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Economics References Committee
16/11/2015
Personal choice and community impacts

De JONG, Professor Piet, Professor of Actuarial Studies, Macquarie University

ROBINSON, Dr Dorothy L, Researcher, CycleSafe

[10:20]

Evidence from Professor de Jong was taken via teleconference.

CHAIR: Welcome. Do you have any comment to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Dr Robinson : I am basically a professional statistician who has studied the effect of bicycle helmet laws and written several articles in international journals, including the British Medical Journal.

CHAIR: Thank you for appearing before the committee today. Do you wish to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to questions?

Dr Robinson : Thank you for inviting me. My statement really summarises the fact that there is no evidence really that bicycle helmet laws have a net benefit. In fact, most evaluations suggest that the cost of discouraging a healthy, environmentally-friendly form of transport is much greater than any plausible reduction in injuries from increased helmet wearing. It is really important to note this is very, very different from other road safety initiatives. In particular, what stands out is the other initiatives that were happening in Victoria at the same time as the bicycle helmet law. There was a wonderful campaign against drink driving and speeding, and after that happened we got a 42 per cent reduction in pedestrian injuries. It is really a big contrast with what happened with the bicycle helmet laws.

I do not know if you have got my submission handy, but in section D I show the proportion of cyclist injuries that involve the head. If the increased wearing of helmets had worked, we would have a big reduction in head injuries. In fact, you really cannot see anything at all. If you had to guess, just looking at the change in head injuries, when the helmet law had been brought into effect, you would either guess about 1983 to 1985 or 1978. You would never guess, from the change in head injuries, that the law happened when it actually did.

But there is one way of looking and telling what the effect on head injuries of the helmet law is. That is if you look at the total number of injuries, both the head injuries and the non-head injuries. In my submission, in section E, I show that. What we see there is a big effect, not on the proportion of injuries involved with the head but just the total number of head injuries and the total number of non-head injuries. If the number of non-head injuries is reducing—because helmets do not reduce non-head injuries—the only plausible response to that is that there is a big decrease in cycling.

Another way of looking at that is in my section B, where I look at the census data on cycling to work. It showed that, before helmet laws, cycling to work was becoming more and more popular, especially in regional areas, which is where I live. I live in a town with wide streets and not much traffic. Before helmet laws, safety was not an issue at all. It was safe and it was popular. The thing to note is the big reductions in cycling where cycling was the most safe and the most popular. The other thing to note is that they happened exactly when the helmet laws happened. In other words, for the states that had enforced laws in 1991 that was when the reduction happened. For that states that did not have enforced laws until after the 1991 census, it occurred in the 1996 census. It is pretty clear and damming evidence of the reduction in cycling because of helmet laws.

It is also worth noting that there was a big reduction in adult cycling but the reduction in teenage cycling was even worse, and that came out from the surveys in Melbourne. In the first survey after the helmet law, they found that only 30 more teenage cyclists were wearing helmets but there were 670 less teenage cyclists counted. For every one cyclist wearing a helmet, 20 gave up cycling, or those would appear to be the results from the survey. Discouraging cycling in this way is a real tragedy because, as is shown from several references in my submission, the health benefits of cycling—even without a helmet—are far greater than the cost of injuries. One of the studies cited in my submission suggests that the benefits could be up to 20 times greater than the risks, and perhaps the benefit for every kilometre cycled is 75 cents. It seems madness to discourage cycling when it can be so beneficial for health.

The other important point that I make, because I have looked time and time at the injury data, is that when you add everything up—when you add all the other road safety initiatives that were happening at the same time as the helmet law and when you add in the reduction in cyclists—what you find is that actually the injury rates per cyclist increased after helmet laws. We had more injuries and even more head injuries than there were before the helmet law. This might seem paradoxical until you think about the possible explanations for that. We mentioned one before, which is risk compensation. We have mentioned that cyclists themselves have been shown to take more risks when they wear a helmet. We have also found that drivers pass closer to a cyclist when they are wearing a helmet. And before anybody asks, I am a long-haired female and this is something that I have noticed particularly—the biggest effect is for female cyclists. When drivers pass when I am wearing a helmet they pass a lot closer than when I am not wearing a helmet, and it is pretty obvious. If you have a driver passing very close to you when you are wearing a helmet, it is very scary. In other words, helmet laws have made cycling more scary for female cyclists.

