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Australia’s arts and culture scene has a bike helmet problem

December 8th, 2010 by marcus

Image from Gavin Anderson’s Flickr stream. Used under a creative commons license.

Australia’s arts and culture scene is in the grip of a bike helmet problem.

ARTS? Culture? Bike helmets? Let me backtrack a bit. Apparently the take-up rate for Melbourne’s casual bicycle sharing scheme has been uniquely woeful in the world. Bad. Dismal failure bad. The reason, according to most, is that Australia is the only country in the world that mandates that cyclists wear bike helmets. In Melbourne the bike-borrowing concept has been thwarted because casual users need to have planned ahead and brought a bike helmet with them when they left home that morning.

According to Mikael Colville Anderson, a Danish cycling advocate who was on Radio National last week, the main reason Europe doesn’t have compulsory helmets is . . . Australia. Every time it comes up in any European city or country the response according to Anderson is: “Let’s not do what they did in Australia, they killed off the urban cycling culture.”

What you gain is not worth what you lose.

Killing a culture through well-meaning rules and regulations? Where have I heard that one before? Australia’s cycling culture isn’t the only one we’ve smothered with rules and regulations. We live in one of the most micro-regulated societies in the world and for decades we’ve simply never bothered to ask what the cultural consequences might be. As result, Australian artists and small-scale creative initiatives drown in rules and regulations that make simple things unnecessarily complex.

It was a bike helmet problem that closed the Tote and created such a furore from the live music community. A well-intentioned response to problems at some large licensed venues led to the state government introducing very expensive security requirements for all live music venues. At no point in the process did anyone bother to ask either whether a folk duo playing to 20 people on a Tuesday was dangerous enough to require a couple of security guards. Or  more to the point  whether the risk warranted killing Victoria’s barely-break-even live music scene.

Similarly, take reusing empty buildings. I’ve been spending a lot of time recently persuading owners to lend old and otherwise empty buildings to artists. Keen owner + free building + poor artists seems like a no-brainer. It is until you start to navigate the regulations. Beyond the real and pressing issues of ensuring the electricals are safe or there isn’t dangerous asbestos lying around, the administrivia verges on the absurd.

A building that may have operated safely for 50 years may suddenly need tens of thousands of dollars worth of replaced doors, new banisters or fittings to keep up with minor  but ludicrously expensive  changes in building codes. Renting a park, putting on a gig, running any kind of show will incur the same problems.

I’m not a free-for-all libertarian, but I am a believer in proportionality. The issue is not that we shouldn’t have sensible rules but that they can’t be made in isolation and they should never be made in such a way as to deny people without resources the right to participation.

Doing nothing is a risk too; risks can’t be measured in isolation. There is a risk associated with getting on a bike without a helmet, but there is a risk too in always adding more cars. There is a risk in not having two security guards at every gig, but there are also risks in not having them at every school, on every street corner, in every park. There is a risk in not having live music. There is a risk of activating an empty building without making a perfectly functional door 10 centimetres taller, but there are cultural risks in not having spaces for artists and practical risks in simply letting buildings sit unoccupied until they rot and fall over.

There is a perverse effect in a lot of this regulation. We have effectively professionalised participation in Australia. You need access to capital, legal advice and expertise to take part in culture and community. A healthy society is one where everyone can take part  casually, spontaneously and without needing a bank loan, a lawyer or an army of experts. Australia needs to recognise that the simplicity of participation is a virtue, doing things spontaneously and cheaply is invaluable and that not everyone needs to carry a bike helmet.

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41 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mel Dec 8, 2010 at 11:16 am

    You’ve ruined a perfectly good argument about over-regulation by claiming that bike helmet laws are an example of same. They’re not. It’s about basic safety.

    Unless you can pull out some stats about cyclist mortality in Australia compared to other countries, or kilometres of dedicated bike paths/lanes in Melbourne compared to in countries without compulsory bike helmets, you can’t claim the laws are an unwarranted micro-management.

    I mean, would you say the same of seatbelt laws? Of pedestrian crossings? Of legal blood-alcohol limits? These are all measures taken to protect road users from major injury and death.

