May 28, 2014

Should repealing the bicycle helmet law be a priority?

Repeal of Australia's bicycle helmet law is a key demand of many cycling advocates. But the likely gains are dwarfed by those from better cycling infrastructure and regulation of drivers

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

Cycling mode share Berlin

Australia’s mandatory helmet laws are back on the public agenda this week; cycling advocacy group Freestyle Cyclists is organising a 15 km helmet-free ride this Thursday from the venue of the Velo-City Global 2014 conference in Adelaide (although SA Police say they’ll escort the ride and won’t fine anyone who rides without a helmet, see here and here).

One of the many conference speakers, Danish cycling activist Mikael Colville-Andersen, raised the issue well before the conference started. He said last year that he’d refuse to cycle in Adelaide during the conference because of the mandatory helmet law.

I don’t ride bicycles in cities that have helmet laws. The world has been pointing and laughing at your bicycle helmet laws for almost two decades…Whenever a helmet law is proposed elsewhere in the world, which isn’t often, Australia is held up as the example of how helmet laws destroy urban cycling.

It’s a cycle planning conference so there’re many other issues on the program, but whenever cycling policy is discussed in Australia the helmet law usually gets raised. That’s fair enough if it’s a key constraint preventing cycling from flourishing in Australia; but is it? Is the law “destroying urban cycling”? Does it warrant being a high-profile objective of cycling advocacy?

I think the helmet law is unquestionably one of the reasons for the poor performance of bikeshare schemes in Australia, but I’m not persuaded it’s a major drag on cycling more generally in this country – I don’t think it even comes close. I want to explain my point of view, drawing in part from an article I wrote a couple of years ago, Mandatory helmet laws: does correlation mean causation?

There’s no doubt bicycle use in Australia is very low compared to countries like the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany where helmets aren’t mandatory for adult riders. But the law in Australia seems to explain very little of the difference.

The law doesn’t, for example, explain why only 1% of trips in the UK are by bicycle even though helmets aren’t mandatory in that country. That’s no better than here! Nor does it explain why cycling’s mode share is only slightly better in Ireland and Canada than it is in Australia, even though those two countries don’t have mandatory helmet laws. Whatever the explanation is, it has nothing to do with any legal compulsion to wear a helmet.

There are also enormous differences in the level of cycling between countries where helmets aren’t mandatory. The fact that bicycle use is more than twice as high in the Netherlands as it is in Germany – and nine times higher than it is in France and Italy – shows clearly that there are other highly influential factors affecting the propensity to cycle that have absolutely nothing to do with helmets.

Nor can helmet policy explain why bicycles capture 34% of trips in Munster, but 13% in Munich. Or why the corresponding figure for Groningen is 37% compared to 10% in Heerlen; or 20% in Bruges but 5% in Brussels; or 19% in Salzburg but 3% in Wien.

Pucher and Buehler argue the key reason cycling is so successful in many Dutch, Danish, and German cities relative to other places (not just Australia) is down to extensive systems of separate cycling facilities, intersection modifications & priority traffic signals, traffic calming, bike parking, coordination with public transport, traffic education & training, and sympathetic traffic laws. They also point to the positive way cycling is promoted.

The reason many cities in these countries have high levels of cycling isn’t because helmets aren’t mandatory; it’s because helmets aren’t necessary. They’re not necessary because subjective and objective safety is an order of magnitude higher than it is in Australia. The horse is in front of the cart.

Those who advocate repeal of the law invariably fall back on the argument that cycling collapsed in Australia when mandatory helmet laws were introduced in the early 90s. There was indeed a collapse – according to a Victorian ‘before and after’ study done at the time, bicycle use by 12-17 year olds fell 44%. However, cycling by 5-11 year olds fell by a more modest 10% and cycling by adults, while falling in the first year, was almost back to the pre law level by the second year (it doubled  in metropolitan Melbourne).

Almost 25 years have passed – that cohort of young teens moved on long ago, taking their ideas of what’s “cool” with them (there was nothing cool about Rosebank Stackhats back in the day; Cadel was a kid; and who’d heard of le Tour?). The law simply gave a push to deeper structural changes that were undermining cycling by students e.g. the increase in private school attendance; higher levels of car ownership; the growth in dual income families; increasing traffic on suburban streets. (1)

Although the absolute numbers were miniscule, a NSW ‘before and after’ study done at the time found there was also a fall in cycling to work following introduction of the helmet law, especially in regional areas. The most plausible explanation is riders were largely blue collar workers who cycled because cars were expensive. Many worked in industries like food processing that are now much diminished, reflecting the general decline of manufacturing and the drift of population to the capitals and larger regional centres. This is a group who has largely vanished and in any event had different values to the professional urban demographic that shows the most interest in utility cycling today.

It’s impossible to be certain about the number of travellers who’re currently deterred from cycling by the law, although I accept there’re some who variously find helmets sufficiently uncomfortable, inconvenient, or uncool to deter them from cycling. (2) But other than in the case of bikeshare (which let’s not forget only represents a tiny fraction of existing and potential cycling), the kilometres of cycling foregone due to the law is likely to be very small.

That’s because not liking having to wear a helmet isn’t the same as not cycling. Travellers who’re prepared to put up with the myriad other inconveniences, like enduring cold, rain, wind, theft, punctures, danger, sweat, etc, aren’t likely to be deterred from cycling in large numbers because they can’t go helmet-free; cycling is just too attractive a proposition on so many other counts.

The upshot is that the social cost from deterred cyclists is likely to fall well short of the social benefits from the reduction in head injuries (see here and here) provided by compulsory helmet use. (3)

In my view, the public debate about the helmet law is a waste of energy because it’s got virtually no traction politically. So far as the public are concerned the law is common sense, like seat belts; 94% regard the law as a non-issue. (4) Ultimately, concerted opposition to the law distracts resources from the key issue – the danger, whether perceived or real, of cycling in traffic.

The gains to cycling from better infrastructure and better regulation of motorists are likely to dwarf any putative benefit from repealing the mandatory helmet law.

Update (9:00 am 29 May): There’s a thread discussing this article at Adelaide Cyclists.

Update 2 (2:00 pm 29 May): Anyone who doubts my contention that there isn’t much support for repealing the law should look at the tone of the comments on this article on Crikey’s Facebook page.


  1. In any event, virtually no one at present is advocating that children should be exempt from the helmet law.
  2. I also acknowledge that some cyclists object to the “nanny state” telling them what to do, but while they resent it, it shouldn’t result in them cycling less.
  3. It’s not just doubts about the size of the deterrent effect either. The social costs are usually overstated too. It can’t just be assumed that those who’re deterred by the law would sit on the couch all day and get fat; or that they’d all drive everywhere. We already know that most commuter cyclists would otherwise use public transport, not drive.
  4. Re Mikael Colville-Andersen’s point, the  big difference between us and other countries where there are calls for mandatory helmets is that the law has been in place here for almost 25 years; abolishing a law and introducing a law are not symmetrical actions. Also, proposing a helmet law in countries where cycling historically has a very high mode share is a very different proposition to what’s happening in Australia.


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59 thoughts on “Should repealing the bicycle helmet law be a priority?

  1. Brulaap Gaapmeester

    @Linda Ward Although I have no doubt that your intentions towards biking are good, your mentality and that of what I call the ‘lollipop-brigade’ is very damaging for utility cycling as a whole. It will never take off properly with mandatory helmet laws. Your comments are only valid for sports and hobby use of the bicycle, not for those who simlpy want to use it as a means of transportation. For that you need better infrastructure, not helmets; helmet laws are only good for those who DON’T want to see bicycles on the road, it is a smart political trick to make sure that utility riding will never be normal and ensures there will never be sufficiënt bicycle infrastructure. As I said, you are, probably unintentionally, damaging the future of bicycle use in Australia and New Zealand. You should speak exclusively for sports and hobby bike users, not for those who use sit up and beg bikes and rarely exceed speeds of 15 km/h.

  2. Dylan Nicholson

    Speaking of anecdotes…just yesterday my partner was ‘doored’ – from the rear passenger-side, while riding on Latrobe St (the rest of which now has pretty decent Copenhagen-style lanes – but for some absurd reason at various point it tapers down to almost nothing, with no separation from the narrow motor vehicle lane) – and was almost certainly saved from a (somewhat) more serious injury by her helmet. She admits she never would have worn a helmet if not compulsory, because she never did when she used to ride her bike regularly around Tokyo (where she grew up). But in all those years of riding around Tokyo (where to be honest there isn’t particularly fantastic bicycle infrastructure in general) she never once: a) felt unsafe or b) had any accidents involving vehicles.
    Take from that what you will, but it does seem that as long as Australian roads remain unsafe (for whatever reason, be it a population still unaccustomed to thinking to look out for bikes, and infrastructure that still needs much improvement), then whether or not helmets are required probably won’t make difference to uptake, and are probably a pretty sensible sort of precaution (even if they’re not likely to save you from a genuinely serious injury). I still don’t feel, on balance, that there’s sufficient justification for them to be compulsory for all bike users on all public paths and roads, but I will concede that I’m gradually becoming less convinced it’s worth the effort protesting against the law, especially given how much more effort is clearly required for our roads to be truly safe for all users.

  3. Linda Ward

    Oops, typo, the word is “anecdote”, not ” antidote”.

  4. Linda Ward

    Should repealing the bicycle helmet law be a priority?

