaffirmed my intention (previously made clear to the prosecution before the hearing) to rely on the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. The argument was that it was open to the court to interpret or “read up” road rule rule 256 which allowed it to be read in a way consistent with my right to hold and demonstrate in public practice a belief (that wearing a helmet puts me at greater risk of accident, injury and death than not wearing a helmet.). I presented the magistrate and the prosecution with my written submission.

Even before getting to court, I was pretty well aware that this was a very thin argument, and likely couldn’t be upheld by a court. Despite its grand title, the Charter doesn’t offer much in the way of protections that don’t exist through other legal avenues, and it certainly was not designed to in any way invalidate existing legislation. Basically, if the State wanted to enact legislation requiring anyone pushing a pram in a public place to wear a pink tee shirt, they could, and the Charter would offer no protection to someone hauled before the courts charged with pushing a pram in a public place while not wearing a pink tee shirt. Both the police prosecutor (privately after the hearing) and a barrister I spoke with informally before the hearing said much the same thing, that the Charter was little more than a political stunt.

The prosecution had done their homework, and were onto this from the start. The magistrate asked me how I proposed to deal with this obstacle, (his words to me were “you’ve got a bit of an uphill push with your barrow”). I drew his attention to my written submission, where I had acknowledge potential problems with section 32 of the Charter, and had attempted to fudge my way around this. He did take the time to read my submission – throughout he was courteous and considerate. He then told me that there was no prospect of his being able to return a verdict of “not guilty” based on my legal argument. He suggested that I could proceed with my case and plea, and if unhappy with the inevitable outcome, I would have the option of appealing the legal matters to the Supreme Court.

At this stage we more or less had a conversation (not too much “your honour” and standing up and sitting down). I knew that even if I did successfully appeal a guilty verdict to the Supreme Court, the best that I could get there would be to obtain a judgement that regulation 256 was incompatible with specific human rights. This finding would then have to be presented to the Victorian parliament, with a requirement that the appropriate minister respond within a given time. There would be no requirement that the minister review the regulation, only that they respond. Knowing their form on this issue, I would guarantee that the response would be “justifiable limit to human rights given the evidence of safety benefits etc. etc. etc.”

Consequently, I suggested changing my plea to “guilty”, to which the magistrate said he could offer me a good behaviour bond. And that is how it was settled. I have signed an undertaking to be “of good behaviour” for three months. After that time, assuming I honour the undertaking, the proceeding will be closed, with no conviction recorded and no penalty imposed. The only better result, with a plea or finding of guilty, would have been an unconditional discharge.

I have to acknowledge that the police prosecutor behaved in a constructive manner – he volunteered the information that I had, at the time of the offence, presented the police informant with documentation and arguments in support of my beliefs about helmets. This meant that there was no doubt in the magistrate’s mind that I had acted in good faith.

The magistrate himself turned out to be a bit of a weekend road warrior, and told me (why does this always come up with Australian recreational cyclists?) that he had broken or damaged at least three helmets in spills on his bike. I replied that that was interesting, as I had, myself, never come off my bike as an adult, which I think surprised him. No formal discussion of helmets or their effectiveness was entered into throughout the brief hearing.

I’m not quite sure what constitutes a breach of good behaviour, but to be on the safe side I’d better not speed, slip through stop signs, drink and drive or ride my bike without a helmet at least until the 10th of June. After that, the next time I am in court for failing to wear a helmet, there will be no consideration of “prior” offences, as there will be no record of conviction.

And that is how I deal with the overwhelming stupidity of being told what I can and cannot wear whilst going to the shops on my bicycle.

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Challenging a helmet fine through the courts


The defense of necessity provides a legal avenue for individuals to bypass certain laws when doing so is crucial to prevent even graver consequences. The evidence suggests that bicycle helmets, in some cases, heighten the risk of accidents and can lead to brain injuries. To avert such dire consequences, cyclists are empowered to make the choice to temporarily set aside the helmet law in the interest of their own safety. This approach aligns with the fundamental principle that one’s well-being should never be compromised in the face of well-intentioned regulations.