  • 2 JohnofOz Dec 8, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Sad, but true. From Tax Act to trivia competitions, Australian bureaucrats not only love regulations, they produce the most complex, prescriptive and rigid forms. They write the rules. You take the responsibility.
    And what’s wrong with bike helmets? Well, kids can’t put them on backwards for a start.

  • 3 marcus Dec 8, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Mel, the best i can do is point you to the original Radio National program which suggests that the data is, at the very least, contested as to whether *compulsory* [note i am not against helmet usage – only suggesting there are circumstances where the costs outweigh the benefits] helmet usage significantly reduces injury rates and, in turn, whether this outweighs the other benefits.

    The program is at:

    To take up your examples…

    Of pedestrian crossings, yes i would use exactly the same analogy – if we were to insist that you could ONLY cross at pedestrian crossings there might be a marginal benefit in safety but it would also meant that i couldn’t get to the other side of my suburban street without travelling 500m in the wrong direction as it has no crossing on it. I am able to make a judgement call as to whether the risk outweighs the rewards and governments have sensibly put in place a number of other measures (as other countries employ to encourage cycling) that achieve the same result: traffic calming, awareness campaigns, etc etc.

    I wouldn’t say the same of seat belts as they are fixed and come with the infrastructure (in this case the car) so they don’t prevent people from using them.

    As for blood alcohol limits – there i think the issue is that you are 1. not capable of making a reasonable judgement while intoxicated, and 2. your actions may cause a significant harm to others. Neither of which apply to a sober individual choosing to take a 500m bike ride sans helmet.

    My point in all these cases is that you need to weigh up both the benefits and costs. You can’t look at one in isolation from the other.

  • 4 Sheila (@stinginthetail) Dec 8, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Australia, a nation of obese couch potatoes too afraid to let their children even play outside? Is this what the end result of the nanny state will be? For many people, they’re there, right now, getting fatter and fatter.

    From what i understand, at least in WA when i was there, the introduction of bike helmets had zero effect on injuries.

    I know i stopped riding pushbikes when the stupid helmet laws came in. I would like to ride, but i can’t wear a helmet as it aggravates an existing neck injury.

    From the web ….
    “Analysis of results in Western Australia suggests the helmet legislation has:
    * increased hospital admissions per cyclist on the road
    * reduced the popularity of cycling
    * damaged public health”

    Anyone wants stats, they’re all there, along with links to the studies done that prove bike helmets are bad for our society and turn people OFF riding bikes – and they add, at a cost to public health of half a billion dollars a year.

    Now, there is new standard for helmets – “” which may render ALL current helmets into junk and force every bike rider in oz to buy a new helmet. (despite the previous standard being only 14 yrs old.)

    Can only wonder which politicians and their mates have shares in bike helmet companies. Why do they need a new standard? Because people were being seriously injured BY bike helmets due to nasty torsion on their necks. Helmets don’t work for pushbikes – yes, brilliant for motorbikes, but not pushbikes. It’s pretending to be about public health, nice idea, but it doesn’t work. It’s not at all like seatbelts, stopping drunks on the road, or crosswalks, they all work to LOWER injuries and deaths.

  • 5 Dasher Dec 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Thank you Sheila! You took the words (and evidence) right out of my mouth!

  • 6 Dr Paul Martin Dec 8, 2010 at 1:04 pm


    There are two separate issues:
    1) Does a bicycle helmet offer any protection?
    2) Is a law compelling their use justified?

    The answer to 1) is “Yes, but not as much as you think”.

    A bicycle helmet is tested (AS/NZS2063 and associated documents) to impacts of 19.5km/h, that’s all. To pass, they only need to not break. It is the speed a helmet would be travelling if you dropped it from a height of 1.5m. Don’t believe me? Go to your State Library and read the documents from SAI Global.

    They will certainly prevent minor injuries (which is why they’re useful in sport cycling – nothing worse than dropping out with a scalp laceration) but if an impact is brain damaging, you are going to receive brain trauma regardless.

    The answer to 2) is “Certainly not”. Many good ideas born in Australia have travelled the world (seat belts, airbags, black box flight recorders, cervical cancer vaccines) and making bicycle helmets mandatory, by law, is not one of these. Australia is constantly viewed as a ‘what not to do’ example with regard to bicycle helmets.

