Changes in head injury with the New Zealand bicycle helmet law

Accid Anal Prev. 2001 Sep;33(5):687-91. doi: 10.1016/s0001-4575(00)00073-7.


It was claimed that the bicycle helmet law in New Zealand reduced head injuries to adult cyclists by 28% (Povey, L.J., Frith, W.J., Graham, P.G., 1999. Cycle helmet effectiveness in New Zealand. Accident Analysis and Prevention 31, 763-770). However, the pre-law increase in adults wearing helmets (from 30% in 1990 to 43% in 1993) was accompanied by a fall of 45 head injuries per 100 limb injuries (i.e. -3.47 for every 1% increase in helmet wearing) compared with a fall of 11 when wearing increased from 43 to 93% with the law (-0.23 for every 1% increase in wearing). Unless voluntary wearing is 15 times more effective in reducing head injuries, it seems likely that the apparent effects (as described by Povey et al., 1999) were an artefact caused by failure to fit time trends in their model. Such inconsistency of effects over periods of substantial change compared with periods of little change in helmet wearing may be a useful indicator of the presence of trends. Because the large increases in wearing with helmet laws have not resulted in any obvious change over and above existing trends, helmet laws and major helmet promotion campaigns are likely to prove less beneficial and less cost effective than proven road-safety measures, such as enforcement of speed limits and drink-driving laws, education of motorists and cyclists and treatment of accident black spots and known hazards for cyclists.

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Bicycling / injuries*
  • Bicycling / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / epidemiology*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / prevention & control
  • Head Protective Devices / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • New Zealand / epidemiology