Analysis of Australian Mandatory Helmet Law IV

OK, here’s the original paper that started this whole series of blog posts (thanks anti-cycling, mandatory helmet law making Australian parliament for making a series of spicy blog posts instead of the boring ones about cycling and spirituality.) 🙂

Reading the abstract alone is a great example on how NOT to do research:

“The results suggest that the initial observed benefit of MHL has been maintained over the ensuing decades.”

LTRs know that I disagree with this, but we’ll swing back to this one. Abstract continues:

“There is a notable additional safety benefit after 2006 that is associated with an increase in cycling infrastructure spending. This implies that the effect of MHL is ongoing and progress in cycling safety in NSW has and will continue to benefit from focusing on broader issues such as increasing cycling infrastructure.”

When you have a single effect caused by more than one variable, the name for that is confounding.

“In statistics, a confounding variable (also confounding factor, hidden variable, lurking variable, a confound, or confounder) is an extraneous variable in a statistical model that correlates (positively or negatively) with both the dependent variable and the independent variable. Such a relation between two observed variables is termed a spurious relationship. In the case of risk assessments evaluating the magnitude and nature of risk to human health, it is important to control for confounding to isolate the effect of a particular hazard such as a food additive, pesticide, or new drug.”

This is bad.

However, there is a way out.

Since Australia only got significant infrastructure in 2006, we have the golden period between 1991 and 2006 in which we can look at the change in head protection from injury from helmets.

From the paper:

“Fig. 1 indicates the rate of divergence between head and arm injuries increases from 2006 onwards. It was during this period that significant financial investment by various local NSW governments were being made and continued in the second half of the decade. Montoya (2010) points out that a total of $AUD29.3 million was
spent by the then New South Wales state government Roads and Traffic Authority on bicycle facilities in 2008–09.”

Previously, I have show that nearly all deaths can be explained by the cyclist getting hit by a car at such a speed that a helmet saving their life is out of the question. This was reinforced by the nearly two to one ratio of those who died with a helmet over those who died without one. Also, I don’t know how much money a helmet costs in Australia, but it seems that in comparison to costs for helmets in the US, they paid peanuts for infrastructure.

Yet, if you look at the Fig.1 graph, after a drop off in 1991 when the mandatory helmet law (MHL) was introduced, we get a flat number of head injuries until 2006.

Let’s look at that so called dramatic drop:

“The first year of the mandatory bicycle helmet laws in Australia saw increased helmet wearing from 31% to 75% of cyclists in Victoria and from 31% of children and 26% of adults in New South Wales (NSW) to 76% and 85%. However, the two major surveys using matched before and after samples in Melbourne (Finch et al. 1993; Report No. 45, Monash Univ. Accident Research Centre) and throughout NSW (Smith and Milthorpe 1993; Roads and Traffic Authority) observed reductions in numbers of child cyclists 15 and 2.2 times greater than the increase in numbers of children wearing helmets. This suggests the greatest effect of the helmet law was not to encourage cyclists to wear helmets, but to discourage cycling.” ( )

Thus, the helmet laws mostly discouraged cycling.

But, you might argue, I am not in favor of a MHL, but I think that for “insurance purposes” and because it’s “better to be safe than sorry”, I will still personally encourage any cyclist to wear a helmet.

I would argue, that if you do this, you are creating a mini-version of the MHL on a per person basis.

We don’t like the reduction in the number of cyclists because of MHL, why create a mini-version of this.

MHL did not save lives, it prevented the government from acting in ways that actually do save lives.

Helmets are a HUGE, HUGE industry with millions in profits for a device that is next to useless in any significant accident.

Wearing a helmet has caused a false sense of security. This false sense of security is not only dangerous to cyclists, but a helmet has been implicated in at least one pedestrian death where the cyclist mentioned that he was confindent in taking risks due to his helmet. This allowed him to feel confident enough to run a red light and to kill someone:

‘The light turned yellow as I was approaching the intersection, but I was already way too committed to stop. The light turned red as I was cruising through the middle of the intersection and then, almost instantly, the southern crosswalk on Market and Castro filled up with people coming from both directions…I couldn’t see a line through the crowd and I couldn’t stop, so I laid it down and just plowed through the crowded crosswalk in the least-populated place I could find.

I remember seeing a RIVER of blood on the asphalt, but it wasn’t mine. I really hope he ends up OK.”

Dedicating the post to his now-broken helmet, the author wrote, “may she die knowing that because she committed the ultimate sacrifice, her rider and live and ride on. Can I get an amen? Amen.’ (

How many other cyclists have died due to a false sense of security? We don’t know.

Finally, helmets waste tons of time and money that could be used to make things actually safe. Australia has gotten a downward trend in head injuries due to a tiny bit of infrastructure spending which ENCOURAGES cycling while they got a minimal or even negative head safety improvement by passing a law to DISCOURAGE cycling.

Let’s make cycling safe, for real, in ways that we cen measure.

Let’s stop telling each other fairy tales.

If we want to wear a helmet, wear it.

But I say that the money is better spent on lobbying for safer streets which will benefit all of us instead of a helmet which will go to a landfill in a few years with dubious or possibly negative benefit to us all.

Here’s a retrospective on helmet law in Australia.

Also, you still look like a dork in a helmet.


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