Home > Life in General, Sport > Bike helmet laws

Bike helmet laws

September 24th, 2012

This article by fellow-MAMIL Michael O’Reilly makes an argument I’d been meaning to post. Whatever the merits of bike helmet laws in general, the costs clearly outweigh them in relation to bike-share schemes like CityCycle in Brisbane.

We clearly need a category of exemptions that lets people hire a slow bike for touring around our cities. Having done that, I’d extend it to anyone willing to take the trouble to apply for exemption, while maintaining the helmet rule as the default. I certainly wouldn’t seek an exemption – I like my head the way it is – but I can imagine there are people who would make the choice, and it’s not so obvious that their judgement should be over-ridden.

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  1. TerjeP
    September 24th, 2012 at 16:41 | #1

    We should just remove the stupid helmet mandate and let people make up their own mind.

  2. September 24th, 2012 at 16:47 | #2

    I’ll translate this post: “The bike helmet law sux”

  3. Mel
    September 24th, 2012 at 17:30 | #3

    Melbourne City Council is reducing the city speed limit to 40 kph, which will make things safer for helmetless cyclists.

    “We should just remove the stupid helmet mandate and let people make up their own mind.”

    No, Terje, an enlightened state protects fools from themselves.

  4. pablo
    September 24th, 2012 at 17:38 | #4

    Certainly sux’s for the 52 year old woman serial offender in Scone NSW who ran up so many unpaid fines for failure to comply with the helmet law on her shopping trips – yes her bike had a basket – that the sheriff sent out to reclaim monies owed in kind, took away her spare bike.
    This followed the pair having a cup of tea and a chat to discuss the outstanding fines and her absolute refusal to pay up.
    I wear a helmet and even feel a bit naked without, but it is madness to maintain this mandatory law. The actions of the sheriff suggest he would agree.

  5. Tim Macknay
    September 24th, 2012 at 18:12 | #5

    What Terje said (I don’t say that too often).

    I’m as unconvinced of the merits of bike-share schemes as I am of those of bike helmet laws. Why should tourists be exempt from silly draconian laws that citizens have to comply with?

  6. BilB
    September 24th, 2012 at 18:12 | #6

    I agree with You, TerjeP. With the rider of cycle education, which I believe that we have in our primary schools (NSW).

  7. Freelander
    September 24th, 2012 at 19:14 | #7

    An exemption for suitable slow bikes provided in a bike share scheme seems fine and an exemption if the individual is willing to pay for compensating insurance also seems fine. Those who want to allow themselves to be at additional risk, can, on average, expect to cost medicare more. If they pay that more, where is the problem?

  8. NickR
    September 24th, 2012 at 19:24 | #8

    I’d favour leaving the law as is, but rarely if ever actually enforcing it.
    We all know from the work of psychologists such as Tversky and Kahneman that the individual’s decision making process doesn’t resemble the optimal balance of risk and reward that a hard-line libertarian would suppose.

    Nevertheless I agree that there is something important to be said for allowing people to make their own decisions in situations like this, even if it leads to bad outcomes.

    So if the law stays in place it serves as a nudge to push people in a socially helpful direction. Simultaneously anybody who had strong feelings about the issue would be free to ride as they liked, but would have to make a conscious decision to ignore sound advice.

  9. paul of albury
    September 24th, 2012 at 19:48 | #9

    I think you can make a case that every individual should wear a hemet. If they ride anyway and crash they are unlikely to be worse off for wearing a helmet (apart from any risk compensation) and will often get some protection from it.

    But the case for mandating helmets is much murkier – if the laws contribute to society as a whole driving where they could ride and being more sedantary and less healthy the individual risk of injury in accidents is outweighed by the collective benefit of more active people. And it seems clear that in the case of Australian bike share schemes the helmet laws are a big disincentive.

  10. stockingrate
    September 24th, 2012 at 19:58 | #10

    It would become impractical to enforce the law – and hence make a joke of the law- if exemptions were extended to cyclists not on the share bikes.

  11. Sancho
    September 24th, 2012 at 20:55 | #11

    I’m with Jerry Seinfeld on this:

    “What was happening, apparently, was that we were involved in a lot of activities that were cracking our heads. We chose not to avoid doing those activities but, instead, to come up with some sort of device to help us enjoy our head-cracking lifestyles. And even that didn’t work because not enough people were wearing them so we had to come up with the helmet law. Which is even stupider: the idea behind the helmet law being to preserve a brain whose judgment is so poor it does not even try to avoid the cracking of the head it’s in.”

    I wear a helmet religiously because I once came off the bike after some rain and hit my head so hard that a chunk of compressed polysterene the size of a golf ball got gouged out of the helmet.

    If that had been my head, I’d be dead or brain-damaged now.

    I’m happy for natural selection to take its course, with the caveat that most riders I know have had more accidents due to motorists than their own error.

  12. September 24th, 2012 at 21:12 | #12

    The bicycle helmet laws are not just for the benefit of the individual. They are for the benefit of society. Head injuries cost all of us enormously and they have been statistically increasing as speed of transport and numbers of vehicles have been increasing, starting with the horse, probably. If a rider selects the option of not wearing a helmet and they then suffer a huge head injury, whilst riding within the law, this will cost many weeks in hospital, a year or two of rehabilitation, loss of ability to earn income and loss of enjoyment of life as well as loss to family and friends of the fully functioning person. Is that what a person selecting not to wear a helmet wants? When you are unconscious you cannot take care of yourself; someone else has to. If you do not fully recover, other people need to help for the rest of your life. Better to avoid the situation if possible. The argument can be made on a financial, a social, or an existential basis.

    I have heard there is an argument that helmets decrease side vision. If so, this needs to be taken into account with driver education and laws, I guess, so that people will realise that the bike-rider is riding partly blind. Drivers also have blindspots.

    None of this was much of a problem when we only used our feet. Then there must have been far fewer head injuries. Humans have not really adapted to the changes.

  13. September 24th, 2012 at 21:18 | #13

    The bicycle helmet laws are not just for the benefit of the individual. They are for the benefit of society. Head injuries cost all of us enormously and they have been statistically increasing as speed of transport and numbers of vehicles have been increasing, starting with the horse, probably. If a rider selects the option of not wearing a helmet and they then suffer a huge head injury, whilst riding within the law, this will cost many weeks in hospital, a year or two of rehabilitation, loss of ability to earn income and loss of enjoyment of life as well as loss to family and friends of the fully functioning person. Is that what a person selecting not to wear a helmet wants? When you are unconscious you cannot take care of yourself; someone else has to. If you do not fully recover, other people need to help for the rest of your life. Better to avoid the situation if possible. The argument can be made on a financial, a social, or an existential basis.

    I have heard there is an argument that helmets decrease side vision. If so, this needs to be taken into account with driver education and laws, I guess, so that people will realise that the bike-rider is riding partly blind. Drivers also have blindspots.

    None of this was much of a problem when we only used our feet. Then there must have been far fewer head injuries. Humans have not really adapted to the changes.

    Of course, you can also get a huge injury whilst wearing a helmet, but without the helmet the injury would be still worse.

    Why can’t the cycle schemes provide helmets (with disposable inside covers to prevent spread of lice)?

  14. September 24th, 2012 at 21:18 | #14

    Sorry, I stuffed up the above comments. The second one is a bit more detailed than the first.