    For the (vast majority of the)
    – ~800 Velo conference attendees (
    – ~150,000 cyclists SA (ERASS 2010)
    – ~6,500 people who cycled to work in Adelaide on census day in 2011
    – ~50,000 Bicycle Network members
    – 10,000+ Bicycle Queensland members

    the answer seems to be ‘no’.

    However, the ~50 (not even a “statistical blip”) people in the protest ride ( believe otherwise.

    When interviewed by ABC/SA

    – Mikael Colville-Andersen, who has spoken out against helmets in the past, talked about our lack of cycling infrastructure, and didn’t even mention the h-word
    – the president of the ECF, an organisation that opposes helmet laws, didn’t mention the h-word either ( shows that the ECF has grossly misinterpreted Elvik’s results, and that their helmet policy is also based on the anti-helmet propaganda on sites such as and

    If they thought that repealing the helmet law should be a priority, surely that would have at least mentioned it?

    Under the heading “Alan Todd and media numpties” (, Sue Abbott ‘critiqued’ a radio interview that Alan Todd had done to promote the Velo helmet protest ride ( “we have a mainstream media cheerleading for helmet promoters with nary a thought to evidence or rest-of-world-practice … and that self-identified doctor – the ignorance, the rudeness …”.

    In the FIVEaa interview, Alan claimed that “the latest research” (Elvik’s) shows that helmets provide only 5% to 15% protection.

    In fact, Elvik’s (latest) results indicate that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of
    – fatal head injury by 63%
    – brain injury by 58%
    – head injury by 50%
    – head, face, or neck injury by 33%

    Elvik’s fatal/head/brain injury results are consistent with the data/results in the Carr (Vic), Marshall (SA), Williams (NSW), Hendrie (WA), Povey (NZ), Scuffham (2000, NZ), Walter (NSW), Bambach (NSW), Tin Tin (2010, NZ), Karkhaneh (Alberta, Canada) and Persaud (2012, Ontario, Canada) studies.

    At, Sue Abbott demonstrated her ignorance of the results in Elvik’s paper: “To me Elvik’s paper ‘indicated no net protective effect’ of bicycle helmets”. Sue Abbott’s blog boldly proclaims that “my refusal to wear a helmet . . . is informed”. (Informed by what, and remind me who the numpties are?)

    As highlighted by Alan Davies in a previous article (, Bicycle Network’s Gary Brennan’s response to a letter from Kathy Francis, states that “opposition to helmets in our riding community is not even a statistical blip”.

    “As an organisation that follows evidence-based policy principles you must understand that the actions of a handful of people with a strongly held belief, and the ability to attract media attention, is not a reason for a change in policy direction.

    The so called ‘negative effects’ of mandatory helmet legislation have been pronounced over and over again by you and your supporters. The religious certainty of your beliefs are clearly impervious to facts. Repeating the claims will not make them true.

    We can see from the evidence here in Victoria that mandatory helmet laws are not suppressing the strong uptake of cycling. Helmet wearing is the highest in the world and opposition to helmets in our riding community is so small that it is not even a statistical blip. It is now completely normalised. You can’t roll back time and culture. You have about as much chance of re-introducing a helmet free bike culture as re-normalising whale-bone corsets.

    Some bike organisations around the world are against helmets. They tell me it is politically unacceptable to be in favour of helmets in their cultures. However the wearing of helmets is increasing steadily in all nations, even those with strong political opposition.

    Here in Victoria we thank our lucky stars we never got sucked into the anti-helmet mythology. We have instead over many years devoted our energies and resources into getting more people riding and to improving the riding environment. The result is terrific growth in cycling participation.

    Opposing helmets is a strategy for failure, and that’s not where we are going.”

    Kathy describes BNV’s position as “extreme”, describes BNSW’s position on the helmet issue as “fence-sitting”, and says that she does “not believe it is acceptable for an advocacy group to refuse to take a clear stand on whether there should be a fine associated with riding without a helmet. It is a simple yes or no question .”.

    Another comment on the page (, by Tony Arnold, says that “As you may be aware, there have been a lot of changes at Bicycle NSW and one of the outcomes from this will be a completely new website. As part of this, you can expect to see revised policies too. Of course, they will be the “organisation’s” policies, not mine, so I won’t hazard a guess at what they will be at this stage.”.

    That was in October 2012, and soon after the BNSW web-site was duly updated, the new helmet pages looked like they were straight out of the anti-helmet manifesto.

    In December 2013, shortly after, I noticed that the BNSW helmet material had been modified, and no longer looked as if it had been lifted from the anti-helmet manifesto. In January 2014, Kathy Francis lamented the change (

    ‘Those of us campaigning for helmet law reform are confused by yet another change in position on helmet law by BNSW on their website.

    In August, 2013 we took the following quote from their website:

    ” Bicycle NSW recommends that a review is held to determine the net benefit of the mandatory helmet laws in Part 15 (Additional rules for bicycle riders ) of the Australian Road Rules . If no significant benefit is found Bicycle NSW recommends that the law is revoked entirely, or at least for adult bicycle users. ”

    They also supported an exemption for bikeshare from the helmet requirement at this time.

    Calls for a review and references to an exemption for bikeshare have been recently deleted from the website. ‘

    On 27 Jan, I pasted this comment by Neil Alexander into one of my helmet files: “It would be interesting to hear TonyA’s take on the change’s timing since he left that organisation (as an employee) not too long ago.” I never sighted a reply from TonyA, and it seems that Neil Alexander’s comment has been deleted.

    Which brings me to Ride2Wk’s comments above – the word is “anectdote”, not “antedote”.

  5. Zoom Strange

    Helmets good, compulsion bad.

    It’s pretty simple to this daily motorcyclist. I base this on informed decision making and so,logically support Mandatory helmets on public roads until age 16.

    I can provide another thousand words to back this up if there are enough requests.

  6. Linda Ward

    At least Piet de Jong used his real name, instead of self-citing whilst hiding behind a pseudonym. Which is what Dorothy Robinson and Colin Clarke did, flagrantly and repeatedly flouting Wikipedia policy by editing various helmet articles and ignoring numerous requests to disclose any relevant interests.

    RidestoWork helmet-related posts to are littered with references to the BHRF/ and an article at ( that is very similar to a Robinson article at (

    Ridestowork should disclose any interests with respect to (being an “editorial board” member, and patron of) the BHRF.

    Freedom rider (#29) cites Robinson’s 1996 (AAP) article, which acknowledges Colin Clarke; Clarkes 2012 (NZMJ) article; and a ‘report’ by Clarke on an anti-helmet web-site. Freedom rider should disclose any interest with respect to Colin Clarke.

    Freedom rider claims that “Data for Alberta, Canada reported; ‘Surveys in Edmonton in 2000 (pre-law) and 2004 (post-law) suggest that cycling by children and teenagers has been significantly reduced compared with adults (59% children, 41% teenagers) (Hagel et al, 2006). Later surveys across several Albertan cities showed that child cycling had gone down by 56% and teenage cycling by 27% (BHRF, 1250; Karkhaneh, 2011)’.”.

    Neither Hagel et al. ( nor Karkhaneh ( suggested that the helmet legislation reduced cycling. The BHRF ‘analysis’ ‘forgot’ to take the over-sampling of schools into acount. Karkhaneh’s analysis did, leading Karkhaneh to conclude that “the results of our study refute claims that helmet legislation has a negative effect on cycling exposure”.

    In citing “Surprising stats suggest bike-accident head injuries have increased since Alberta passed a mandatory helmet law” ( as evidence of a reduction in cycling, it seems that Freedom rider has not read beyond the headline: ” . . . I would urge caution in interpreting these statistics beyond anything more than, ‘That’s interesting,’ ” said renowned injury-prevention specialist Dr. Louis Francescutti. Stats were compiled by emergency room surveys for six months – May to October – in each of 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. The helmet law, which applies to riders under 18, took effect in May 2002 . . . The figures are “really suspect” and could be skewed by several factors, said Kathy Belton, co-director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, which gathered the stats. “So you can’t really say that bicycle head injuries are going up. There’s issues in terms of how the data is reported because there’s been a change in how the data is actually coded. The “coding classification change” took effect in April 2002. “It looks like they went up (but) what you need to remember is that’s just a sampling of the regional health authorities that reported. If we had the other regions, I think we might be seeing a decline,” Belton said. Health regions were under no obligation to complete the survey. Belton said the centre is now waiting for data from Alberta Health, which will include every region.”.

    Using data for 1999-2006, Karkhaneh (2011 and 2103, found that the helmet law was associated with (statistically significant) reductions in child and youth head injury ED presentations and hospital admissions.

    Russel (a statistician at the University of Auckland) had this to say about Clarke’s NZMJ article ( “the article commits one of the deadly sins of statistics, implying causation from correlation. That the helmet law was introduced in 1994 is about as relevant as TV2 beginning 24 hour programming, or the Winebox enquiry, both in that same year . . . The pedestrian deaths trend is actually a red herring, as we could well compare cycling deaths to any number of trends. According to Statistics New Zealand crime has also gone down since 1994. We could equally posit that the number of cycling deaths relative to crimes has increased, but would this be an alarming statistic? (are the criminals using bicycles as getaway vehicles?).”.