The other issue, of course, is reduced safety in numbers, which I think is also something that creates more dangers on the road. When there are lots of cyclists, drivers look out for them. They know to look out for them and they give them right of way. They do not pull out of side streets as often when you are cycling along with right of way along a main road. I noticed that before the helmet laws when I had right of way on a road I was given right of way by drivers. When the helmet laws came in my rights were less respected. Motorists tended to ignore me an awful lot more.

The third reason for the increasing injury rates, which is possibly very interesting, is the fact that helmet laws tend to discourage the safer cyclists. I think that is, again, obvious from the census data. The areas where cycling was safe and relatively popular—cycling to work in regional towns—is where you saw the big reductions in cycling coinciding exactly with the helmet law. In capital cities, where you have more traffic and it is difficult, you might feel it is dangerous anyway. This was where cyclists before the law were more likely to want to wear helmets. It was not so much a deterrent as in the areas where you have good infrastructure and where you have safe cycling. The idea that infrastructure will actually encourage cycling is wrong. It will only encourage cycling if, at the same time, you repeal the helmet law, because both are important and with good infrastructure, cyclists will still be put off by helmets if you have a helmet law.

The final thing is that, as well as discouraging cycling and reducing safety numbers, what has happened in Australia—unlike the wonderful schemes in Paris, London, New York and Barcelona—is that the public bike schemes in Melbourne and Brisbane have been abject failures because of helmet laws. It is a real shame because successful city bike schemes make cities more attractive places to live and they also make cycling safer. As was mentioned in the previous session, there was a comparison of five cities that introduced city bike schemes with five cities that did not. They found that cycling increased but head injuries decreased in the five cities with city bike schemes. The decrease of 14 per cent, plus the increase in cycling, is far better than VicRoads' estimate of a 16 per cent reduction in head injuries from helmet laws. So a city bike scheme can do far more to reduce head injuries than a helmet law.

All of these arguments were reviewed by the Queensland parliamentary committee, which concluded that there was not enough evidence to justify helmet laws, and that relaxing helmet laws, as happened in the Northern Territory, would not make cycling less safe. In fact, it would generate increased cycling and generate a range of economic and health benefits, and help to normalise cycling. So, personal choice should be respected, unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary, and there is no compelling evidence for bicycle helmet laws. If anything, the evidence is that they have done far more harm than good. Given the strength of this evidence I hope that this Senate inquiry will come to the same conclusions as the Queensland parliamentary inquiry, and end up repealing this unfortunate, counterproductive law, so that many more Australians will take part in a healthy environmentally-friendly and increasingly safe activity.

Prof. de Jong : My contribution to this debate is based on an article I wrote for the international journal Risk Analysis, which is a fairly prestigious journal. In that article I try to come to grips with the net health impact of bicycling and mandatory helmet laws. The thing about mandatory helmet laws is that they have the unintended consequence of reducing cycling.

Everybody agrees that cycling is good for our health. Many doctors quote a figure of 20-to-1 as the benefit/cost ratio of cycling. Hence, when you have reductions in cycling you have reductions in population health. My article is trying to quantify what this reduction is and set it off against the benefits of having people wear helmets. In the article I look at four things. First, how good are helmets? Generally, in the article I take the view that helmets, in the case of accidents involving the head, are fairly effective. Then you have to factor in what fraction of the health costs associated with an accident are head injuries. Thirdly, you have to factor in how healthy bicycling is. Fourthly, what has been the reduction in cycling? In this article I put all of these things together and try to come to grips with the net health impact of mandatory helmet laws.

I looked at a range of parameters to try to figure out what the net health impact is. You find in almost all scenarios, no matter how efficient you think helmets are in avoiding head injuries, that it has a net health impact because of the unintended consequence of reduced cycling. This is not even looking at some of the issues that were raised by Dr Robinson. It only looks at head injuries and forgone health due to lack of things like cycling.