  15. Rob
    September 24th, 2012 at 21:53 | #15

    Both the linked article and this post argue on the basis that hire bikes are slower, therefore have a lower risk of serious head injury. Are there any relevant stats to support this? I.e. numbers on cycling injuries where speed was at fault, versus collision with vehicle (regardless of cyclist or driver being at fault).

    I also wonder, would mandatory helmet laws be in place if there were no cars or trucks on the road? I think not, but whilst that makes A point, it’s not THE point.

    Further, it seems to me (living inner Melbourne) that the law is effectively optional. I see so many cycling without a helmet that I reckon the law is weakly enforced enough that those who are against it can safely flaunt it.

    Disclosure: I spent the first half of my life riding without a helmet, the latter half wearing one because of the law. I would never have worn one before the law: uncool! But now the uncoolness has gone I think most people, including myself, would continue wearing them even if not legally required to.

  16. Simon
    September 24th, 2012 at 22:30 | #16

    As cycling, with a helmet or otherwise, leads to reduced health costs for the cyclist and reduced congestion costs for everybody else, and as the helmet law reduces the rate of cycling significantly, and as the minimal protection offered by helmets is insufficient to compensate for the negative health costs caused by the reduction in cycling due to the helmet law, we’d all be better off if the law was repealed.

    I’m not telling people not to wear a helmet. It might even be advisable to wear one. But from a public health perspective it’s definitely unwise to mandate their use.

  17. BilB
    September 24th, 2012 at 22:34 | #17

    The problem is, Sheila N, is that helmets can produce far worse injuries, particularly neck injuries. Certainly extreme riders are advised to use protection, but the argument is that casual riders have a very low insidence of injury. This is the European experience where people ride bikes to get places rather than make ego statements. This is what the hire bikes are about also, getting from one place to another. The safety message has been delivered. I can’t get into a car without my daughters pestering me till I put on a seat belt. Today’s kids will don the helmet naturally, and for that reason I believe that “choice” will work with bicycle helmets. When people feel danger exposed they will seek suitable protection, conversely when they don’t there is a good chance that there is no danger. Cycles at pedestrian speeds are as safe as walking,…or should we all where head protection 24/7 just in case.

    People do fall out of bed , you know.

  18. SJ
    September 24th, 2012 at 22:41 | #18

    Unfortunately, a significant number of car drivers in Australia are like Terje.

    They’re stupid, selfish, murderous a–holes, even though they might deny that’s what they are, and may not even be smart enough to recognise that that’s what they are.

    Cycling on roads in Australia is very dangerous, with or without helmets. Encouraging more on-road cycling is probably a bad thing.

    I know it’s not like this is in a very small number of places in Europe, but Australia just isn’t one of those places. Wishing for it won’t make it so.

  19. Freelander
    September 24th, 2012 at 23:57 | #19

    @SJ

    You’re right. Cyclists have been responsible for my losing so many wing mirrors as I whizz past.

  20. Freelander
    September 25th, 2012 at 00:01 | #20

    @Simon

    An assertion I’d be unsurprised to find, widely at variance with fact. For one, cyclists, because of the longer time they spend enroute probably do not reduce congestion as much as you might think.

  21. September 25th, 2012 at 06:48 | #21

    The law is the law, the bicycle hire scheme will continue to lose money, and continue to be an indisputable negative aspersion on the judgement of those who advocated for it, and implemented it.

    Helmet laws reduce cycling. Simple.

  22. Dick Veldkamp
    September 25th, 2012 at 07:01 | #22

    @Simon

    Maybe surprisingly, the Dutch Cyclists Association has the same opinion, and the reject mandatory helmets. Mandatory helmets reduce cycle use (too much hassle), and the negative effect of that is much larger than the positive gain in health because a few accidents have less severe consequences.

  23. rog
    September 25th, 2012 at 07:25 | #23

    Perhaps they could introduce a two tiered system, riders on bikeways or bike designated areas do not need helmets whereas on shared carriage way helmets are mandatory. Australian drivers are inherently anti bike and often behave badly when it comes to sharing the roads.

  24. Ikonoclast
    September 25th, 2012 at 07:48 | #24

    Once, I came off a motorcycle at a “mere” 60 kph. Going too fast around a greasy, reverse camber corner caused the front wheel to skid and re-grip. This initiated a tank-slapping death wobble, I went over the handle bars and slid along the road backwards on my head and one shoulder, rest of the body in the air.

    Lesson one is my driver error of course. Lesson two is that my motorcycle helmet sported an oval patch ground down to the felt lining by the slide along the bitumen. Bicycles can do 60 kph downhill so bicycle riders can easily face such an impact. So, if you want your bare skull cracked open or skullbone ground down till the brain matter is exposed, then cycle without a helmet.

    Lesson three (from other incidents), is that cars and bicycles should not mix ever. Ride on back streets and dedicated bikeways only. For example, any cyclist who rides along Sir Fred Schonnel Drive on the roadway is sadly asking for trouble.

  25. sam
    September 25th, 2012 at 09:00 | #25

    I agree, this would be a good candidate for ‘nudge’ type reform. Make it the default that you have to wear a helmet, but that you can easily apply for an exemption. Government intervention doesn’t need to be stronger than a nudge to encourage people to think about the benefits of wearing a helment. Given the hype around ‘nudges’ and ‘nudge units’ etc, I think this is probably a good way to achieve some change in this area at this time. You could also have an exemption for bike share schemes, with the bike share membership being a form of exemption.

    I doubt there would be a big jump in new cyclists*, as some expect, but this would take the focus off this debate and allow more discussion about how to improve infrastructure.

    * A helmet cost about 50 per cent of the price of a bike when the mandatory helmet laws were introduced. For many then cyclists, the relative cost was even worse as the cost of the bike was sunk. Now helmets cost less than 5 per cent of the price of a bike, so I can’t see many people opting out because of cost.

  26. BilB
    September 25th, 2012 at 09:48 | #26

    Rog,

    I think that your compromise is the best workable solution that could be framed in understandable and acceptable legislation. This would make the rent-a-bike a servicable proposition while still maintaining a broader safety message.

  27. September 25th, 2012 at 09:53 | #27

    John, I don’t think you can just assert all this with a “clearly” or two.

    You can’t sensibly separate the bike helmet law in general from bikeshare in particular. There’s no compelling reason why CityCycle riders should have the privilege of riding without a helmet and not the other cyclists who’ll always make up the overwhelming majority of riders.

    An exemption would undermine the helmet law. It might be a misguided law in the opinion of some (me included) but any change requires a wide community debate and a stronger rationale than just trying to save CityCycle. It should be all or nothing.

    In any event I don’t think it’s obvious that an exemption would make schemes like CityCycle and Melbourne Bikeshare a “success”. There are other reasons they’re not doing well, including too few bikes, too few stations, poorly designed tariffs and, especially, lack of safe cycling infrastructure and unsympathetic drivers. Perceptions of safety are very important for the sorts of casual riders attracted to bikeshare.

  28. Jim
    September 25th, 2012 at 10:23 | #28

    I don’t think changing helmet requirements will make a difference to the success of initiatives such as CityCycle. The issues are only partially related at best.

    CityCycle will always be a dud because Brisbane is simply the opposite of everything that makes bike share initiatives work in other cities like Paris (i.e. right climate, compact city, flat riding opportunities, relatively low probability of unfortunate incident with a car etc etc).

