Evaluating the Health Benefit of Bicycle Helmet Laws


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We reported earlier the need for additional study of Australia’s mandatory bicycle helmet law. That’s been done.

An interesting study was released last month which models the health benefits of Australia’s mandatory bicycle helmet law.

The bottom line: Australia’s mandatory bicycle helmet law has adversely affected overall health.

A model is developed which permits the quantitative evaluation of the benefit of bicycle helmet laws. The efficacy of the law is evaluated in terms of the percentage drop in bicycling, the percentage increase in the cost of an accident when not wearing a helmet, and a quantity here called the “bicycling beta.” The approach balances the health benefits of increased safety against the health costs due to decreased cycling.

Using estimates suggested in the literature of the health benefits of cycling, accident rates and reductions in cycling, suggest helmets laws are counterproductive in terms of net health. The model serves to focus the bicycle helmet law debate on overall health as function of key parameters: cycle use, accident rates, helmet protection rates, exercise and environmental benefits.

This study also estimated the health impact of a mandatory U.S. helmet law would cost approximately $5 billion per year.

The idea of a Michigan state law requiring bicycle helmets came up during a 2004 Senate hearing while we were updating Michigan’s bicycle laws. I noted that helmets use should be voluntary. The kid that rides his bike with or without a helmet is far healthier than the kid that doesn’t ride a bike at all. We shouldn’t throw up barriers to having more kids riding bicycles.

Fortunately Michigan does not have a mandatory bicycle helmet law, but some Michigan communities do:

  • Adrian (under 15)
  • E. Grand Rapids (under 18)
  • Farmington Hills (under 16)
  • Kensington Metropark (all ages)

Among these, the Kensington helmet requirement is quirky.

The Metroparks don’t require helmets. Milford Township has an ordinance that applies to bicyclists only at Kensington while riding on the paved trail where it’s 10 feet wide. And the helmet must meet the ANSI standard, eventhough there was no ANSI helmet standard from 1998 through 2003.

It appears you do not need to wear a helmet while bicycling on the roads or any unpaved designated bike trails at Kensington.

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6 Responses to “Evaluating the Health Benefit of Bicycle Helmet Laws”

  1. In the news… « I Bike NY Says:

    [...] Detroit bike blog discusses an Australian study that says helmet laws may have a negative impact on overall [...]

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    The New Scientist published an article that also discusses this helmet study.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17032-bicycle-helmet-laws-could-do-more-harm-than-good.html

  3. Duane DiFranco Says:

    My wife and I took my son who was 6 years at the time to Kensington to go riding,
    we brought a helmet for him but as adulys we did not for ourselves. We were informed at the gate that we could not ride without helmets as well.
    It was the last time I ever went to a metropark. We went to Gallup park in Ann Arbor and had a nice day.
    I dont bring my boat to any metroparks either…. I buy the State Park sticker and the DNR launch permit.
    Its hard to enjoy nature with a helmet straped to your head.
    The more we try to make the world idiot proof the more idiots we make.

  4. Cris Petersen Says:

    I have lived just 5 miles from Kensington Park, since 2001. I have not and will not ride my bicycle there because of the NANNY regulation of requiring helmits. Further, since the statute is so stupid, I don’t waste my money visiting the park by car either. I tell everyone I know, when the subject comes up how absurd it is. Oh well, but our president continues to tell us how wonderful our government is.

  5. Todd Scott Says:

    You are not required to wear a helmet while biking on the roads within the Metropark. The nanny government in this case is Milford Township. If you live within the township, I’d recommend you let them know how you feel about the ordinance.

  6. Your Questions About Kids Bike Helmets Says:

    [...] don't want to always go cheap when it comes to safety equipment.Powered by Yahoo! AnswersJames asks…Does anyone else think bike helmets are stupid?When I was growing up we didn't have "bi…s="dtm-content">Does anyone else think bike helmets are stupid?When I was growing up we didn't have [...]

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