my refusal to wear a bicycle helmet

my refusal to wear a bicycle helmet
...is informed

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Facilis descensus Averno...



...sed revocare...hoc opus, hic labor est.

Good old Virgil - absolutely spot on:

"To descend into hell is easy,
But to return...what work, what a labour it is!"


...and haven't we found that out the hard way here in Australia.

It was madness to permit the side-lining of 'scientific method & evidence-based' policy that had always been a pre-requisite in 'liberty-reducing' laws. It was sheer folly to actively nuture a culture of 'helmet-belief', a belief that was false and unfounded; a belief that has since been discovered to be so...& on numerous occasions too.

Our politicians allowed their common sense to be hi-jacked by a commercial reality, and very quickly lost the courage of their convictions (and probalby their ability to ride bicycles in a transport sort of a way too). Basically politicians have been rendered incapable of thinking rationally ever since mandatory bicycle helmet laws were rolled out across Australia.

"I-believe-in-helmets-so-you-must-wear-one-too" beliefs are intellectually defunct and devoid of a rational approach to the extent of not even countenancing the possibility of a correction. In view of the academic evidence that has been provided over the past 2 decades, they ought to be politically ruinous, after all as the American Sam Harris so eloquently states, 'to assume knowledge where one has only pious hope is a species of evil'.

Notwithstanding all the doom & gloom that has been meted out to us in the framework of mandatory bicycle helmet laws, 'hauling ourselves up' we are, and particularly so in Sydney!

What with our incredible visionary Lord Mayor and an eager grassroots movement lapping up everything she gives us, 'citizen cycling' is taking off in this most beautiful harbour city. Helmet compliance has all but gone out the window, and cycling numbers grow daily.

After a weekend in Melbourne I couln't help but notice my fellow Sydney citizen cyclists with me in Redfern's Wilson Street yesterday afternoon: the 'wise', the 'excited', the 'fresh', the 'romantic', the 'professional', the 'sporty' - we were all there; it was almost like Amsterdam!!!...& at one noticeable 'abundantly-helmetless' moment we all seemed to be smiling at our immense luck at living and travelling in a city with "our Clover" at the helm!!!

I also couldn't help but notice the much wider space that Sydney vehicles provide their 'citizen cyclists' as opposed to that proffered by Melbourne vehicles to theirs - 'lay-down misère' - Sydney wins again!!!!!!!

"Behold the turtle! - she makes progress only when she sticks out her neck" - well done, Clover, you're the best & a million thanks for fast-tracking us out of our 'Averno'!!

24 comments:

  1. It was great meeting up with you in Melbourne, Sue, but by the sound of things, I really must get up to Sydney for a ride.
    keep in touch
    Alan

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  2. Alan! You must!!!! Come for the "Punk Commute"

    It was really lovely meeting you and I look forward to touching base again soon x

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  3. Sue, on my commute to the train station this morning I spotted a group of MAMIL's out riding & one of them had no helmet! Now that really is progress!

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  4. Go unhelmetted Sydney cyclists

    Go forth and multiply !!!

    Congratulations Sue, Sydney and NSW on leading the way.

    If you win there it will be so much easier for the other states.
    At least we'll have somewhere closer than Darwin to holiday !!

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  5. Sue, not sure if you've seen this link... pertaining to ski helmets but interesting in terms of the way humans behave.

    http://www.lidsonkids.org/ski-or-snowboard-as-if-youre-not-wearing-one.asp

    LSS

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  6. I found the 'To helmet or not" post card under my windscreen this afternoon. I take this as an invitation to make comment.

    I have survived three serious prangs thus far, two on motor bikes and one in a car. The last of these had me declared dead by the attending police officer. In each case I wore the legally required safety gear.

    I have had the distressing experience of visiting a close friend and very experienced urban cyclist at St Vincent's hospital while he recovered from bruising to the brain after landing on his head while wearing a helmet. The accident was captured on video. Had he been without a helmet, I probably would have had to attend his funeral.
    I've also been attacked while cycling from work by some idiots who wanted to see how much protection my helmet offered from a piece of 4x2 timber.