    Wang, Olivier (senior statisticians at UNSW) et al. note that Clarke (cycling instructor, with apparently no qualifications relevant to public health research) failed to perform any statistical analyses such computing p-values; failed to meet any of the Bradford-Hill criteria for causality; and contains no cycling exposure data whatsoever in the (critical) 6-year window around the helmet law (

    Wang et al. also note that helmets protect only against head injuries, and do not offer injury protection to other body parts, and that “the author, however, did not analyse head injury separately and instead combined all cycling related injuries. In fact, there was a 67% decline in serious traumatic brain injury (TBI) comparing data for the years nearest the helmet law (1988–1991 vs. 1996–1999).”. (The 2010 Tin Tin et al. paper they cite also shows that there were no such reductions in injuries that helmets cannot protect against.)

    They also observe that “Clarke argues the NZ MHL is associated with an increased injury risk of 20% by comparing overall injury (per million hours cycling) in the periods 1988–1991 and 2003–2007. However, when available pre-law injury data is compared to a period that is more relevant to MHL, i.e., 1996–1999, there is a substantial decline in cyclist injuries overall (-17%) and serious injuries (-53%). These declines are relative to cycling exposure and the time period corresponds to an increase in helmet-wearing as shown in Figure 1. Further, Clarke notes overall cycling injuries more than doubled compared with pedestrians from 1988–1991 to 2003–2007. However, the author fails to mention the ratio of cyclist to pedestrian serious injuries dropped 28% (4.9 to 3.52) 2 years after MHL.”.

    Wang et al. also note that Clarke’s analysis fails to take into account the downward trend in cycling, from 1986, almost a decade before the helmet law; and that Clarke fails to address any confounding factors, attributing all declines in cycling rates and safety to the helmet law.

    Not only does Clarke fail to note the census data showing that cycling was decreasing form 1986, he also fails to note that Scuffham ( reported a gradual 20% decrease in cycling in the 2 years prior to the helmet law; and that Povey ( noted that contrary to Robinson’s claim/s of helmet-related cycling reductions in Australia, there was no evidence of any helmet-law related reduction in cycling in NZ.

    Freedom rider cites Curnow, this is how Curnow’s ‘contribution’ to the helmet debate is described in a Cochrane review ( “His commentary contains factual errors and misinterpretations of the data. In contrast to Curnow’s claims, the Thompson 1996 study found that all types of bicycle helmets (hard shell, soft shell and foam) provided substantial protection against head, brain and severe brain injuries for bicyclists involved in motor vehicle crashes and crashes due to other causes (Thompson 1996: Tables 3 and 4). In Curnow’s Table 1 (Curnow 2005) he compares brain-injured cases to head injured cases without brain injury. He interprets the 1.06 odds ratio from this exercise as showing that helmets don’t protect against brain injury. The correct interpretation is that the protective effect of helmets is similar for both head and brain injury. Cummings 2006 explains that many of Curnow’s criticisms stem from misconceptions about the studies that have been done and about case-control studies in general. . . Hagel 2006 rebuts Curnow’s arguments and points out the advantages that well conducted case-control studies have over ecologic study designs. In reply, Curnow 2006 continues the discussion and repeats arguments which have been addressed both in this review and the comments which follow at the end of the review.”.

    With respect to Curnow’s 2005 article, Hagel (2006) commented that “Ironically, and most damingly, Curnow’s paper would not comply with the rigorous criteria required of a Cochrane systematic review because he fails to present all relevant evidence for the effect of bike helmet use and legislation in a balanced way”.

    Re Curnow’s DAI ‘theory’, Walter et al. ( noted that “Curnow (2007) asserts that Australian experiments found increased angular acceleration caused by a (now obsolete) 1.35 kg fibreglass bicycle helmet, although the authors of that report clearly state that the data do not prove such an effect (Corner et al., 1987, p. 24). Two other studies cited in the 2007 Curnow paper link brain injury and angular acceleration, but make no mention of cyclists or cycle helmets (Adams et al., 1986; Gennarelli and Thibault, 1982). A recent experimental study, which tested Curnow’s hypothesis that bicycle helmets increase angular acceleration during a crash, found that they actually reduced both linear and angular acceleration by a considerable margin (McIntosh et al., in press).”.

    Walter et al. have also noted that “It has been proposed that not accounting for DAI in studies assessing helmet efficacy created biased results that might overstate any observed benefit (Curnow, 2003; 2007). However, another recent population-based data linkage study (Bambach et al., in press) found that of all reported cycling crashes with motor vehicles in NSW between 2001 and 2009 where helmet and hospitalisation information was present, DAI could have occurred in at most 0.2% of cases (12/6745), although due to limitations in the ICD-10-AM coding scheme used, it is not possible to be certain whether DAI occurred in these cases. Seven of these twelve possible cases of DAI were unhelmeted . . . Neither is there any suggestion that bicycle helmets may contribute to DAI.”.

    Freedom rider quotes Erke and Elvik: “There is evidence of increased accident risk per cycling-km for cyclists wearing a helmet. In Australia and New Zealand, the increase is estimated to be around 14 per cent.”. As pointed out by Olivier (, the claim “is not accompanied by any citation, computational results or analytic derivation . . . It seems to just appear without any justification”.

  7. Dylan Nicholson

    AD, if Melbourne was up around 10% I’d feel that was something close to a respectable and realistic level. Admittedly it would depend somewhat on which parts you include (e.g. I wouldn’t be including Olinda or Melton).

    But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to point to two cities with very different populations and say “look, MHL isn’t that important”, because what matters is to look for things that we can change. We can’t improve cycling rates in Melbourne by deciding that it should have a population of 500,000 rather than 5 million, but we can say “MHL is unnecessarily holding back the uptake of cycling for a significant number of potential riders, so let’s look at reviewing it while we continue to improve infrastructure, driver education, road rules and regulations etc. etc.”.

    I suppose my answer to your question then is “Yes, it should be *a* priority, just not a priority over and above overall arguably more practicable and politically feasible actions”.

  8. Alan Davies

    Dave Kirner #48:

    I’m well aware of the correlation between cycling rates and population, but my purpose in the article wasn’t to explain why the differences exist, but to point out they have nothing to do with helmet laws.

    Metro Copenhagen has a population of 2 million but the City of Copenhagen has a population of 570,000. Most of the numbers you see on mode share usually refer to the City (and often are based on specific trip purposes).

    Dylan Nicholson #51:

    There’s no excuse for Australia’s pathetically low rates

    One of the questions I’ve been meaning to pose for ages now is “What’s a realistic mode share for cycling in Australian cities?”

  9. Dylan Nicholson

    Dave, interesting notion, and I’d be interested how well that theory holds outside continental Europe. I suspect the reason many very large cities have overall low cycling rates is because their outer suburbs are too spread out for it to be feasible, and their inner suburbs are relatively well provided with public transport.
    But either way, there’s no excuse for Australia’s pathetically low rates.

  10. Jacob HSR

    Robert #47, Do you take your helmet with you when you go interstate or overseas?

  11. Dave Kirner

    And another thing…. many of today’s MAMILs were children and teenagers in the 70’s and 80’s, when cycling was a common activity.

    None of my friends’ teenage children today cycle, and most of them have never learned and would not be able to.

  12. Dave Kirner

    “Nor can helmet policy explain why bicycles capture 34% of trips in Munster, but 13% in Munich. Or why the corresponding figure for Groningen is 37% compared to 10% in Heerlen; or 20% in Bruges but 5% in Brussels; or 19% in Salzburg but 3% in Wien.”

    You’ve identified the issue right here, but apparently failed to recognise it.

    Other things being equal, cycling is a more practical general transport option in a city with 200,000 people compared to 2 million people.

    How many people does Copenhagen have ?

  13. Robert Brown

    I ride a bike and wear a helmet. It’s really easy to do.

  14. Jacob HSR

    Corban Hicks #1, I think the solution is that safe cycleways should be painted blue and the law should be that you dont have to wear a helmet when riding on a blue-painted cycleway.

    Whenever I see foreigners riding Boris Bikes in Melbourne, they ride them without helmets!

    They either dont know the law or dont fear the fine.

    Some tourists from interstate asked me for directions from Harbour Town to the Spirit of Tasmania, but since they dont carry helmets with them, I could not suggest that they ride along the cycleway to Port Melbourne.

    I ended up suggesting they go back to the city and catch the 109 tram back out to the pier.

  15. Alan Davies

    Dudley Horscroft #44:

    Alan, if you think bike lanes are more important, well and good, agitate for them, but don’t knock the anti-MHL brigade.

    Dudley, what statements in the article could be construed as “knocking”? Since when does disagreeing with the anti-MHL brigade on some points of public policy amount to “knocking” them? Such a term implies their point of view is beyond questioning.

  16. Dudley Horscroft

    Ride2Wk – you have put it in a (very large) nutshell. MHLs are bad for you. I have a bike, I have a helmet, I don’t ride – I don’t want to be stopped by police and fined for breaking the law.

    My car has cruise control so I can travel (most of the time) exactly at the speed limit, and am, unless the speed limit is 100, the slowest driver on the road. We don’t have many police here – they are mostly down in Sydney harassing cyclists there – but there are a few.

    BTW, the ACT has a mandatory condom law.

    There are primary and secondary schools near me. The surrounding residential areas are extremely flat – ideal cycling country, but school children on cycles are very few – some walk but it seems most are driven there and back. Remove MHL and pressure from school authorities and there would probably be a large increase in cycling.

    Compare to my school in the UK – about 300 bike spaces (perhaps more, and very well occupied) in the bike shed for 630 pupils. I rode 3.5 miles each way – not altogether flat – averaged 20 mph going, about 8 mph coming back. Admittedly in a hurry going, but!

    I heartedly agree it is more likely that we will get repeal of the NSW MHL than we will get decent bike lanes – see the comments on Clover’s bike lanes, and the recent forced removal of some.

    Agitate for what we can get, please. Alan, if you think bike lanes are more important, well and good, agitate for them, but don’t knock the anti-MHL brigade.

  17. Ride2Wk

    PPS As an engineer, I can tell you that cycling infrastructure can be very expensive (Although a hell of a lot cheaper than cars of course & have far better cost/benefit ratios.) Whereas repealing MHL will cost virtually nothing & even a slightly increased uptake in cycling will have increasing cost savings and safety benefits in many ways.

    What should government do – the no upfront financial cost option or the expensive option?

  18. Ride2Wk

    PS. To the other anti-MHL advocates, thanks for some more good data links & keep up the good work. I appreciate your efforts.

    To the pro-MHL advocates out there, don’t forget that if MHL was repealed now, many racers, commuters & others would still wear helmets anyway just like many riders do in UK & USA. Especially lycra racers for many of whom it’s as much about fashion and following their idols anyway. Many paranoid parents would still insist their kids wear helmets. So it’s not as if the serious head injury rate would suddenly surge upwards even if helmets were effective. (Many head injuries in statistics are only superficial anyway or not protected against by a helmet anyway. eg the face which is still classified as the head in injuries.)
    If Bike Vic (or whatever they call themselves this week* since they have changed names as often as government departments, Actually are they really just a government department? They act like one & just as whimpish. ) & others actually joined the MHL repeal calls, then we could get it changed and get on with the call for better facilities and laws like Europe.

    *& yes I do know it’s Bicycle Network.

    PPS Alan’s comments about anti-MHL taking so much media time – don’t they say in advertising that any news is good news? Although I agree that it would be much better if it was on positive bike stories & supporting separated facilities but the papers like the Daily Terror have decided that such stories are not enough to sell papers to ignorant people.

  19. Ride2Wk

    Not a bad article Alan and it’s true MHL is not the only factor affecting bike use. The Anti-MHL commenters have already covers most of the points but I’ve a few links, points & personal antidotes to add.
    1/ Helmets are not as good as people believe they are. Refer to this USA cycling magazine article for a good review of the actual engineering behind what many of us used to call “esky lids”.
    2/ To all those people who say “my helmet saved my life” – maybe but you probably would have survived without the helmet. You probably just would have received a lot more grazing and bit more bruising. Antidote warning! When I was a kid, I was going at about 3okmh down a hill, did a little jump over a manhole bump, my front wheel fell off and I went head first over the handle bars. I landed on my head, it bend to the side, then my shoulder hit and I rolled down the road. Concussion and grazes but I still lived and didn’t suffer any noticeable effects. Which brings me to my next point.
    3/ A helmet reduces your ability to roll with the fall and make your head hit the ground sooner and harder. In my crash I rolled with the fall and my head tucked out of the way to some extent to naturally reduce the amount of force my head actually received. If I had a helmet on, the force my head and neck received would have been greater to some extent. I read a report years ago (unfortunately I didn’t keep a copy) that they got gymnasts and karate people to try wearing helmets but they found that the helmets got in the way. Try doing a backwards roll on grass with & without a helmet on. You’ll find that the helmet gets in the way & increases the force on your head. I once clipped my handlebars and fell on soft grass & rolled backward in a way that wouldn’t have even hurt me or my head. But the back of the helmet hit the soft grass sooner than my head would have and with more force. It wasn’t a hard blow at all but it completely cracked the expensive & popular race helmet & jarred my head more than if I didn’t have it on.
    4/ I did a lot of snowboarding without a helmet & sometimes with one since I was riding through trees a lot. I found that if I wore the helmet when I fell backwards it hit the snow earlier and harder & I was less able to keeping rolling backwards onto my feet. I also found I tended to hit overhead branches because of the increase helmet size. Last season I stopped wearing it because it was increasing my risk, now I simply go a bit more cautiously in trees & last season was the first where I didn’t hit a tree hard enough to injury my body. A 2012 study by Mark L Christensen et al into ski helmets found that more people are wearing helmets but the injury rate is going up. The article attributed it to Risk Compensation and people participating in more extreme things than they would have if they didn’t think the helmet protected them.
    5/ Helmets are only designed & tested for low speed direct impacts. They are basically useless if you have a high speed impact and as others have mentioned, increase the risk of rotational injuries. The Qld parliamentary review said to keep MHL on fast roads which shows they don’t understand helmet construction. Commenters here say they need helmets since they are on arterial roads with fast traffic and are riding fast. Sure, more speed means you are more likely to crash & hit hard. But it’s also more likely that the helmet will not be enough to save you anyway. As Boris Johnson said last year in Melbourne, in 90% of London cycling deaths, a helmet would have made no difference anyway. But if a helmet makes you think you are safer and encourages you to ride on busier roads & go faster then go for it since cycling is not as risky you you believe anyway & at least your helmet belief allows you to overcome your fears.
    6/ Helmets CAUSE injury too. Broken necks being one of the risks of helmets. Here’s just one example out of several I’ve heard of –
    Antidote warning! In the only road crash I’ve had in 30+ years of commuting and training where I actually hit my helmet, I suffered a ruptured temporal artery BECAUSE of the helmet. I have had blood clot problems before so that injury was a particular concern for me. The crash, a trip on a pathway, was only a minor impact that would have only caused a graze & a small bruise under my hair & where the skull is tougher if I didn’t have the helmet on. But because of the size & shape of the helmet, the force was transmitted more to my temporal region right where the artery is.
    7/ Helmets have strangled kids. Coroners reports have shown that several kids have been hung by the neck strap until dead on playground equipment & beds.
    8/ I advocate for the removal of MHL for all ages. Why should kids be made to wear helmets when their effectiveness is questionable. Helmets have not been proven the way medical interventions have been proven yet you force kids to do something not proven & have negative side effects? I no longer force my 10-12 yr kids to wear helmets other than to school & in areas likely to attract a fine. While I think helmets are negative to my kids, not riding is even worse, the school & public harassment is too great and the risk of a crash happening is low anyway.
    9/ I know several people who used to ride but gave up just because of MHL. They got sick of being told what to do.
    10/ If it’s our own safety only, then why the hell should anyone dictate to us what risk we take. I don’t care if you wear a seat belt or not as it’s not a risk to me. I do care that you don’t speed or drink drive as it is a risk to others. Imagine a mandatory condom rule or a ban on fatty junk food? As long as it’s not harming you then go away leave me to my own risk assessment. Before you say – “well we won’t cover you for medical then” 2 points – a) The medical benefits of cycling outweigh the risk & costs & b) Society still covers everyone for all sorts of risky behaviour – football & all sorts of sport, driving, unprotected sex, fat food, drinking, smoking etc. Head injuries in cars, walking & climbing ladders are far more common than in cycling so don’t single out healthy cycling for special treatment.
    11/ Qld Transport Minister Scott Emerson “believes” helmets are necessary. Yes Scott actually used the the word “believes” in a news article when he instantly dismissed the Commission suggestion to repel MHL. I don’t care what people “believe”, I care about hard data. Churches are for people who believe and I’m very glad that a key point of our current democracy is the separation of religion so I don’t have to go to church every Sunday or face Mecca on my knees 5 times a day just because of what the politicians believe. Our lycra cycling PM goes to church but can you imagine the outcry if he introduced laws that everyone has to going lycra cycling, swimming in budgie smugglers & go to church every Sunday just because he believes in doing those things?
    12/ American gridiron players suffered more concussions because they wore helmets and took more risk thinking they were protected. Risk Compensation again. I hear they have now won compensation from the helmet makers.
    13/ Police pull up & book cyclists for no helmet. But there are far more car drivers going past breaking far more rules & posing far greater hazard to the community. The police have got far more important things to do than book cyclists & scare kids. Some police seem to have the anti-cyclist attitudes of Alan Jones and deliberately harass cyclists. Get rid of MHL & there would be less harassment of cyclists & kids on bikes by some police (who shouldn’t be police in the first place).
    14/ I now have a medical exemption so I don’t wear a helmet. In the tourist place I live in, many non-lycra people don’t wear helmets and it’s almost become acceptable. Very few other bike riders say anything if I ride in plain clothes but lycra roadies often yell comments if I’m in lycra. Most car drivers who I have an argument with on the road when they have done something stupid that could killed me, whinge first about me not having a helmet as their defence when they are in the wrong. Insurance companies apparently won’t pay out or reduce payment if you don’t have a bike helmet even in some other countries without MHL but they don’t care if you don’t have a helmet on when walking or in a car & get a head injury. Why are insurance companies allowed to discriminate against cyclists? MHL & the whole helmet issue has become a whinging point based on myth & probably some people’s hatred of cyclists. It’s an insurance company “get out of jail free” card despite a lack of good properly controlled medical evidence of significant helmet benefit.

    It constantly amazes me that so many people push for MHL interfering with my life & the lives of others. Alan Davies, Bike Victoria, risk adverse government bureaucrats & all the so-called “Road Safety Experts”with crash knowledge but no understanding of human behaviour, just because you are scared of something it shouldn’t mean you should force those fears onto the whole country. BU–ER OFF and mind your own business or concentrate on getting better facilities built for cyclists and walkers and better laws that protect people from the inconsiderate actions of others like reducing speed limits in urban areas & 1m separation. Let people decide for themselves if and when they want to wear helmets (or condoms or eat fat food or drink or go to church or face Mecca). Repeal the short-sighted law that many cyclists ignore anyway and LEAVE ME ALONE.