Sue Abbott challenged a helmet fine in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. She argued that wearing a helmet was more dangerous than not wearing one. District Court Judge Ellis concluded:

“Having read all the material, … I frankly don’t think there is anything advantageous and there may well be a disadvantage in situations to have a helmet  and it seems to me that it’s one of those areas where it ought to be a matter of choice.”

The defence of necessity states that people can break a law to avoid even more dire consequencesThe test has 3 parts:

1.  You must have an honest belief that complying with the law puts you at increased risk of injury

For example:
2. It was necessary to do the activity that led to the breach (ie., to cycle)

This is a personal issue. For example combining regular exercise with transport is necessary to stay in good health.

3.  You must show that no harm was caused by breaking the law.

No harm was caused from riding on that specific occasion. Cycling provides health benefits while reducing traffic congestion and pollution. Wearing a hat instead of a helmet reduces the risk of skin cancer.

More details from Sue Abbott court case.

Sue Abbott has challenged other helmet fines for herself and for her daughter.

Others have challenged helmet fines, like Dan. His defence ends with the following observation:

“Finally, I will leave it to your Honour to ponder the following absurdity. Riding a bicycle without a helmet is activity that delivers health benefits to the individual, reduces the healthcare tax burden on society, delivers economic benefits in terms of reduced road congestion, reduces the risks to other road users and benefits both the local and the wider environment. It is safe, has no appreciable negative consequences, and is considered entirely normal everywhere in the world where bicycle use is widespread. Yet this safe, fun, and beneficial activity is considered a criminal offence in New South Wales.”

Dan challenged four helmet fines in another court case. The magistrate recognised the risk of brain injury from wearing a helmet. He let him off with a token fine. Sue Abbott described the trial. An extract from the verdict:
“[The magistrate] reviewed all the evidence presented, and basically accepted all of it as factually correct; he also made some comments about the bicycle helmet law not being ‘helpful’ …
It also highlighted the absurdity of the bicycle helmet law to the point where he was prepared to criticise it on the record.”
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Are bicycle helmets dangerous?




Helmets protect against minor skull injuries like bruises and lacerations.


  1. increase the risk of accidents
  2. increase the risk of neck injury
  3. increase the risk of brain injury
Wearing a helmet can make us feel safer.
However feeling safe is not the same as being safe


Some politicians claim “Helmets save lives“.

Is this true? CRAG has asked for evidence, but the government has been unable to provide any.

Even helmet salespeople do not make such claims. After being asked

Can your helmet save your life?“,

a helmet salesperson shrugged and laughed uncomfortably, before responding

Can it?” “Well, not save your life, no.

What is it that politicians know that helmet salespeople don’t?

What protection do helmets provide?

A bicycle helmet is a piece of polystyrene covered by a layer of plastic less than 1mm thick.
It can protect in a minor accident.  However, it is not designed to protect in a serious accident.

Bicycle helmets are a piece of styrofoam designed to protect in minor impacts:

“In cases of high impact, such as most crashes that involve a motor vehicle, the initial forces absorbed by a cycle helmet before breaking are only a small part of the total force and the protection provided by a helmet is likely to be minimal in this context. In cases where serious injury is likely, the impact energy potentials are commonly of a level that would overwhelm even Grand Prix motor racing helmets. Cycle helmets provide best protection in situations involving simple, low-speed falls with no other party involved. They are unlikely to offer adequate protection in life-threatening situations.“

In serious accidents, they tend to disintegrate on impact, absorbing little energy. This crumbling is what many people mistake the helmet for as having saved their life:

“The next time you see a broken helmet, suspend belief and do the most basic check – disregard the breakages and look to see if what’s left of the styrofoam has compressed. If it hasn’t, you can be reasonably sure that it hasn’t saved anyone’s life.“

Dr Carwyn Hooper from St George’s University in London reports:

“Looking at evidence, it does not matter if people are wearing a helmet or not, any serious accident on a bike is likely to kill them,”

Bicycle helmets protect against bruises and minor lacerations.
Yet, cycling injuries tripled after Australia introduced a helmet law.

