Fédération française des Usagers de la Bicyclette

Site internet de la Fédération des Usagers de la BICYclette

>>Our helmet main page, english version.

12 mars 2008

The question is not a "pro-helmet" versus "anti-helmet" debate : we are not going to try convincing cyclists to quit their helmet if they prefer wearing one. But we want to inform cyclists, future cyclists, and decision makers, that making helmet compulsory would have much more negative effects than positive effects !

You will also find many valuable documents and data in english here : cyclehelmets.org .

Menu of this page :

>> French version

Bicycle is not a very risky mean of transportation


- Don’t mix up sport and transport
- Don’t mix up bicycle and motorcycle
- Young cyclists... from 55 to 77 years
- Pedestrians first !
- And car drivers...

Public health : stakes and negative impact of mandatory helmet laws


- Absence of results on global road safety
- Significant dissuasive impact on urban cyclists
- Negative results on health expenses
- The virtuous cycle

- For more details : => page "Bibliography"


Don’t mix up transport and sport

You certainly noticed : racing car pilots always wear a helmet, whereas nobody wears one in everyday car journeys. Well, for cyclists, it’s about the same !

A simple journey in town has very little in common with a cyclist race or riding downhill in mountains. A given cyclist can very well consider helmet is essential for sportive mountainbike training, and ride to work everyday without a helmet : it is a reasonable choice.

Falling down without being hit by a car is the source of 9/10 of accidents among sportive cyclists, but in everyday urban journeys it’s just the opposite : 9/10 of accidents are collisions with motorised vehicles.
Ref. : Sécurité Routière + FFCT.

photo Club des Cent Cols 2007 Risks of injuries and effectiveness of helmet are very different depending on the context. The majority of cyclists already know it, and adapt their behaviour : the ratio of cyclists wearing a helmet is close to 90% among sportive cyclists (86 to 94%), whereas this ratio is only 7% among urban cyclists or non-sportive leisure cyclists.
Ref. : FUBicy and FFCT in 2006 and 2007, average over more than 20’000 cyclists, by counting cyclists in 14 different locations in France.

Moreover, off-road mountainbike induces a much higher risk of falling down (6 to 7 times higher than cycling on-road, according to FFCT + ONISR data), and a mandatory helmet law in the Highway Code would not be applicable to off-road cycling.

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Don’t mix up bicycle and motorcycle !

In average, cylists are not more concerned by road fatalities than other road users. It’s completely different from motorised two-wheelers :

. % of
journeys
 % of
injuries
 % of
deaths
Motorised
two-wheelers
2 %30 %21 %
Bicycles4 %4 %4 %

Ref. : Sécurité routière, press release 8 march 2005 + annual report ONISR 2006

Arguing cycling is as dangereous as riding motorised two-whellers will certainly push teenagers to quit cycle for motorcycles. The result for road safety cant be positive.

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Helmet for young cyclists... above 60 years old ?

Click on a graph to zoom, then "Return previous page" of your browser to come back here.

Young children tend to fall more often when they learn cycling, but nevertheless, they are not the population most exposed to road fatalities. The most exposed people are senior cyclists.

JPG - 24.8 ko
Source : Sécurité Routière, bilan ONISR 2005 (publication 2006).

The graph shows the ratio of people killed in road fatalities (in victim per million inhabitants) versus their age.

But no ones dares saying helmet should be mandatory for people above 50 or 60 years old. Is it because one fears that elderly cyclists might not be very cooperative ? Can we seriouslty believe that teenagers will be much more disciplined ?

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Helmet for... pedestrians first !

In road fatalities, contrary to common prejudice, cyclists do not suffer head injuries more often than other road users !

. CyclistsCar
passengers
Pedestrians
Injuries 92 %93 %84 %
Severe injuries 8 %7 %16 %
- killed -0,4 %1,3 %2,3 %
% of head
injuries
17 %24 %26 %

Ref. : Sécurité routière, ONISR annual report. Analysis on over 8000 victims, press release 8 march 2005.

A study of the British Legal Medecine has shown that the ratio of head injuries among people killed n the road is the same among cyclists, car drivers or passengers, and pedestrians. It is close to 80%, for all transportation means. Moreover, 64% of killed people had several fatal injuries and could not have been saved by a helmet. And of course, some of the killed cyclists did wear a helmet.