Mandatory helmet laws appear to be one of these laws that have the best of intentions, but the unintended consequences swamp the beneficial effects of the helmet. So it appears that helmet laws deliver a net health cost in terms of population or community health.

Senator CANAVAN: Dr Robinson, I want to ask about the effectiveness of helmets. Is there something inherently wrong in the design of helmets which contributes to head injuries? Or is it the risk compensation that the mandatory helmet laws have on people's behaviour?

Dr Robinson : I am not 100 per cent sure. There is evidence that under some circumstances helmets do increase the risk of brain injury and that is because of rotational injuries, as Bill Curnow said. There is some neurological research on monkeys where they have rotated the heads quite fast without impacting in any way the heads of the monkeys. These monkeys have had very serious brain injuries—far more serious than from blows to the head. Some studies have shown that because helmets have a soft shell they tend to stick on the tarmac. If you are unlucky and you get a glancing blow and your head sticks to the tarmac or is embedded in a windscreen of a car and your head rotates as a result, you are probably going to have more brain injury than you would without a helmet. A lot of this is hospital data, and all the official studies have tended not to separate out the minor scrapes and bumps from serious head injuries. It is very difficult to tell. My honest answer is that I do not know. Certainly I do know of cases where it does increase the risk of brain injury, but there may be others when it decreases the risk, but the overall effect is so much the effect of helmet laws. Many cyclists are going to wear helmets anyway, and many cyclists can judge the risk of when it is dangerous and when to wear a helmet and when they are pretty safe. Helmet laws, I am pretty certain, increase the risk of head injury; whether helmets do or not is an open question. I really do not have the expertise to tell you.

Senator CANAVAN: But you do suggest that an average rider who wears a helmet is likely to act in a less risk averse way than otherwise. Is that your evidence?

Dr Robinson : Risk compensation is a complicated issue, but they have done several experiments with cyclists wearing helmets—when they are used to helmets and it is not a novel thing—and, if you tell them not to wear a helmet, they will ride faster and ride with greater risk. A recent study did the same thing with people wearing helmets while playing a computer game. You would not think that that would make any difference—the psychology is so complicated—but when the participant wore a helmet, rather than a hat, they took more risks on the computer game. It is human nature, just as it is with ABS brakes—if you think you are protected, you take more risks. The same with drivers passing cyclists, as I know from my own observations.

Senator CANAVAN: I will undertake those tests with my kids at home—they certainly play computer games a lot! The data you have presented is very useful and thank you for putting it together for us. We had a discussion with previous witnesses that some of the data is not complete—and that was on cycling use, although you have a graph on that here in section B. Could you explain your understanding of the accuracy and completeness of the data? I see that you have used census data here, but there seem to be some gaps in that data. What is good about the data? Where are the gaps? How accurate is it for drawing policy conclusions?

Dr Robinson : I believe that census data is pretty accurate. It is a survey of the whole population and how they get to work. I would say it is basically 100 per cent accurate. The only difficulty with census day is that it occurs on one day of the year. There is no reason to believe it would be different on any other day of the year. Perhaps at times when it is more conducive to cycling you would see a bigger effect. So it is 100 per cent accurate and it simply shows that when you have helmet laws—in this case, different states had helmet laws at different times so we can see the effect of the helmet law. Particularly in regional areas, cycling increased in the 1991 census in states that did not have helmet laws, and it dramatically dropped off a cliff in the other states. That is a pretty good indication that helmet laws discourage adult cycling. The Monash University surveys are very clear. The official estimate was a 46 per cent reduction in teenage cycling. So we know from census data that transport cycling in general is reduced by helmet laws, and we know from the Monash surveys that there are really phenomenal reductions in children cycling.

Senator CANAVAN: Just to be clear, those dash lines in this graph in section b of your submission—

Dr Robinson : That is just to indicate

Senator CANAVAN: when the laws came in; not to indicate some kind of break in the series of questions being asked?

Dr Robinson : No, it is just indicating where the laws came in.