    The sad thing is that this focus on helmet laws is a distraction from what really matters – safe infrastructure, respect on the road, liability law changes so that those doing the killing are held accountable (ie. car drivers).

    However, helmet laws are very much part of the problem. While we need the other initiatives, we also need to give at least adults, preferably everyone (parents are mostly sensible) the right to choose whether a bicycle helmet will be useful for them depending on their circumstances.

    I don’t wear a bicycle helmet for my cycling-for-transport (I cover 6,000km per year) and to exercise my ‘choice’, as a police officer interestingly put it recently, I have to break the law. That’s not much of a choice at all.

    The risk of injury on a bicycle is very, very low. It can be made to look higher if you choose the wrong way of comparison. Often ‘injuries/km’ is used but this is not realistic. Injuries/hour is a better metric but it makes cars look dangerous and we can’t have that… If you go by ‘death/km’ then spaceflight is exceedlingly safe… until you realise that 5% of astronauts have died in space.

    If we were serious about head injury risk reduction then we would be demanding compulsory car occupant helmets as the risk is higher and the cost to society huge – on top of the fact that there are no health benefits from driving a car

    If you don’t support compulsory car helmet use then you are a hypocrite and you need to explain why you don’t. Please think about that.


    Dr Paul Martin

  • 7 Mel Dec 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Okay, I’m happy to be ‘the stupid one’ in this argument. You sure showed me. You’re all pretty brilliant, and yeah it’s pretty appalling how laws set out to protect people yet end up making Marcus’s arts activism tedious and bureaucratic.

  • 8 marcus Dec 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    @Mel. I don’t think you’re being stupid here. It’s a perfectly good question. I’d also expect that somewhere out there is someone who would offer a counter view to the one that others have offered – it does seem to be the logic that underlies the current policy framework so someone must have a rationale for it.

    My point is not that we shouldn’t debate or question these things – only that we weigh them up in their full context.

  • 9 Dr Paul Martin Dec 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm


    I hope I didn’t come across as rude – it was not intended.

    It is a very frustrating topic.

    The majority of bicycles in Australia are used for sport or recreation and little else. For this type of cycling, particularly the sport, a helmet is part of the uniform and appropriate. The helmet law is just not ‘an issue’ for this type of cyclist – they will continue to wear one regardless. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t speak up against compulsion though.

    The issue here is whether the law is a just one, based on sound evidence; not evidence that a bicycle helmet does any good – of course it does some good), rather evidence that the mandatory helmet law is a good idea. There is no such evidence.

    The recent study by Prof Rissel further highlights the failure of the law – it was a very clever study; good science.

    In my opinion, most bicycle users will continue to wear helmets until they feel subjectively safe at which point they might go without. The critical issue is to get more folks on bicycles and there is an enormous latent demand for helmetless riding – particularly for bike share bikes and short trips.

    These laws often sneak in for ‘our own good’ (see also pool law changes; airport ‘security’, etc.) and they often seem like a good idea, which is why nobody complains… until you have a closer look and then it’s all too late!

    We need to all be more critical when Government decides to protect ourselves from ourselves – such laws are not just. Laws should protect individuals from the actions of others. That is just.

    Dr Paul Martin

  • 10 Andy W Dec 8, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    I’m glad I was wearing a helmet last week when I hit a car that drove in front of me while I was cycling. It cushioned most of the impact on my head. That wasn’t a matter of luck, it was a requirement of law.

    Melbourne Bike Share was designed incorrectly, they should’ve thought about lending helmets too. Of course there are problems with doing that too (lice, etc).

  • 11 TimT Dec 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Good post Marcus. :)

  • 12 marcus Dec 8, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    @Andy, were you were wearing the helmet because it was compulsory or because you thought it was a good idea? More to the point, if it was not compulsory would you have worn it anyway?

    No one is suggesting that people should not be allowed to wear helmets or that there aren’t a lot of circumstances where it is extremely advisable to do so. I am arguing however that there are circumstances when not wearing a helmet is less worse an option than not riding a bike.

