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Helmet laws discourage the safest cyclists

Researchers in Norway have looked into possible reasons why there is no good evidence of reduced injury benefit in countries that have enacted cycle helmet legislation despite studies showing that helmets have the potential to reduce injuries.

It was found that the cyclist population can be divided into two sub-populations: one speed-happy group that cycle fast and have lots of cycle equipment including helmets, and one traditional kind of cyclist without much equipment, cycling slowly.

With all the limitations that have to be placed on a cross sectional study such as this, the results indicate that at least part of the reason why helmet laws do not appear to be beneficial is that they disproportionately discourage the safest cyclists. Discouraging cyclists with the lowest accident risk increases the overall average risk per cyclist and thus any potential safety intervention, such as a helmet, has no (or possibly even a negative) net benefit.

The researchers conclude that this shift in the cycling population caused by helmet laws is a more likely explanation of why laws do not work than risk compensation (whereby cyclists take more risks because they feel better protected).

Evidence from both Australia and New Zealand has shown that a long-term outcome of the laws in those countries has been to suppress cycle use as an everyday means of transport and to increase more risky types of cycling, such as riding off-road.

Mon 6 Aug 2012

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