Hel­mets a no-brainer

We must pro­tect cy­clists from huge cost of head in­juries

Sunday Tasmanian - - News - Rex Gard­ner is a for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Mer­cury.

TO join the na­tional de­bate on bi­cy­cle hel­mets, take a few dol­lars to the lo­cal fruit shop and buy a wa­ter­melon.

Care­fully climb up a lad­der or some ex­ter­nal stairs and toss the wa­ter­melon hard on to a con­crete sur­face.

You’ll get the pic­ture very quickly. It leaves an aw­ful mess.

If you want to take it fur­ther, put one in a bi­cy­cle hel­met and do it again, and com­pare the dam­age

Aus­tralia’s Bi­cy­cle Net­work is rec­om­mend­ing manda­tory hel­met laws be wa­tered down to al­low a five-year trial al­low­ing cy­clists older than 17 years to choose whether they wear hel­mets when rid­ing on foot­paths or off-road cy­cle paths.

Es­sen­tially, more than 80 per cent of cy­clist crashes in­volve cars, the net­work says. There­fore, cy­cling on foot­paths and cy­cle paths de­void of cars is a far safer op­tion and you should be free to choose to wear a hel­met or not.

The net­work says 60 per cent of bike rid­ers call­ing for change “don’t be­lieve they need some­one to tell them whether to wear a hel­met when they’re go­ing down the beach or go­ing for a slow Sun­day pedal”. Well, here’s a sim­ple truth. If you take a tum­ble from your bike at 20km/h on the bike path, the ground is just as hard as a 20km/h tum­ble on the road. Sure, you haven’t got a car to con­tend with, but the ground is un­for­giv­ing.

Some­thing be­tween your head and the ground should be wel­comed in all cir­cum­stances. Whether you are 16 or 60, it doesn’t mat­ter. Head pro­tec­tion can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween liv­ing a full life, or liv­ing life as an in­valid in a wheel­chair.

State laws, and we as a so­ci­ety, need to do all we can to pro­tect cy­clists from the huge cost of head in­juries. In­jured cy­clists can thank their lucky stars if they re­cover from a head in­jury, be­cause many don’t and their lives are changed within an in­stant.

What’s more, it would be a mine­field for law en­force­ment. Imag­ine polic­ing cy­clists criss­cross­ing parks, bike paths, cross­ing busy roads and rid­ing down foot­paths. Some cy­clists pull some dodgy tricks on our roads, par­tic­u­larly at traf­fic lights.

Each week in Aus­tralia an es­ti­mated 3.75 mil­lion peo­ple ride a bike for re­cre­ation or tran­sit. More than 40 cy­clists die and 4800 are hos­pi­talised each year.

The Bi­cy­cle Net­work — which has about 50,000 mem­bers — says change was needed be­cause bi­cy­cle rid­ing in Aus­tralia was lan­guish­ing. A sur­vey of 20,000 cy­clists had led it to sug­gest chang­ing hel­met laws to get more peo­ple back in the sad­dle.

Hel­mets are com­pul­sory in all states and the ACT. Un­til now the net­work has backed manda­tory hel­met laws and its call last week for change has cre­ated a storm of protest, par­tic­u­larly in med­i­cal cir­cles.

Bi­cy­cle Net­work Tas­ma­nia has fallen in be­hind the na­tional body and backs the re­lax­ation of hel­met laws.

The Tasmanian net­work’s pub­lic af­fairs man­ager Ali­son Hether­ing­ton, who also sits on the state’s Road Safety Ad­vi­sory Council, said the num­ber of peo­ple cy­cling had plateaued or was de­creas­ing, and the net­work had asked it­self the ques­tion ”what are we do­ing wrong?”.

Un­til the na­tional body’s change of tune, the state net­work was op­posed to change.

The Road Safety Ad­vi­sory Council does not have a view as yet, but the call for change will be on the agenda at the next quar­terly meet­ing.

The Royal Aus­tralasian Col­lege of Sur­geons has taken a strong stand on re­lax­ation of manda­tory hel­met leg­is­la­tion, led by Vic­to­rian neu­ro­sur­geon Pro­fes­sor Jef­frey Rosen­feld.

He ar­gues that ev­ery­one who rides a bike de­serves the best pro­tec­tion.

Prof Rosen­feld — who has op­er­ated on in­jured cy­clists over the years — said there was no doubt hel­mets saved cy­clists’ lives and re­duced the sever­ity of head in­juries.

“Head in­juries are a se­ri­ous health is­sue for in­di­vid­u­als, their fam­i­lies and the com­mu­nity, and of­ten have lon­glast­ing con­se­quences for those who do re­cover, such as dis­abil­ity and epilepsy,” Prof Rosen­feld said.

“The risk is al­ways higher when not wear­ing a hel­met, no mat­ter how old you are or where you choose to ride. Choos­ing a des­ig­nated bike path does not mean your ride will be free of an in­ci­dent.

“If laws re­quir­ing cy­clists to wear hel­mets were dis­man­tled there would be an in­crease in costs to the tax­payer as a re­sult of an in­crease in emer­gency ad­mis­sions, and to vic­tims and their fam­i­lies through re­duced qual­ity and years of life,” he said.

Aus­tralia had ex­pe­ri­enced a sus­tained pos­i­tive re­duc­tion in the num­ber of bi­cy­cle-re­lated head in­juries since manda­tory hel­met leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced in the early 1990s.

“As a so­ci­ety we should do all we can to pre­vent and lessen the sever­ity of head in­juries, and gov­ern­ment and mem­ber or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Bi­cy­cle Net­work should take the same stance,” Prof Rosen­feld said.

The Bi­cy­cle Net­work says change was needed be­cause bi­cy­cle rid­ing in Aus­tralia was lan­guish­ing.

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