Senator CANAVAN: So the questions were consistent across those different censuses?

Dr Robinson : Pretty much.

Senator CANAVAN: This is to do with riding to work.

Dr Robinson : Yes.

Senator CANAVAN: The previous witness said there was limited data. Is that just more general data on the use of cycles to go to the shops et cetera, rather than just work itself? You have good data here, and I agree the census data is pretty good.

Dr Robinson : There is very good data in Western Australia on transport cycling in general. And that showed even more declines in cycling. Commuter cycling was one of the smaller effects. They had big declines in shopping and cycling to school.

Senator CANAVAN: Did you provide that? I think you might have mentioned it.

Dr Robinson : I have provided it. I am just trying to find the reference to it.

Senator CANAVAN: Okay. Maybe you could take that on notice. I think you have a reference to it here in your submission so we might have the link anyway. If you want to have a look at your submission in regard to that, there is an opportunity to provide further information to us. That would be useful.

Dr Robinson : Yes.

Senator CANAVAN: You have other data, hospital admissions data, on percentage of cyclists presenting with head injuries and then other injuries as well. What is the accuracy of that data? Are they fairly comprehensive and consistent? Sorry—that is Western Australia, is it?

Dr Robinson : That is Western Australia. The data is very consistent and comprehensive for Western Australia. Different states have different sets of data. Roughly the trends are all coming out the same way; before helmet laws, head injury rates were decreasing in every state, more or less. There is not a good explanation as to why this was happening but it was happening.

CHAIR: Dr Robinson, can you explain what the difference is between the red and the blue there on your graph (e)? I cannot—

Dr Robinson : The red line is the number of non-head injuries, and that is on the right-hand scale. The blue line is the number of head injuries, which is on the left-hand scale. I put them on different scales and superimposed them so you could see that there was a big reduction in both of them when helmet laws came in. The fact that there was a big reduction, or a similar proportionate reduction, shows that in fact the helmet laws reduced both, and the only reason it could possibly have done that is because it was discouraging cycling—as of course the survey data shows.

Senator CANAVAN: The conclusion of that is that you are saying the reduction of those injuries is more to do with the reduction in cycling rates, rather than—

Dr Robinson : If you had no cyclists, you would have no head injuries. I have just found the data for Western Australia that was in my submission. Before the helmet law, 5.7 per cent of transport trips were by bicycle. A few years later, in 2003 to 2006, it had plummeted to 1.6 per cent. So it is a really big reduction in transport cycling because of helmets. We cannot entirely say it is due to helmet laws, but it seems to be one of the big culprits because of the timing.

Senator CANAVAN: Your evidence is fairly compelling here in terms of the timing of the reductions. What has happened to cycling use in other countries without mandatory helmet laws? Has there been a secular decline as well.

Dr Robinson : Some have seen increases, and I think the big reason for the increases have been the city bike schemes. When Velib was introduced in Paris, the city is said to have gone cycling mad. In other words, there has been a real surge in popularity when city bikes schemes have been introduced—everywhere except Australia. In London, again, we have had millions and millions of trips on their city bike schemes, and they are extremely safe. They are as safe as cycling in Holland—the city bikes schemes in London. I have been to London a few times and I am not sure I would have wanted to cycle there before the city bike schemes, but now they have the schemes and everybody cycles. I am sure that safety in numbers is operating, and it is so much safer and so much nicer on the environment than it would have been before. It is also less polluted obviously, which is good if you are either a pedestrian or a tourist in the city.

Senator CANAVAN: Turning to Professor de Jong. Your paper on the net health impacts—I believe you have also included a response to Professor Newbould commenting on your article. Can you explain it to us? He seemed to do some sensitivity analysis or made some other assumptions about fatality rates. Could you explain what he commented about on your article and your response?

Prof. de Jong : The first thing he did was to denominate health costs in terms of fatalities. He basically reconfirmed my conclusions—rederived them—and looked at them in a different light in terms of fatalities. Fatality costs are of course not the only health costs associated with bicycling. But he basically reconfirmed my figures.

