Keep bike helmets on, says Bicycle NSW

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by StreetCorner
16/11/2010

There has been some debate recently as to the effectiveness of bike helmets in reducing injury with some arguing that making helmets mandatory has not been as successful as hoped. With more and more cyclepaths being built across Sydney, the issue is attracting even more attention as some believe helmets can be a deterrent to the take-up of cycling as a viable transport alternative. Yesterday, Bicycle NSW came out in strong support of the continued use of bike helmets.

Streetcorner provides this “Direct from” update, from Bicycle NSW, so you can make up your own mind about their position. We also welcome any comments you would like to give on whether bike helmets should be mandatory in NSW or if you would like to publish your own story on cycling safety or any other issue, you can publish your own news on Streetcorner, just be submitting your story to the site.

Here is the news from Bicycle NSW.

“Bicycle NSW continues to show its support for the use of helmets in light of recent research uncovered by the Department of Trauma Service at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

The study found that cyclists who were not wearing helmets were five times more likely to suffer intracranial bleeding or skull fracture after falling from a bicycle.

According to Omar Khalifa, CEO of Bicycle NSW, the peak community organisation for cyclists in NSW continues to support the wearing of helmets as a useful safety precaution.

“We believe the weight of evidence, while not unanimous, supports the view that if you have an accident, you will most likely be better off wearing a helmet.

If you fall, are hit by a car door or even attacked by a magpie, wearing a helmet might protect your face, head and brain from injury. It might even save your life,” said Khalifa.

Wearing helmets when riding a bike is mandatory by law yet some researchers and policy makers argue that helmets pose a barrier to increased uptake.

“The pros and cons of the mandatory helmet law is an area for the greater community and the government to decide. But Bicycle NSW, along with Bicycle Victoria, the other state cycling organisations and the Amy Gillett Foundation believe helmets can and do, help many cyclists better survive an accident.”

Khalifa believes that in NSW, people on bicycles often have to share roadways not designed or maintained for bicycles and may therefore be more vulnerable to incidents than in many other areas of the world. Though improving, there are also still many motorists who behave carelessly or aggressively towards people on bicycles.

“It only takes a second to find yourself in trouble and while we can all recover from scrapes and bruises, damage to your brain could have serious consequences that last a lifetime,” said Khalifa.

About Bicycle NSW Bicycle NSW is a member-based association for cyclists in NSW. Bicycle NSW promotes and supports cycling as a healthy, sustainable and environmentally friendly form of transport. The organisation also advocates on behalf of its members to improve road conditions and educate road users on safety issues. More information can be found here: www.bicyclensw.org.au”

This is the end of the statements from Bicycle NSW.

What do you think? Should helmets be worn when riding a bike?


