In the early 1990s, Australia became the first country to introduce compulsory cycle helmet legislation. A new report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau agrees with Mayer Hillman: despite speeding cars and thundering juggernauts, it's healthier to cycle than not cycle. Admitting that helmet compulsion is still "contentious", the ATSB reveals that "the vast majority of cyclist deaths occur on public roads and involve a motor vehicle," the type of crash profile cycle helmets are not designed to protect from.

Lid law land agrees that health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks

35+ cyclists die on Australian roads each year, but ‘Cycle safety: a national perspective’, published yesterday, said that while the risks of cycling should not be ignored, they must be considered with the benefits.

Regular cycling had been shown to have health benefits, including reducing heart disease, obesity and hypertension.

"The overall community benefits gained from regular cycling are likely to outweigh the loss of life through cycling accidents," said the ATSB report.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is a branch of the Australian government’s Department of Transport.

The ATSB found the number of cyclists killed on the roads was seven times fewer than the number of pedestrians, but there’s no helmet compulsion law for pedestrians.

The report also cites the 2003 findings of P. Jacobsen that the more cyclists on the roads – with or without helmets – the safer it is for all cyclists.

"While it would seem logical that encouraging cycling would lead to an increase in cyclist deaths and injuries, a recent study found this was not the case in a number of European and Californian towns and cities. The study found that an increase in the number of cyclists in these towns and cities was associated with a reduction in the rate of deaths and serious injuries."

In a footnote, the ATSB report says that data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that "the vast majority of cyclist deaths occur on public roads and involve a motor vehicle."

Most cycle helmets are designed to withstand an impact equivalent to an average weight rider travelling at a speed of 12 mph falling onto a stationary kerb-shaped object from a height of 1 metre. See notes below


Elsewhere on the ATSB website, but not cited by ‘Cycle safety’, there’s a road safety research paper that demonstrates that many lives would be saved if motorists wore cycle helmets.

‘Prevention of Head Injuries to Car Occupants: An Investigation of Interior’ concludes that "protective headwear, similar to a soft shell pedal cycle helmet, is estimated to be much more effective than padding the car in preventing cases of fatal brain injury and in improving the outcome in cases of severe brain injury."

Here’s an abstract of the study:


Cycle helmets offer excellent protection for low-speed, off-road crashes, the type common in mountain biking, but most cyclist deaths follow crashes with cars: cycle helmets are not designed to protect cyclists in these types of crashes: The last words of ‘Protective capacity of bicycle helmets’, by NJ Mills of the School of Metallurgy and Materials, University of Birmingham, are: "a bicycle helmet…cannot protect the head in a high velocity direct impact." Some years later, in an updated report, ‘Reassessing bicycle impact protection’, NJ Mills and A Gilchirst came to this stark conclusion: "Helmets are likely to be effective unless the cyclist’s head strikes moving vehicle at an excessive relative velocity, or has an oblique impact into street furniture with an excessive velocity component."

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