Great Australian helmet debate continues to rage

Academic who backs end to compulsion acknowledges data flawed but stands by findings

by Simon_MacMichael   December 10, 2010  

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An Australian academic who helped compile a report into the impact of the country’s compulsory helmet laws has acknowledged that some of the data used may have been flawed, but insists that the central finding of the research remains unchanged, and that lower levels of head injuries since the law was introduced are due to factors other than compulsory use of helmets.

The original research was published by Clinical Associate Professor Chris Rissel and Dr Alex Voukelatos of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney in the August 2010 issue of the Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety (JACRS).

In their study, the pair sought to assess whether the introduction of a law in 1991 in New South Wales that had made it compulsory for cyclists to wear a helmet had resulted in a demonstrable reduction on the level of head injuries among cyclists, as reported on road.cc at the time.

However, in a response published in JACRS in its November 2010 issue (page 76) and reported on the health-focused blog Croakey, epidemiologist Tim Churches highlights errors in the original data used and disputes the researchers’ findings.

Professor Rissel, for his part, has wasted no time in admitting in an article on Croakey that, yes, the data used were flawed, and that corrected data will be submitted to JACRS. However, he asserts that the essential finding remains the same – that evidence across Australia shows a downward trend in head injuries among cyclists even before helmets were made compulsory in 1991.

You can read his response, which is accompanied by graphs illustrating the data, on the Croakey blog, while the edition of JACRS containing the original research, a special issue of the journal that focused on bicycle safety in general, can be found here.
 

7 user comments

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"Yes they are."

"No they aren't."

"Yes they are."

"No they aren't."

"Yes they are."

"No they aren't."

I think I pretty much sum up the great Australian cycle helmet debate.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2165 posts]
10th December 2010 - 12:41

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In some incidences wearing helmet can save life or prevent serious injury. In other cases wearing one won't make any difference. I wear one for those times when it can make a difference. Has anyone ever published data to show that wearing a helmet is dangerous and reckless and could actually lead to serious injury? Nerd

simonmb's picture

posted by simonmb [360 posts]
10th December 2010 - 13:21

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Quote:
Has anyone ever published data to show that wearing a helmet is dangerous and reckless and could actually lead to serious injury

there's plenty of people who assert that you're more likely to suffer a rotational brain injury as a result of wearing a helmet, also lots who cite risk compensation as a factor – both by cyclists and by motorists. But the evidence across the board – pro and anti helmet – is pretty inconclusive, which is why the debate doesn't ever seem to get anywhere Plain Face

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7302 posts]
10th December 2010 - 13:30

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There is no study that bears close examination showing proven results in favour of cycle helmet use on grounds of safety. There has been a study showing drivers pass helmet wearing riders more closely, suggesting a higher risk of impact.

Other than that, read my first post.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2165 posts]
10th December 2010 - 22:35

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The point of the research is that compulsory the helmet laws in Australia discourage many from cycling and impact other schemes, for instance the Melbourne bike hire scheme is basically a flop, whilst at the same time the London scheme is a huge success, mostly because people don't have to wear a helmet.

"Inside every car is a pedestrian, just Waiting to get out..." S.J.L.

scotter's picture

posted by scotter [64 posts]
10th December 2010 - 23:02

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scotter wrote:
The point of the research is that compulsory the helmet laws in Australia discourage many from cycling and impact other schemes, for instance the Melbourne bike hire scheme is basically a flop, whilst at the same time the London scheme is a huge success, mostly because people don't have to wear a helmet.

As has been noted repeatedly, the difference is not helmets but that, unlike London (or Dublin), Melbourne has decent public transport.

Apparently, what Rissel did was incorrectly plot helmet use versus accident rates, which completely invalidated his conclusions.

As the new report states, once the data was correctly plotted:

"It is immediately apparent that the sharp and substantial drop in the head-to-arm injury ratio coincides exactly with the introduction of the helmet laws and the corresponding increases in the proportion of cyclists observed to be wearing helmets in the RTA surveys."

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
16th December 2010 - 12:05

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This is from the journal itself:

"On the receipt of Tim Churches’ letter, a copy was sent to the authors Dr Alexander Voukelatos and A/Prof. Chris Rissel on 7 October 2010 seeking their response. A reply letter was subsequently received from the authors on 20 October 2010 .... The outcome of the review to date is that all reviewers unanimously indicated that Tim Churches’ letter should be published in the journal and all supported that his criticisms, his graph and comments appear valid. Concerning Dr Voukelatos and A/Prof. Rissel’s response, all reviewers agreed it was deficient and required further elaboration and re-review to address adequately Tim Churches’ concerns. The reviewers were particularly critical in regard to
the scientific evidence Dr Voukelatos and A/Prof. Rissel
presented in their reply as support of their main conclusion that ‘mandatory bicycle helmet legislation appears not to be the main factor for the observed reduction in head injuries among pedal cyclists
at a population level over time’. The editors have decided to further communicate with the authors and seek another written reply that addresses all reviewers’ concerns. This reply will be further assessed by the reviewers."

Classic.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [48 posts]
16th December 2010 - 12:18

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