Repealing compulsory helmet laws could double number of cyclists in Sydney, says academic

An easy way for NSW state government to get more people cycling says study of Sydneysider's view

by Simon_MacMichael   December 6, 2011  

White cycle helmet

New research published by an Australian academic and opponent of cycle helmet compulsion claims that that the number of people cycling in Sydney, the country’s largest city, could double if the mandatory helmet laws put in place 20 years ago were scrapped.

The claim has been made by Professor Chris Rissell of the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, who has published the findings of his latest research in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia.

The research, published under the title The possible effect on frequency of cycling if mandatory bicycle helmet legislation was repealed in Sydney, Australia: a cross sectional survey, surveyed 600 adults in the city to establish their attitudes regarding wearing cycle helmets.

"People who ride occasionally and younger people were most likely to say they would ride more if they didn't have to wear a helmet, but significantly, one in five people who hadn't ridden a bicycle in the last year also said they would ride more," explained Professor Rissel.

He added that New South Wales State government efforts to get more people cycling could be easily achieved if it simply repealed helmet laws, rather than investing large sums of money in building infrastructure such as cycle lanes.

"Occasional riders and those people who don't see themselves as a 'cyclist' represents a large number of people,” he added. “Even if only half or a quarter of these people did actually start riding, it would more than double the number of people cycling now."

Nearly half of the respondents to the survey said that they would never ride without a helmet, with but Professor Rissel asserts that support for helmet compulsion was particularly low among those who already use bikes to get around.

"Overall, one third of respondents did not support mandatory helmet legislation,” he explained. “There was an inverse association between riding frequency and support of the helmet legislation, with those not riding in the past year most likely to support helmet legislation, and more frequent riders less likely to support it."

He added that by repealing compulsory helmet laws, it would be easier for people to decide on the spur of the moment to use a bike, for instance through city-wide bike hire schemes, a subject he also addressed recently.

"Public bicycle share schemes around the world where helmets are not required to been worn have shown how safe cycling really is," he maintained.

"There have now been over six million users of the 'Boris bikes' in London and distances cycled total over 10 million kilometres with few serious injuries. In the first three months the accident rate was estimated to be 0.002 percent."



He added that schemes elsewhere in the world resulted in similar patterns being observed – although in the Australian cities of Brisbane and Melbourne, schemes were experiencing utilisation rates of a tenth of the level seen elsewhere because it is compulsory to wear a helmet.

Professor Rissel has at times cut a controversial figure in the perennial debate over whether or not cycle helmets should be compulsory.

Last year, a paper published in the August 2010 issue of the Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety which he co-authored with colleague Dr Alex Voukelatos came under criticism when fellow academics highlighted flaws in the data it was based upon – a criticism Professor Rissel accepted.

Subsequently, some of his critics led by Dr Jake Olivier and researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Sax Institute published their own research in the Accident Analysis and Prevention Journal which they said backed up their opinion that helmet laws did bring about in a reduction in head injuries suffered by cyclists.

Professor Rissel continues to maintain, however, that the benefits of getting more people cycling by giving them a choice over whether or not to wear a helmet outweighs any potential positive effect of making helmets compulsory.

11 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

More cyclist = More accidents as well..

seabass89's picture

posted by seabass89 [235 posts]
7th December 2011 - 7:49

1 Like

less helmets= more deaths, more cyclists= more accidents so they are trying to kill of cyclists in sydne Sad y?

posted by usernameforme [53 posts]
7th December 2011 - 9:06

1 Like

Have you heard of the safety in numbers argument? Aussie drivers aren't used to seeing many cyclists on the road and are less aware of them than drivers in other countries.

Evski
(Aussie expat living in London)

posted by Evski [23 posts]
7th December 2011 - 9:10

2 Likes

If you actually look at the numbers...

Fewer helmets=same number of deaths or fewer.
Fewer helmets=more cyclists.
More cyclists=fewer deaths.

Counter-intuitive, but it's what the research says.

posted by JohnS [198 posts]
7th December 2011 - 9:23

2 Likes

More cyclists = more awareness of cyclists as a significant part of the traffic mass.

When surrounded by cyclists a driver will have to consider their presence much more than if he encounters the occasional one to skim past/drive at/pull out on. If every cyclist carried a firearm then drivers would be much more careful!

Repealing the helmet law would not lead to a flood of cyclists but it would certainly open the way for increased cycle use, particularly the casual type that the bicycle share schemes aim to promote. It's a very silly law, and everyone knows it.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2054 posts]
7th December 2011 - 9:57

2 Likes

Simon E wrote:
If every cyclist carried a firearm then drivers would be much more careful!

Ah the old shotgun attached to top tube solution. And rack for the pheasants presumably...

posted by 0liver [76 posts]
7th December 2011 - 10:36

1 Like

0liver wrote:
Simon E wrote:
If every cyclist carried a firearm then drivers would be much more careful!

Ah the old shotgun attached to top tube solution. And rack for the pheasants presumably...

Just be careful if you have to brake hard. You might lose an important part of the anatomy. Given the way a lot of newbie cyclists in London ride, a weapon might end up being pointed at other cyclists.

Wink

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2308 posts]
7th December 2011 - 10:57

1 Like

0liver wrote:
Simon E wrote:
If every cyclist carried a firearm then drivers would be much more careful!

Ah the old shotgun attached to top tube solution. And rack for the peasants presumably...


I've corrected your spelling mistake.

Wink

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2054 posts]
7th December 2011 - 12:21

1 Like

Simon E wrote:
0liver wrote:
Simon E wrote:
If every cyclist carried a firearm then drivers would be much more careful!

Ah the old shotgun attached to top tube solution. And rack for the peasants presumably...


I've corrected your spelling mistake.

Wink

Personally I'd prefer thumbscrews, more portable. Unless you have a folding rack. Big Grin

posted by 0liver [76 posts]
7th December 2011 - 13:36

0 Likes

What about little decals for the top tube along with said shotgun, saves carving notches in the top tube for every vehicle we take out Big Grin Could have a wee league going on as well.

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1068 posts]
7th December 2011 - 17:24

1 Like

Unfortunately Chris Rissel has incorrectly calculated the potential impact of removing the mandatory cycling helmet requirements in Australia - please see http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2011/12/19/the-cycle-helmet-debate-co... for details. The effect on cycling participation, if any, is likely to be marginal, based on Rissel's own research survey results (which he inexplicably failed to use in his calculations).

posted by tim.churches [2 posts]
27th December 2011 - 22:29

1 Like