The rate of cycling injuries tripled after Australia introduced a helmet law.

How can the widespread wearing of helmets increase the risk of injuries?

Although helmets protect, they can also increase the risk of accidents.

Increase risk of accidents

A false sense of safety can induce people to take more risks, leading to more accidents and more injuries. This is risk compensation, a well-known safety factor:

“the law of unintended consequences is extraordinarily applicable when talking about safety innovations. Sometimes things intended to make us safer may not make any improvement at all to our overall safety”

Risk compensation is the tendency to take more risks when wearing safety equipment.

Wearing a helmet can induce cyclists to take more risks. This can lead to permanent disability, as reported in the New York Times:

the rate of head injuries per active cyclist has increased 51 percent just as bicycle helmets have become widespread. …

the increased use of bike helmets may have had an unintended consequence: riders may feel an inflated sense of security and take more risks. …

The helmet he was wearing did not protect his neck; he was paralyzed from the neck down. …

”It didn’t cross my mind that this could happen,” said Philip, now 17.
”I definitely felt safe. I wouldn’t do something like that without a helmet.” ”

Safety experts recognise the role of risk compensation. From the New York Times article:

”People tend to engage in risky behavior when they are protected,” he said. ”It’s a ubiquitous human trait.”

Even cyclists who discount the daredevil effect admit that they may ride faster on more dangerous streets when they are wearing their helmets.

1989 study found that helmet wearers were 7 times more likely to have accidents.

Risk compensation also affects motorists who tend to be less careful around helmeted cyclists. As reported in a study published by the University of Bath in the UK:

“Bicyclists who wear protective helmets are more likely to be struck by passing vehicles”

Children are affected by risk compensation, as reported in Accident Analysis and Prevention :

“Results indicated that children went more quickly and behaved more recklessly when wearing safety gear than when not wearing gear, providing evidence of risk compensation.”

Helmets encourage people to ride faster, as reported by the Risk Analysis international journal:

“those who use helmets routinely perceive reduced risk when wearing a helmet, and compensate by cycling faster

The severity of injuries is much higher at higher speeds.

Many people believe that helmets protect against brain injury. Do they?

What causes brain injury?

In 1960, people believed that brain injury was due to linear acceleration, from the head hitting a wall for example. This belief has shaped the design of bicycle helmets.

Since, scientific research has shown that the main cause of brain injury is diffuse injury, caused by the head turning quickly. The skull may be intact, but there can severe internal brain injury. This article reports from a surgeon who operates on cyclists:

” “The ones with brain swelling, that’s diffuse axonal injury, and that’s bad news” …

the whole brain is shaken up, creating many little tears in its inner structure …

Such patients undergo personality change, can contract epilepsy and have difficulty controlling their anger. They might become unemployable. Depression is a common accompaniment to brain injury. Rosenfeld sees patients’ families shattered, too. “They’re never the same. It often leads to marriage disharmony and family breakdown.” …

Rosenfeld’s opinion is candid. “I don’t know if [helmets] do much to protect the inner part of the brain,” “

Helmets can increase brain injury, according to this research:

“The non-shell helmet did in all trials grab the asphalt surface, which rotated the head together with
the helmet. The consequences were in addition to the rotating of the head, a heavily bent and compressed neck, transmitted on through the whole test dummy body after the impact.  …

This gives an average angular acceleration of 20800 rad/s² for rotating the head from 0 to 0.26 rad during the 5 ms. Löwenhielm proposes 4500 rad/s² to be the maximum angular acceleration that can be tolerated for a limited time period”

Helmets amplified rotational acceleration to four times higher than the tolerable maximum.

