Analysis of Australian Mandatory Helmet Law I

Australia is an interesting case study due to the fact that in 1991, there was a mandatory helmet law for all cyclists.

Thus, we can compare the results before and after cycling.

First I looked at this paper on cyclist’s deaths.

Analysis of Australian Mandatory Helmet Law

First of all, due disclosure: I am biased against helmets for reasons that I blogged about in the past.

While I do think that they might help in certain cases, I don’t think that a helmet that has not passed the Snell test will give a w orthwhile improvement in safety especially given a high speed motor vehicle collision.

Here’s something to chew on.

“If a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle that is traveling 20 mph, the pedestrian survival rate is 95 percent. This drops to 60 percent at 30 mph, and just 20 percent at 40 mph.”

Since most pedestrians do not wear helmets, I believe that we can say the same for unhelmeted cyclists. Thus, we can presume that of the cyclists killed, about 60% were probably killed by motor vehicles going 30 MPH or more.

Even many of the pro-helmet people agree that bicycle helmets tend to be useless in high speed motor vehicle collisions.

In order to avoid begging the question, logical error, we have to ask ourselves whether helmets actually save lives or not.

Let’s do this another way. If we had a mystery factor, such as alcohol use or lack of cycling skill called factor X, we can do a study to see if it saves lives or not.

What if there is a high incidence of factor X with cyclist’s deaths. We’d be insane to say that factor X saved lives, right?


We are insane.

If you a had a list of cyclists who were dead in Australia between ’96 and 2000, a cyclist is more likely than not to be wearing a helmet.


From the Australian paper on cyclists death.

“From 1996 to 2000, nearly one-third of all male cyclists and nearly half of male cyclists in the 10 to 19 age group killed in road crashes were not wearing a helmet. Similarly, nearly one-third of all female cyclists killed in road crashes in the period were not wearing a helmet.”

We would be naive to say that helmets CAUSED the deaths. But this is precisely what the papers which “prove” that helmets are safe will do.

They find that retrospectively, there are more cyclists who are dead without helmets then they will conclude that the difference was because helmets “saved lives”.

Again, I’m not saying that helmets do or do not save lives, but if only one third cyclists die in a five year period without a helmet and two thirds with helmets die, it’s hard to make a case that helmets are that effective in saving lives.

Why this point is not made louder is due to the mental block called “begging the question” which means that we assume a conclusion in our premises.

It’s worth noting that the 18 cyclists who died sans helmet were breaking the law. Thus, the effect might have been that most cyclists were wearing helmets due to the law which explained the high number of helmeted corpses.

Still, there’s a significant number of dead cyclists who chose to wear a helmet. In light of this, I propose that to blame a cyclist who is injured for not wearing a helmet is in error.

Also, I’d like for the pro-helmet people to defend and explain the high death rate among their head cushion wearing brothers. Why so high?

Again, we know that more people were wearing helmets, but perhaps we are barking up the wrong tree if we mandate a silly looking, uncomfortable, and expensive piece of gear and we still lose DOUBLE those who don’t wear helmets.

Things get more troubling when we see that my above premise is true: high speeds kill cyclists:

“In each of the 5-year periods since 1990, the largest proportions of cyclist deaths have occurred on roads where the speed limit was 60 km/h: 55 per cent in 1991–95, 42 per cent in 1996–00 and 35 per cent in 2001–05.”

So lowering the speed limit could have saved half the cyclists.

Thus, here’s (besides cyclists themselves) is the biggest causualty of the obsession with plastic head buckets, the distraction from actual measures that save cyclists lives.

From the above, we can see that cyclists with a helmet on can very well die.

However, if the speed limit is 20 MPH, the death rate falls to FIVE PERCENT.

Thus, every second we waste on helmets is another lost opportunity for speeding motorists to kill cyclists WHETHER WE HAVE HELMETS ON OR NOT.


I don’t have time to find the paper, but it’s a fact that speed limits do not work. The only thing that slows down fast motorists is well designed infrastructure. Separating cyclists (again infrastructure) also saves lives.

What about “classes” to teach us to cycle better.

Ken Cross would be proud because these classes would get you killed, head bucket or no, in Australia:

“The most common type of crash in which cyclists were fatally injured was the cyclist being hit from behind by a motor vehicle travelling in the same lane in the same direction…This kind of crash occurred in urban as well as in rural areas but 38 cases occurred on rural roads, most during the day.”


I love it because there’s a big obsession for people to dismiss these deaths in the Cross study as those who were hit at night by those who had no lights. Not anymore.

Note to MADD lovers, if Australia has a version of MADD, they are not needed:

“in nearly 90 per cent of the cases where it was known, BAC was found to be zero.”

Thus, if factor X is alcohol, you are more likely to NOT be drunk that drunk and hit a cyclist.

Again, I’m not arguing that alcohol prevents acccidents, but if the data were reversed, and 90% of motorists were intoxicated, we’d say that alcohol was an issue.

Tomorrow, I look at this paper which tries to compare arm injuries to head injuries to make a point.


3 Responses to “Analysis of Australian Mandatory Helmet Law I”

  1. Steve A Says:

    I have two Snell-rated helmets. One I wear in the car. The other is a bicycle helmet that was made to standards similar to the poor CPSC standard. It is quite true that the evidence that helmets affect cyclist fatalities is sketchy, but that is true for most things involving cyclists. Including what cyclists were doing when hit. The common term “SWSS” comes to mind. Mostly when a cyclist gets killed by a motorist, we get to take the word of the perp as to what happened. Even in Australia.

    • Fred Says:

      Actually the evidence is crystal clear from the attached study: high speed cars kill cyclists. Full stop. The money spent on helmets by cyclists is greater than most PACs, even the ones from high profit industries. Heck, there’s so much money that you could buy infrastructure directly. 23,000 cheap cycling helmets could buy all the biking improvements in Long Beach for example.

      How much did you pay for those two helmets?

  2. Steve A Says:

    I paid $150 for the car helmet. The bike helmet was a gift.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: