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Do Bike Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good?

All bike riders in Australia have to wear a helmet, regardless of age. The country has had a mandatory, universal helmet law since 1990. But...


All bike riders in Australia have to wear a helmet, regardless of age. The country has had a mandatory, universal helmet law since 1990.But could helmet laws actually harm public health? Piet de Jong, an Australian mathematician at Macquarie University, thinks so. Helmet laws have an obvious positive effect: namely, reducing the likelihood of a serious head injury in a bike accident. But, according to de Jong, that is outweighed by the fact that helmet laws mean people bike less, thereby reducing the amount of exercise people get, causing health problems like obesity.According to de Jong, bike helmet laws actually have pretty big net costs. Research has found that biking decreased by 20 to 40 percent in several Australian cities after their universal health law went into effect. Given his estimates of the health benefits of biking, de Jong estimates that "bicycle helmet laws would cost the U.S. $4.8 billion per year" if we enacted them here.As Cliff Kuang points out, helmets make a lot of sense for urban cycling. But a mandatory helmet law feels pretty paternalistic to me. And you don't see many helmets at the average Critical Mass ride. If all those people had to wear one by law, would they just bike less?You can download de Jong's study here.Photo from flickr user malouette (cc).
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