  20. RidesToWork

    Alan, if adult cycling doubled between 1987/88 and when the law was introduced, how do you know that the trend wouldn’t have continued with yet another doubling in a similar time period without the law?

    After all, the true effect of the law is the difference between what happened with the law and what would have happened without it. If you argue that adult cycling doubled (and the doubling clearly all happened before the law) then you have to explain the departure from the trend when the law was introduced.

    I presume by “clarifying the time period” you intend to explain that, based on numbers counted, the entire increase happened before the law and that there was no similar increase post-law, in fact numbers were still 95% below pre-law levels 2 years later.

  21. Alan Davies

    RidesToWork #38:

    Happy to add in the time frame to clarify my doubling comment. The key point though is the Vic survey found that by the 2nd year after the law the number of adult cyclists counted had returned to 95% of the immediate pre-law level. And the NSW study showed cycling by adults was higher in 1st and 2nd years than it was in the year prior to the law.

  22. RidesToWork

    Freedom rider – it’s hard to know how to interpret ‘exposure’ because it depends on the speed that cyclists rode through the marked areas. For transport cycling, numbers counted are probably a better indication of the number of trips.

    Two things become clear when you look at average time taken to cycle through the marked areas for the 3 age groups and 4 surveys.
    1) The 1987/88 survey was not comparable with the May 90, 91 and 92 surveys – cyclists road faster in Dec/Jan than May.
    2) Average times follow a clear pattern that would allow the average time for adults in 1990 to be estimated pretty accurately. This would provide a very reliable estimate of adult exposure in 1990 – something like 12 billion seconds, compared to the post-law estimates of 9.7 in 1991 and 11.1 (including the better weather and bicycle rally in 1992).

    The teenage exposure figures – 9.5 (87/88), 13.1 (90), 7.4 (91), 7.1 (92) show a substantial increase from 87/88 to 90. You get a totally incorrect answer by ignoring the 1990 data and ‘pretending’ there was a smooth decline from 9.5 in 87/88 to 7.4 in 1991.

    The same applies to adults – we know there was a big increase in numbers counted from 1079 (Dec/Jan 87/88) to 1567 (May 1990) and that the post-law counts were lower:
    1106 (May 1990, post-law, slightly worse weather)
    1484 (May 1992, post-law, better weather than pre-law, bicycle rally passing through one of the sites).

    It would be nonsensical to draw a straight line between the 1079 counted in 1987/88 and the 1106 counted in 1990 and say that adult cycling increased with the law because 1106 is higher than the number of adults counted in 87/88 at a different time of year. The same applies to the exposure data, because of the strong correlation between numbers counted and total time by all cyclists counted to cycle through the marked areas.

    Based on the above figures, I find it hard to understand how anyone could claim, as Alan does above that cycling by adults actually increased (doubling in metropolitan Melbourne)! I hope he takes this on board and makes appropriate changes to his article.

    It would be interesting to know what pressures were exerted on the researchers that the fewer numbers of cyclists counted (1106 post-law in May 91, 1484, including the rally, in May 92), compared to 1567 in May 90 were reported as a doubling of adult cycling.

    The pressure also appears to extend to the reporting of head injuries – we know there was a 40% decline, but not how much of this was due to the safer roads & the large reductions in teenage cycling. Teenagers, after all, have a much higher risk of injury than adults. One estimate of the true effect of the law is at:

    It is important to put helmets laws in context to determine how much they reduced cycling and estimate the lost health benefits from reduced cycling and reduced safety in numbers.

    If infrastructure were the real deterrent, we should see a lot more cycling in regional areas with low traffic and minimal conflict with vehicles. This was certainly the case before helmet laws, but these were exactly the areas that saw the greatest reduction in cycling when helmet laws were introduced.

    If the reductions were due to other factors, such as blue collar workers who cycled because cars were expensive, we should have seen the same reductions irrespective of when helmet laws were introduced. But we didn’t – the reductions happened before the 1991 census in states with enforced helmet laws, but not until the 1996 census in other states.

    So well-designed and properly-evaluated infrastructure may help, but if really want cycling to flourish, we will also need to repeal helmet laws.

  23. Freedom rider

    Surveys information for Melbourne

    1567 (May 1990, pre-law, average weather)
    1106 (May 1990, post-law, slightly worse weather)
    1484 (May 1992, post-law, better weather than pre-law, bicycle rally passing through one of the sites).

    Monash Uni report cocluded;
    “By 1992, two years after the law, the number of bicyclists was
    approaching pre-law levels in adults and children but was still greatly reduced in teenagers.”

    The report was using data from timing cyclists and calculating exposure, time cycling.
    They say;
    “Conclusions drawn from an evaluation of trends in adult exposure on this basis must therefore be interpreted with caution.”

    The 1990, 91 and 92 were from May/June surveys unlike the 1987 survey.

    Table 4 of the Monash report provides comparisons between weekday days and weekends.
    Provides estimates of changes based on the midweek data.

    The exposure data (billion seconds per week in one report and billion/million seconds per week in another report) suggest slightly different figures, estimates provided;

    ……………adults…..…5-11…..….12-17 ……….…total
    1990…… …?……….4.7…….13.1…………..…….?

    It was reported in Melbourne there was an increase of 47 per cent in the number of cyclists from 1986 to 1989 (Lambert, 1990).
    Data form the Great Victorian Bike ride did also show increased participants. At the same time more cycling infrastructure was being provided.

    The actual estimates, billion seconds per week, do not seem reliable, e.g, 19.9 billion is about 5.5 million hours, indicting about 2 hours cycling per week for every person in Melbourne.

    The reduction in cycling for rural areas seems to have been larger than for Melbourne. Perhaps cycling groups, the press, MPs should have investigated in some detail.

  24. bonnie.hoey

    I’d support relaxation of the law for people aged over 18. There is no doubt that wearing helmets saves lives and quality of life. It has to be said though that riding like a demon with the wind streaming through your hair is wonderfully exhilarating and would get me back on a bike faster than a one-legged man in an arse kicking competition.

  25. Scott Grant

    My partner refuses to wear a helmet and cycles anyway. So far there has been no consequence. My concern with this article is the assumption that the major problem with so-called mandatory helmet laws is their disincentive effect on riding. I would contend that the biggest problem is that it exposes people such as my partner to possible random bullying by uniformed zealots and bureaucrats. But I know such an argument is not going to go down well with the laura norder brigade.

    I usually wear a helmet because I am a coward and I fear officialdom. But I generally skip it for short trips to the shops and so forth.

  26. Suzanne Blake

    Helmets are a good thing and for kids as well. Bad message to send

  27. RidesToWork

    “Compared to the estimate of exposure from the 64 sites in 1987/88, there was a 86% increase in usage by 1991. This further increased in 1992 to a level more than double that in the first survey.”

    That may be true, but why selectively compare the post-law data with 1887/88 instead of numbers of adults counted pre-law in 1990, which as you saw from the figures was higher than either of the post-law surveys?
    1567 (May 1990, pre-law, average weather)
    1106 (May 1990, post-law, slightly worse weather)
    1484 (May 1992, post-law, better weather than pre-law, bicycle rally passing through one of the sites).

    If numbers counted pre-law in 1990 were higher than 1987/88 and also higher than either of the two post-law surveys, the implication is that all the increase in adult cycling either happened before the law, or it was an artefact due to the different times of year of the two surveys.

    As for the argument “from a statistical point of view, however, an occurrence such as this is a true observation, well within the bounds of “normal” behaviour for that time period, and cannot be excluded from the analysis” – I presume you are aware that the we are talking about the bicycle rally that was INCLUDED in the above figures. So what’s your point? The numbers of adults counted pre-law in 1990 was still higher than either of the two post-law counts INCLUDING the abnormally high number for the site with bicycle rally. So how can you possibly argue that the number of adult cyclists doubled?

    Aaron Ball quoted from the abstract: “By 1992, two years after the law, the number of bicyclists was approaching pre-law levels in adults and children but was still greatly reduced in teenagers.”

    It’s one thing to say numbers of adult cyclists were “approaching pre-law levels”, completely another to say they doubled.

    The same thing applies to your use of Pucher’s data. In his context, it’s probably OK to use cycling to work in Australia as the modal share – his main interest was in comparisons with countries with much higher levels of cycling.

    But it’s not OK to say that cycling in the UK is the same as Australia without looking at his references to see where the data came from, to see if there is more relevant or recent data, and to obtain more than 1 significant figure. After all, 0.501% is 1% to 1 significant figure, as is 1.499%, but the latter represents 3 times as much cycling as the former.

  28. Dylan Nicholson

    Aaron if it’s “much better campaigning for something that has a chance of happening” then I’d stick with infrastructure. While it might be coming slowly, it *is* getting built, while there is unfortunately simply no indication at all that any politician or public opinion is behind scaling back MHL.

  29. arnold ziffel

    I thought I had read that ‘the survey based research done by by Rissell and Fishman’ was discredited?

  30. Piet de Jong

    Alan Davies #27

    NO specific assumptions are made re “the amount of cycling lost due to MHLs” (other than that it is positive). You are making a baseless criticism without even reading the article or attempting to engage with the literature.

