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On which criteria are helmet laws justified?

By December 30, 2010 6 Comments


%long_title% %first_name% %last_name%


Dear %short_title% %last_name%,

RE: Justification for Bicycle Helmet Legislation in %state%

I am writing to seek your response as to which criteria %state%’s all-age mandatory helmet laws are justified for cyclists but not other road users.

The rational behind mandatory cycling helmet laws in %state% appears to be that, all other things equal, wearing a helmet is better than not wearing one in the event of an accident.  Yet this same rationale applies to many other activities that are not subject to the same legislation and enforcement.

The vast majority of road fatalities in Australia involve head injuries.  Over three quarters of all motor vehicle injuries (1) and two thirds of pedestrian fatalities (2) involve head injuries.  Only 2% of these accidents involve a cyclist (3) and the remaining 98% are therefore not covered by mandatory helmet laws .

Helmets do not stop working simply because the wearer is not on a bike.  Wearing protective head-wear such as a bike helmet could reduce motoring head injuries by up to 40% and save hundreds of millions of dollars per year in health costs (1).  Similar benefits could also accrue from having pedestrians wear helmets.  Furthermore, the arguments against motoring and pedestrian helmet legislation, such as imposition on civil liberties and the disincentive to undertake activity, apply equally to cycling.  In terms of health & safety, cost imposition, social benefits and individual rights, there seems to be a much greater justification for motorists to face helmet laws than cyclists.

Yet the %state% government has singled out cycling for mandatory helmet legislation when the scientific evidence shows that much greater benefits would accrue from applying the law equally to all road users.  Could you please explain to me the criteria upon which you and the government continue to support mandatory helmet legislation for cycling but not for all road users.

Yours sincerely,



1) McLean A., Fildes B., Kloeden C., Digges K., Anderson R., Moore V. & Simpson D. (1997) ‘Prevention of head injuries to car occupants: an investigation of interior padding options’, Federal Office of Road Safety – Report CR 160, Monash University Accident Research Centre.

2) Kloeden C., White K. & McLean A. (2000) ‘Characteristics of Fatal and Severe Pedestrian Accidents in South Australia’, A Report for the
Transport Technology Program of Transport SA
, University of Adelaide Road Accident Research Unit

3) http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/roads/safety/publications/2009/pdf/rsr_04.pdf


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