    If you want to stop the law makers in this society from applying less than perfect solutions to trying to protect your life, why not solve the compulsory helmet debate by signing a waiver absolving the rest of our community from providing the medical support to help those suffering mental and physical trauma from a bare headed impact with the road or whatever else makes contact. Seat belts break passengers ribs in accidents so why not get rid of them too?

    Obligations in society are often mutual.
    Is it unreasonable to expect that if we want absolute freedom to act then we should be prepared to accept the consequence of your choice?
    I thought that the right to civil liberty in a fair society is balanced with the need for civil obligation.

    As luck would have it, the notion of a duty of care prevails in our community so that there is immediate support for victims of road accident trauma, even when their action or inaction. contributes to their injury.

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  7. Anonymous, is it unreasonable that only 35 million people are subjected to MHLs while 6.7 billion are not? I will happily sign your ridiculous waiver to medical treatment when you get all of the car drivers who break the law (and will probably be responsible for my accident anyway), the obese, the smokers, the murderers, the rapists and the illegal drug users to also sign the waiver as I believe that my civil obligations pay for their treatment. Sorry, am I being unreasonable? Just have a think about what you have written. No, really have a think about how ridiculous your argument is.

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  8. Hello Anonymous,

    Thanks for dropping by and for taking the time to comment. It is always good to have this discussion. For too long it has been swept under the carpet often only to see the light of day accompanied by the very notions that you have espoused in your 'comment' to this post.

    I am certainly glad that you survived your three prangs (how wrong was the policeman?) Notwithstanding they are irrelevant in 'matters bicycling' and therefore offer no weight to your argument in this instance.

    With regards to your friend, it is your opinion that the helmet saved your friend's life, and certainly not Class 1 evidence. Furthemore a significant number of peer-reviewed academic studies point to data suggesting that helmets may even exacerbate head injuries - leading to a somewhat different take on your friend's situation.

    In relation to your assailants and their attack upon you, your helmet may well have provided you with some protection as it is the linear blows that they are primarily designed for rather than the more common oblique blows that cyclists tend to sustain in the event that they strike their heads. However all things considered, you are surely not relying on this particular incident to shore up your mandatory bicycle helmet law argument? This would be far removed from the interpretation and intentions of the regulation so therefore somewhat irrelevant.

    Prima facie the evidence pertaining to helmets is conflicting yet despite the fierce academic debate on bicycle helmets, we are still legally compelled to wear one in Australia.

    Inter alia, most nation states across the globe openly acknowledge that mandatory helmet laws raise issues of civil liberties. Accordingly the decision ‘to helmet or not’ is left to their individual citizens. It is time this practice was adopted here, and relinquished to the realm of our choice.

    Given that the law is fragmented, uncertain and inconsistent, the law ought to be repealed.

    ...and with regard to comments on 'obligations', these become the responsibility of governments in direct proportion to draconian and restrictive legislation enacted. Therefore given that they have insisted upon us wearing bicycle helmets, they now own the 'responsibility', and they fail miserably in this instance.

    Notwithstanding, it does shed some light on rationale for political refusal to mandate for childhood vaccinations despite overwhelming data on the benefits afforded. Politicians are terrified of adverse reactions caused by vaccinations and the ensuing PR. But it's a different political 'ball-game' with bicycle helmets which are so ideally nebulous, so ideally marketable, and so ideally hard to prove as the cause of adverse reactions - all in all, the perfect political commodity with the perfect minimal political risk - to date.

    We all ought to have the right to petition for a redress of a grievance, and we all ought to take our roles in our representative democracy very seriously - these are our responsibilities.

    I am an active participant because I believe it is this opportunity to fully participate in our destiny that makes democracy strong. If actions are to be done in my name then I am determined to supervise this process, and to make sure I hold our government to account.

    As I mentioned above, these are my responsibilities - and I take them very seriously.

    Thank you for being part of this blog post, and for engaging with me upon receipt of your postcard. I look forward to maybe seeing you at the "Punk Commute".