  29. Hal9000
    September 25th, 2012 at 10:28 | #29

    @Ikonoclast
    “any cyclist who rides along Sir Fred Schonnel Drive on the roadway is sadly asking for trouble”

    The logic is identical to the old line about how young women wearing the ‘wrong’ sort of clothing should steer clear of night spots, or they’re only asking to be molested.

    Meanwhile, are these ‘back streets’ you’re happy to ride along banned for cars? If not, the same issues apply as on main roads, with the added hazards of cars backing out of driveways and ‘doorings’.

    Car drivers will simply have to learn to share the road. A good start would be to introduce the graduated right of way rules based on vulnerability they have in Holland – pedestrians have absolute right of way, followed by cyclists, mopeds, motorcyclists and then cars. You as a driver hit a cyclist, and you are automatically in the wrong, with stiff penalties including loss of licence and confiscation of vehicle.

    On the topic de jour, the more cyclists there are on the road the safer it is for all cyclists. My life was undoubtedly saved by a cycle helmet two decades back, and I wouldn’t ever ride without one, but anything that discourages riding is a bad thing for me and every other cyclist.

    Last, the acccident research stats are very clear that the ‘safe’ speed for cars in relation to pedestrian and cyclist injuries/deaths is 30km/h, not 40km/h. At 40km/h, an accident is more likely than not to result in serious injury or death. At 30km/h, the odds are better than even that the accident will not result in serious injury or death. Not coincidentally, 30km/h is the speed most cyclists travel at, on the flat and in the absence of a headwind.

  30. NickR
    September 25th, 2012 at 11:59 | #30

    @sam
    It seems you have joined me on the freedom hating side then :)

  31. ralph
    September 25th, 2012 at 14:26 | #31

    @Sheila Newman

    But where do we draw the line? Should require occupants of cars to also wear a helmet as head injuries in car accidents also cost our health system.

  32. John Brookes
    September 25th, 2012 at 18:12 | #32

    Maybe we should require occupants of cars to wear some sort of restraining device to stop them being thrown through the windscreen. Oh wait….

    I always wear a bike helmet, and have seen several accidents where the presence of a helmet has significantly reduced head injury. However I’d favour voluntary helmets, except for kids, who would have to wear them.

  33. Jim Rose
    September 25th, 2012 at 18:26 | #33

    I travel to the Philippines a lot. Both bike and motor bike helmet use is rare. Same for the other Asian countries I have visited.

    The only motor bike rider I saw with a helmet in the Philippines was not wearing it.

    He was carrying his helmet under his arm to put on in case he saw a cop. (Avoids a bribe). If there was an accident, that helmet under his arm would be a lethal projectile.

    Do helmets make much of a difference for bike accidents?

    I find that most bike riders in the CBD to be on mission to kill themselves. Weaving between cars and buses; seeking out and finding every driver’s blind spot. Oblivious to their tiny profile in rear vision mirrors. I will stop here. enough.

  34. rog
    September 25th, 2012 at 21:21 | #34

    Notions of freedom are meaningless when you are dead

    At a Nigerian university hospital, none of the motorcyclists who presented over a 12 month period had been wearing a helmet, and of the eight patients who died, seven had head injuries. Of the five collision types described, the rate of motorcycle‐other vehicle collisions was highest at 40.6%, while the motorcycle‐pedestrian rate was 23.4%. Measures to prevent these collisions might reduce overall crashes by 64%; in addition, helmet law should be enforced.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2586788/

  35. jrkrideau
    September 25th, 2012 at 23:54 | #35

    Most readers/commentators here seem to make the assumption that bicycle helmets serve some useful purpose other than generating sales for bicycle helmet manufacturers. Most people I talk to about bicycle helmets and helmet laws make the assumption that a protective “something” must increase safety: I have not seen any evidence of this. As one person has put it (paraphrase), “Wearing the equivalent of a Styrofoam beer cooler on your head is not likely to do a lot of good”.

    I have not seen any evidence of the effectiveness of helmets and certainly no evidence that a mandatory helmet law does anything other than reduce the number of cyclists on the road and increase the danger for those remaining cyclists. (see Smeed’s Law.)

    I have not kept up with the most recent research in the area in the last 3-5 years so perhaps some dramatic study has shown that bicycle helmets work but I have not seen any thing to make me think that they do. An anti-mandatory helmet site but, as far as I can see, with a good research base is http://cyclehelmets.org/1121.html. Disclaimer- I’m not involved but I do now a couple of the people.

    You might want to have a look at some of the work by Dorre Robinson of the University of New England in such journals as Accident Analysis and Prevention for discussions in the Australian context in particular.

    Perhaps the seminal paper on the use of bicycle helmets is (Thompson et al., 1989) which generated the mass-movement to wear helmets. If you read the paper it is riddled with bad methodology, leading one Internet commentator to describe it as a study that showed that young middle-class children riding in parks had fewer head injuries than older, poorer kids riding on streets. A close reading of paper suggests that this is being kind.

    I did a review of a medical position paper issued by the Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine a few years ago. Other than having most of the references wrong or untraceable, confusing things like kilometres-per-hour and miles-per-hour, using outdated and foreign statistics and a few other things, it might have earned a pass mark in a junior high school course.

    I really don’t think that I have seen a decent study that supports bicycle helmets. Often the authors seem to rather wishfully interpret their results as showing a positive result when they at best are neutral and often negative. Perhaps one of my favourites is a Nova Scotian study (which ref I seem to have lost but I think it is in CMAJ or Canadian Family Medicine) showed that after the law was implemented, helmet use increased for those cyclists still on the road– cycling dropped drastically — but the per-capita injury rate remained the same or increased. Strangely enough, the authors didn’t seem to notice this latter effect.

    Reference
    Thompson, R. S., Rivara, F. P., & Thompson, D. C. (1989). A case-control study of the effectiveness of bicycle safety helmets. New England Journal of Medicine, 320(21), 1361 – 1367.

  36. Freelander
    September 26th, 2012 at 04:58 | #36

    @Jim Rose

    They have very low willingness to pay to protect their heads or their lives because their lives are not worth much. All very rational really (like all ex post explanations, maybe I’ll grow up to be an economist).

  37. rog
    September 26th, 2012 at 06:37 | #37

    @jrkrideau It would appear that most pro helmet research is flawed

    http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1251.html

  38. John Quiggin
    September 26th, 2012 at 10:26 | #38

    “Smeed’s Law” (which postulated that deaths are a concave increasing function of vehicle numbers) is trivially falsified by the fact that the number of deaths from road accidents has fallen dramatically in Australia and other countries, while vehicle numbers have increased. A site that quotes it is almost certainly worse than useless as a source of information.

  39. John Quiggin
    September 26th, 2012 at 10:29 | #39

    It’s worth noting that John Adams, the leading populariser of Smeed’s Law, and an important source for anti-helmet arguments and similar, is a climate & passive smoking delusionist. Any claim he makes should be assumed false until proven otherwise.

  40. John Quiggin
    September 26th, 2012 at 10:34 | #40

    Of course, the fact that anti-helmet sources use bogus arguments doesn’t show that their conclusion is false. But, in thinking about the question, I’d start by looking at actual accidents, and checking whether helmets work to reduce the severity of head injuries. If they do, then there’s a strong burden of proof on the anti-helmet side to show that helmets are associated with an increase in the accident rate, and to present a plausible causal mechanism.

