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Review claims bike helmets do more harm than good

Making bicycle helmets compulsory has been a huge safety con that has done more harm than good, according to a controversial new Australian review.

Canberra-based researcher Bill Curnow, who is president of the Cyclists Rights Action Group which opposes compulsory helmets, said that not only had the move discouraged many people from cycling, governments around the country had ignored evidence that helmets could increase the risk of some types of brain injury.

Mr Curnow's study appears in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Public Health Association of Australia.

He said the rationale for compulsory bicycle helmets stemmed from the fear of death and chronic disability from brain injury. It aimed to minimise medical and other public costs of cycling accidents. But instead of preventing serious injury the laws promoted a false sense of security.

Mr Curnow said that unlike hard motorcycle helmets, soft bicycle helmets tended to disintegrate on impact and failed to prevent damage to the skull and the resulting brain injury. His review also showed that mandatory helmet legislation had turned people off cycling.

"Cycling declined after the helmet laws by an estimated 40 per cent for children, with loss of the benefits of exercise for health but with increased risk of serious casualty," he said. "Though cycling has been discouraged, there hasn't been a commensurate decline in serious injury."

West Australian, 4 April 2008

Fri 4 Apr 2008