On impact, the larger head volume amplifies rotational acceleration. A 3cm increase in helmet circumference increases rotational acceleration by 150%:

“the 3000rad/s² to 8500rad/s² measured during abrasive and projection oblique tests with size 54cm (E) helmeted headforms. However, for the most severe cases using a size 57cm (J) headform, rotational acceleration was typically greater than 10,000rad/s² and increased to levels of 20,000rad/s², a level at which a 35% – 50% risk of serious AIS3+ injuries is anticipated.”

The difference between a helmeted and non-helmeted head is about 20cm.

Increase risk of the head hitting the road

In the event of an accident, helmets increase the risk of the head hitting the road.  Helmets increase the volume/size of contact area of the head. Helmeted riders are more than twice as likely to hit their head in an accident, with more impacts to the sides. Post-crash studies found that most helmets show impacts to the side,where a bare head is protected by the shoulders.


Helmets increase volume of the head, doubling chance of the head hitting the road in an accident;
The larger volume also amplifies rotational acceleration, the main cause of brain injury.

A 1988 study reports that helmeted riders hit their heads seven times more often than un-helmeted riders.

Helmets are not suitable for children’s more deformable head

In 1987, the Federal Office of Road Safety published research on helmets. This research highlighted serious deficiencies with bicycle helmets:

The substantial elastic deformation of the child head that can occur during impact can result in quite extensive diffuse brain damage. It is quite apparent that the liner material in children’s bicycle helmets is far too stiff …

rotational accelerations were found to be 30% higher than those found in similar tests using a full face polymer motorcycle helmet. More work needs to be done in this area as there would seem to be a deficiency in rotational acceleration attenuation that may be the result of insufficient shell stiffness. 


Bicycle helmets helmets are designed for adult heads. They are too stiff for children more deformable heads. Despite this, helmets are promoted as “protecting” children, without appropriate warnings.

Helmets are associated with more severe brain injuries

New Zealand doctor reports:

“cycle helmets were turning what would have been focal head injuries, perhaps with an associated skull fracture, into much more debilitating global head injuries”

In Canada, the length of stay in hospital increased increased following helmet laws, from 4.3 days to 6.9 days. The number of serious head injury admissions increased by 46%.

Do helmets provide a net safety benefit?

Bicycle helmets are a safety trade-off. They protect the skull against bruises and lacerations. But they increase the risk of accidents and can increase brain injury.

Evidence provided in court suggests that helmets provide limited protection.:

“So in at least one case now, a High Court has decided that the balance of probability was, in the matter before the Court, that a cycle helmet would not have prevented the injuries sustained when the accident involved simply falling from a cycle onto a flat surface, with barely any forward momentum. …

the QC … repeatedly tried to persuade the neurosurgeons … to state that one must be more safe wearing a helmet than would be the case if one were not. All three refused to do so, claiming that they had seen severe brain damage and fatal injury both with and without cycle helmets

recent meta-analysis of helmets effectiveness reports reports no net beneficial effect. They do not protect against facial injuries, and increase neck injuries.

The belief that helmets can only improve safety may be a myth:

“Bicycle helmets might not protect cyclists much at all.  And, in fact, in some cases, they might actually be more dangerous than going lidless. …

head injuries had increased even though the use of helmets had skyrocketed throughout the 1990s.  The risk of injury per cyclist had gone up by 51%. …

We don’t know what’s going on,” said one political appointee who should know.  Well, I’ll offer my idea.  People accepted the idea that helmets work, and then created studies to “prove” that they do. “

We do not know whether helmets provide a net safety benefit. We do know that injuries have increased after a helmet law was imposed in Australia. The risk of death & serious injury increased by 50% for child cyclists. 