  31. Aaron Ball

    I see above that Alan Davies has relied on a Monash University Research Centre report from 1992. The quote Davies uses is out of context. This report actually concluded that “[b]y 1992, two years after the law, the number of bicyclists was approaching pre-law levels in adults and children but was still greatly reduced in teenagers.” (this is from the abstract).
    From memory, this was the 2nd in a series of four MUARC surveys. All reports recognised there were issues with when and how the data was collected, the third report concluded that there was no significant decrease in head injuries attributable to helmet wearing, and the fourth report re-visted the findings of the third report, and found there was a decrease, if measured against an artigficia baseline calculated on the assumption that injury rates would increase during the period without helmets which contradicted the recorded injury trends from other sources (i.e. injury rates amongst cyclists was actually already declining before helmet laws were introduced.

  32. Aaron Ball

    There’s a reality to this issue that theorists like Alan Davies don’t seem to appreciate. The vast majority of cycling advocates (me included) would love significantly better infastructure, but our governments have shown again and again that they’re not prepared to spend the money, either because they don’t have it or they don’t want the political backlash the media will give them by leveraging the motorist majority. Helmet law repeal, on the other hand, costs nothing and doesn’t affect the motoring majority. Even if Davies is right (I don’t think he is) and better infrastructure attracts many more new riders than helmet law repeal would, we’re much better campaigning for something that has a chance of happening. The comments on Crikey Facebook that Davies Ststes supports his contention the there isn’t widespread support for helmet law repeal has no scientific integrity, unlike the survey based research done by by Rissell and Fishman that supports the view that helmets (access, wearing, convenience and perception etc.) are a major disincentive. What affects bikes hate can be indicative of what affects cycling generally. Facebook comments are more a representation of the support for cycling across entire society, including people who don’t cycle and don’t want to, and see the helmet laws as something that affects someone else. It is this culture that we need to change, and helmet law repeal is a small, but important part of getting that change to occur.

  33. Alan Davies

    Piet de Jong #26:

    I have no troubles with your health cost/benefit calculations (I’ve not assessed them), it’s the assumptions they’re premised on re the amount of cycling lost due to MHL that are problematic.

  34. Piet de Jong

    Alan Davies #21: Your article and comments appear to argue:

    1. MHLs (Mandatory Helmet Laws) don’t appear to explain all the variation in cycling, therefore MHLs don’t cause a significant drop in the cycling or net community health.
    2. Other factors (e.g. infrastructure) affect cycling, therefore MHLs do not significantly affect cycling and community health.
    3. Your opinions, generalisations and cited evidence constitutes good “evidence” for the above assertions/conclusions.
    4. Rigorous and detailed health cost/benefit calculations published in a world ranked journal, sourcing the best available empirical evidence from the wider literature, should be ignored if the author has the “front” to point them out.

  35. Alan Davies

    RidesToWork #23:

    I’ll leave you to sort out your own differences on the numbers with Professor Pucher.

    From the original Monash University Accident Research Centre’s study, Bicycle use and helmet wearing rates in Melbourne, 1987 to 1992: The influence of the helmet wearing law:

    Amongst adults, there has been a marked increase in bicycle usage over the period covered by the MUARC surveys. Compared to the estimate of exposure from the 64 sites in 1987/88, there was a 86% increase in usage by 1991. This further increased in 1992 to a level more than double that in the first survey.

    The critical point is cycling didn’t fall among adults due to MHL. As for you and others seeking to selectively omit inconvenient data, the authors said:

    From a statistical point of view, however, an occurrence such as this is a true observation,well within the bounds of “normal” behaviour for that time period, and cannot be excluded from the analysis.

    Nik Dow #24:

    Agree more cyclists is better, but I don’t find the assertion that repealing MHL would lead to a significant increase at all convincing. Got a link to yesterday’s Advertiser story on MHL? (The Advertiser won’t let me look again without a sub). Today’s Advertiser story on MHL reports their readers poll saying two thirds think helmets should be mandatory.

  36. Nik Dow

    Totally agree with Alan that improving infrastructure will get more people riding. But why is this an either/or alternative to reforming helmet law?

    Better infrastructure takes funds and more importantly road space. Getting those is difficult, and the best way to get them is to increase the number of people cycling, because they are the constituency who support better bicycle infrastructure. So a reform or repeal of helmet law would instantly create a bigger constituency supporting better infrastructure. You would think cycling advocates who claim to want better infrastructure would welcome more support!

    Well done RidesToWork showing up Alan’s shallow and selective grasp of the evidence.

    And what is wrong with Professor de Jong quoting his own papers? You refrained from doing so despite the fact that they are very relevant to this topic – selective omission, or wilful ignorance?

    And why compare AU with UK or anywhere else? It’s a straw man argument. You need to compare AU with AU. Of course many factors influence cycling numbers and of course many factors differ between UK and AU and other countries. Of course many factors influence cycling rates in different suburbs. What does that prove? Precisely nothing.

    As to public support, yesterday’s ADelaide Advertiser quoted a survey of the Royal Auto Association’s members, which found that 40% supported repealing helmet law, and that 25% would ride more often if helmet laws were repealed. The 25% figure is similar to all the other surveys that have asked Australians what stops them from cycling. We can’t afford to hold cycling back to that degree, when a stoke of a minister’s pen would remove that barrier, unlike building infrastructure which is expensive and politically problematic, just look at the years spent trying to get better bike lanes in Sydney for example.

  37. RidesToWork

    Alan if you want to compare cycling in the UK with cycling in Aus, you need to compare like with like. Pucher’s 1% for Australia is the proportion cycling to work in the 2001 census. I imagine this figure was used because there was no information on the modal share.

    In the UK, I have seen figures for both – the proportion cycling to work in the 2011 census was 2.89%. The modal share (UK National Travel Survey, presumably all trips, including motorways and truck travel for which bikes aren’t a realistic option) was lower at 1.7% of trips.

    As I’ve said, the only modal share data I know about for Aus is the 0.6% of trips for Newcastle/Sydney/Wollongong. Based on the above comparisons, I’d suggest that the UK has at least twice as much cycling as Australia.

    Now for the “doubling of adult cycle use”. Numbers of adults counted in the Melbourne surveys were:
    1567 (May 1990, pre-law, average weather)
    1106 (May 1990, post-law, slightly worse weather)
    1484 (May 1992, post-law, better weather than pre-law, bicycle rally passing through one of the sites).

    So despite better weather and the added benefit of a bicycle rally passing through one of the sites, fewer adult cyclists were counted at the same sites and observation times in 1992 as pre-law.

    It takes a lot of creativity to turn the above numbers into a claim that “In Melbourne adult cyclist numbers doubled after the helmet legislation was introduced”. Anyone who wants to see the twisted reasoning and selective use of data should read

  38. rubbersoul1991

    I live in Darwin. There was a big community backlash against helmet laws when they were introduced. In true NT style they struck a nonsense compromise whereby helmets were made compulsory for children everywhere and adults riding on a public street. Adults can legally ride without a helmet on a bike path. With the exception of children, where schools insist that kids where helmets when cycling to school, the laws are widely ignored by adults and the police. The lycra mob and commuters tend to where helmets but anyone nicking down the shops or for a cruise down to the beach will go sans helmet. Someone pinched my helmet years ago and I never bothered replacing it.

  39. Alan Davies

    IkaInk #17:

    Yes, missed the sarcasm – must still be on course to win the role of Saga’s brother in The Bridge 3.

    Don’t know about Vancouver but don’t need to go so far from home; mode share for the JTW in the electorate of Melbourne is 6.5% despite MHL (in the City of Yarra it’s 8.5% despite MHL). That’s not bad compared to the best cycling city in the US, Portland OR, where 6.1% cycle to work (no adult MHL).

    Piet de Jong #18:

    Have to admire your front, Piet. You assert my claims are “contradicted by the evidence”, but the “evidence” you refer to is two papers written by none other than your good self! And anyway, you haven’t provided any evidence on the amount of cycling deterred by MHL. You’ve just taken the standard claims and used them to derive your estimates of the health costs of MHL.

  40. arnold ziffel

    sorry about my poor typing

  41. arnold ziffel

    de JOng quotes his own article.
    Also from there:
    ‘Many motorcyclists dislike helmets. It is safe
    to assume the same is true for bicyclists. Thus
    a mandatory bicycle helmet law will, if anything,
    reduce cycling. Drops in cycling may also result from
    helmets and helmet laws instilling an exaggerated
    perception of the risks of cycling.’
    I am a recreational cyclist.
    I regard the road as too dangerous for commuting by bicycle and my workplace is 15 km from my home.
    I am a former motorcyclist and I’m old enough to remember when helmets were not compuslory.
    I dispute that any change in the use of motorcycles in Australia has ever occurred due to helmet laws.
    The statement in the xentence beginning with ‘Thus …’ is ill-founded supposition.

  42. Piet de Jong

    Your assertion:

    “The upshot is that the social cost from deterred cyclists is likely to fall well short of the social benefits from the reduction in head injuries (see here and here) provided by compulsory helmet use.”

    is contradicted by the evidence

    The Health Impact of Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Laws (February 24, 2010). Risk Analysis, 2012. Available at SSRN: or

  43. IkaInk

    @Alan -4 – Obviously my sarcasm regarding Vancouver wasn’t obvious enough. My point being that City of Vancouver does do very well at limiting automobile-use and promoting sustainable travel, and yet does not even top 3% for cycling mode share; could the MHL be in large part to blame?