    Kind regards,
    Sue

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  9. Hello Sue,

    I noticed a lot of non-helmet wearing on recent trips to Byron Bay and Canberra. It certainly seems to be catching on in the Eastern States.

    Edward

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  10. Hello Sue,

    From reading your response to Anonymous, I can see you have very good points about the inconsistency of the helmet wearing law, when compared to things like vaccinations, etc.

    However, from a quick search, I have found 4 published articles (including a meta-review) with an average of about ~150 citation for each, all concluding that helmets reduce the risk of head and brain injury in statistically significant way.
    (http://www.bmj.com/content/308/6922/173.full?hits=10&FIRSTINDEX=0&FULLTEXT=cycling+helmets&SEARCHID=1&gca=bmj%25253B308%25252F6943%25252F1537&gca=bmj%25253B308%25252F6922%25252F173&
    http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM198905253202101
    http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/276/24/1968.abstract
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V5S-4292GTW-6&_user=115085&_coverDate=05/31/2001&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000008818&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=115085&md5=1864ef72564459b9f56901741175b57f&searchtype=a)

    This article also supports the argument for enforcing helmet use with legislation:
    http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/12/2/76.short

    If you do have papers contradicting these ones, or showing newer evidence, please do share them. I found these using Google Scholar, searching for "effectiveness of bicycle helmets". They also do not address the civil liberties issue.

    In terms of civil liberties, the post above your own mentions that people are allowed to smoke, and can break the laws in their cars, etc. But I feel that legislation, such as banning advertising for smoking, and enforcing seat-belts in cars - though they do not remove the risk entirely, they strike a balance between social acceptability and safety. For example, people don't have to have roll-cages in their cars, even though it would be safer.
    From what I gather, your point is equivalent to saying that we should not have to wear seat-belts in cars, though please correct me if I have misinterpreted, rather than limiting the imposition of further (perhaps restrictive) safety laws.

    I agree that discussion is the best way to get these things out in the open, so please do not interpret this as an attack on your ideas - simply (hopefully) constructive debate!

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  11. I love not wearing a helmet!

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  12. Hello Sue,

    From reading your response to Anonymous, I can see you have very good points about the inconsistency of the helmet wearing law, when compared to things like vaccinations, etc.

    However, from a quick search, I have found 4 published articles (including a meta-review) with an average of about ~150 citation for each, all concluding that helmets reduce the risk of head and brain injury in statistically significant way.
    (http://www.bmj.com/content/308/6922/173.full?hits=10&FIRSTINDEX=0&FULLTEXT=cycling+helmets&SEARCHID=1&gca=bmj%25253B308%25252F6943%25252F1537&gca=bmj%25253B308%25252F6922%25252F173&
    http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM198905253202101
    http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/276/24/1968.abstract
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V5S-4292GTW-6&_user=115085&_coverDate=05/31/2001&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_acct=C000008818&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=115085&md5=1864ef72564459b9f56901741175b57f&searchtype=a)

    This article also supports the argument for enforcing helmet use with legislation:
    http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/12/2/76.short

    If you do have papers contradicting these ones, or showing newer evidence, please do share them. I found these using Google Scholar, searching for "effectiveness of bicycle helmets". They also do not address the civil liberties issue.

    In terms of civil liberties, the post above your own mentions that people are allowed to smoke, and can break the laws in their cars, etc. But I feel that legislation, such as banning advertising for smoking, and enforcing seat-belts in cars - though they do not remove the risk entirely, they strike a balance between social acceptability and safety. For example, people don't have to have roll-cages in their cars, even though it would be safer.
    From what I gather, your point is equivalent to saying that we should not have to wear seat-belts in cars, though please correct me if I have misinterpreted, rather than limiting the imposition of further (perhaps restrictive) safety laws.

    I agree that discussion is the best way to get these things out in the open, so please do not interpret this as an attack on your ideas - simply (hopefully) constructive debate!

    Kind Regards,
    Luke (luke.s.mondy@gmail.com)

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  13. It appears I am unable to post a comment on this for more than a few minutes before it disappearing.

