Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bike helmets: Effective? Compulsory?

I’ve always been concerned about the welfare of my head. Especially my brain. Bike helmets went on sale in the US before Australia. So in the mid 1970s, soon after they became available in the US, I bought one. Mail order. A Bell Biker (pictured), serial number 367, it was probably the first commercially-bought bike helmet in Australia. It was big and boofy, and I had great faith it’d protect my skull and brain if needed. Thankfully it was never needed. I wore it for many years – until its sweat-hardened straps chafed my cheeks and chin skin. In Australia, since 1990 the law’s compelled people riding bikes to wear helmets. Last Sunday’s episode of the excellent ABC radio documentary Background Briefing was titled ‘Bicycle helmet laws’. The ABC’s blurb says ‘The law here is that cyclists must wear helmets, but in Europe it is not mandatory, and yet it’s much safer to cycle. Some say helmets make cycling more dangerous and others that they actually cause brain injury and the law should be repealed’. You can listen, and read the transcript, here [1]. It’s said the helmet efficacy/compulsion debate [2, 3] makes the climate change debate look like a walk in the park. Me? I remain an avid proponent. For if a crunch comes, I’d rather be wearing a helmet.

P.S. This letter to the MJA contains an important cautionary note for parents of young children [4]. Don’t let your kids wear bike helmets when they’re not riding bikes. Please.

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