The impact of compulsory cycle helmet legislation on cyclist head injuries

Bicycle-related head injuries fell significantly in the months after mandatory helmet legislation came into effect in NSW, and recent calls for a repeal of the laws should be rejected, new research based on hospital admissions data shows.

The injuries fell by up to 29% after the laws were introduced in 1991, according to the study by researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Sax Institute, published in the high impact journal .

"We set out to perform the most comprehensive analysis possible on the subject while addressing any data limitations and possible confounding factors," said study author Dr Jake Olivier.

"What we found provides compelling evidence that the legislation has served its purpose in reducing bike-related head injuries and any repeal of the laws would only put lives at risk," he said.

UNSW's Chair of and study co-author Professor Raphael Grzebieta said the study backs up overwhelming evidence from biomechanical experiments and in-depth accident case analyses that prevent head injury. "It shows what we've suspected for a long time — that you would be unwise to 'hit the road' without a helmet," he said.

Australia was the first country to introduce mandatory helmet legislation in 1991, but 20 years later public debate about the legislation's effectiveness in preventing continues.

Last year, a Sydney University study found the laws had failed and should be repealed because compulsory helmet wearing could be a disincentive to cycling. The academic paper was later retracted due to serious data and arithmetic errors.

In the new UNSW study, researchers from the Injury Risk Management Research Centre and the Sax Institute examined trends in NSW for cyclists and pedestrians, comparing the rate of head injury relative to arm injury, and separately for head injury relative to leg injury, in the months before and after the legislation was introduced.

They found the decrease in head injury rates was significantly greater for cyclists compared to pedestrians, and cyclist decreased more than limb injuries, pointing to the positive effect of mandatory helmet wearing at the population level.

"We endeavoured to identify the effect of the legislation on head injury rates as distinct from other road safety interventions and we've shown that the improvements could only have come from the helmet legislation," Dr Olivier said.

However, while the findings support the maintenance of mandatory helmet laws, the paper's authors caution against seeing helmets as a panacea for bike safety.

"Cyclist safety is a complex issue driven by a range of factors. Cycling in Australia has changed with a considerable increase in recreational road cycling and mountain biking in recent years. Additional research into the diverse and changing risk profiles among these cycling subgroups could facilitate further safety improvements," Dr Olivier said.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Head injuries increase after motorcycle helmet law repeal

Jun 12, 2008

Pennsylvania motorcyclists suffered large increases in head injury deaths and hospitalizations in the two years following the repeal of its motorcycle helmet law, according to a University of Pittsburgh study to be published ...

Is it time for all skiers to wear helmets?

Feb 10, 2011

In a bid to decrease brain injuries from skiing and snowboarding accidents, experts in an editorial published in the British Medical Journal today are calling for more public awareness to promote ski helmets.

Motorcycle helmets keep riders alive, review confirms

Jan 23, 2008

Fewer than half of U.S. states require every motorcycle rider — drivers and passengers — to wear a helmet; and four states have no helmet requirements whatsoever. Around the world, the same patchwork legal pattern exists.

Recommended for you

Report highlights progress, challenges in health IT

11 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Progress has been made toward widespread adoption of electronic health records (EHRs), although there are still barriers to adoption of advanced use of EHRs, according to a report published ...

Training your brain to prefer healthy foods

11 hours ago

It may be possible to train the brain to prefer healthy low-calorie foods over unhealthy higher-calorie foods, according to new research by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center ...

Outdoor enthusiasts need a lightning plan

11 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Those partaking in outdoor sports and activities need to be aware of the threat posed by lightning and take appropriate safety measures, experts say.

User comments