    The current law makes no allowance for that and i take it you are arguing that such circumstances don’t exist and it shouldn’t?

  • 13 Don Dec 8, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I like the old argument “my helmet saved me!” How do you know? The thing is, you don’t. And what really annoys me are the articles where a cyclist is injured or killed by a car, and they always make sure to add in the helmet status of the victim. As if your little Styrofoam hat is of much use in the collision with a 2 ton car. As Seinfeld once put it, the helmet is wearing YOU for protection!

    p.s. I’d wear a helmet most of the time, even if it wasn’t compulsory. It doesn’t bother me, and I think it might, at the most, reduce or prevent minor injury in some circumstances.

  • 14 David Dec 8, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    @Mel I agree with you.

    It’s a beautifully written post and I agree with most of it. Just not the bit about helmets.

    @DrPaulMartin Interesting you mention that study by Rissel. Check today’s Croakey for an excellent analysis of the flawed data representations in the study. Pretty much undermines his findings that the laws are ‘failed public policy’.

    Lacking evidence doesn’t mean the laws are wrong – I imagine you have read the Parachute approach to EBM

    If the helmet laws protect the majority of cyclist, and also provide an important way of role-modelling for children, then that’s good enough for me.

  • 15 john walker Dec 8, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Dr Paul Martin I Had a bike prang that resulted in a passing but moderately serious head injury . I doubt that the helmet i was wearing made much difference, they are not motorbike helmets.
    The benefits of regular exercise seriously out weighs the risks of occasionally not wearing a helmet. ( And god we are all going to die spending your life in a padded box will not change that reality)

    Dose any one know of cases of the law actually being enforced to the point of say fines?

    Marcus was talking about the obsessive micro managing of things that have little community benefit . With respect ,connecting bike helmets to drink driving has a tad of a moral panic about it. This micro managing comes at large opportunity costs – all these obsessive rules require the employment of people to ‘manage’ and implement them and this is money that is not available for health care and the unused buildings marcus refers to are a net economic loss to the whole community , not just the arts.

  • 16 Don Dec 8, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    @John Walker. Yes, we typically see lectures about bicycle helmets from Windshield Philosophers. They are almost always wrong about everything cycling related. According to this article, 9 out of 10 accidents between cars and bicycles are the fault of the driver.

    It’s no surprise that the same Windshield Philosophers would prefers to distract the public with Styrofoam hat arguments.

  • 17 Dr Paul Martin Dec 8, 2010 at 3:22 pm


    That was very quick! I usually don’t notice posts that quickly…

    It was interesting to read the letter on Croakey from Bennelong Bicyclist, I mean, Tim Churches…

    The introduction of the MHL, even after adjustment, is preceded by a decrease in the ratio of head:arm injury admissions. What could explain that? Perhaps Rissel et al needs to look at more date earlier prior to 1988, if it even exists – we may find that Rissel’s conclusions are still valid.

    Even after the correction of the x-axis points, the drop after the introduction of MHL isn’t spectacular and it appears to be a continuation of a trend that started well before this date, when helmet wearing rates were very low (according to Churches figures). I also note that the wearing rates of about 75% aren’t that impressive, even after two years after the law was introduced.

    The comment by Melissa Sweet about cycling ‘positively booming’ in Australia is very shortsighted – modal share is still less than 1.5% of all trips. It is certainly booming amongst 20-40 year-old males who see it as a cheap alternative to owning a sports car (expensive carbon-fibre bikes which are ridden once a week). Very few of these bicycle trips are more than a ‘fitness’ regime and almost none of them are used for car-substituting trips.

    The Canadian Study is interesting as they hardly police the wearing of helmets! Only 75% of riders wore them. In Sydney at the weekend I saw more cyclists without helmets than with – I think there is a big demand for choice.

    If it is such a marvellous idea, why are we (and NZ) the only countries in the WORLD with an all-age mandatory bicycle helmet requirement? Someone better inform the Dutch because (some) Australians seem to think they don’t care about their citizens.

    The other thing bicycle helmets (and fluorescent clothing, etc) does is to show to all non-bicycle users (ie. 90% of the population) that cycling appears DANGEROUS as you need all this ‘safety’ gear. It’s madness.