    Just to nail that point a bit further: City of Vancouver is known for its low speed limits, almost all roads are 50km/h or below, there is nothing above 60km/h within the municipality limits, and on the extensive network of streets designated for cyclists, limits are 30km/h. Drivings mode share was 56% in 2011 (worth noting that C.O.V covers more area than City of Melbourne, Yarra, Stonnington & Port Philip combined). It’s also a very dense city by Aus/N. American standards. It’s relatively flat. The climate is pretty moderate (although it is known for rain). All these factors, yet they still have not topped a 3% mode share.

    You claim that “my challenge is pointless when the number of jurisdictions with actively enforced MHL for adults is so small”, so perhaps instead you can point to why Vancouver, a municipality that seems to have all the conditions that would promote high cycling rates still hasn’t managed to?

    The percentages are not related to the number of people under 18 in those states, I simply wanted to point out that most the more populated provinces do have some kind of MHL, so claiming that Canada does not have MHL is false, more than half the country does; and only some of the utterly rural provinces, and the big “French” one that has an utterly different social and political culture to the rest of Canada, doesn’t.

    Once again, I’m not claiming that MHL are the number one factor in suppressing cycling in Australia, but I clearly believe it is a more considerable factor than you do Alan, and one that will need to be addressed if we ever hope to see cycling a truly common mode.

    @Alan-12 – True, the media love MHL stories, but let’s be honest the media loves any story about cycling. Whether its about bike lanes in Sydney, Cyclist deaths in Brisbane or Arrogant cyclists anywhere.

  44. Richard Scott

    I commute about 140km a week at speeds of up to 60 kmh ( briefly, on a long downhill). I definitely want to be wearing a helmet for that – I’m exposed to substantial risk just because of the hours and km I’m doing. I also wear hi-vis and have some impressive lighting.

    But I don’t do short journeys around the Brisbane CBD on a CityCycle bike share machine during the day because of the helmet availability/bike hair issue. My risk would be very low because I’d be tootling along slowly (but faster than foot or bus) and because I wouldn’t be doing it very often

    On another note, I wonder if some of the increase of injury is due to the changed nature of cycling. I suspect that the injury statistics include mountain biking, but not the mode-usage statistics, and mountain biking has grown substantially and is riskier than commuting.

  45. Alan Davies

    RidesToWork 14:

    The cycling mode share for the UK is from Pucher and Buehler, Making cycling irresistable (BTW there’s a link to it in the article and another one to the data).

    You only arrive at your 27% reduction figure because you selectively omit data from the Melbourne study that’s inconvenient to your cause. The authors didn’t omit it and explain why in the paper.

  46. RidesToWork

    Adult cycle use doubled in Metropolitan Melbourne!!! That’s the joke of the century! If you want to know about the statistical sleight-of-hand needed to turn 29% reduction in numbers counted into a “doubling” of adult cycle use read

    UK census data show 2.8% cycling to work in 2011, over twice the rate in Australia (1.29% in 2011). In NSW (Newcastle/Sydney/Wollongong) the cycling modal share is 0.6%. I have great difficulty believing your claim that Australia and the UK have similar cycling levels. It seems to have been made by the same sort of wishful thinkers who thought it was OK to count 29% fewer adult cyclists in the post-law Melbourne survey, then claim that adult cycling had doubled!

    That leads on to your “likely gains from better cycling infrastructure and regulation of drivers”. Spending “infrastructure money” on glorified footpaths only to find that the cyclists use the nearby road does absolutely nothing to encourage cycling.

    Indeed, spending money on ‘infrastructure’ that makes bicycle trips more inconvenient, slower or more difficult will actually discourage cycling. The best way to tell whether infrastructure is good or bad is to evaluate the results – ask local cyclists what they think, or install automatic bike counters before and after construction. That is the standard procedure in the Netherlands, but it notably lacking here. Dutch cyclists get the sort of infrastructure they want, and will encourage them to cycle. Here it’s a hit and miss affair. Sometimes it works, but a lot of money is wasted.

    We also take decades to learn. A paper in ‘Road and Transport Research’ in 1998 found that the construction of roundabouts increased the danger to cyclists, with most injuries occurring when entering vehicles hit circulating cyclists. The obvious safety improvements were therefore to reduce the speed of entering motorists and encourage cyclists to ride in exactly the same place as drivers would expect to see another vehicle. On a single land roundabout, cycling close to the central island may be an even safer option

    In 2014, Austroads research report AP-R461-14, came to similar conclusions: “The literature review revealed strong evidence that bicycle lanes on the approach and within roundabouts are associated with negative safety outcomes. … Where bicycle lanes were present in the circulating carriageway, they were rarely used by riders. Strong evidence was found that lane markings that encourage cyclists to “claim the lane” (for example sharrows) can be effective and are recommended where speeds are equitable. … Our research shows conclusively that cyclists maximise their safety when they occupy a lane, and this is most easily achieved when speeds are equitable.”

    I spent many years trying to get sharrows on our roundabouts (exactly as recommended above) to be funded by the local council, but was blocked at every stage by the NSW RTA.

    Spending on infrastructure is useful only if it’s properly evaluated by people who are capable of adding two numbers together and getting the right answer. Since the introduction of helmet laws we have lost a great deal of that expertise, in favour of the expertise required to ‘spin’ a 29% reduction in numbers of adult cyclists counted into a doubling of adult cycle use.

    The lessons learned from spinning helmet-law statistics seem to have pervaded other areas of government. For example, Professor Garnaut says that keeping the carbon tax instead of the $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund could cut the forecast deficit by as much as $19bn – almost as much as the $20 billion worth of cuts in the budget. It might even increase the (currently unlikely) chance of meeting the 5% target. This seems to imply that the real cause of Labor’s ‘budget emergency’ (which will reduce the chances of spending money on cycling infrastructure) was the pre-election promises to reduce taxes, spend lots of money and still balance the budget!

  47. Kinkajou

    What do they call cyclists in A&E.


  48. Alan Davies

    Interesting thread at Adelaide Cyclists discussing this article.

    St Etienne #7:

    You need look no further that the two Adelaide Advertiser articles from last week I linked to in the opening para (i.e. here and here) for evidence of how the media laps up stories on MHL. Then here’s another one from yesterday. There might well be more over the last week; these are just ones I’ve seen in links (I don’t have a sub to The Advertiser). The media love these stories because they reinforce their readers prejudice that opponents of MHL are first cousins of the unabomber.

    burthebike #8:

    The article doesn’t present the MHL issue as either/or. It states that it’s a question of priority. It’s neither sensible nor realistic to argue that all issues should be pursued with equal vigour; some will give much higher bang for the buck.

  49. Dylan Nicholson

    I’d suggest scrapping MHL is almost certainly necessary to get anything like the cycling levels seen in continental Europe, but we’re so far off that I doubt it will make all that much difference in the next decade or so. There are definitely more productive areas to focus on for cycling advocates, but there’s no reason not to push for better infrastructure, better driver education, a better legal framework for cyclists etc. at the same time as encouraging the necessary build-up of public support for relaxing/defining exemptions for MHL.

  50. Dr Perry

    Unfortunately Alan Davies misses a fundamental problem with bicycle helmet legislation: it is fundamentally at odds with the principles of Australian Society and Law.

    Riding a bicycle in ordinary, everyday, clothes – no special shoes, hats, gloves or anything else – is an activity where the benefits outweigh the costs. The individual bicycling gains in health and saves money etc.; Society in general saves from reduced health care costs, reduced congestion, reduced pollution, etc.; even Business wins from fewer sick days etc. Bicycling in ordinary clothes is simply a win. win, win.

    This is why around the world governments have been moving to increase cycling as part of active transport policies. It brings benefits to health, transportation, the environment, etc. At a time when obesity is rising, transportation systems are getting saturated etc. encouraging active travel has become a priority. The World is moving forward…

    except Australia and New Zealand. Sure bicyclists on average live longer, by voluntarily choosing to bicycle they save us money, but how do we respond? We call them irresponsible and fine them!

    One could talk about human rights and discrimination at this point, but not everybody is interested in those things. But how about money? Fining people for saving you money is, how does one put it politely, silly?

    Bicycle helmet legislation doesn’t continue to exist in Australia and New Zealand because is it good, but because no politician is prepared to accept the political cost of admitting how wrong it is. Ten years ago now the NZ Government stated they had shot themselves in the foot with their legislation, but have they acted on that knowledge? Recently in Queensland Minister Scott Emerson was fully aware that their legislation was fining people for doing good, was handed an opportunity by a Government Inquiry to back out of the legislation – thus able to blame to them if needed (often an important consideration in politics), and what did he do? Stubbornly refused to accept the Inquiry’s Recommendation.

    How long will the people of Australia and New Zealand stand for this? Freestyle Cyclists have the right idea, end this silliness. (Or if you do care about human rights and discrimination, end this travesty.)

  51. Freedom rider

    Erke and Elvik stated: “There is evidence of increased accident risk per cycling-km for cyclists wearing a helmet. In Australia and New Zealand, the increase is estimated to be around 14 per cent.” page 28.

    Details from New South Wales, Australia reported the number of injuries to children compared to the level of cycling activity, to provide estimates of the ‘equivalent number of injuries for pre law numbers of cyclists’, Table 2 in the report. The equivalent number of injuries for pre-law number of cyclists increased from 1310 (384 head + 926 other injuries) in 1991 to 2083 (488 head + 1595 other injuries) in 1993.

    Robinson DL; Head injuries and bicycle helmet laws; Accid Anal Prev, 28, 4: p 463-475, 1996

    In 2012 the New Zealand Medical Journal published ‘Evaluation of New Zealand’s bicycle law’. The ‘Summary’ includes;

    Cycling usage reduced by 51% (average hours cycled per person, % change from 89–90 to 06-09).
    Cyclist’s injury risk per hour increased by 20–32%.

