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Helmets and bikeways reduce injuries
Helmets and bikeways reduce injuries

Compulsory bike helmets and cycleways have halved the number of serious head injuries among cyclists in NSW, a new study says.

Cycling-related accidents have risen in line with a rapid growth in bicycle use for recreation and commuting, says the study, published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

The study, led by Dr Jake Olivier of the University of NSW, found that serious bike-related head injuries are declining at a rate of four per cent a year.

It looked at trends in NSW hospital admissions from the enactment of mandatory helmet laws in 1991 to 2010.

The study found the number of serious bike-related arm injuries rose by 145 per cent in that period, while head injuries increased by only 20 per cent.

"We found that the overall benefit of mandatory helmet legislation in lowering head injuries was larger than previously reported and has been maintained over the past two decades," Dr Olivier said in a statement on Wednesday.

Before the helmet laws, bike-related head injury rates exceeded those of arm injuries, but by 2006 head injuries were 46 per cent lower than arm injuries.

Dr Olivier said the study found that bike-related head injuries had declined even further since 2006, when serious spending on cycleways began.

He said that decline was happening despite the NSW population rising by 22 per cent during the study period and despite a 51 per cent increase in the number of people cycling over the past decade.

"So there's no room for doubt that hundreds of serious head injuries are now being avoided every year thanks to helmets, bike lanes and segregated cycleways."

Dr Olivier said helmets and bike lanes had probably prevented 740 serious head injuries in 2010 alone.

Professor Raphael Grzebieta, study co-author and chairman of the university's road safety research group, said the study showed that calls to remove cycle paths and repeal helmet laws were unfounded.