2011 February

New Transport Minister for Queensland

This week, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh announced a bit of a cabinet reshuffle.  Amongst other changes, Transport gets a new a new face with the departure of Rachel Nolan and arrival of Inala MP Annastacia Palaszczuk.

We’re not sure about Annastacis’s views on our loopy helmet laws, but at least it looks like she might actually take a bus or train occasionally.  So why not welcome her to her new portfolio with a letter or two about why Queensland should get rid of mandatory helmet laws.

Skin Cancer is Riskier Than Cycling

Helmet Exemption for Brisbane City Cycle

On which criteria are helmet laws justified?

Relax Our Bicycle Helmet Laws Like the NT

Unintended consequences of helmet laws

Intended and Unintended Consequences of Youth Bicycle Helmet Laws

Associate Professor of Economics & Public Policy Chris Carpenter and Associate Professor of Economics Mark Stehr recently examined the effects of mandatory bicycle helmet laws on bicycling fatalities, helmet use, and cycling behaviours amongst youths in the USA.

The study was based on the differential timing of adoption of helmet laws across states, effectively identifying the helmet law effects from  within-state changes in outcomes for residents of states adopting laws compared to the associated within-state changes in outcomes for  youths in places that did not adopt a law in that same year.

The key findings of the study were:

  • US helmet laws increase helmet usage by 29-35%.
  • Helmet laws decrease cycling participation. This decrease was only modest for the 5-15yo age group but significant for the 16-30 age group.
  • There was no correlation between helmet laws and cycling fatalities amongst cyclists aged 16 and over.
  • Helmet laws correlated with a 19% reduction in cycling fatalities amongst children under 15, although this ‘estimate has a relatively large standard error, such that [we] cannot rule out that the true fatality effect is substantially smaller than our reported estimate’.
  • Helmet laws significantly increase the social and psychological cost of cycling relative to other transport options.
  • A significant part of the fatality reduction associated with helmet laws is the result of helmet laws discouraging cycling participation.

While the affects of helmet laws on cycling levels in the US has not been as strong as in Australia, it should be noted that the helmet law dogma is not as entrenched in the US as in Australia.  Even in states with youth helmet laws, approx 1/3 of youth cyclists still do not wear them.  Enforcement of helmet laws there is inconsistent and penalties for non compliance are modest such as verbal warnings, counseling, or a small fine.  This is a stark contrast to helmet enforcement in Australia where penalties are typically around $150 and police use extreme measures to ensure compliance.

Journal article at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1537776, PDF

National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020

Public submissions for the draft National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 close this week on 18 Feb 2011.  Sadly, the current draft contains almost no reference to improving cyclist safety in Australia. In fact, cycling is only mentioned twice in 64 pages.

If you are concerned about safe cycling here in Oz and want to make your voice heard, then here is your chance.  You can submit feedback in two ways

Here are some thoughts we’ve put together if you want some help:

1. What road safety issues are most important to you?

Cyclist and pedestrian safety, and urban speed limits.

2. Is there anything important that you think is missing from this draft strategy?

There is no reference in the draft strategy to improving cycling safety. Why is the Department of Infrastructure and Transport continuing to discount the needs and safety of cyclists?

3. Are there things that are not explained or where you think there should be more information?

Please state what actions your are taking to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety and what evidence you are using to make your evidence-based decisions.

4. What do you think is good about this draft strategy?

You seems to be trying to base your strategy on evidence of what actually works.  Please examine the evidence about why helmets work but helmet laws do not and end your support for mandatory helmet legislation.

5. What can we do differently to improve this draft strategy?

Support transport safety policies that have been shown to work and drop others that have no evidence of efficacy.

  • Provide proper transport infrastructure that separates pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.  The leading cause of cycling fatalities is collision with a motor vehicle and cycling on separated bike paths is over twice as safe as sharing the road with motor vehicles (Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street, 2011, Injury Prevention)
  • Reduce urban speed limits to below 40kph whenever proper separated infrastructure is not provided.  The current draft recognises 30kph as the speed as which the risk of death increases significantly in car/pedestrian and car/motorcycle collisions; while your 2006 report ‘Death of Cyclists Due to Road Crashes’ notes that less than 1% of cyclists were killed in 40kph zones and below.
  • Change driver behaviour by providing legal protection of non-motorised road users.  Many European countries have introduced strict liability for motorists to acknowledge the cause of most road casualties and protect vulnerable road users.
  • Remove support for mandatory helmet legislation.  While helmets have been shown to reduce the chance of head injury in the event of an accident, they do not address the leading cause of cycling injuries – collision with a motor vehicle.  There are no peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate helmet laws have been effective at reducing cycling fatality rates and significant evidence to show that helmet laws make cycling more dangerous by reducing cycling levels.  Your 2009 briefing paper ‘Cycling Infrastructure for Australian Cities’ shows a 34% reduction of risk per km cycled when cycling numbers are doubled, while RTA & VicRoad data showed a 30-40% reduction in cycling numbers when mandatory helmet laws where introduced.  This indicates that any benefits of helmet wearing was more than negated by the decrease in cycling levels and subsequent increase in collisions with motor vehicles.

Remember, things will only change if you do something about it.  So go to the website and have your say.

Safe riding everyone.

85% fewer fatalities without helmet laws

Here is fantastic little case study about how to really make cycling safer.  The Dutch, experts on cycling safety, have long known not to ignore the bull in the china shop.  Instead of blaming the victim and demonizing cycling, they like to address the cause of the problem – getting hit by a car or truck.  Here we see how the Dutch react to reckless driving that could have killed a group of teenagers.

In just 9 years, Den Bosch (population 136,000), has managed to reduce traffic injuries by 60% and fatalities by 85% while increasing the number of people riding.  They did this by reducing urban speed limits, providing proper cycling infrastructure and giving legal protect to non-motorised travellers.

The Dutch, Danes and Germans have been making cycling safer for 40 years.  They know what policies work.  We’ve tried helmet laws for the last 20 and the evidence shows they don’t work.  So why can’t we learn from others who know what they are talking about and make cycling normal and safe in Australia?

Like helmets but hate helmet laws? Its time to do something about it.

Video by Markenlei

Northern Ireland votes to end freedom

Northern Ireland’s Assembly has narrowly passed a bill mandating helmets for all cyclists.  The fine for not wearing one looks set to be £50.

The backward step for cycling is the brainchild of Social Democrat Pat Ramsey.  For someone who claims to support social justice, the environment and economic rejuvenation, blaming the victims of road trauma, and discouraging cycling by demonizing it seem a pretty strange way of doing so.

Perhaps most tellingly however, is the fact that his confirmed office confirmed that Pat Ramsey doesn’t even ride a bike!

Remember Pat, if you ever do get on a bike, no-one should stop you wearing a helmet if that’s what you want.  Just don’t try and force people to conform to your beliefs in an area you know little about.

If you live in Northern Ireland, why don’t you drop him a line and tell him what you think.

Pat Ramsey
Social Democratic and Labour Party
1 Infirmary Road
BT48 7HE

Phone: 028 7136 1444

Take action today and start enjoying the ride! Read more