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  14. Wikileaks would be proud of your openness to discourse.

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  15. I have been wearing a helmut for 10 years and I had lots of problems with my scalp and dandruff and a rash which I couldn't get a cream for from the chemist but now stopped wearing a helmut for 5 years and only had 2 accidents and I am fine - just a little bit of my brain pokes out of my scalp but that is ok it can't be noticed that mcuh.

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  16. I don't understand why a levy should be required for people who do something to reduce their risk of brain damage - cycling without a helmet.

    The more people cycle, the less the medical cost of treating brain damage from heart attacks and strokes - this far outweighs any small risk from cycling without a helmet.

    Our motorcycling friend, who suffered 2 serious prangs, may not realise that the average person takes more risks when wearing safety gear. This is probably why helmet laws increased the number of head injuries to cyclists, compared to what would have been expected without the law.

    A UK study found that motorists leave less room when overtaking helmeted cyclists which, together with reduced cycling from helmet laws leading to reduced Safety in Numbers, explains why helmet laws increase injury costs.

    Even the example of the idiots wanting to see how much protection a helmet affords by attacking it with a 4x2 is a perverted example of risk compensation. They probably thought the helmet would prevent injury, not realising that helmets are so ineffective a simple fall off the bike, or a collision with a dog can cause a helmeted cyclist to die from head injury.

    We’d all be far better off if helmet laws were repealed, leading to more and safer cycling, fewer head injuries per cyclist and less brain damage from strokes and heart attacks.

    This is hard to understand because people don’t know the facts. What's the best way to explain that wearing a helmet leads to a false sense of security, increasing the risk of accidents and head injuries compared to the same person cycling without a helmet?

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  17. I was so fit and mary used to stroke my hair and say Marty you are so fit and I love that you are so fit and when the car hit us I cried and cried and cried becaue she was just there on theroad and her head wa just a big mess

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  18. Sounds like a 'Pearl Jam' song...

    ...but anecdotes & songs aside, it's remains apparent that this issue should be a matter for choice.

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  19. Like other 'pro-choice' discussions it is important to realise that being anti-MHL is about not forcing one's opinion on helmet wearing onto anyone: it is their choice and theirs alone it should be respected. I don't care if your do or do not wear one.

    Being pro-MHL however means that you are wanting to force your position onto those that don't accept it, no matter what evidence might exist to the contrary. It's like one of those irritating religions... or creationist arguments... or climate change deniers... and so on.

    Anti-MHL = on the fence, you decide for yourself on helmet use
    Pro-MHL = "my way or the highway; I don't care about your opinion"


    I am pro-choice on this matter. Wear a helmet if you like but don't tell me that I "must wear one or face certain death & destruction".

    Go Sue!!! :)

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  20. Luke, thank you so much for your persistence with posting your comments - I don't know what Google's story was there but I have your comments posted at last!!!

    With regards to your take on my possible thoughts on seat belts, I believe that there's no comparison between bicycle helmets and vehicle seat belts given that motorised vehicles and bicycles are totally different entities, travelling at different speeds with different protective factors in mind for their proposed safety features: after all part of the seatbelt rationale is to minimise the 'missile factor' that passengers present whilst travelling in a motorised vehicle. Yet even so, there is no requirement for children to wear them on school buses - sigh! more confusion and contradiction.

    People routinely jump to the seatbelt comparison but it's not a good one as it's like comparing apples with oranges - they're both fruit but that's the end of the similarity story as differences start to kick in adding variables and confounders to the neat little fixed belief

    My position regarding the academic studies and peer-reviewed 'everything' is given that the experts and professors are so divided on this matter (more so than on any obesity, nicotine and/or alcohol issue) it ought to be left to us as individuals to decide for ourselves given that cyclists are of no risk to anyone else. The argument that I ought to sign a waiver for future benefits from Medicare if I should be injured is also weak because that is not how our healthcare system works even when you wreak havoc upon your own personal health through eating, drinking or smoking - and from all accounts, regular cyclists whether they're the sporty types or the utility types, do not tend to wreak havoc upon their own personal health.

