I feel a little sorry for the people in Australia. They’ve had these helmet laws for over 20 years but there is no evidence that they really work.
Or well, depends how you see it. If the government want less people to bike and be less naturally active in their already sedentary country (Australia’s latest health study showed 72% of Australians over 15 years are sedentary, 61.4% of the Australian population were either overweight or obese) they’ve succeeded:
- The cycling rate in the country dropped 30-40% straight after the introduction of the new law.
- 23% of Australians say they don’t cycle because of the helmet law.
- The risk of head injury per km cycled showed no measurable change, while the risk of other injuries actually went up.
- The numbers of Australians cycling dropped dramatically, particularly amongst women and teenagers.
- Even today, despite years of “cycling promotion” by governments and public health agencies, participation in cycling of all kinds is less per head of population than it was in 1986.
With my expertise public health and health promotion, I know that the benefits from cycling far outweigh the potential negative health impacts. People who bicycle to work has a 40% lower risk of dying at earlier age than their colleague driving their car to work - and a body that is 10 years fitter. Cycling can reduce the risk of diabetes with 30%, the risk of cardio vascular diseases by 50% (!), and it may also reduce that bad stress by half, simply because pedaling makes the feel-good hormones float.
More and more politicians in the world are about to discover this SUPER PILL for their population. Moreover, cycling infrastructure is a cheap magic pill for improving traffic flow in a city. The more people on bikes the safer, better and quicker for everyone. Many Australian politicians know about those benefits and create cycle strategies to increase cycling. So why are they still letting the helmet law be in their way…?
Good question. Something that has created a more open debate about the helmet question in Australia though, is their Bike Share Scheme Failure. Everywhere else in the rest of the world, bike shares have been very successful and a great tool for mobility management. But not down under.
The helmet law in Australia shoots cities’ attempt to create a bicycle culture in the foot. Hard. Poor Melbourne and Brisbane bike share system has received only 5-10% of the usage they should expect of successful bike share schemes.
(Figure source: E. Fishman et al. (2012), Barriers and facilitators to public bicycle scheme use: A qualitative approach, Transportation Research, Part F)
Here’s a classic video on this topic… (have a laugh:)
Australian government will have to shift focus, from helmet laws to better cycling infrastructure and promote cycling and walking more through actions. If you want to make a quick change that will increase the numbers of cyclists and make it safer for them without actually rebuilding anything: change legislations. Become more people oriented and less car oriented. Melbourne has already lowered the maximum driving speed in the CBD to 40 km/h. There are lots of successful examples when it comes to adjusting traffic lights for cyclists, allow right hand turns at red (In Australia, left hand turns) et.cetera.
If Australia wants to have a chance to compete in livable cities index’s in the future, they will have to do something about this. Until then, have a read at the page Helmet Freedom that collected facts on this topic and made the video above. And if you’re an aussie, take action if you like: They’ve made letters you can send straight to your local politicians.