  • 18 john walker Dec 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    I would guess that there is a bit of publication bias in this area , the untypicall study that shows a clear benefit to wearing helmets is much more likely to get reported than Ten inconclusive study’s.

    DR Martin has there ever been independent empirical ‘crash test dummy’ studies of bike helmets? or is it “all lies lies and dam statistics”

    Perhaps we could ask Mythbusters to lend us Buster.

  • 19 john walker Dec 8, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Actually bike riders can be very hard to see, and a lot of drivers are understandably focused upon the big fast moving things that could crush the car they are driving in.

    Visibility is much more of a safety feature than helmets.
    Ad for Lycra at 53 I think I might be a bit old .

  • 20 Don Dec 8, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    @John Walker.

    Cyclists are only hard to see if you’re a driver and you have no soul. If they could be bothered to actually look out for cyclists, they’d see them. But most don’t care. The consequences for killing people (especially second-class cyclists) on the road are very low. This is demonstrated by complete disregard for the laws against speeding and talking on the phone while driving. Bring in tough criminal penalties for injuring and killing people on the roads. So many so-called “accidents” are not accidents at all. They are simply caused by people who don’t give a crap.

    Don – cyclist-for-transport/motorcyclist/driver

  • 21 john walker Dec 8, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Is the reporting of non life threatening bike accidents, mandated for GPs? Or are these figures largely for hospital casualty departments? If so they could be a bit skewed , the decline could be related to the well off profile of most bike riders they are people who are less likely to wait for hours in casualty.

  • 22 john walker Dec 8, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Don most drivers are not homicidal maniacs

    .The other night in Canberra we almost did not see a rider dressed totally in black with no lights – it was only the fact that she occasionally interrupted the beam of on coming cars that made her intermittently visible.

  • 23 Don Dec 8, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    John, I never said they were homicidal maniacs, they would imply intent. A small percentage ARE like that. The rest just don’t care that much. Yes, some cyclists are idiots, just as can be found in any population, but most realise that They-Lose in any accident. Anyway, my SIWOTI syndrome is showing in this thread. Must-Not-Get-Into-Helmet-Debates! :)

  • 24 harriett swift Dec 8, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    I agree with this general thesis, but the funny thing is: if you read the Velib rules, they actually say that you are supposed to wear a helmet. It’s just that nobody does. I have spent quite a lot of time in Paris but have NEVER seen anyone on a Velib wearing a helmet. Maybe Australians are just too supine when it comes to rules. How about a bit more civil disobedience?

  • 25 Dr Paul Martin Dec 8, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    @John Walker

    There has been much study done on helmets in the past (particularly in the 1940s) but the testing procedures are all done with a ‘headform’ and follow specific procedures. You can download these from your State Library for free. To download them on the ‘general internet’ is costly as SAI Global is a business after all.

    Look for the following documents (AS/NZS2063 – the standard – & AS/NZS2512 – the testing procedures) and have a good read.

    Curnow, W. published an interesting paper entitled, “Bicycle Helmets: A Scientific Evaluation” (in Transportation Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2008). It includes a fascinating history of bicycle helmets and touches on the ‘diffuse axonal injury’ which has seen a bit of press recently. The studies on Monkeys are very interesting indeed.

    My opinion is that helmets certainly offer some protection; that the protection is minor based on my knowledge of the standards and testing procedures; that adults should be able to make their own mind up as to whether their actions warrant wearing one.

    They are not designed for impacts greater than 19.5km/h – which is oddly an excuse as to why we should keep the law – as a car might hit you! It makes no sense…

    The standard is about to receive a farcical update in December this year: the straps have to stretch to allow the helmet to come off after the initial impact (the exact opposite of the current standard!!) and visors and attachments must not increase rotation upon impact (despite there being no test for rotation as part of the standard… hmmm…).

    This, to me, shows the bicycle helmet to be a ‘work-in-progress’ which certainly doesn’t justify making it mandatory to wear.

    We’re allowed to choose to smoke, to binge drink, to not wear sunscreen and get burned, yet ‘not wearing a bicycle helmet’ is seen as worse than these activities. Can we not see the problem here?