  41. September 26th, 2012 at 10:53 | #41

    So this John Adams believes in AGW and passive smoking? Agreed that would make someone delusional, but not necessarily grounds to automatically rule out his observations on other matters.

  42. NickR
    September 26th, 2012 at 12:44 | #42

    My prior is that helmets are certainly going to be helpful for somebody if they are to be hit hard in the head. As this is certainly conceivable falling off a bike, I’d probably require a fair bit of evidence before I changed my mind on their importance. If there was a strong scientific consensus that helmets were practically useless that’d be enough, but a few assertions and a single journal article isn’t super convincing to me.

    Secondly my helmet in no way resembles a styrofoam beer cooler. Perhaps the sort of people that can look at a hard, strong, thick piece of protective equipment and see a beer cooler aren’t the best sources on this one.

  43. derrida derider
    September 26th, 2012 at 13:11 | #43

    @paul of albury
    “If they ride anyway and crash they are unlikely to be worse off for wearing a helmet …”

    But the point is that with the helmet laws they are less likely to ride at all (eg bike share schemes becomes unviable). And riding is a Good Thing for health.

    So it’s not automatic that we get a net gain to Medicare from helmet laws, and there’s a fair bit of empiric evidence that in fact we’re making a net loss. Even if you think the state has the right to enforce healthy behaviour its not at all clear that it is in fact doing so.

  44. NickR
    September 26th, 2012 at 13:34 | #44

    @derrida derider
    Of course just as people are likely to substitute away from cycling when they have to wear a helmet, they are also likely to substitute into jogging or aerobics or some other form of exercise. It is certainly possible that helmets just switch around the allocation of exercise into safer forms and away from unsafe ones.

  45. Blair
    September 26th, 2012 at 14:04 | #45

    A more balanced source for information on the pro/anti helmet arguments is “The Conversation” (http://theconversation.edu.au/). Search for “cycle helmet” or similar.
    cyclehelmets.org seems to be pretty dedicated to the proposition that helmets have little or no merit.

    I personally think that helmets are a good idea, particularly for off-road or higher-speed cycling, but I’m not sure that making them compulsory for all cycling is the best course of action.
    Certainly, I feel feel much safer without a helmet in France or Japan than with a helmet in Australia. Imposing compulsory helmets is an attempt to provide a technical solution to a social problem (aggressive, non-cooperative driving habits.)

    One serious problem with providing an exemption for the hirers of city bikes is the prospect of litigation by anyone who suffers a head injury on such a bike. They could well argue that the providers failed in their duty of care by not requiring them to wear a helmet. I am not sure which way the law would go on this, but the possibility would raise the cost of insurance for scheme.
    (More reason for sane accident & disability support, but that is an argument for another day.)

    Adelaide seems to get around this by providing helmets for their free city bike scheme, but that is administered by people rather than automated. I don’t know what they do about sanitizing the helmets between users.

  46. Ikonoclast
    September 26th, 2012 at 14:07 | #46

    @Hal9000

    Hal, your reasoning is incorrect but perhaps I did not express myself well. The colloquial phrase “asking for trouble” does not mean that people necessarily deserve the trouble they get. The phrase simply points out if you put yourself in harm’s way, advertantly or inadvertantly, you statistically increase your chances of coming to harm.

    My essential suggestion was that cyclists on a winding, rising, dipping, busy four lane roads with narrow lanes and frequent large vehicles like buses, (e.g. Sir Fred Schonell Drive) are advertantly or inadvertantly asking for trouble is a perfectly valid statement. That road, as it stands, is not simply not safe for cyclists.

    I’ve been all of a regular pedestrian, car driver, motorcyclist, cyclist, light truck and heavy machinery driver on public roads. This reasonably wide experience has taught me that many people seem not to understand the problems each category of travellers in this set face when interacting with travellers in other categories. Whether this is through lack of wide experience or lack of the ability to carry personally learned lessons across the categories I am not sure. It’s probably a bit of both.

    You state “car drivers will simply have to learn to share the road”. The statement presumes that it is only car drivers who do not know how to share the road in a reasonable manner. However, this error of assuming excess entitlement also extends to cyclists. A good rider/driver not only drives their own vehicle they also “drive” all the vehicles around them. That is to say they fearfully and cautiously give adequate space, breaking distance, anticipation room and general allowance for error.

    Plenty of cyclists (like car drivers ) also behave with a clearly excessive sense of entitlement. This inflated sense of entitlement is particularly foolish when the hard facts of physics don’t care who was in the right but simply act in favour of those with the most encasing metal for protection, particularly metal with properly engineered crumple zones. I really wonder if many cyclists realise how hard they are to see at times in busy traffic when drivers are watching at least half a dozen or more things around their vehicle at the same time.

    Busy, multi-lane traffic is simply not the place for cycles, full stop. Cyclists require and deserve dedicated bikeways on all major city roads. Motorists on busy multi-lane roads require and deserve to be relieved of the danger of hitting cyclists who do not belong in modern traffic.

    Where cyclists want the right to ride on secondary public roads and back streets and mix it with cars I agree… provided they pass tests, get licences and pay fees and insurance just like car drivers.

  47. Blair
    September 26th, 2012 at 14:09 | #47

    @NickR
    I think the argument is that the helmet law discourages people from functional cycling, which gives them incidental exercise.
    The cost and bother of a helmet is trivial if you are going out for serious exercise, but it could make the difference between using a bike or taking a car to the supermarket.

  48. September 26th, 2012 at 15:11 | #48

    @Blair: Can and does, make the difference. Hence there are fewer, far fewer, rides by casual cyclers.

  49. TerjeP
    September 26th, 2012 at 15:17 | #49

    Unfortunately, a significant number of car drivers in Australia are like Terje.
    They’re stupid, selfish, murderous a–holes, even though they might deny that’s what they are, and may not even be smart enough to recognise that that’s what they are.

    SJ – being a completely rude prick doesn’t help your argument. However reading the rest of what you said it seems clear that you don’t actually have an argument. Which means we’re just left with the fact that you’re a rude prick.

  50. Ikonoclast
    September 26th, 2012 at 16:22 | #50

    @Steve at the Pub

    So, the argument is that having to purchase and put on a simple piece of apparel before undertaking an activity, massively reduces the number of people wanting to undertake that activity!!

    I guess I can expect everyone to give up swimming (such a bother purchasing and wearing a swimming costume). I guess I can expect everyone to give up even going out. Gee, I mean you have to purchase and put on clothes. Man, what an imposition!

    Such an argument against wearing a bicycle helmet (that it requires a purchase and a little inconvenience) is ridiculous and petty in the extreme when compared to all the other cases where we accept that same essential rule without question. If people hanging their case on that argument were consistent, they would be protesting against the law that says they have to wear clothes when they go out in public in a clement climate. After all, clothes are not strictly necessary from a physiological point of view in a mild climate or indoors, say at a shopping centre. So where are the protests at being forced to wear clothes?

    Oh hang on, in one case (going out without clothes) almost all people would suffer extreme embarassment due to the socially inculcated complexes they have about being bare. Yet in the other case, people complain about being required to take a simple measure to protect themselves against physical harm.

    As usual, with virtually all socialised humans, fear of social embarrassment is a much more powerful force than logical risk assessment. Thus, the best way to get people to wear safety gear (in any undertaking) would be to push the notion that they look ridiculous, laughable and unfashionable if not wearing it. If I were as clever as Oscar Wilde, I could come up with a bon mot about this.

