Helmet laws are bad for our health
October 14, 2010 · Print This Article
By Emma Younger
Hordes of cyclists braved the cold and wet on October 13 to participate in Ride to Work Day.
But if it was not for the unfashionable hardhat everyday could be Ride to Work Day for many more Australians.
The government argues that the introduction of mandatory helmet laws have reduced the number of serious head injuries.
But all evidence to support this claim has been inconclusive.
Yet each year, the requirement to wear a helmet turns people away from an activity that is not only good for our health and the environment but a smarter way to commute.
In 1991, Australia became the first country to make riding without a helmet illegal.
We remain one of only nine countries to enact such a law.
Simply, helmets are bad for our health.
Mandatory helmet laws make sense when it comes to cycling as a sport.
But for those wanting to use bike paths and lanes for short trips and leisurely journeys, helmets are a major deterrent.
Would you ride a bike more often if you did not have to wear a helmet?
This type of commuting should be encouraged to get cars off the road but most importantly because it is good for our health.
In the fattest nation in the world, mandatory helmet laws are insane.
They reduce the number of pedals whirring without any conclusive evidence to back up assumptions they reduce the instance of serious head injury.
In August, public health expert Chris Rissel called for the laws to be abolished to encourage more people to cycle.
The Associate Professor from Sydney University’s School of Public Health said the greatest drop in head injuries was in the 80s, before the laws were introduced.
With the number of head injuries remaining steady since then, he believed current helmet laws put people off cycling and presented it as a dangerous activity.
Countries such as Holland and Denmark have no helmet laws.
They also have the highest bike use and the fewest bike fatalities in the world.
In Copenhagen, bike culture thrives with 37 per cent of commutes and 55 per cent of all trips taken by bicycle.
Helmets are not saving the lives of European cyclists.
Instead, attitudes towards cycling and the sheer number of riders are.
Dutch authorities believe the best way to encourage cycle safety is to invest in cycling infrastructure and discouraging cars.
Pedestrians, bikes and cars are separated, speeds are low and safety is emphasized at school.
Ria Hilhorst, the transport policy adviser to the City of Amsterdam, told The Age if helmet laws were imposed people would not ride their bikes.
”We believe that the best way to promote safety for cyclists is to build infrastructure to keep them safe,” she said.
Since mandatory helmet laws were introduced in Australia the number of people cycling has dropped significantly, especially in the teenage demographic.
To get people back on two wheels we must encourage relaxed riding without the mandatory helmet.
Not only will an increase of riders improve community health and prevent the impending fat bomb from exploding but will lead to greater awareness.
With more bums on bike seats the government will be forced to invest in better cycling infrastructure, encouraging more people to join the movement.
Mike Sabey publishes the Victorian Bike Paths and Rail Trails guide.
He said majority of women riders do not currently want to ride on roads and so seek bike paths that may make their journey much longer.
“The problem with Melbourne’s bike paths is that they, like the train system, are very city centric,” Mr Sabey said.
“With all paths leading to the city it is very difficult for people who don’t work there to get to work using a bike path or even a bike lane.”
With greater development of bike paths and lanes, people would begin to feel safer commuting to work on a bicycle.
This in turn would encourage more riders and a vicious cycle of healthier living would ensue.
Mr Sabey suggested the development of an inner city helmet free zone for bike’s travelling less than 15km per hour.
But this should not only be afforded to city dwellers, but people from all areas.
If helmet-free cycling is afforded to leisure riding, not cycling as a sport, more pedals will turn and we will reach our destination burning calories instead of fossil fuels.
So let us ride, with the wind in our hair, towards a trim, taught and terrific future.