How successful is mandatory helmet law?

There are a lot of voices and opinions calling for the repeal of the mandatory helmet law for cyclists, as well as calls to either remove existing cycling infrastructure or stop government spending on such programs, due to safety concerns. Both calls are unfounded.

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When helmet legislation was enacted in 1991, the number of people cycling has flourished. There is no significant sign of widespread paradox opposition to the law, if there is, it is no more than mandatory helmets for motorcyclist or requiring to fasten seat belts in automobiles.

There are solid evidences of how helmet successfully protected cyclists from suffering fatal head injuries. The rate of head injuries have declined about 29% immediately following mandatory helmet legislation. The reduction was unrelated to any other changes occurring in cycling around the time. Put in plainly, helmets worked as intended.

Between 1991 and 2010, research shown that bicycle-related injuries (head injuries that were serious enough to require hospital admission) in New South Wales has declined. In addition, the increase arm injury rates reflect what is happening in the cycling environment, such as general safety improvements and the behavior of cyclists. By comparing arm and head injury rates highlights the importance of wearing a helmet.

Before the helmet law, the head-injury rate was consistently higher than that for arm injuries. But after the mandatory helmet law, head injuries dropped below arm injuries and the two gradually diverged. Arm injury numbers increased steadily at a rate of 3.3% a year (in a situation when cycling rates is increasing), yet head injuries stayed relatively flat. By 2006, the head injury rate had fallen to almost half that of arm injuries. In that time, arm injuries rose by 145%, yet head injuries rose by just 20%    (in the past decade alone, cycling participants increased by 51%).



Looking At The Other Side: Contentious Issure Around MHL

As discussed earlier, New Zealand and Australia are the two countries that required people of all age to wear a bicycle helmet at all time. There is no federal law in the U.S requiring bicycle helmets. The states are localities began adopting laws in 1987. Most are limited to children under 18. Some states have passed the law regarding to MHL but are repealed later. Israel experimented with national legislation, but repealed the law in 2011 after a four year trial. Here are some of the objectives against MHL:

  • They do not improve injury rates
  • Discourage regular recreation exercise in an era of high obesity
  • Unnecessary
  • Intrusion of individual freedom

There are studies that have proven that the Mandatory Helmet Laws has not reduced head injury rates. Dr Dorothy Robinson from the University of New England, who found ‘enforced helmet laws discourage cycling but produce no obvious response in percentage of head injuries’.

MHLs change people’s behavior and perception of risk. Some cyclists take more risks while riding with a helmet than they would without, while studies have shown that some motorists drive closer to helmeted cyclists, than unhelmeted ones. This tendency for individuals to react to a perceived increase in safety by taking more risk is known as risk compensation.

I am not encouraging people not to wear a bicycle helmet but rather to provide an insight on why some countries do not require MHL, and why people hated MHL. What are your thoughts on this?  Below is a collection of tweets that included #helmet lawsScreen Shot 2015-10-11 at 18.15.53 Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 18.16.05 Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 18.16.11 Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 18.16.45 Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 18.16.58 Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 18.17.15 Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 18.17.27
Interesting right..?