Bicycle helmet legislation: can we reach a consensus?

Accid Anal Prev. 2007 Jan;39(1):86-93. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2006.06.007. Epub 2006 Aug 21.


Debate continues over bicycle helmet laws. Proponents argue that case-control studies of voluntary wearing show helmets reduce head injuries. Opponents argue, even when legislation substantially increased percent helmet wearing, there was no obvious response in percentages of cyclist hospital admissions with head injury-trends for cyclists were virtually identical to those of other road users. Moreover, enforced laws discourage cycling, increasing the costs to society of obesity and lack of exercise and reducing overall safety of cycling through reduced safety in numbers. Countries with low helmet wearing have more cyclists and lower fatality rates per kilometre. Cost-benefit analyses are a useful tool to determine if interventions are worthwhile. The two published cost-benefit analyses of helmet law data found that the cost of buying helmets to satisfy legislation probably exceeded any savings in reduced head injuries. Analyses of other road safety measures, e.g. reducing speeding and drink-driving or treating accident blackspots, often show that benefits are significantly greater than costs. Assuming all parties agree that helmet laws should not be implemented unless benefits exceed costs, agreement is needed on how to derive monetary values for the consequences of helmet laws, including changes in injury rates, cycle-use and enjoyment of cycling. Suggestions are made concerning the data and methodology needed to help clarify the issue, e.g. relating pre- and post-law surveys of cycle use to numbers with head and other injuries and ensuring that trends are not confused with effects of increased helmet wearing.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Bicycling / injuries*
  • Bicycling / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Consensus
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / economics
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / epidemiology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / prevention & control*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Head Protective Devices / economics
  • Head Protective Devices / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Public Policy*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Safety / economics
  • Safety / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Trauma Severity Indices