The other thing he did was point out that these are all population average statistics and that it may be the case that, for subgroups of the population, such as children, a mandatory helmet law may make sense. And I agree with that, not that it makes sense necessarily for children, but I agree that we should look at subcategories of bicyclists—for example, those that hurtle down highways on Saturday mornings. Maybe that is a good idea.

The point is that overall it seems—and he reconfirmed this—that bicycle helmet laws or mandatory helmet laws have a net negative health impact on community health; although, it may have some positive net health impact on certain subgroups of the population.

Senator CANAVAN: Can I just confirm what your modelling is showing. Is it that, overall, taking into account the potential or estimated reductions in cycling, there has been a net negative social impact from mandatory laws? It is not saying that any individual cyclist should or should not wear a helmet for their own individual purposes? You are talking about the overall behavioural impacts, post laws, on what has happened, not necessarily the health benefits to any individual of wearing a helmet or not wearing a helmet. Is that correct?

Prof. de Jong : Yes, I think you are dead right. There is no attempt to state that individual cyclists should or should not wear helmets. It is just looking at two things, and two things alone. One is the possibly beneficial effect of helmets in case you have an accident involving the head; and the second thing is the impact of helmet laws in reducing population cycling. If you set off those two effects, then the net health impacts of a mandatory helmet law appears to be, under almost every scenario, negative. That is not to say that individuals should not wear helmets nor that parents should not require their kids to wear helmets. It just says that there is a large unintended consequence of mandatory helmet laws that tends to swamp the possibly good effects of people wearing helmets.

I must stress that in my article I assume the most optimistic scenarios for the beneficial effects of helmets. There are many figures bandied about on how good helmets are—anywhere from those people who do not believe they do much good to people who believe that they do a hell of a lot of good. In the article, I generally err on the side of those who believe that helmets are very good and have an effectiveness of up to two-thirds or whatever. But, even with those highly optimistic assumptions about the efficacy of helmets, you will find that the unintended consequence of less cycling swamps the beneficial effects. So it is not saying anything about what individual riders should or should not do. It just looks at the overall effects.

Senator CANAVAN: Thank you.

CHAIR: Dr Robinson, you discussed the concept of the safest cyclists. Who are they?

Dr Robinson : I believe, in general, that they are transport cyclists—people who cycle to get from A to B. Quite often, in regional areas, they are people going on short trips, down to the corner shop for milk or to get to work, where they know the route and can find the back streets. So they can find a quiet, pleasant route to get to work. So these are the people who probably are risk averse and probably do not like wearing helmets, and these seem to be the people who have seen the biggest reduction in cycling. On the other hand, sports cyclists tended to wear helmets before the law anyway. You would probably find that these people, in general, have a higher risk rate, because they are going so much faster. I gather there is a study that came out not long ago that found the faster you go the more likely you are to have a head injury. So somebody who is going along at 15 to 20 kilometres per hour are quite safe whether or not they wear a helmet, and they are probably still far safer and less likely to have a head injury than the sports cyclists tearing along at 30 or 35 to 40 kilometres an hour, because the speed makes a big difference.

There is the same thing with mountain biking. The sport of mountain biking is also now more popular, so I think we are finding that instead of relatively safe transport cycling we are having sports cyclists and mountain bikers. One good evidence of this is that if you go to a shop now to buy a bike, you cannot get the equipment that you need to commute to work; you cannot get one with lights, with panniers and with mudguards—all things you can buy for a Dutch cycle, where Dutch cyclists are very, very safe. You will find the same in Holland. The cyclists in Holland who wear the helmets are 13 times more likely to get injured than the cyclists who go from A to B just to get to work or to get round Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

CHAIR: Say that again. In the Netherlands?

Dr Robinson : In the Netherlands, cyclists who wear helmets are much more likely to end up in hospital than the cyclists—

CHAIR: Cyclists who wear helmets are much more likely to end up in hospital than the ones who do not wear helmets?

Dr Robinson : That is correct.

CHAIR: The reason for that is?

