Helmets a no-brainer
We must protect cyclists from huge cost of head injuries
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.