Issue addressed: To evaluate the effects on public health in Australia of compelling people to wear a bicycle helmet while cycling.
Methods: The processes of introducing compulsory wearing of bicycle helmets, evidence of their efficacy relative to scientific knowledge of brain injury, effects of compulsory wearing on public health and official actions to uphold the policy are examined.
Results: It is shown that action to make the wearing of a bicycle helmet compulsory was a response to fear of death and chronic disability from brain injury, and it was taken at a time when cycling was increasing and the risk of casualty was falling. It appears that governments did not verify the efficacy of helmets and disregarded research which found that they can increase brain injury. After the legislation was introduced, rates of cycling declined sharply with loss of benefits for health, but the risk of casualty increased.
Conclusions: Compulsion to wear a bicycle helmet is detrimental to public health in Australia.