Dr Robinson : The ones who wear helmets are the risk-takers—the sports cyclists and the mountain bikers. At least, that is what we believe is the reason for it. This is a plausible explanation. The paper that showed that has not actually pointed out where the risk comes; it has not been able to attribute the reason, but it just presented the fact that the helmet wearers are much more likely to end up in hospital. I think that has happened in Australia. There was a similar study in New Zealand, where they have pretty good information on the amount of cycling and contrasted before the laws with after the laws. What we know is that from 1989 to 2011 cycling by children—and this is the period when we had the helmet law—fell by 79 per cent and cycling by teenagers fell by 81 per cent. At the same time, the risks per million hours of cycling increased dramatically, by 86 per cent for children and by 181 per cent for teenagers. They are now three times more likely to be injured per million hours of cycling with helmets than they were before the helmet law in New Zealand. That is a pretty damning statistic—but it is a combination of things. It is not just the helmet; it is the risk compensation combined with the difference in cycling, where now sport cycling is more popular than it used to be.

CHAIR: There is more sport cycling and less transport cycling.

Dr Robinson : Yes—and fewer city bike schemes, which are also safe.

CHAIR: There was an Australian government review in 2013, which found that the net health benefit, adjusted for injury, for each kilometre cycled is 75c, about half of the total economic benefits of the typical bikeway project. Are you aware of that?

Dr Robinson : Yes, I am aware of it.

CHAIR: What are its implications?

Dr Robinson : I think the implication is that we need to do a lot more to encourage cycling because the health benefits are so great. I can talk from a personal point of view as well. I am sure I am an awful lot fitter and healthier than I would have been if I had not been a regular cyclist. Helmet laws are probably one of the major barriers, especially for female cycling. As I have mentioned, I really do not think that infrastructure on its own will get enough people cycling. We need to do both: we need to repeal the helmet laws and consult better with cyclists about infrastructure. Another problem is that, when you have more cyclists—and you will get more by repealing the helmet law—they will be able to tell governments a lot better about what sort of infrastructure they need and how to make cycling even more popular. When all we have is sport cyclists and mountain bikers, it is difficult to know what sort of infrastructure would be required to get people back on their bikes. Certainly, where I live it is almost a cyclist's paradise, but there is nobody cycling. Before the helmet law, if I wanted to contact other cyclists, all I had to do was leaflet all the bikes that were around and that would get all the cyclists, but now there are no bikes there to leaflet. There is just a big difference. There are few bikes at the university and few transport cyclists, despite wonderful conditions for cycling.

CHAIR: Professor de Jong, we have received submissions and we know that much of the support for mandatory bicycle helmets comes from the medical profession. The medical profession observes injuries at their tail end rather than at the beginning, at the causative end. What do you think about this type of assessment that the medical profession provides on this issue?

Prof. de Jong : The surgeons and the doctors only look at one side of the equation, and that is the head injuries. They never look at the big picture. They advocate public policy on the basis of one narrow look at the whole problem or the whole issue. Somebody once made the remark that it is like asking lottery winners whether buying lottery tickets is a good idea. You are getting a very biased view of it. These people—the surgeons and the doctors—on the whole are not equipped to look at the whole public health picture.

CHAIR: In your submission, you point out that the analogy drawn between mandatory bicycle helmets and mandatory seatbelts is false. Can you explain this?

Prof. de Jong : That is another issue that is sometimes introduced into the discussion. People say, 'Helmets are just like seatbelts.' The thing about seatbelts is that there are no unintended health consequences. With bicycling, there are unintended health consequences. As Dr Robinson has pointed out, there has been a substantial reduction in cycling. Cycling is a very healthy activity. Seatbelts did not discourage a healthy activity. Requiring everybody to wear helmets does discourage a fundamentally healthy activity, as is obvious in many countries in Europe. The health benefits from cycling far outweigh the costs, so the analogy with seatbelts is a furphy.

CHAIR: Dr Robinson, you commented in your submission on the Australian Medical Association argument and that of the ARRB—which is the other doctors' group, I think—that cycling numbers returned to long-term trends relatively quickly after the introduction of mandatory helmets. This is a recurring theme through a number of submissions. What is your response to that?