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Ride2Wk posts

As someone who has cycled for commuting, transport and sport since 1983 before the Mandatory Helmet Laws (MHL) were introduced and has seen many changes in motorists behaviour and friends giving up cycling and as someone involved in bikeway design, I say Bike NSW has missed the point or trying to stay too friendly with the NSW government. Yes a helmet in a particular range of circumstances, might help prevent head injury IF you crash.(but NOT face injury unless you use a full face MTB down hill helmet!) You could still suffer from many other injuries that can debilitate or kill you without hitting your head. If you get hit by a car at anything over 50kmh you will probably get killed regardless of a helmet. (Refer WHO organisation - Why traffic calming saves lives 2008 Fig 1.1 - a cyclist is basically the same as a pedestrian when hit by a car.) The problem is that helmets HAVE deterred people from cycling. (30% reduction in Victorian school kids according to incidental school studies and about 25% Qld ride to work 1996 Census) From the "safety in numbers" reports we know that the more people cycling, the safer it becomes for all. Another problem - where is this letter and what's the data behind it??? The journal it was printed in has to be paid for so we can't see the full text. I do notice the narrow minded doctor (they are too specialised to understand a big picture) is reported in the media as comparing 2009 and with 2005 and says it proves helmets are effective! But helmets were introduced in 1991 so there should be no difference between 2005 & 2009 due to helmets. The real difference between 2005 & 2009 is the increase in numbers of people cycling & facilities being built. So perhaps the improvement is due to "safety in numbers" & facilities NOT helmets. But without the letter and data being freely available how can we check? If it is due to "safety in numbers" then imagine how much safer cycling would become if MHL were repealed and cycling increased by say 10%? The doctor also needs to consider the impact reduced "safety in numbers" due to MHL on increased injuries to other parts of the body. And the potential for increased cycling to reduce obesity, heart attacks and air pollution related illness. Air pollution related illness alone kills up to 5x more people than car crashes - so for Sydney anywhere between 600 & 2,600 people per year dying from air pollution depending on various reports. Finally if there were say 10% more bikes instead of cars then there might be some a reduction in the number of car drivers killing other people like bikes, peds and other car drivers. There are good reasons why most of the rest of the world has not listened to narrow minded doctors and NOT followed Aust by introducing MHL. In fact we are used as the guinea pig example of why NOT to introduce MHL. The laws should be repealed for at least adults and the individual choose for themselves. Proably 60-80% people depending on the area will still wear helmets of their own free choice anyway. And the extra people that do join cycling will help make it safer for everyone.

empte posts

Oh man. So where is this huge epidemic of skull fractures due to cycling without helmets in the Netherlands? Right. Keep taking money from the helmet industry. So if you trip and fall down some stairs and land on your head you are far more likely to crack your skull if you're not wearing a helmet a helmet. Same with using a ladder, crossing a street, even driving a car. Safe infrastructure, harsh penalties for motorists, slower automobile speeds, more options other than driving, better designed cities and neighborhoods that allow those other options... those save lives. Mandatory helmet laws only diminish the opportunities that lie ahead for a nicer city. No wonder Melbourne's bike share system is failing with a helmet law. It's like booking a hotel room, only to find out you have to bring your own bed.

Dear Ride2Wk, You seem to know a lot about this topic. Would you like you publish your views on this issue as a separate story on Streetcorner? StreetCorner is a people powered or crowd sourced media website, that democratises news and events, by creating a collaborative environment for everyone in the community. To publish a story, just register (it's free), confirm your registration, then click on the SUBMIT A STORY button, follow the prompts and your news will appear on the home page. It will then appear in news alerts and we'll send out on Twitter etc as well. Cheers Streetcorner, your voice in the community

MarioSal posts

It's important to always use your helmet. Bike riding is good for the environment, as well as great excercise. I regularly ride my beach cruiser and somtimes bmx ride for a rush. I love my bikes that I got from http://www.2wheelbikes.com/.

JasonC posts

I can vouch for helmets. I connected with a pedestrians shoulder at medium speed, twisted around and landed on my backpack - the helmet slammed into the ground and literally cracked. It could have been my head... I only suffered a mild concussion. Best $100 bucks I spent ever. Design was great - very little torsional force, and good coverage around the head.

Theo posts

If people refuse to ride because of helmet laws then they probably need to have a good hard look at themselves. Helmets are quite affordable and are not uncomfortable to wear. If they did not have the excuse of helmet laws, they would find another excuse.

empte posts

But why have a law? We're not saying it's not a good idea to wear one, just why there should be a law. Should there be a helmet law for people to use stairs or ladders? What about crossing the street or walking on icy sidewalks?

Ride2Wk posts

empte - you have hit the nail on the head. Why have it as a law anymore. From the posts you see on most forums & news articles, many cyclsts want to wear a helmet. Nothing wrong with that and on some occassions I would still wear mine. In Portland USA during a rider count, they also counted helmet use and apparently 85% of the cyclists wore a helmet without any law for it.

