Scientific Thinking and Research Skills
Tutorial class: Tuesday 1-3pm
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The Truth About Compulsory Bike Helmet Laws Reducing Injuries
As a child growing up in Australia one of the first birthday presents we may receive after we have learnt to walk, is a bicycle. Our parents would always guarantee that we would wear a helmet when we went out to play on our new bicycle, to ensure that we were safe from head injuries but do compulsory bike helmets laws really prevent injury? In this report we will examine the effects of bike helmet laws on reducing injury in bike use.
Throughout the heartland of the Tour de France continent, not one country has compulsory bike helmets laws, yet in 1989 Australia became the first country to legislate bike helmet laws for all cyclists. In 1993 New Zealand followed in Australia’s lead. (Berg & Westerling, 2007)
With the brain being the most important part of the body and any head injury can result in damaging effects that may be life threatening, the legislation introduced by Australia and New Zealand makes a lot of sense. An American study by Thompson in 1989, showed that of the patients admitted to the Emergency Department in one of five hospitals in the city of Seattle, the use of helmets reduces 85% of head injuries and 88% of brain injuries (Thompson, 1989). This study is supported by numerous other studies including Curnow in 2005 and two recent Cochrane Collaborations. Curnow found that helmets reduce the risk of injuries by at least 75%. (Curnow, 2005) A recent Cochrane report examined six other studies about the use of helmets for preventing head and facial injuries. Three of these studies found after the introduction of helmet laws, head injuries reduced and one found that there was no change. (Thompson, Rivara & Thompson, 2009)
In a ten-year study, between 1988-1996, of the discharge register data in Sweden, a cycling mad country, found that children had a highest rate of bicycle- related injuries, but over the study this decreases by 46%. (Berg & Westerling, 2007) The number of head injuries also decreased but there was no change in the number of non-head injuries. The only answer to this data is an increase in the use of helmets by children. On the other hand the number of adults involved in head injuries increased but when colliding with another motor vehicle there was no change. (Berg & Westerling, 2007) If a cyclist collides with a motor vehicle at speed, it most likely doesn’t matter if they are wearing a helmet or not its still going to cause a head injury. This study was one of the bases the Swedish Government introduced mandatory bike helmets for all children under fifteen in 2005 but one of the concerns with introducing it to all cyclist was the possible decrease in bicycle use and therefore a decrease in public health.
In studies completed in Melbourne and New South Wales, both reported that the decrease in head injuries was not due to the introduction of bike helmets legislation but rather claimed that other studies had failed to report the number of children riding dropped by 42% and 36% respectively. In Perth, automatic counters in bike lanes recorded a drop of 20% a year after laws when introduced. (Robinson, 2006) These studies argued the extra expense of a helmet for a low social economic families might be to high so they may resort back to the use of their car or public transport at this time. They also state a decrease in the number of children riding in the Melbourne and New South Wales studies could be a reflex reaction by parents not wanting their children riding as it may be perceived as dangerous if the government has now made it law that helmets need to be worn, when riding a bicycle. What these studies have failed to consider is the changes in society, rather then the...