  • 26 Dr Paul Martin Dec 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    …and on the ‘new and improved’ bicycle helmet standard, I should add that all helmets conforming to the old standard are perfectly legal!

    Yet helmets that comply to the European EN1078 are illegal in Australia! It’s all one big marketing joke…

  • 27 Chuck Dec 8, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    You realise this bicycle culture has not died because of helemts. It has delcined because of laziness, and of advancements in technology and roads. You will find a great deal of people who use bicycles, out of necessity and love regardless of laws regarding helmets. In fact I have quite a few personal friends who have spent more on their helemet than I would on my bike. A culture not willing to lose a dollar or two for safety, is a weak culture defined by an inability to adapt to change and modernization.

    As for the artists of society if they chose not to have a legitimate job and support their society in a practicable way, then let them suffer the effects of their poverty. Art should not be the day job, it should be the past time. When somebody decides to get a degree as easy as a Bachelour of Arts comes, they know exactly what they are getting into.

    I myself origionally come from a small town, where the community and culture are far richer, albeit less diverse. A culture based on large gatherings, music, and foods. Of course other arts are there too. These loans, lawyers and experts you mention are surprisingly sparse in my experience. In fact I have never heard of such a problem for general culture until mentioned in your article.

    In short, if you will let yourself focus on the small ‘mistakes’ or rules enforced by our government that cost you that few extra dollars in very specific areas, you might find yourself defined by a weakness of character. A true love for something will not be marred by something so trivial, and most certainly it is not enough to completely dissolve cultures.

  • 28 Tim Dec 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Was wondering if there are same sorts of restrictions on sport? Are local clubs etc plagued by similar sorts of legal requirements? It might make for an interesting comparison.

  • 29 Michael Dec 8, 2010 at 8:10 pm


    Cycling in Australia is *growing* and not declining. It did take a hit when the stupid helmet laws were introduced – and no one is complaining about the cost of helmets.

    Advancements in roads? Shirley you jest? Which capital city in Australia isn’t gridlocked by traffic? Many of the people taking to the roads on bikes today do so because they’ve seen how insane it is to spend stupid amounts of money on running a car, only to sit in stop-start traffic. What a way to live. I can drive the 25km to work, and it takes an hour. Or I can ride and it takes me 45 minutes. You mentioned improved technology did you?

    As for the safety bit – there’s no proof that helmets make you any safer. There *is* proof that laziness can and does kill you in a variety of nasty ways.

  • 30 anthony Dec 9, 2010 at 1:33 am

    From a personal point of view – extrapolating from dent in helmet to the spot on forehead that would have stopped me instead but if you’re looking beyond an anecdote …

    “[Dr Dinh] found those who were not wearing helmets were five times more likely to suffer intracranial bleeding or skull fractures.”

    There’s also an extensive meta-study that comes clearly in favour of helmet use for reducing head injuries

    The ratio goes from 1.4 to 1.2 in the two years before and from 1.2 to 0.75 in the two years after. It’s difficult to see how you could see this as the continuation of a trend (especially as it’s basically flat for the year before) or what would constitute ‘spectacular’. The drop is significant as it occurs even though there’s ‘only’ 75% wearing rates – which makes it more impressive not less.
    And as David says, the mistake is indicative of a flawed study.

    Your analysis of helmet design safety standards seem to miss the point of how foam helmets work i.e. to reduce the deceleration of the head, NOT to act an as impenetrable barrier to the road. 1.5 metres is the distance from head to ground i.e. the type of impact of someone falling off a bike. Even the ones that break at this point will have absorbed a considerable amount of the impact speed thus doing their job – the absorption without the helmet is zero.
    As for the ‘19.3 kmh’ – the piece on motorbike helmets in wikipedia explains it well

    “Most motorcycle helmet standards use impacts at speeds between 4–7 m/s (9–16 mph). At first glance, this is confusing given that motorcyclists frequently ride at speeds higher than 20 m/s (45 mph). This confusion is relieved by understanding that the perpendicular impact speed of the helmet is usually not the same as the road speed of the motor cycle and that the severity of the impact is determined not only by the speed of the head but also by the nature of the surface it hits.”
    Also your conclusion that ‘you’re going to receive brain trauma anyway’ seems at odds with the research that I gave to Don

    Which brings me to my other point that despite stating that you’re a doctor, very little if any of your evidence seems to be medically related. Rather, most of it is from a philosophically-based public policy position based on one perspective of choice. If you’re going to use an argument from authority, at least approach it from the field in which you’re an authority.