Ride2Wk posts

Theo - 1/ people are lazy and look for any excuse not to do some things like exercise. 2/ It makes some parents think cycling is too dangerous so they won't let their kids ride to school etc. In the end, the kids don't learn much road sense before they get let loose with a 2 ton weapon and kill 2 other people for everyone of them that dies before the age of 25yrs. 3/ To some people their hair do is more important than the small risk of a crash. (not me - very little hair left.) And helmets are OK in colder weather, but I hate them in the summer heat & humidity when I'm already sweating like a pig from a hard ride to work.

Ride2Wk posts

JasonC - I'm glad the helmet helped you but you don't need a law to decide for yourself. The helmet doesn't always help in the situation you describe mostly because of it's large size and I'll explain a couple of examples. Some of it depends on how good you are at falling. 1/ in 1983 a car turned in front of me, I just clipped the towbar and I went down at about 30 kmh landing on my backpack and rolling down the road. I would have smashed a cycle helmet but all I did was bruise and skin my head & shoulder. (I got up and rode to Uni - the car didn't even stop.) I was able to tuck my head in and take most of the impact on my shoulder instead of my head. A helmet juts out further so you can't tuck it in as much and you actually hit the helmet harder than you would hit your head. 2/ I snowboard a lot and often come down on my back and hit my head, like your example, but on ice / snow. I'm used to it and I absorb the fall with my back, shoulders and rolling. While snowboarding in trees in Japan I do sometimes wear a fibreglass snowboard helmet. When I fall over backwards, the larger helmet hits sooner than my smaller bare head would so it actually hits harder. I can't absorb as much energy before the larger diameter helmet hits the snow and I can't do a backwards roll as easily to disipate the energy. 3/ A pedestrian I was going past suddenly swung his backpack and snagged my handlebars resulting in me landing on my back on some soft grass. My expensive helmet with the bit out the back, hit the grass before I was able to absorb all the impact and I couldn't roll backwards as much. The helmet cracked through the back and all the side ribs but it was a softer fall than I used to from snowboarding or football and certainly wouldn't have done any damage to my head. So - 1/ the larger size of a helmet results in a harder impact on the ground in some circumstances. 2/ You can't tuck the helmet in and roll as effectively as without one. (If you know how to fall!) 3/ They may help prevent some skin loss and bruising but they result in your brain stopping more suddenly in some situations for some people. But not all! (If you can't fall very well, then you will hit your head harder than I would.) 4/ Learn how to watch out for and avoid cars and pedestrians doing sudden silly things - if you can avoid them then you are far less likely to need a helmet. 5/ How effective a helmet is depends on how you hit an object and how good you are at falling. There are some cases where a helmet will help - but don't believe every story of "a helmet saved my life" you hear.

JasonC posts

A pretty good reason to increase bike use... http://www.facebook.com/pages/Our-Genera...

JasonC posts

I agree with the argument about it being the choice of the rider. I just never really considered that argument before. I also think had I not been wearing a helmet I would have been riding a lot more slower. I'll just note that adults should have a choice, but laws for under 18s should be maintained.

Ride2Wk posts

JasonC - since I'm well over 18 I could live with that :-) The hardest I've ever hit my head was when I was 12yrs and my front wheel fell off during a small jump at about 20kmh. That gave me concussion. I've got 2 young girls and most of the time I think it's best they do wear their helmets since they haven't learnt much road sense or developed good bike skills. The only problem with that is of course the teenagers who don't wear a helmet now will be even less inclined to do so if adults don't have to and that's been sort of proven in Canadian studies where different provinces have different helmet laws. It should be left to the parents to decide but of course some parents are a bit of a worry themselves or don't have any control over their kids :-( Your comment that you would have been riding slower - it's called "Risk Compensation" and has been demonstated in many studies including one by Ian Walker in England where he showed drivers on average gave less room to cyclists with helmets than without & more room to him when he had a womans wig on. (don't blame them - I'd stay away from him too!) I often say drivers should have a steel spike on the steering wheel instead of a seat belt. Drivers would certainly drive safer then and pay far more attention to other road users! The number of peds, cyclists & passenger deaths would certainly decrease. It might even get some drivers out of their car and onto a bike!!!!


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