    Thanks again, Luke, for your thoughts - it's good to have this chat and I'm really glad you didn't give up trying to get them up here!

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  21. @Luke

    There is nothing groundbreaking about that review you quote.

    Their Objective states:
    This review evaluates the scientific evidence for helmet use following legislation to identify the effectiveness of legislative interventions to increase bicycle helmet use among all age groups.

    Ok... Firstly, this is only a review (of other papers). The endpoint is whether or not more people wear helmets if the law says they should. There is no mention of any endpoint that actually matters (for example, does helmet legislation reduce head injury rates? Does it reduce cycling numbers? - we know the answers to those questions).

    Not surprisingly, they found that when the law says you must wear a helmet, helmet wearing rates go up (but never to 100% - not even close in some studies)! You will not be surprised to know that wearing rates go up more when it is enforced by punishment (fines) - again, hardly groundbreaking stuff.

    I'm sorry, but that review should have been published in the 'Journal of the Bleeding Obvious'.

    I'm with Sue on this one and seatbelts are a poor analogy. If you want a sensible analogy then we need to be calling for helmets in cars...

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  22. Luke,

    There are a number of articles, many of them peer reviewed, that conclude that helmets reduce head injuries. They do but the question to ask is - what type of injuries? Plainly, a helmet will reduce the incidence of grazing injuries and other surface lacerations but there is no evidence whatsoever to say they "save lives", whatever that means, despite the many anecdotes you will hear. While they may limit surface abrations, it is another logical step entirely to say that it should be mandatory for anyone who gets on a bike to wear a helmet. Choosing to wear a helmet when you cycle is fine. Nobody has a problem with that. The problem arises when you make it mandatory for everyone.

    You could perform the same test on a group of motorists and would come up with the same conclusion - that helmet wearing would reduce the incidence of head injury (indeed, I am fairly certain that such a review has already been done and it came to that conclusion). What must not be ignored is the potential exposure to injury and the other negative effects of a mandatory helmet law. They are well established. Sue has links to the figures.

    Aside from the State telling me how to look after myself, my biggest problem is that mandatory helmet laws are a total cop out. If you are side-swiped by a car at speed or hit from behind by a truck, a helmet will do little to protect you. They are not built for nor tested for impacts at those speeds. And yet, every day, the few people who choose to get around by bike in this country are exposed to that every day. A far more effective safety measure would be to limit that exposure in the first place. Forcing people to wear helmets and encouraging them to wear flourescent jackets and other safety gear are merely a reaction to the unsafe environment people have to ride in.

    It has been said time and time again that the safest places to cycle in the world (places where all ages cycle - not just primarily males riding aggressively) do not have mandatory helmet laws. They are unnecessary and counter-productive. If it were as dangerous to cycle without a helmet as seems to be claimed, Dutch bike paths would be littered with corpses.

    I had a quick look at the articles you link to. The one from the NEJM by Thompson et al is well known and widely criticised. Its problem is that it compares three entirely different groups and the incidence of head injuries among them (it includes cheek lacerations under the definition of head injury by the way). It then concludes that the difference in injury rates is entirely due to helmet wearing. Tragically, the 85% figure is still after all these years widely cited even though it is so plainly wrong.

    The studies are useful of course but care should be taken in what conclusions are drawn from them.

    Cheers,

    Edward

    PS: The article you link to that supports legislation reviews other articles and concludes that legislation increases helmet wearing. That is no surprise. The article does not comment on the wisdom or otherwise of requiring helmet wearing.

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  23. Luke,

    Have a quick look at the people on bicycles (young and old) here (http://www.paysbascyclechic.com/), here (http://amsterdamize.com/) and here (http://www.switchimage.org/phlog/phlog.html).

    It is a perfectly normal and safe activity that does not require safety gear like helmets. I seriously do not understand the focus on them in this country.

    Cheers,

    Edward

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  24. I actually enjoyed reading through this posting. Many thanks.

    Safety Equipment Melbourne

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