  • 31 marcus Dec 9, 2010 at 6:15 am

    Just to clarify…

    While many in this thread has strong opinions either way about whether helmets save lives (or not) and to what extent, it is worth pointing out that that actually isn’t the point of the article. I am not actually entering that debate, nor am i arguing that helmets don’t have benefits. What i am arguing, is that there are circumstances where the additional complexity of a helmet outweighs the benefit.

    I am also arguing that risk is something to be managed through sensible trade offs and not something that can be eliminated through a stroke of a pen – i.e. that reducing one risk (head injuries from helmets) can actually introduce another eg. poor public health outcomes, failure or poor uptake of bike sharing schemes, increased car use and that you can not look at the rule itself in isolation without looking at the totality of the consequences.

    I would argue very strongly that we do that in public policy all the time.

  • 32 Chuck Dec 9, 2010 at 7:54 am

    @ Michael You need to direct your first comment to marcus who states “Killing a culture through well-meaning rules and regulations”, in regards to cycling. I am not totally familiar with cycling trends in Australia, however it is clear to me that the culture is not on the verge of death.

    There is no proof that helmets make you any safer? That’s a matter of personal opinion, and I personally feel safer wearing a helmet. I really feel that the restrictions of helmets laws are minimalistic, in comparison to the potential prevention from concussion and other injuries.

    Just because a road is grid-locked doesn’t mean, that new overpasses, roads, and special vehicle service lanes aren’t being built in certain capitol cities (they clearly are). All these things DO cut down commute time and ARE advancements.

    As for advancements in technology, I reference fuel efficiency and comfort factors. Not some magical improvement that means I’ll never be grid-locked. These are advancements that can make being lazy more justifiable or comfortable.

    ‘I can drive the 25km to work, and it takes an hour. Or I can ride and it takes me 45 minutes.’ Yes, that is correct. However, if it weren’t for all the lazy people that I have been talking about, then the conditions wouldn’t be set for your bicycle to be the faster mode of transport. You’ve really proven my statement that laziness is more prominent than a will to cycle.

  • 33 john walker Dec 9, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Ps These blue bikes are pretty distinctive ( They need to be easy to spot -otherwise they would be taken home too often) ,Would it be too hard to grant an exemption to people riding them?

  • 34 Colin Dec 9, 2010 at 8:47 am

    The ‘Health and safety assessment of state bicycle laws in the USA’ may add more information

    The public had just been fed info to suit an agenda.

    NSW cyclist casualties
    see Robinson DL; Head injuries and bicycle helmet laws; Accid Anal Prev, 28, 4: p 463-475, 1996

  • 35 john walker Dec 9, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Back in the early eightys Converting disused light industrial spaces into studio spaces was much easier than it is now…. And… nobody died ( apart from the odd Junkie).

    Chuck Marcus is not asking for handouts, he is asking for room to make self organising and self funding arts things happen.

    Obviously a helmet is better than no helmet- When on the bike I wear one always. But —is it a matter that justifies the force of law and is it worth the costs of policing the law. I think not.

    Dr Paul– thank you for the links.

    PS I suffered a minor brain injury when I came off my Bike. About a week later I violently banged my head on a very low doorway lintel- it was this second impact that caused most of the trouble, perhaps we should be required by law to wear helmets at all times , you can’t be too careful.

  • 36 guy Dec 9, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I respect you putting your views out there, but overall its a pretty unsubstantiated and frankly irresponsible argument. Having spent a lot of time mountain biking as well as city riding, I personally find I have had more dangerous situations on the road amongst traffic than coming off the bike at speed in the bush. Rocks and trees don’t tend to throw doors open unexpectedly in your face, and hitting the concrete with your head really hurts, helmet or not (I have done both). This is probably the most important reason FOR compulsory helmets in urban cycle use. Helmets have saved my skull on 3 occasions, I am now onto my fifth in ten years.