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And what about car drivers ?

No, it’s not just a joke. Let’s compare some figures. In a collision, if the driver is stopped suddenly, his/her body will be impacted by an energy called kinetic energy, proportional to his/her mass and to the square of the speed just before collision. This kinetic energy, noted Ekin in the table, determines the possible damages.

.Average
speed
(km/h)
Max.
speed
(km/h)
Average
Ekin.
( kJ )
Max.
Ekin.
( kJ )
Urban cyclist18401 4
Racing cyclist301002 27
Car driver15 to 501301 to 7 46
Racing pilot
(rallye or F1)
50 to 150170 to 3606 to 60 80 to 350

These data are the driver’s kinetic energy, not the vehicle’s kinetic energy.

Those figures can help us understand why car drivers and passengers suffer head injuries about as much as cyclists do.

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Counter-productive effects of helmet laws


Making helmet compulsory for cyclists without forcing pedestrians or car passengers to wear a helmet would not only be unfair : it would have an overall negative impact on public health. Experiences of countries who made that mistake teach us what not to do.


Because of those poor results, two countries who had a mandatory helmet legislation decided to withdraw it, and to encourage cycling by letting people free of cycling with or without helmet in urban agglomerations : Israel and Mexico.

Absence of results on traffic safety


In Spain


Since 2004, helmet is compulsory on inter-urban major roads. Among cyclists injuried in a traffic casualty, the percentage of cyclists wearing a helmet increased from 28% to 48%. Meanwhile, the percentage of cyclists suffering from a head injury increased from 22% to 25% ! If it were true that helmet is so efficient as to reduce by 80% the risk of cranian trauma, this figure should have decreased from 22% to 14%...
Source : J.Merallo, international conference Velo-City 2007 ; data from the spanish Road Traffic Direction and Universitad policinica de Valencia.

In Sweden


Helmet is mandatory since 2005 for cyclists under 15 years old in Sweden. A first report has been published in may 2010 :

  • cyclists under 15 years old :
Year% wearing
a helmet
Injuries
@ hospital
Deaths
200535% for cyclists < 10 years old
37% among 6-15 years old
≈ 300035
200969% for cyclists < 10 years old
47% among 6-15 years old
≈ 300019
  • cyclists above 15 years old :
Year% wearing
a helmet
Injuries
@ hospital
Deaths
200527%n.a.33
200927%n.a.19

Source : Målstyrning av trafiksäkerhetsarbetet – Analys av trafiksäkerhetsutvecklingen 2009. n.a. : data not available, look for more complete reports.

Comparison of these data shows that :

  • twice as many helmets did not make a significant difference in the number of young cyclists admitted in an hospital
  • helmet alone cannot be responsible for the decrease in the number of deaths among young cyclists, because the number of deaths decreased by the same amount among adults, although adults do not wear a helmet more frequently than before.

In Australie and New-Zealand


Click on a graph to zoom, then "Return previous page" of your browser to come back here.

These are the 2 countries where we got the most exhaustive and large-scale data for over 10 years. The helmet law failed to produce a significant difference in the frequency of head injuries among cyclists, versus pedestrians or car passengers.

The percentage of cyclists wearing a helmet increased from 30% to 80% within less than one year in 1990/1991. The percentage of pedestrian and car passengers wearing a helmet remained 0%. Can you see a difference ?

The first graph shows the percentage of people suffering a head injury after a road casualty, for cyclists, pedestrians, car drivers and car passengers, from year 1971 to 1997.

JPG - 29.4 ko
Ligne continue rouge : cyclistes. Pointillés verts : piétons. Pointillés bleus : conducteur ou passagers d’automobiles.

The second graph shows the percentage of cyclists suffering from head injury, compared to those not suffering from a head injury, from year 1897 to 1994.

JPG - 60.7 ko
Evolution, de 1987 à 1994, du nombre de cyclistes hospitalisés : soit blessés au crâne (échelle de gauche), soit non blessés au crâne (échelle de droite). Les dents de scie correspondent aux variations saisonnières de la pratique vélo en Australie.

Ref. : Dr D.L.Robinson, senior statistician, University of South Wales (review of several scientific papers , and comparison of several sets of data).