  51. Hal9000
    September 26th, 2012 at 16:32 | #51

    @Ikonoclast
    “I’ve been all of a regular pedestrian, car driver, motorcyclist, cyclist, light truck and heavy machinery driver on public roads.” Ditto for me, plus heavy trucks, so your attempt to deploy the (in any event fallacious) argument from authority won’t wash.

    “The statement presumes that it is only car drivers who do not know how to share the road in a reasonable manner.” I do not presume it is only car drivers – there are plenty of aggressive cyclists too. However, the lethality of cars is such that it is car drivers who must modify their behaviour as cycling becomes more ubiquitous. Aggressive and silly cyclists do not kill other road users. Those using the lethal equipment are the ones who must change. This principle is already enshrined in the lower speed limits applying outside schools and in the CBD and Valley – they should actually be lower, of course, but the principle is that car drivers must change their behaviour to protect more vulnerable road users. People do silly things with firearms and with tennis balls, but public safety requires firearm users to be more heavily regulated than tennis ball users, surely.

    “Busy, multi-lane traffic is simply not the place for cycles, full stop.” No. Cyclists are legitimate road users and in many instances busy, multi-lane roads are the only available route. In point of fact, reducing the speed limit to 30 or 40 on roads like Sir Fred Schonell drive would have little or no impact on average vehicle speeds, which are invariably far below speed limits as the three sets of traffic lights and the roundabout force traffic to slow or stop.

    “Cyclists require and deserve dedicated bikeways on all major city roads.” I absolutely agree. However, for that to happen, cars will have to put up with fewer available lanes and no on-street parking. I’m suspecting that driver behaviour modification and road sharing is going to be politically more palatable.

    “provided they pass tests, get licences and pay fees and insurance just like car drivers”. Mandatory tests, licences and insurance for car drivers stem from the plain fact that cars are lethal pieces of kit. The tests, licences, fees and insurance protect the innocent and vulnerable road users, such as cyclists, and indeed responsible car drivers, from the idiocy and aggression of car drivers. Bicycles are not lethal to other road users, and so the same considerations do not apply. Cyclists are however liable to be penalised for traffic offences, as are pedestrians.

  52. John Quiggin
    September 26th, 2012 at 16:41 | #52

    As it happens, I live on the alternate route to Fred Schonell Drive. I would certainly never ride on Fred Schonell, but the alternative has some problems including a winding hilly section made worse by the presence of parked cars. I wrote to the Council suggesting a parking ban would improve safety there, but they said there was no need.

  53. John Quiggin
    September 26th, 2012 at 16:43 | #53

    On a different matter, SJ was out of line in his/her attack on Terje, so I’m leaving the response to stand, but please, nothing more like this from either of you.

  54. rog
    September 26th, 2012 at 17:40 | #54

    @John Quiggin NYC kept records and found that the overwhelming majority of bike fatalities wore no helmet.

    http://www.bhsi.org/stats.htm#ny

  55. rog
    September 26th, 2012 at 18:13 | #55

    So this is interesting. NYC has mandated wearing of bike helmets and they also have recorded fatalities and major injuries of bike riders. The overwhelming majority of deaths and trauma are from non helmet bike riders.

  56. rog
    September 26th, 2012 at 18:14 | #56
  57. September 26th, 2012 at 18:58 | #57

    I doubt the mandatory helmet law was ever a good idea, but I think the argument that it still suppresses cycling is way overdone.

    Much of the literature condemning the law relies to a great extent on the original 1980s/90s before-and-after studies done in Vic and NSW, claiming they show cycling fell sharply when the law came into effect. I read them recently and found mixed results – cycling by adults didn’t fall significantly, but cycling by children did, especially high school kids. I’ve linked to my analyses below.

    Teenagers are fashion conscious and the Rosebank Stackhat of the late 80s wasn’t attractive (someone mentioned in a previous comment that it was also expensive). But today helmets are a fashion item and worn by the likes of Cadel Evans.

    Subsequent generations of children don’t cycle for a range of reasons that offer a more convincing explanation than the helmet law. Many more kids get driven to school; more kids use public transport to get to distant private schools; parents are concerned about the dangers of cycling on busier roads.

    I can’t see most Australians agreeing to a change in the law or any government prepared to lead on it. The issue is a distraction that gets far more traction than it warrants. Cycling for both transport and recreation is in any event growing vigorously in our cities. The key impediment to faster growth isn’t the helmet law but the lack of safe cycling infrastructure and the institutionalised presumption that bicycles aren’t legitimate road users.

    http://blogs.crikey.com.au/theurbanist/2012/02/26/do-mandatory-helmets-discourage-cycling/
    http://blogs.crikey.com.au/theurbanist/2012/04/02/did-mandatory-helmets-kill-cycling-in-nsw/

  58. Tim Macknay
    September 26th, 2012 at 19:36 | #58

    @Ikonoclast
    Ikonoclast, it may or may not be silly, but there’s plenty of evidence that many people are deterred from cycling by mandatory helmet laws – at least, that’s what they tell researchers. There were also pronounced declines in cycling rates after mandatory helmet laws were rolled out in the early 1991.

    More generally, this thread seems to be a strange combination of furphy debates and real ones. Debates over whether or not bike helmets ‘work’ (i.e. actually protect a rider’s head from injury), or whether or not mandatory helmet laws deter people from cycling, are furphies because the answers to these questions are known with some certainty. The real debates are ones over genuinely contentious issues of fact and value, like whether or not mandatory helmet laws have a net public health benefit (the evidence seems to be conflicting), whether they are an unwarranted interference in individual liberty, or whether an exemption for bike share schemes can be justified. It would probably be more productive to drop the furphy debates and stick to the real ones.

  59. Tim Macknay
    September 26th, 2012 at 19:37 | #59

    “in the early 1991″

    I meant “in the early 1990s”, of course.

  60. TerjeP
    September 26th, 2012 at 20:10 | #60

    My kids climbed a large tree in the garden yesterday. No helmet. Could have died if they fell. Next week it’s skiing with no helmet. Might even let them go walking without a helmet and cross the road without a helmet even though crossing the road with a helmet would be safer. Lowering the speed limit will always save lives but how low is low enough. How safe is safe enough? Safety is an easy excuse for endless petty tyrannies.

  61. Ikonoclast
    September 26th, 2012 at 21:03 | #61

    In rare cases bicycles have been lethal to pedestrians. Just google it.

    In the big picture, the battle of private automobiles versus bicycles and public transport is going to resolve inevitably in favour of bicycles and public transport. Peak oil will see to that. As petrol, distillates and gas become rarer and more expensive commodities, the efficiencies of public transport (mass transit), bicycles and plain walking will be the main answers. Essential services and essential industry vehicles will get the civilian lion’s share of the remaining hydrocarbon fuels (after the military gets first dibs of course). Private automobiles will become smaller, less numerous and mainly electric powered.

    Then arguments will revolve around issues like whether electric-mopeds belong on the dedicated cycle path or the vehicular roadway. Everyone can remain assured that we humans will continue to find things to bicker about.

  62. Tim Macknay
    September 26th, 2012 at 22:54 | #62

    I gotta say I much prefer your new big picture to the old doomsday one, Ikonoclast.

  63. September 27th, 2012 at 01:08 | #63

    I’m currently living in Copenhagen, often called the worlds best cycling city. Helmets are not compulsory, but probably about 20 per cent of people wear them, and many more kids.