Dr Robinson : I simply do not believe it. The reason I do not believe it is the numbers of cyclists that were counted in that survey. It is simply not possible to count fewer. First of all, remember that everybody agrees there were 46 per cent fewer teenage cyclists. If there were 46 per cent fewer teenage cyclists, then five years later these teenagers will become adults and they will not be cycling as adults either. So that is obviously one reason why cycling will have reduced. But, at the same time, the surveys that they are talking about actually counted fewer adult cyclists, and we are talking about substantially fewer—29 per cent in the first survey. Although there was only five per cent in the second survey, there was a huge bicycle rally passing through the survey site. If you discount the site with the bicycle rally, you find that there is also a big reduction in adult cycling. So if they counted fewer adult cyclists than before the law, then it cannot possible be true. I think what has happened is that somebody has been doing some wishful thinking because, as I said in my submission, we are finding that cycling was increasing until the law. So instead of comparing the data immediately before the law—the numbers counted immediately before the law—in 1990, they took the comparison from a survey 2½ years earlier at a different time of year in 1987 and 1988. For all I know it could have been a stinking hot day or a stinking hot week and they had no cyclists on that stinking hot day because it was just too hot.

Certainly, I am a statistician, and one of the fundamental things I say is you cannot compare cycling at different times of year. It is not valid. What I would say is those comparisons and those claims are simply not valid. We have seen the same effect in New South Wales. Again, the only data on adults is at different times of year, so you cannot really compare them validly, because we know that at the time of year that they did the pre-law survey it was raining and pretty poor weather, and in some of the surveys they could not even count and they had to abandon them. So there were fewer cyclists counted because of the time of the year and because some of the surveys could not be completed. Basically, all we have is the information on child cycling, and child cycling reduced by 48 per cent, which is almost identical to the 46 per cent reduction in Melbourne.

I think it is just something where there is wishful thinking, saying, 'We would have liked the helmet laws not to reduce cycling,' but in fact they did. They have tried to manipulate the data and present it in the most favourable light, and I think that has really confused an awful lot of people. Whereas, if it had been better presented and at least more understood, then it would have been obvious that helmet laws reduce cycling—as, of course, many people were saying at the time. We had surveys saying that the equivalent to 64 per cent of adult cyclists in Perth said they would ride more without a helmet. That is a big effect, and yet I think it is really just wishful thinking, sadly.

Prof. de Jong : Could I just perhaps add something. Melbourne has the bicycle share scheme. It is one of the few, if not the only—other than Brisbane—that has been a flop. Every other bicycle scheme in the world has been a success. I think the reason why the Melbourne one is a flop is the mandatory helmet laws. There is a perfect experiment to observe the effects of mandatory helmet laws on cycling, and it has been more or less the death knell for the Melbourne bicycle share scheme.

CHAIR: Those are interesting comments. I might get you to expand on that for a moment, although we are close to when we need to hear from our next witnesses. The scheme in Melbourne—and I have not seen the Brisbane one for some years now, but I presume it is the same—has helmets attached to the bike, so you can actually put a helmet on if you want to. I walked past one of the racks this morning and I noticed that some of the bikes were missing helmets, but most of them had a helmet attached to them. What do you think it is about that bike scheme that means it is a failure, notwithstanding the fact that there are helmets provided?

Prof. de Jong : There are two things. A lot of people do not like wearing helmets, or some people do not like wearing helmets. The other thing is that helmets convey this message that this is a really risky activity, and people on the whole do not want to participate in risky activities. It is working these two channels. On the whole, people think twice about taking one of these bikes out. Keep in mind that Melbourne has a perfect climate for cycling, it is relatively flat and the streets are relatively wide, so by all other accounts it should be a roaring success. I do not think anybody else has come up with good reasons to suggest why it is not the mandatory helmet law that is making this scheme one of the only flops in the world.

CHAIR: Thank you, Dr Robinson and Professor de Jong. I appreciate your evidence this morning.

Prof. de Jong : Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 11:07 to 11 : 19