    “Let’s not do what they did in Australia, they killed off the urban cycling culture.” I along with dozens of energetic peers alongside me, most weekdays look forward to the cycle home, in favour of car or train travel. It certainly seems to me to be a good bike culture in Melbourne..just look around. You have to remember that people started riding bikes later in Australia than European countries which have grown up over a longer period of time with respect for cyclists and without helmet restrictions. A significant reason against uptake of regular bike usage is that lack of respect from drivers for cyclists, despite some good efforts of councils to improve cycle lanes and attitude in the city. It is plain dangerous out there on a bike in Melbourne, which is all the more reason to enforce helmets. There has been more than one local incident of drivers over the last 12 months targeting cyclists with their vehicles, for ‘getting in their way’ on the shared road. Cyclists are out there for the pleasure of riding, whereas often drivers seem hell-bent on getting there as quickly as possible. And the more expensive the car, the more arrogant the attitude it seems.

    “What you gain is not worth what you lose.” I just cant follow the logic in that statement and the following paragraphs. What you gain is human life and less time treating injuries in the health system. You just cant weigh the success of any government-subsidised program against that. I applaud the government for subsidising the bike share scheme, and now they find themselves heavily subsidising the accompanying helmet rental scheme. Lesson learned maybe, but you also aren’t weighing up that what you gain is a healthier, fitter population (with intact skulls).

    Overall Australians seem to understand and appreciate the importance of wearing a bike helmet. I have seen the value firsthand of using a good quality helmet, worn properly, on several occasions. From personal observation it is seemingly artful types with apparently awesome hair that abstain from helmet use. No surprise the title of the article is “Australia’s Arts and Culture has a Bike Helmet Problem”. Better to be alive and suffer helmet hair for a minute or two on the way to the bathroom, than find yourself in the emergency room.

  • 37 Mike Dec 12, 2010 at 10:09 am

    We have compulsory cycle helmet laws in New Zealand. And a bicycle share scheme here in Auckland too. Which absolutely NO one uses for similar reasons.

  • 38 Mike Dec 12, 2010 at 10:28 am

    It’s also interesting to note that when the compulsory cycle helmet law was introduced here in New Zealand, the bicycle uptake dropped something like 60 odd percent. I would call that fairly significant. I don’t think anyone here is arguing that helmets don’t reduce injury – but in a car versus bicycle accident, let’s be honest the helmet will only do so much. If a government wants to truly make cycling safer, then need to separate the cyclists from the traffic, like they do in many other countries. It’s fundamently wrong when you legislate bicycles as traffic. A cyclist is equally as vunerable as a pedestrian, therefore they should not be governed in the same way a car is, but affored the same protective measures as pedestrians. That means cycle lanes. In regards to the helmet law – it should voluntary, let the individual decide. In the same way a pedstrian decides to use the zebra crossing, or not. The simple truth is, people don’t want to cycle because they don’t like wearing helmets. Nice article. And to all the people who have posted and criticised this post, just remember, this is Marcus’s blog, and right or wrong he is entitled to his opinion. By the way, he’s right – the sheer ammount of blogs, websites, forums and people out there who are campaigning against this flawed law is overwhelming.

  • […] Melbourne’s Bike Share Fail – Melbourne has these bikes everywhere now for anyone to jump on at a small charge. However, it is completely inconvenient because you need to have planned to bring a helmet with you to comply with the law… Hence, massive fail. Here’s a post about some of the crazy laws and their unintended side effects. […]

  • 40 nude guy Dec 19, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    helmets are like pants. i dont wear them

  • 41 john walker Dec 22, 2010 at 8:13 am

    There are not thousands of foolish Australians just dying to not wear bike helmets. Overreacting to comparatively minor problems by creating ‘management solutions’ that are more of a problem than the problem they seek to address seems to be a very modern vice.
    The ease of publication that web provides has its downside.

    this is Barbara Tuchman’s ‘Tuchmans law’
    Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening, on a lucky day, without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman’s Law, as follows: “The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold (or any figure the reader would care to supply).