The UK’s National Children’s Bureau provided a detailed review of cycling and helmets in 2005:

“The conclusion from the arguments outlined above is that the case for cycle helmets is far from, sound. The strong claims of injury reduction made by helmet proponents have not been borne out for fatalities (which this paper argues is the most methodologically sound test of effectiveness) in real-life settings with large populations. …

the benefits of helmets need further investigation before even a policy supporting promotion can be unequivocally supported. ….

The cycle helmet debate shows the dramatic power of real life events in shaping our understanding of causality. Tragedies happen; child cyclists are killed or left disabled for life; and we cannot let go of the belief that something 
could and should have been done to stop that particular event from happening – especially when that something is so simple as wearing a helmet. We find it hard to accept that the helmet may have made no difference. We find it harder to accept that encouraging or forcing children to wear helmets might also encourage them to ride in a more dangerous way and paradoxically to increase the risk that they will suffer an accident. And we find it much harder to accept that compulsory helmet use might put children off cycling altogether, leaving them less physically active, and – many years later – more likely to die of heart disease.Think of all the uncertainty behind that line of argument, compared with the seeming rock-solid conviction that a helmet could have saved that particular child’s life, at that particular time. And of course the fact that we are talking about children, who have a claim on our protection and who are still getting to grips with the world, makes it so much more difficult to accept the limitations on our ability to prevent them coming to harm. We cannot ignore the human suffering, pain and loss that lie behind the research and statistics. But our response to it demands reflection and perspective as well as sympathy and conviction.

Is it worth to increase the risk of brain injury to mitigate minor skull injuries? An Australian cyclist challenged a helmet fine as helmets can increase brain injury. After reviewing evidence in a court of law, NSW District Court Judge Roy Ellis concluded:

“”Having read all the material, I think I would fall down on your side of the ledger …

I frankly don’t think there is anything advantageous and there may well be a disadvantage in situations to have a helmet  and it seems to me that it’s one of those areas where it ought to be a matter of choice.

What about the studies that claim that helmets protect against 80% of head injuries?

There have been many “studies” claiming that helmets protect against brain injuries. The most famous one was done by helmet lobbyists and funded by the helmet industry. This “study” had methodological errors. It was the basis for a US government claim that helmets reduce 85% of head injuries. The US government has since dropped this claim.

Many studies assume that helmets are effective and attempt to “prove” it. Such studies jump to a predetermined conclusion, with a disturbing lack of scientific discipline. Often the claims are contradicted by the study’s own data.

Governments who enacted helmet law have funded policy-driven studies defending their policy. Such “studies” use biased statistics, resulting in misleading claims. Bill Curnow, a scientist from the CSIRO, wrote as a conclusion of a scientific article:

“Compulsion to wear a bicycle helmet is detrimental to public health in Australia but, to maintain the status quo, authorities have obfuscated evidence that shows this.”

In 2000, a government agency published a meta-analysis, that claimed to provide

overwhelming evidence in support of helmets for preventing head injury and fatal injury“.

This study was re-assessed by an independent researcher who concluded:

This paper … was influenced by publication bias and time-trend bias that was not controlled for. As a result, the analysis reported inflated estimates of the effects of bicycle helmets …

According to the new studies, no overall effect of bicycle helmets could be found when injuries to head, face or neck are considered as a whole

After attempts to justify its policy through misleading “studies”, and following CRAG submission to the Prime Minister in 2009, the federal government abandoned its compulsory helmets policy.

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Has the helmet law improved safety?


After the helmet law, the risk of accidents doubled.
The risk of death & serious injury for child cyclists increased by 50%.
Wearing a helmet can make us feel safer. However feeling safe is different than being safe


A noticeable impact of the helmet law has been to reduce cycling.  Almost half stopped cycling, while only 9% put on a helmet.


Some  government funded studies claim the helmet law has reduced injuries.  Such “studies” ignore that:

  1. There were 30 to 40% fewer cyclists.  The risk must be adjusted per cyclist.
  2. The helmet law was introduced at the same time as other road safety measures. To isolate the impact of the helmet law, cycling safety must be compared with pedestrian safety.

