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Norwegian research finds no fewer accidents with helmet laws

Research by the Transport Economics Institute (TOI) in Norway has found no evidence of reductions in cycling casualties in countries that have introduced helmet laws.

"In countries with mandatory helmet laws, overall bicycle use has declined - not the number of accidents, "says senior researcher Aslak Fyhri.

There are several possible explanations why helmet laws do not work as intended. One is that cyclists often compensate for the effect of helmets, in that they feel safer and ride faster. Another explanation is that some cyclists stop riding when such injunctions are introduced.

According to Fyhri, it is usually the cautious cyclists who have the fewest accidents. By changing behaviour, helmet laws help to increase the overall accident risk.

When it comes to harm reduction, the results using the helmet are often contradictory. Some research shows a general harm reduction, and not just reduction of head injuries. Other studies have found that both accidents and the use of bicycle has been reduced. Thus, exposure to accidents increased for those who still cycled.

The researchers interviewed 1,500 cyclists. They found that the use of a helmet is related to the use of other special equipment, such as bike jackets, shoes and the like. Cyclists who use such equipment often ride faster and more aggressively and have a significantly higher risk for accidents than the average cyclist, says Fyhri.

The perception of risk varies with the use of bicycle equipment - and thus both the type of cyclist you are and how prone to risk you are. Helmet laws remove only the more cautious cyclists, even if laws are restricted to children.

The research also investigated the relationship between personality and the perception of safety and risk in private and public transport. The results suggest a large correlation between people's general feelings and how they perceive the degree of risk for different forms of transport.

Translation from Norwegian - errors possible

Fri 15 Jan 2010

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