Rare data and analysis from New Zealand Medical Journal.
The effect of mandatory helmet laws is hard to study. There are few places with an established cycling culture that decide to introduce a mandatory helmet law, so as to provide a before and after comparison. New Zealand is one of them; the State of NSW, Australia is another.
This evaluation of NZ’s bicycle helmet law finds it has failed in aspects of promoting cycling, safety, health, accident compensation, environmental issues and civil liberties. It is estimated to cost about 53 lives per year in premature deaths and result in thousands of fines plus legal aspects of discrimination in accident compensation cases. Road safety and cyclist’s safety should be improved by coherent policies, which support health, the environment, and without the legal requirement to wear a helmet.
Further interesting tidbits:
- “Survey data from Australia indicated legislation was a poor approach as it discouraged cycling—e.g. child cycle use fell 44% by the second year of the helmet law in New South Wales, Australia.”
- “The survey information 1989/90–2003/06 suggests a drop of 53% and indicates that the helmet law discouraged cycling to a significant extent.”
My take on helmets (shamelessly cribbed from HUB’s policy):
- Helmets are good. Wearing one might save a head injury in a few kinds of crash.
- Mandatory helmet laws are bad. They discourage cycling, and people do not reap the immediate and personal health benefits of riding a bike.
- There are much better ways to improve safety for people riding a bike.