    The most notable safety feature is the any bike lanes separated from roads. I suspect that this has the largest impact on safety and injuries. See for example: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01441640701806612 (pay-walled unfortunately).

    You certainly feel much safer on the bike lanes, and so does everyone else, so the major danger is cyclist rage if you stray in front of one of the other thousands of cyclists!

    Better cycling infrastructure needs far more attention in Australia, but this is a long term proposition – Copenhagen, for example, started in the 1970′s, to get to where it is now. And helmets do seem to reduce head injuries so lets keep them.

    As for the argument that helmet laws reduce cycling, this seems to suggest not: http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2012/07/18/3546884.htm

  64. Ikonoclast
    September 27th, 2012 at 08:30 | #64

    @Tim Macknay

    Well, it all depends how far foward I project trends. I’m not saying that a world of mass transit, bicycles and electric vehicles is the end game. It’s just a stage on the way. But, I agree, pointing out that earth’s orbit decays, the sun will die, the universe ends in maximum entropy and all human hopes and wishes are ultimately vain and futile does tend to be a party mood killer.

  65. Ikonoclast
    September 27th, 2012 at 08:38 | #65

    @Stephen Ziguras

    Yes, I pointed out earlier that it is a total furphy that having to buy a piece of apparel (a helmet is safety apparel) or other safety equipment will stop people doing things.

    If this were true, we could expect people to stop swimming at the beach because they have to buy swimming costumes, sun-block, and u-v protection garments. Last time I looked, the beaches were as crowded as ever.

  66. Tim Macknay
    September 27th, 2012 at 11:01 | #66

    @TerjeP

    Next week it’s skiing with no helmet.

    Terje, skiing with no helmet is a bad idea. Not saying it should be mandatory, though.

  67. John Quiggin
    September 27th, 2012 at 11:09 | #67

    @Ikonoclast

    It isn’t a total furphy in relation to bike hire schemes. Tourists aren’t going to pack helmets before going on holidays, so if they need a helmet to hire a bike, they won’t do it.

  68. John Quiggin
    September 27th, 2012 at 11:10 | #68

    And I think the same is true for casual hirers in general. The whole point is that, anytime you need a bike, there’s one nearby. If that requires carrying a helmet at all times, it isn’t going to happen.

  69. Tim Macknay
    September 27th, 2012 at 11:18 | #69

    @Stephen Ziguras
    I’ve also read that article and I don’t agree that it says what you think it does. It says that, contrary to some claims, the cycling participartion rate has increased in recent years. This is certainly true. But it doesn’t mean that helmet laws don’t deter cycling – there’s plenty of evidence that they do. As I mentioned before, there were significant drops in the cycling participation rate immediately after helmet laws were introduced in the early 1990′s.

    The information in the article you cite indicates that the participation rate has since recovered, possibly for a combination of reasons including higher fuel prices, environmental awareness, improved cycling infrastructure, and the fact the cycling is fashionable among young people thanks to the fixie and retro/vintage bike trends. However, the fact that surveys repeatedly show that a portion of respondents report that helmet laws deter them from cycling suggests that this is a genuine factor.

    One reasonable interpretation of this information is that it suggests cycling participation rates, while rising, would rise still further if helmet laws were relaxed.

    An anecdotal observation of my own is that, as the cycling participation rate has increased, so has the apparent level of civil disobedience regarding the helmet laws (i.e. the number of people riding without helmets). I wonder if anyone else has noticed this.

    Yes, I pointed out earlier that it is a total furphy that having to buy a piece of apparel (a helmet is safety apparel) or other safety equipment will stop people doing things.

    If this were true, we could expect people to stop swimming at the beach because they have to buy swimming costumes, sun-block, and u-v protection garments. Last time I looked, the beaches were as crowded as ever.

    Ikonoclast, this is a dumb analogy – none of the swimming items you mention are mandatory, and as I said before, there is actual evidence, in the form of cycling participation data and survey response data, that supports the view that mandatory helmet laws do deter cycling. A bad analogy doesn’t refute that.

  70. TerjeP
    September 27th, 2012 at 13:01 | #70

    I often swim opportunistically in street wear (ie not a swimming costume). Sometimes you find yourself near a beach or stream and you want a dip. If a formal swimming costume or a floatation device was mandatory I would still swim but less often.

    That said the participation rate and safety issues are a side show. The crux of the argument in my book is that it is none of your god damn business if I want to ride with no helmet or swim in my shorts. Get a life and leave people be.

  71. September 27th, 2012 at 13:23 | #71

    I’m with Terje. Though I wonder if some of the recently discovered ambiguity about this particular piece of nanny state regulation isn’t more due to the fact that the city cycle scheme is an abysmal failure financially (and mandatory helmets are a BIG part of this) more than a fair dinkum libertarian streak.
    Many suspects have recently made similar mumblings to those of our blog host, none of them have any previous form for libertarianism.

  72. BilB
    September 27th, 2012 at 13:40 | #72

    If you choose to set out on the road with a pushbike helmet on on your head you have a 50/50 chance that it with either help you in an accident or cripple you in that accident. Why? It is a property of polystyrene that it “binds” to an abrasive surface when it approaches at an angle of between 10 degrees and 40 degrees andat a speed of 30 kph and above. It is to do with the way that the material compresses under load then becomes quite rigid at a certain point. So if you come off your bike and hit the ground head first, there is a very good chance that the helmet will bind to the rough road surface and rip your head sideways as your body coninues to travel thereby breaking your kneck. I have a Quadraplegic friend due to this very unfortuneate property of the materials from which most of these helmets are made. This is, of course, no interest to the safety authorities as they have covered their but with the safety bandaid that we are all compelled to use due to their muddled analysis of the incident statics, and complaining by a body of safety fetishists most of whom do not ride bicycles. So due to their incompetence we all wear these awkward ugly things on our heads and it is left to the police with their tickbox approach to incident repporting to maintain the illusion that bicycle helmets actually protect us. A disputed claim.

    We know that the safety authorities are incompetent because the allow ourselves and our children to venture out on the roads on slow vehicles without rear vision mirrors. Ever seen a registered car without at least one rear vision mirror? Ever seen a truck, ute or motorbike without rear vision mirrors? No.

    So we set out on the roads on the slowest vehicles on those roads, vehicles for which there is a constant procession of danger approaching form the rear, the cyclists principle blind spot (blind zone). If you ask the racing cyslists they will say that they can hear what is coming from behind. usually that is true bu they cannot possibly know how close that following traffic is, until it has gone past without hitting them. And as our roads carry more electric vehicles this personal safety feature will become over more useless.

    The fact is that a cyclist without a bicycle helmet but with a rear vision mirror is far safer than a cyclist with a helmet but without rear vision mirrors (or other devices). naturally a cyclist with both is by far the safest.

    When I set forth on the road on my push bike I wear a construction safety helmet as these are made from a rigid material, more akin to the construction of motor bike helmets, which does not have the road binding (cogging) problem.

    Summary: if you are going to ride fast and in traffic a helmet is adviseable, but a motorbike helmet would be the safest.

    If you are gong to ride at “family” speeds, on cycle ways and in parkland or off road helmets are unnecessary.

    If you ride in mixed traffic then you should have a rear vision mirror on your vehicle, and a bell to warn pedestrians (slower again) who will certainly never have rear vision mirrors affixed to their heads.