    The report mentions the findings of Sandra Tin Tin et al;
    ‘Of particular concern are children and adolescents who have experienced the greatest increase in the risk of cycling injuries despite a substantial decline in the amount of cycling over the past two decades’

    Clarke, CF, Evaluation of New Zealand’s bicycle law, NZMJ 10 February 2012, Vol 125 No 1349

    Data for Alberta, Canada reported;
    ‘Surveys in Edmonton in 2000 (pre-law) and 2004 (post-law) suggest that cycling by children and teenagers has been significantly reduced compared with adults (59% children, 41% teenagers) (Hagel et al, 2006). Later surveys across several Albertan cities showed that child cycling had gone down by 56% and teenage cycling by 27% (BHRF, 1250; Karkhaneh, 2011)’.
    ‘Surprising stats suggest bike-accident head injuries have increased since Alberta passed a mandatory helmet law.’
    “For Canada, Clarke provided information suggesting helmet use may have contributed to an increase in the accident rate.” .
    Refer; ‘A case for revising cycle helmet advice in the Highway Code’
    There are a wide range of helmets available with various designs. They are tested to standards that do not include rotational acceleration aspects. One main cause of severe brain injury is rotational accelerations and helmets incur more impacts than a bare head due to their increased size. An element of uncertainty exists about how safe or otherwise any particular helmet may be. Curnow provided a scientific evaluation explaining the importance of rotational acceleration and the background leading to its understanding. Refer Curnow B, BICYCLE HELMETS: A SCIENTIFIC EVALUATION, Transportation Accident Analysis and Prevention, 2008,

  52. burtthebike

    “Repeal of Australia’s mandatory bicycle helmet law is a key demand of many cycling advocates. But the likely gains are dwarfed by those from better cycling infrastructure and regulation of drivers.”

    This article starts with a false premise and doesn’t get any better. There is absolutely no reason why the choice should be either/or, so presenting it as that is wrong. Why couldn’t the helmet law be repealed and the other items pursued as well?

    There are good reasons for repealing the helmet law; it hasn’t improved the safety of cyclists, it presents cycling as much more dangerous than it really is, and it deters people from cycling and hence reduces the public health rather than improving it. Any law which has demonstrably failed to do what it was brought in for should be repealed, if for no other reason that it must be unjust and unfair. The fact that it reduces the public health and imposes unfair costs on individuals merely increase the case for repeal.

    Unfortunately, politicians aren’t exactly known for their humility and ability to admit mistakes, even by other politicians, so despite the fact that this law has failed miserably and resulted in more people dying earlier than could possibly have been saved by helmets even on the most optimistic assumptions, they won’t be repealing it any time soon.

    The helmet law sends a very strong message that cycling is dangerous, it deters some people and imposes costs on society, and in the middle of an obesity epidemic largely caused by lack of exercise, it is literally insane. It isn’t cyclists who should be calling for this law to be repealed, it’s anyone who believes in democracy and the betterment of society.

  53. St Etienne

    Alan #4

    You’re suggestion that it’s “more sensible to focus limited resources on where the pay-off is likely to be largest” doesn’t make any sense, because that is exactly what is happening already. The helmet law issue does not even come close to making the incursion that you claim it does. nor does it constrain the other measures that are critical to getting more people on bikes. This is a fiction that is regularly trotted out by supporters of the law to try and shut down the debate. And where is your evidence that helmets are crowding other issues in the media?

  54. William Holliday

    When I and everyone else on a bicycle slows down to the 15kph that is the norm in places like the Netherlands, then it will be time to discard helmets. I wear a helmet because I travel at up to 50kph – much much more dangerous without a helmet.

    These anti-helmet activists would help cycling much more by ignoring helmet-hair and campaigning for a greater public acceptance of SWEAT!

  55. Waffler

    I agree that the relatively minor inconvenience of MHL hardly compares with issues like much more compact and denser cities, much more constrained and costly parking (try finding any space, far less a free spot, anywhere in many European cities and towns), much higher petrol prices ($2.50+ in countries like Italy, Denmark, Netherlands and not much less in many others) and car prices (nearly double in Denmark).

    And I’ve managed to come off and badly smash a helmet (instead of my head) without anybody’s help, so whatever your views on MHL please wear one anyway!

  56. Alan Davies

    IkaInk #2:

    I accept, as I noted in the article, that it’s likely MHL has some disincentive effect on cycling; I don’t dispute that (and esp in relation to bikeshare). My contention though is that it’s not likely to deter many from riding and therefore it’s not a big enough problem to offset the head injury benefits of MHL. Combine that with it’s political unattractiveness and I conclude it doesn’t warrant the sort of attention it gets from cycling advocates. There are far bigger fish to fry; time to prioritise and move on.

    As for Vancouver’s claimed 40% increase in cycling over 3 years, I think the City of Melbourne and City of Sydney would claim much higher growth e.g. counts on cnr of Flinders and Swanston showed > 100% increase between 2007 and 2010. These sorts of PR claims are very sensitive to how their calculated.

    Your challenge is pointless when the number of jurisdictions with actively enforced MHL for adults is so small (although doesn’t Vancouver have adult MHL too?).

    P.S. What do those Canadian population percentages refer to? Is the % population who live in a local jurisdiction with MHL for children? Not clear.

    St Etienne #3:

    Some of the most precious resources cycling advocates have is media time and credibility with the wider public. MHL occupies a lot of media and, I’d argue, crowds out issues that have more potential to advance cycling. I also suspect the public simply can’t relate to MHL as a serious problem.

    I wouldn’t call what I’ve written “opinions”; I prefer to call them “arguments” because I’ve sought, however imperfectly, to make a case supported by logic and, where it’s available, by evidence. It’s more than simply asserting “helmets are good/bad”.

    MHL might well be one of a number of constraints on cycling but they’re not all equal. What I’m saying is it’s much more sensible to prioritise; to focus limited resources and limited public sympathy where the pay-off is likely to be largest. It’s about bang for the buck.

  57. St Etienne

    The suggestion that repeal of the law should be a priority is misleading. A relaxation of the law was one of a number of recommendations put to the recent QLD enquiry on cycling safety. It wasn’t pushed to the top ahead of other measures. There are organisations that call for a repeal of the law but they see it as *one part* of the equation, not the be-all and end-all of cycling policy. Even Mikael Colville-Andersen doesn’t spend much time on helmet laws in his presentations but merely states they have no place in his view of a liveable city for people.

    Also, “concerted opposition to the law distracts resources from the key issues” is just a common throwaway line with little merit. Can you provide me with an actual example of where resources have been distracted?

    The rest of your article contains a lot of admirable opinions but that’s just what they are: opinions. I have an opinion too: the helmet law is one of a number of factors that deters people from using bikes for transport, but it particularly affects the use of bikes for short or casual trips. The benefits of getting more people to take shorter trips on bikes should not only be viewed in health or environmental terms but creating more liveable neighbourhoods.

  58. IkaInk

    A few points.

    Almost all of Canada has MHL for at least minors (percentages are of the total Canadian population):
    * British Columbia (13.1%);
    * New Brunswick (2.2%);
    * Nova Scotia (2.8%); &
    * Prince Edward Islands (0.4%)
    all have MHL for all ages (18.5%).

    * Alberta (10.9%);
    * Manitoba* (3.6%); &
    * Ontario (38.4%)
    all have MHL for under 18s or *under 16s (52.9%).

    That leaves:
    * the the Newfies aka Newfoundland & Labrador (1.5%);
    * the Northwest Territories (0.1%);
    * Nunavut (0.1%);
    * Quebec (23.6%);
    * Saskatchewan (3.1%); &
    * Yukon (0.1%)
    without any law (28.5%).

    Personally I find it unsurprising that the only heavily populated province in Canada without any helmet law is the one dominated by French culture; and the others are all almost exclusively rural. So Canada isn’t a good example for your argument. I’d also argue that Ireland is a poor comparison because it so rural (only two cities of more than 100,000!). However I suppose that is part of your point, more factors are at work than simply MHL.

    This aside. I agree, repealing MHL will not instantaneously significantly increase cycling’s mode share in Australia. There is obviously a huge variation between cycling mode share in places without MHL. However, I do challenge you Alan to find one example of a city/town/province/state that has both: 1) MHL 2) Significant cycling mode share.

    It is one thing to say cycling there are many barriers to cycling that inhibit mode share, it is another to prove that MHL isn’t one of them. I think the following is quite telling though: City of Vancouver, a city that is doing exceptionally well at limiting automobile use and promoting sustainable transport boasts with great glee that cycling is booming, having grown a staggering 40% between 2008-2011. It is now 2.9%!

    So I agree, a safer and separated cycling network is the first and most important step and growing the cyclist mode share in Australian cities. However I do think MHL will need to be removed if we ever want to seriously grow the cyclist mode share.

  59. Corban Hicks

    Alan, I agree with you on most counts. Could a law be introduced, though, that makes cycling without a helmet on main/arterial roads compulsory, while cycling in bike lanes and quiet, council-designated bike roads can be done without a helmet?

    I commute every day with a helmet, as I think I need it through inner Sydney to be safer. However, I know others who won’t ride small distances without a helmet as they fear fines. Obviously cycling infrastructure has to improve, but in the interim couldn’t some sort of middle ground be found?

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