Those studies attribute all apparent improvements to helmets, without considering confounding factors.  After adjusting for those factors, the decline in head injuries vanishes.

Dr. Dorothy Robinson has done thorough research in this area. She concludes the helmet law has increased the risk of injury:

mandatory bicycle helmet laws increase rather than decrease the likelihood of injuries to cyclists …

Having more cyclists on the road is far more important than having a helmet law, for many reasons …

[the] governments [which introduced the helmet laws] do not like to admit they’ve made mistakes”.

A summary of Dr. Robinson’s work concludes:

More importantly, risks per cyclist seem to have increased, compared to what would have been expected  without the law, implying that helmet laws are counter-productive.  Possible explanations include risk  compensation, reduced ‘Safety in Numbers’ and that brain damage is predominantly due to rotational injury.

A more detailed analysis reveals that, after the helmet law:

  1. the risk of death and serious injuries increased by 21% for child cyclists .
  2. the risk of death and serious injuries decreased by 21% for child pedestrians.

Cycling injuries decreased less than the reduction in number of cyclists.

The risk of death & serious injury for child cyclists increased by 50%.

This may be due to risk compensation.

Risk compensation is the tendency to take more risks when wearing safety equipment.
Lured by a false sense of safety, helmeted cyclists have more accidents.

A false sense of safety can induce people to take more risks, leading to more accidents and more injuries. This tendency is called risk compensation, a well-known safety factor as reported here:

“the law of unintended consequences is extraordinarily applicable when talking about safety innovations. Sometimes things intended to make us safer may not make any improvement at all to our overall safety”

Wearing a helmet can induce cyclists to take more risks, as reported in the New York Times:

the rate of head injuries per active cyclist has increased 51 percent just as bicycle helmets have become widespread. …

the increased use of bike helmets may have had an unintended consequence: riders may feel an inflated sense of security and take more risks. …

The helmet he was wearing did not protect his neck; he was paralyzed from the neck down. …
”I definitely felt safe. I wouldn’t do something like that without a helmet.” ”

Safety experts recognise the role of risk compensation. From the New York Times article:

”People tend to engage in risky behavior when they are protected,” he said. ”It’s a ubiquitous human trait.”

Even cyclists who discount the daredevil effect admit that they may ride faster on more dangerous streets when they are wearing their helmets.

1989 study found that helmet wearers were 7 times more likely to have accidents.

Risk compensation also affects motorists who tend to be less careful around helmeted cyclists. As reported in a study published by the University of Bath in the UK:

“Bicyclists who wear protective helmets are more likely to be struck by passing vehicles”

Both the behaviour of the helmeted cyclist and surrounding motorists increases the risk of accidents.

There is a well-known phenomenon called safety in numbers. Research published in the Injury Prevention journal concluded:

“the behavior of motorists controls the likelihood of collisions with people walking and bicycling. It appears that motorists adjust their behavior in the presence of people walking and bicycling …

A motorist is less likely to collide with a person walking and bicycling if more people walk or bicycle. Policies that increase the numbers of people walking and bicycling appear to be an effective route to improving the safety of people walking and bicycling.”

A key factor for cycling safety is the number of cyclists.  This is “safety in numbers”.
With fewer cyclists, cycling becomes more dangerous.

According to “safety in numbers”, a 44% decline in cycling increases the risk of accidents by 41%. A 9% increase in helmet wearing cannot compensate for a 41% increase in accidents. The helmet law has increased the risk of injury by increasing the risk of accident.

Evidence of an increase in accidents can be seen in Table 2 on Page 465 of the report.  The risk of non-head injuries doubled, indicating that the risk of accidents doubled.

The risk of accident almost doubled. The risk of death & serious injury increased by 57%.

This is similar to what was observed for children and adults, where the risk of injury tripled.

Cycling has become more dangerous after the helmet law.

