Should Bicycle Riders Be Able To Choose Whether Or Not They Wear A Helmet? (Australia)

1053 words - 4 pages

In Australia, laws have already been passed mandating the use of helmets while riding a bicycle. But are these laws justified? There is voluminous research on helmets and helmet legislation, yet there is still much debate on how effective helmets are at preventing injuries, and how the legislation has affected communities.It is widely accepted that bicycle helmets will in many cases prevent or reduce skull fractures and superficial head injuries. But it is less clear is how effective helmets are at preventing injuries to the brain, which is where controversy appears. Bicycle helmets are primarily designed to reduce the effect of linear forces, by providing a soft, crushing layer that reduces the linear acceleration to the brain during impact. Head impacts from bicycle crashes do not generally involve a direct square-on impact, most commonly there is an angled impact as the head hits the ground with forward momentum; or the windshield of a motor vehicle. Tests are not carried out for these, however. Such an impact is likely to impart some degree of rotational force on the head and brain. The effect of helmets on rotational forces to the brain is not entirely clear. Rotational forces may be reduced by the same crushing effect of the helmet that reduces linear forces; but they may be increased due to the increased size and mass of the head with the added helmet. A blow that is not square on center, i.e. not linear, will rotate the head. It has not been ruled out that the added mass, size and surface texture of a helmet may make the rotational effect more severe.The conventional method of testing a helmet is to place a 5kg weight inside, to drop it a fixed distance on various surfaces, and to measure the deceleration. If the resulting force of impact is less than 300 gravity decelerations, the helmet can be certified. In most tests, the helmet is dropped or struck on or near the top of the helmet, where it is strongest, yet the side or front of the head is much more likely to be struck either in a fall or a collision. Helmets are tested in the lab for straight-line (linear) blows only, and cannot monitor the effect of rotational force.There are many arguments stating that bicycle riders should be forced to wear helmets. Many believe that compulsory helmet legislation is beneficial. Whether this is true or not depends on your perception of the many detailed studies about helmets and helmet testing methods. Helmets have been proven to work and dramatically reduce the chances of a skull fracture in a crash. Helmet laws can be effective because it raises the awareness that helmets can save lives, which many cyclists have attested to. Like seatbelts and smoke alarms, a law mandating the use of helmets is designed to protect people.But many of the statistics involving the use of bicycle helmets are misleading. Like the statement that there were 70% less serious head injuries after the Australian legislation was enforced. After the introduction of the...

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