  73. September 27th, 2012 at 14:36 | #73

    Tim Macknay

    No, there weren’t “significant drops in the cycling participation rate immediately after helmet laws were introduced in the early 1990′s.” It’s more complex. Cycling by adults wasn’t significantly affected. The big falls were among children, especially teenagers. I’ve linked to the explanation in my post above, 18:58, 26 Sep (which you probably didn’t see because it was held up in moderation for a day, no doubt due to the links in it).

  74. NickR
    September 27th, 2012 at 14:43 | #74

    @TerjeP
    Terje – suppose there was a nanny-state type regulation that we all agreed would unambiguously improve social welfare. Would you support it or not?

    I am not trying to mischaracterize your argument – just wondering if your opposition is philosophical (i.e. rejection of the principle of regulating positive freedoms) or practical (i.e. belief that the costs of such regulations would outweigh the benefits)?

  75. Tim Macknay
    September 27th, 2012 at 15:32 | #75

    @Alan Davies
    You’re right, I didn’t see your comment until after I put mine up. I’ve since read the info at your blog. It is quite informative, and clearly there is a lot of nuance to the changes in participation rates in the 1990′s that wasn’t evident in the sources I perused – thanks.

  76. Hal9000
    September 27th, 2012 at 15:34 | #76

    @BilB
    I’m not at all sure that having a rear vision mirror does anything for bicycle safety. I had one but got rid of it – there is nothing a rider can do if a following vehicle appears to be approaching dangerously, other than ride into a kerb, power pole or parked car on the left. If they’re going to hit you, they’re going to hit you and a rear vision mirror won’t make any difference.

    Bicycle helmets vary considerably in their surface materials. Mine is covered with a hard plastic a bit like ABS that seems fairly immune to abrasion. The Australian Standard, however, is pretty vague on that issue.

    FWIW, the best safety device I’ve found is a prominent camera, worn on the helmet. It makes car drivers much more careful, knowing that if they cause an accident they will suffer. I’ve ridden on 3km of Moggill Road from the Kenmore Roundabout to the Western Freeway bike track at Indooroopilly pretty much every working day for over 20 years without serious incident, and the number of near-death experiences caused by testosterone-fuelled idiots has gone down considerably since I mounted the camera.

    Also FWIW, the hierarchy of idiots has at its apex the tradies in their utes, particularly if there is more than one of them in the cab, with BMWs a close second. Why BMWs? I can’t say.

  77. Troy Prideaux
    September 27th, 2012 at 15:48 | #77

    Hal9000 :
    Also FWIW, the hierarchy of idiots has at its apex the tradies in their utes, particularly if there is more than one of them in the cab, with BMWs a close second. Why BMWs? I can’t say.

    I’m not convinced with your previous suggestion of 30km/h zones on some main streets, but strongly agree with the above statement concerning ute drivers in particular. I can see why some might admire their skills to weave in & out of lanes in rapid machine gun succession, but I certainly don’t appreciate it.

  78. frankis
    September 27th, 2012 at 16:08 | #78

    I’d like to see the mandatory helmet, nanny state nonsense gone, ideally to be replaced by a modest publicity campaign promoting more considerate car driving and the merits of cycle helmets. Carrots more than sticks, really.

  79. TerjeP
    September 27th, 2012 at 16:13 | #79

    NickR – this is not a case of regulating for a positive freedom. There are some positive freedoms I think we should regulate for. Basic literacy and numeracy education for children is one. However mandating bicycle helmets is not a positive freedom or positive right. It is simply interfering with basic lifestyle choices and imposing a judgement on others regarding what risks they may take. I know people who go rock climbing and we don’t regulate that choice. Some people play competition sport like soccer and rugby and there are risks involved. My brother unlawful was a boxer. Some people grow tall trees near their houses. People take all manner of risks in life and I don’t interfere with their freedom to do so. Somehow riding a bike became a special exception and we have to get all protective about it. It is completely stupid. It is something we ought to be ashamed of.

  80. TerjeP
    September 27th, 2012 at 16:14 | #80

    brother unlawful => brother in law

  81. TerjeP
    September 27th, 2012 at 16:17 | #81

    NickR – me not breaking my head is a case of personal welfare not social welfare. I have far more stake in my head than society at large.

  82. rog
    September 27th, 2012 at 16:39 | #82

    Bike hirers in the US (I’m thinking S/F) provide helmets and ask that users wear them. Tourists don’t seem to be put off by the idea.

  83. Tim Macknay
    September 27th, 2012 at 17:36 | #83

    On a slightly related note, this article seems to neatly encapsulate Ikonoclast’s ‘big picture’ prognostications above.

  84. John Quiggin
    September 27th, 2012 at 19:31 | #84

    @rog

    I’m assuming this means you hire the bike from a person who gives you a helmet. But with the bike share schemes, you take the bike from a locked stand. Unfortunately, securing \helmets is a bit harder.

  85. BilB
    September 27th, 2012 at 20:25 | #85

    Hal 9000, your comment on mirrors is rhetorical claptrap. I’ve personally witnessed a cyclist being hit from behind on Glebe Point Road and a 15 year old girl being crushed under the wheels of a quarry truck. I know of 2 other teen agers being killed by trucks that were travelling near enough for their air disturbances caused the cyclists to fall into the wheels, and 2 of the competitive cyclists who argue profusely against cycle mirrors both had car hits from behind. In all of those instances the only thing that would have made a difference is a rear vision mirror., and their helmets did nothing to prevent the accidents or protect them.

    My quadraplegic friend went head first over the bonnet of a car at 40 kph, his helmet possibly protected his skull but broke his neck in the process. A rear vision mirror would not have helped here other than that there was a suggestion that he was looking backwards over his shoulder at the exact instant that a car emerged at speed from a driveway.

    So Hal 9000, demonstrate your strength of conviction and remove all of the mirrors form your car, and see how safe you feel on the roadways in traffic.

  86. BilB
    September 27th, 2012 at 20:42 | #86

    JQ, it is possible to design an effective helmet using expanded polyethylene foam that, being flexible, can be folded flat to fit into a pouch under the cycle seat, and also being fully closed celled is fully water proof and easily washable. This helmet would look similar to the current ghastly creations but would be tighter to the head. Polyethylene foam is an excellent impact barrier and would be about 20mm thick in this application.

    I say this by way of demonstrating that there is a workable solution if if we really want there to be one. Also I am sure that safety authorities are immune to common sense an will never rescind a safety regulation such as this once it has been installed, particularly as this would suggest that they were wrong in the first place.

  87. Freelander
    September 27th, 2012 at 21:26 | #87

    The drop in numbers of children cycling has happened in a context of children being protected by parents and society from all sorts of dangers. In the good old days of my youth, letting children go feral was far more the norm. I suppose the thinking was back then that, in case of a mishap, cheap enough to “bang out another one”. I can remember, pre-school age, regularly dragging my little brother out for a multi-block Walkabout adventure. Nowadays that sort of “lax” parenting would not be allowed. In Economists jargon, kids have become luxury goods, so parents are less cavalier with their safety. The little critters are now so expensive that they are no longer expendable!!