In Australia, the cyclist fatality rate is now five times greater than in the Netherlands. The serious injury rate is 22 TIMES greaterThe fatality rate per commuter cyclist is 27 times higher in Sydney, Australia than in Copenhagen, Denmark.

New Zealand introduced a bicycle helmet law in 1994. In a cycling safety perception survey, 83% report that cycling has become more dangerous.

In 1988, the largest ever cycling casualty study was published. It involved more than eight million cases of injury and death to cyclists over 15 years. It concluded

“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.

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When the worst in the world try to lecture the rest


Despite having one of the worst track record, Australians academics try to lecture the world about cycling safety.
This may seem odd.
Yet it fits with the Australian government agenda of obfuscating the disappointing results of its controversial bicycle helmet law.
This is not about cycling safety.
It is about defending government policy.

An odd display of confidence

Professional conferences are places where people present results they can be proud of. For example when they have achieved superior outcomes.

It was a surprise when academics from Australia went all the way to Finland to lecture about bicycle safety.
Australia is far from being a role model in cycling safety.

Australia’s cycling safety record is 22 TIMES worst than best practice

Why would a country with a poor track record attempt to lecture others?

Australia was the first country to introduce a compulsory bicycle helmet law in 1990.

27 years later, it is still controversial.

The main result has been to reduce cycling:

Following the helmet law, cycling declined sharply in Australia

Fewer people cycling lead to a less healthy population. Obesity rates rose sharply after 1990.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Australia’s obesity rate rose sharply after the helmet law was introduced in 1990

Australia is now one of the most obese nation in the world.

obesity-cycling-internationalCountries with less active transport (walking, cycling) have higher obesity rates.

The cost of obesity in Australia is estimated to be $58 BILLIONS per year.
If the helmet law was responsible for only 5% of obesity, that would cost $3 BILLIONS per year.

Why would any country want to emulate such results?
Only one country, New Zealand, has followed Australia, in 1994.
The result has been a reduction in cycling and an increase in the risk of injury:

New Zealand helmet law resulted in a reduction in cycling and an increase in the risk of injury

Other countries have shun this policy.

This policy has done more harm than good.
Australian politicians have failed to admit it.
Instead, bureaucrats have commissioned “studies” to defend government policy.

Injuries are up?  Let’s label it a “success”

Australian government agencies have commissioned academics to defend its controversial helmet law for more than 20 years.
For example, a 1993 “study” tried to deny that the helmet law reduces cycling.
A 2009 “study” tried to deny that helmets can aggravate brain injury.

Generous funding rewards studies praising bicycle helmets.
It is a brave academic who risks their career criticising government policy.

Australian academics went to Finland full of confidence. They are rarely challenged at home. They receive generous funding for “studies” defending government policy.

An example is this study, that claims the helmet law as a success.
Yet, the data within the study shows rising injuries after the helmet law:

cycling_injury_rateDespite rising injuries, this “study” claimed the helmet law was a “success”.

How to claim “success” when injuries increase? The creative spin used was to claim that, as head injuries did not rise as much as arm injuries, the helmet law was a success. The injury rate tripled after the helmet law. That’s labelled a “success”.
The government
quoted this study to defend its policy:

“A recent study from the University of New South Wales showed that the initial benefits of the mandatory helmet laws have been maintained over time.”

This “study” was conducted by the academics who presented in Finland.

The target audience is in Australia

The presentation in Finland was widely covered in the Australian media.

The presentation in Finland made it to the front page of a major Australian newspaper

Bike helmet review throws cold water on sceptics: they’ll likely save your life:
The largest review yet of bike helmet use by 64,000 injured cyclists worldwide has found helmets reduce the chances of a serious head injury by nearly 70 per cent…”

The article promotes claims favoring helmets, without mentioning that helmets increase accidents. There were many similar articles in the Australian media. They claimed the “study” proves helmets efficacy, and thus justifies the helmet law. Australia’s high injury rate was not mentioned. 

