Compulsory bike helmets questioned

Last updated 14:50 16/08/2010
CLEAR HEADED: Research suggests the incidence of cycling head injuries dropped markedly before helmet use became compulsory.
CLEAR HEADED: Research suggests the incidence of cycling head injuries dropped markedly before helmet use became compulsory.

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A study of bicycle-related injuries has reignited the debate over Australia's mandatory helmet laws.

It showed the biggest drop in head injuries among bike riders occurred before helmet use was required by law, said Associate Professor Chris Rissel from the University of Sydney's School of Public Health.

``Subsequent reductions in head injuries have occurred at a much lower rate and are not of the magnitude you'd expect from making all cyclists wear a helmet,'' Dr Rissel said.

``Findings suggest the greatest reductions in head injuries ... come from road improvement safety measures introduced prior to 1991, such as lower speed limits, random breath testing and intensive road safety advertising.''

The research, which looked at cyclist injury rates from 1988 to 2008, is published in the latest Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety.

Head injuries from cycling accidents were seen to decrease across all age groups during the data collection period and they are now outnumbered by arm injuries.

Dr Rissel said the research showed the importance of ongoing helmet use by riders under the age of 15, as these younger riders suffered about half the head injuries reported in this study.

But the case for continued mandatory helmet wearing for adults was ``questionable``, as the requirement could act as a hurdle to encouraging more bike use.

Dr Rissel says policy makers should consider the health and environmental benefits of more people cycling, and work to remove the many barriers to riding a bike.

``Wearing a helmet is still recommended, but you don't really need one if you're just riding in a park or going to the shops for some milk,'' he said.

The research was conducted along with Dr Alex Voukelatos who recently completed his PhD at the University of Sydney. 

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