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Have helmet laws increased casualties for non-cyclists?

The primary fault with Australia's draft National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020, according to a researcher, is its failure to make any reference to the country's mandatory bicycle helmet regulations and their broader impact on road safety and public health.

In a submission to the draft strategy, a detailed analysis is presented of the evidence on cycle use in Australia and casualty trends. It is argued that recent increases in cycling are merely a recovery from low numbers experienced throughout the 1990s when many Australian adults and children were discouraged from bike riding. Current cycling levels still lag behind pre-law numbers with a consequent impact on road safety, comprehensive data providing evidence of cycling discouragement 20 years after helmet law enactment.

An innovative part of the submission looks at the impact of helmet laws in Australia on road casualties for non-cyclists - the first time this has been done so far as is known. On the basis that fewer people cycling means more people driving and greater traffic density, a link is suggested between enactment of the laws and increases in road casualties that took place at the same time (ending a long period of declining casualties). Australian Transport Safety Bureau statistics show that the least number of all road casualties was recorded in 1992, the year that the last states enacted helmet legislation.

The analysis includes a great deal of new data including cycle use and road casualty figures from Australian and New Zealand helmet jurisdictions before and after helmet law enforcement. It is likely to be controversial, but deserves careful consideration.

Sat 5 Mar 2011

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