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Great Australian helmet debate continues to rage

Academic who backs end to compulsion acknowledges data flawed but stands by findings

An Australian academic who helped compile a report into the impact of the country’s compulsory helmet laws has acknowledged that some of the data used may have been flawed, but insists that the central finding of the research remains unchanged, and that lower levels of head injuries since the law was introduced are due to factors other than compulsory use of helmets.

The original research was published by Clinical Associate Professor Chris Rissel and Dr Alex Voukelatos of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney in the August 2010 issue of the Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety (JACRS).

In their study, the pair sought to assess whether the introduction of a law in 1991 in New South Wales that had made it compulsory for cyclists to wear a helmet had resulted in a demonstrable reduction on the level of head injuries among cyclists, as reported on at the time.

However, in a response published in JACRS in its November 2010 issue (page 76) and reported on the health-focused blog Croakey, epidemiologist Tim Churches highlights errors in the original data used and disputes the researchers’ findings.

Professor Rissel, for his part, has wasted no time in admitting in an article on Croakey that, yes, the data used were flawed, and that corrected data will be submitted to JACRS. However, he asserts that the essential finding remains the same – that evidence across Australia shows a downward trend in head injuries among cyclists even before helmets were made compulsory in 1991.

You can read his response, which is accompanied by graphs illustrating the data, on the Croakey blog, while the edition of JACRS containing the original research, a special issue of the journal that focused on bicycle safety in general, can be found here.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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