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An Assessment of the Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Law in Australia

by D. L. Robinson,
AGBU, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

[Famous Estimate Proven False: Helmets Don't Prevent 85% of Injuries]


Literature estimates of the benefit of helmets have varied widely. A Swedish report estimated they would prevent 13% of head injuries [ECF, 1991]. Mills [1989] estimated helmets could prevent 32% of head injuries in the UK, but, in the US, Thompson et al. [1989] estimated 85% would be prevented. The latter was based on observing only 23 head injured cyclists wearing helmets out of a sample of 325 (7.8%), compared with 23.8% helmet wearing in a control data set of non head injured cyclists receiving emergency room care. Attempts were made to adjust the odds ratios for age, sex, income, education, cycling experience and the severity of the accident. Those who choose to wear helmets may differ in many respects from those who do not, including traffic conditions and type of roads used for cycling, so comparison of dissimilar samples using statistical adjustment techniques will always be difficult. Applying Thompson's estimate of an 85% reduction in head injury to the 28.6% of approved helmet wearing riders over 18 with head injuries in McDermott's study would imply a very unrealistic head injury rate of 191% in non helmeted riders, very different to the actual value of 38% Thus we may conclude that Thompson's estimate of the reduction in head injuries is not valid for hospital admissions in Victoria, though helmet wearing has some benefit in reducing the number and severity of head injuries for cyclists involved in accidents.


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Last updated: 7 April 1999