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

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.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.