If helmets truly reduced serious head injury by 70%, Australia’s serious injury rate wouldn’t be 22 TIMES higher than best practice:

Most of the Australian media stills defend the helmet law based on theoretical benefits, ignoring actual results.

Trying to rewrite history

The academics who presented in Finland also claim that the helmet law did not reduce cycling.
They claim that data showing a decline in cycling participation suffers from

“convenience sampling”

The inconvenient data includes the national census from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

According to the academics to who presented in Finland, the national census from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suffers from “convenience sampling”. Inconvenient data can be dismissed.

The academics claim that they have

“better quality data”

When pressed for evidence, their “better quality data” turned out to be hospital data. 

Hospitalisation data is “better” data to measure cycling levels than cycling counts? This beggars belief.
Helmet fanatics own study does show a sharp increase in injuries after the helmet law was introduced.
Yet rising injuries does not mean that there are more cyclists. This can be due to more accidents.
The evidence that the risk of injury has increased after the helmet law has been ignored.

Shooting the messenger

The government-funded academics presenting in Finland have been defending the helmet law for years. Their latest attempt is a meta-analysis, making bold claims favoring helmets. It suffers from publication bias: selecting studies favorable to the desired conclusion. This meta-analysis was re-analysed in 2017 by Colin Clarke, who concluded:

“When examined in detail, all (claims) were found to be unreliable claims due to weaknesses of the supporting evidence and methodology”

The Australian government commissioned a similar meta-analysis in 2001. It claimed polystyrene-based bicycle helmets are effective in preventing deaths. In 2011, an independent researcher, Elvik, re-analysed this meta-analysis. He concluded it:

“was influenced by publication bias and time-trend bias that was not controlled for. As a result, the analysis reported inflated estimates of the effects of bicycle helmets”

elvik-p1aBrave researchers who have the courage to expose government funded propaganda face the wrath of those who feed on government funding.

The government-funded academics presenting in Finland have aggressively attacked Elvik.

Hidden conflicts of interests

The academics who presented in Finland were from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). UNSW has earned generous funding for “studies” defending the helmet law for years.

Between 2006 & 2009, It earned at least $248,000 in funding for bicycle helmets “studies”. Government funding was channeled through the Australian Research Council.

The underlying University department is primarily funded by government agencies.
Such conflicts of interest are not disclosed.
Yet that doesn’t fool independent reporters:

Aussie government funds scientists: find helmets great after all

the government of NSW has commissioned research which (surprise!) finds the effect of their helmet law is massive and sustained. The authors …  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).”

The cost of letting governments get away with deceit

Government propaganda is not new.
It is rarely exposed on an international stage though.

Should we we let governments get away with deceit?

There is more at stake than it seems. The consequences of failing to act against government deceit can be dire. Consider the deceit behind the invasion of Iraq. This has cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Millions of people are still suffering from the consequences.

Governments can do a lot of damage. When we let governments get away with deceit, the damage can be much worse.
We end up paying the bill.

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How to escape bicycle helmet fines in Australia

Nerendra Jeet Singh, a Sikh, went to court in New South Wales (NSW), Australia over a bicycle helmet fine. He escaped the fine, arguing that his identity and religion are of prime importance.

In Queensland, Jasdeep Atwal challenged a helmet fine in court. The Sikh community has led Queensland to reform the helmet law to add a religious exemption.

Sikhs have helmet exemptions in South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria.

In Victoria, Alan Todd challenged a helmet fine in court, avoiding the fine.

People who challenge a helmet fine in court often escape it. In NSW, the defence of necessity allows people to break a law to avoid more dire consequences. Bicycle helmets increase the risk of accident and injury. To avoid a higher risk of accident, cyclists can choose not to wear a helmet.

This might explain why the police rarely book cyclists for helmets in NSW. It is pointless harassment: most people give up cycling, those who prefer to keep riding can challenge the fine in court.

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