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A negative impact on urban cycling

In Australia


The helmet law produced a 30% decrease in cycling level within a few months, although cyling level was increasing before. More than 10 years were needed to recover a cycling level nearly equal to the level prior to helmet law. This negative impact was drastic in populations such as teenagers : -90% among girls between 10 and 16 years old !

In New-Zealand


4 years after Australia, same result in New-Zealand : nearly 30% decrease in cycling modal share. Though, because of a strong campaign for helmet, almost 2/3 of new-zealand cyclists did already wear a helmet before the helmet law. This is no surprise to us : the other 1/3 did neither need nor want to wear a helmet.

It shows that arguments like "As soon as nearly 50% of cyclists will wear a helmet, it will cause no problem to make helmet compulsory" are just unreliable...

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A negative impact on public health


WHO, based on several medical studies, says that 1/2 hour cycling per day reduces by a factor 2 the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In France, myocardial infarction alone is responsible for 10 times more deaths than traffic fatalities, and... 250 times more than traffic fatalities making a cyclist victim.

Medical experts in several coutries (Norway, England, Denmark, France) agree on the fact that diseases directly related to sedentarity cost nearly 800 €/year per person .

If one compares the data for New-Zealand with these estimates of health expenses, the result is that traffic injuries cost about 4000 times less than diseases related to sedentarity.

Consequence : if helmet law dissuades more than 1 person over 4000 to cycle, then the balance of helmet law on health exepenses is negative !

And if 30% of cyclists give up cycling because of helmet law (like in Asutralia or New-Zealand), health expenses in France can be expected to increase by about 500 M€ per year.

Ref. : Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation > Main topics > Benefit-Cost analyses, or our bibliographic references . Figures for France : 60 Millions inhabitants, bicycle modal share close to 4% in 2007.

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More cyclists, fewer risks !

Why don’t we rather take example on coutries who have the best results for road safety, and where only very few cyclists wear a helmet ?

By comparing 8 coutries (7 in Europe + the USA), the graph below shows that the frequency of traffic fatalities (dark blue line) is not correlated to the percentage of cyclists wearing a helmet (orange figure), but it is correlated to the bicycle modal share (purple bars).


Note : the right-hand scale is in fatalities per milliard km cycled. It is sometimes confused with fatalities per billion km cycled because of Northern American english translations. We mean : per 1’000’000’000 km. It is 4000 times the distance that you would do if you cycle over a 10 km trip everyday during 70 years.

In Great-Britain


The number of cyclsits killed on the roads decreased while the total number of cyclists was increasing, without any significant increase of the percentage of cyclists wearing a helmet. Just the opposite compared to the impact of the helmet law in Australia and New-Zealand.

In France


A Lyon and Paris, thanks to the success of the bike sharing systems Velov and Velib" the number of cyclists increased rapidly, while the risks (ratio of accidents per cyclist) decreased significantly.

CityDuration after
bike sharing startup
Trips
by bike
CasualtiesRisk
Lyon2 years+80%+6%-41%
Paris18 months+70%+21%-29%

Sources : Grand Lyon 2007, Mairie de Paris 2008.

In the same time, we counted that the percentage of cyclistes wearing a helmet decreased by a factor 2 in Paris between 2005 and 2008 ! Sources : FUBicy 2007 + Mairie de Paris 2005 and 2008.

Conclusion

It would be wiser to encourage people cycling for their everyday trips, rather than frightening them with "indispensable" or compulsory helmet. Cyclists who feel safer with a helmet are welcome to wear one, but please, don’t dissuade all the other ones to cycle, even without a helmet !

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FUB is not alone

Our position is supported by :

  • Club des Villes Cyclables
  • Association des Départements Cyclables
  • FFCT, Fédération Française de CycloTourisme
  • FNAUT, Fédération Nationale des Associations d’Usagers des Transports
  • AF3V, Association Française Véloroutes et Voies Vertes
  • ECF, European cyclists federation

You can find more data and scientific references listed there : Casque > Ressources documentaires . Most of them are in french. For english-speaking readers, have a look at the web site of Bicycle Helmet Research Fundation


Note : in France, it is illegal to reduce the fees paied to an injuried cyclist (or to his family if the cyclists died) for the reason he did not wear a helmet, except in sport clubs and competitions. This would no longer be true if helmet is made compulsory.

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Article tiré du site : http://www.fubicy.org
Rubrique:  English section