  88. rog
    September 27th, 2012 at 21:55 | #88
  89. Hal9000
    September 27th, 2012 at 22:06 | #89

    @BilB
    This is a false dichotomy. Rear vision mirrors in cars do not prevent rear-end collisions. They allow car drivers to change lanes with safety. There is nothing a cyclist can do, nor a car driver, to prevent a rear end collision caused by an inattentive or aggressive driver. There is simply nowhere to go to get out of the way. I find that not having a rear vision mirror on my bicycle prevents constant flinching. I am sorry for your friend and the victims of the horrific accidents you witnessed, but I seriously doubt whether having a mirror would have done them any good. Meanwhile, your policy prescriptions sound like the standard anti-cyclist claptrap peddled (pun intended) by the usual msm trolls on the subject. As you say, cycling is the way of the future. Car drivers must become better able to deal with that fact in the meantime.

    Back OT, it’s the number of cyclists on the road that will force a change to driver behaviour more than any prescriptive laws. If helmet laws prevent the number of cyclists reaching a critical mass, then helmet laws IMO have a net negative impact on safety.

    Last, I am perfectly aware there have been a small number of pedestrian fatalities caused by cyclists. I trust the offenders have been dealt with appropriately. There is no doubt a smaller number of fatalities caused by joggers running into frail pedestrians. These incidents do not invalidate my policy prescription: right of way should always favour the more vulnerable aginst the idiot behaving dangerously. And they are far outweighed by motor vehicle-cyclist or pedestrian fatalities. Cars have been given far too much preference and its about time the imbalance was corrected.

  90. Hal9000
    September 27th, 2012 at 22:34 | #90

    BTW, of my four serious (stitches, broken bones and dislocated joints) cycling accidents in 40 years of cycling, mostly on roads, at about 10,000km/year, one was caused by my own stupidity, one by poor road maintenance, one by a fellow cyclist overtaking and clipping my front wheel, and one by a pedestrian suddenly deciding to cross the Corro Drive bike path in front of me (I avoided hitting the pedestrian but vaulted the handlebars). In the one caused by poor road maintenance, I have no doubt whatever that my helmet (not then compulsory) saved my life. The helmet was split in two, but my skull (although not the skin covering it) remained intact and I remained conscious.

  91. Hal9000
    September 27th, 2012 at 22:37 | #91

    I also had one non-serious but painful accident caused by police jumping out from behind bushes at the Oxley’s restaurant – now derelict – to apprehend the cyclist I was overtaking for not wearing a helmet. Ironic, hey?

  92. Freelander
    September 27th, 2012 at 22:53 | #92

    @Hal9000

    Rear vision mirrors can reduce the number of collisions where a driver “rear ends” another. If a driver is following too closely (as observed in the rear view mirror) you pull over and let them pass. If their activities are too aggressive, after pulling over you phone the cops inform them about the driver. That’s how the rear vision mirror can be used to reduce crashes and save lives.

  93. Hal9000
    September 27th, 2012 at 23:20 | #93

    @Freelander
    Fair call regarding cars where an aggressive driver is tailgating. Passing however is not something that cyclists can prevent, other than by occupying the whole lane. Which btw I do at two points on my daily 24km bicycle commute, where I’m going downhill, doing 55km/h plus in a 60km/h zone, and cuttings or traffic islands mean that overtaking even a bicycle safely is not possible. I have occasionally copped horn-blowing and verbal abuse from drivers wishing to exceed the speed limit, but it’s safer to have them behind yelling abuse rather than overtaking to my cost.

  94. Freelander
    September 28th, 2012 at 02:19 | #94

    Canberra is nicely set up, in many places, for cyclists. The rest of Australia, not so much.

  95. Troy Prideaux
    September 28th, 2012 at 08:36 | #95

    Hal9000 :
    I also had one non-serious but painful accident caused by police jumping out from behind bushes at the Oxley’s restaurant – now derelict – to apprehend the cyclist I was overtaking for not wearing a helmet. Ironic, hey?

    Hee, that’s a ripper!

  96. Hal9000
    September 28th, 2012 at 22:38 | #96

    Yes, I wrote to the minister to complain about it. I broke a flasher in the crash, which wasn’t as bad as it might have been because I came down on the timber of the bridge and not on the asphalt. They gave me a cheque (a cheque drawn on the police service!) for the cost of a replacement unit, and a written if a little grudging apology. I should have framed it, but I cashed it.

  97. jrkrideau
    September 28th, 2012 at 23:41 | #97

    @John Quiggin
    This is a serous comment? I don’t believe Smeed’s Law, which seems fairly robust is invariant in the face of social or technological change.

    Reduction of drunk driving or better braking systems may account for some of the Australian results but I fail to see how it actually invalidates Smeed’s Law. A bit more evidence might be useful.

    BTW has the blog been hacked? This and two other replies to my submission do not read like Prof. Quiggin’s usual style.

    RE: Adams, some good emeriti scientists commenting far outside their area of expertise (Dyson perhaps? ) are known for some AGW denial. However I don’t seem much evidence except an unpublished 2010 letter to Nature. There is more?

  98. jrkrideau
    September 29th, 2012 at 00:07 | #98

    @John Quiggin
    but, in thinking about the question, I’d start by looking at actual accidents, and checking whether helmets work to reduce the severity of head injuries.

    Uh, it’s been done, many times and in many countries. See http://www.cyclehelmets.org/ for a start on the research. As mentioned, it is not totally neutral– but it is a good start to locating the literature.

    The evidence for helmets is either negative or very equivocal. Nothing convincingly suggests that helmets prevent serious injury. They ‘may’ reduce minor ones, I know of some anti-manditory helmet people who suggest that they do but I am not convinced by the research evidence I have seen.

  99. Ikonoclast
    September 29th, 2012 at 10:52 | #99

    @Tim Macknay

    Tim, you say, “Ikonoclast, this is a dumb analogy – none of the swimming items you mention are mandatory, and as I said before, there is actual evidence, in the form of cycling participation data and survey response data, that supports the view that mandatory helmet laws do deter cycling. A bad analogy doesn’t refute that.”

    1. In fact, some of the swimming items I mention are mandatory. Try swimming on a busy Gold Coast beach without a bathing costume (i.e. in your birthday suit). I think you will very quickly find said bathing costume is mandatory.

    2. This “actual evidence” you refer to comes, I suspect, from surveys with skewed “leading” questions designed to elicit the response the loopy libertarian surveyers want. If people’s desire to cycle is so weak that they are deterred by taking $20 to buy a helmet and 5 seconds to put it on, then I suggest their motivation is extremely weak. These are the sort of people who would also be deterred by having to keep tyres pumped up and chains oiled. Fair dinkum, if their motivation is that weak, I doubt they could even drag themselves out of bed.

  100. Ikonoclast
    September 29th, 2012 at 11:04 | #100

    Hal9000, you say; “Rear vision mirrors in cars do not prevent rear-end collisions.”

    Generally, you are probably right on that and I was glad to see you say a bike helmet saved your life.

    However, there are rare cases where a rearview mirror can help prevent a mild rear-end accident. I recently stopped firmly but not excessively in my car to avoid running a yellow light. The large van behind me clearly had pre-decided I was going to run the yellow light and he was going to run the red light. As I heard him screeching up behind me and obviously going to hit me, I used my rearview mirror to guage the distance and kept my car rolling forward into the intersection (even rear wheels well over the stop bar) to extend his stopping space. It worked and he stopped about 20 cms from my back bumper. Luckily the conformation of the intersection (a bit offset) meant I was still not actually in the way of the cross traffic as it started up.

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