Helmet-Free Cyclists More Likely To Ride Drunk

Helmet-Free Cyclists More Likely To Ride Drunk

The issue of compulsory cycle helmets is contentious: they improve cyclist safety, but they can also discourage casual bicycle usage. A new study by academics at the University of NSW highlights one issue that won’t be much comfort for those who want cycle helmet laws changed: people who ride without helmets are also more likely to ignore traffic rules and to ride drunk.

Cycling picture from Shutterstock

The study, reported on by The Conversation, analysed injury records for 6745 cyclists over an eight-year period. Three-quarters of the riders injured wore helmets, and there was an obvious benefit: the risk of head injuries was reduced by 74 per cent in that group. But the disturbing trend was in the 24.6 per cent who didn’t wear helmets (a trend which was more notable amongst cyclists under 19). They were four times more likely to have an illegal blood alcohol reading, and three times more likely to have disobeyed traffic control signals such as signs and lights.

The big lesson? Whatever mode of transport you use, it pays to be safety-conscious and to obey the law.

Cyclists with no helmets more likely to ride drunk [The Conversation]


    • apparently hat hair and being perceived as uncool (for wearing a helmet) by the local teenagers is all that stops some people from riding to work/shops etc, its about as dumb as it sounds

      • I have to agree – with the exception of bike shares, which seem to be set up for spontaneous trips. There isn’t anything spontaneous about carrying a helmet around.

        • Last time I checked, there isn’t anything casual about carrying a bicycle either. Like you say, bike share schemes aside, how hard is it to have a helmet if you already have gone to the trouble to have a whole darn bike.

    • Mostly by increasing the effort you have to go to when you go for a ride. Going from one piece of required equipment (bicycle) to two (bicycle and helmet) makes a surprising difference.

      It also adds to the hassle of what you do with the helmet. Do you leave it with the bike? carry it around with you? how do you attach it to the bike? How do hire bikes and ‘shared bike’ programs work, do you have to buy your own helmet or just hope that the guy who used the communal helmet doesn’t have head lice? It may seem minor, but helmet laws have a measurable impact on casual cycling. If it takes more effort to cycle than to drive, people will choose to drive.

      In regard to the article, I’d say this falls under ‘people who ignore laws are more likely to ignore laws’. There’s probably also a high correlation with cycling without lights, cycling on the footpath, and eating grapes at the shops without paying for them.

      • Are you serious Stove. How do you attache it to your bike? Clip the straps around it. If you are that simple, I am surprised you can actually ride a bike. Don’t want someone to steal it? Put the lock through the straps. Useless if they cut the straps to steal it so they are unlikely to. Sorry to be all nasty, but that is a silly post.

        • The hassle is great enough that the vast majority of cyclists in every other country in the world (save NZ) don’t seem to be bother with helmets. ’nuff said.

        • I cycle to work every day. The helmet laws don’t affect people who specifically want to cycle, they’ll get on the bike no matter what – but it does affect casual use, those who might or might not use a bike for some trips.

          Studies show a link between requiring helmets and a sudden drop in casual use, I’m just trying to explain why that happens.

      • talk about mountain from an anthill, bikes are supposed to be the healthy, cheaper option to driving and public transport, compared with a train/bus then yes biking is a huge hassle, no need to worry about where to put your helmet on a train, but lets compare it to the tried and true car, again no helmets but you do have to worry about where to put your 2tonne car all day, if only it were an easy to manage small rounded thing with straps and a clip that could be sat under your desk, hung of your chair or hung off a bike like say a bike helmet…

  • The research (or at least this summary of it) seems to have it arse about face as regards cause and effect. Drunks are more likely to say “ah sod it, I’ll not bother with my helmet/I’m too pissed to find it but I’ll cycle anyway.”

    In terms of whole population studies, mandatory helmet laws have been shown to have a negative effect. Yes, they may help a subset of a subset of the population (i.e. those who fall off/are hit off their bikes AND hit their head) but the overall health of the population is lowered as cycle use falls.

    • There was some research done about a decade ago which showed strong evidence that kids’ heads are *less* likely to be injured than an adults for comparable impacts. Kids’ bones have a bit more give in them (particularly in young kids where the skull hasn’t fully knitted together yet) whereas the bone in an adult’s skull is less flexible and more brittle.

      I tried to demonstrate this point to my wife some years ago by offering to drop our kids on their heads but she resisted quite strongly. Probably quite right to do so – the sample size was too small to be statistically significant.

  • When I lived in Amsterdam I started riding a lot without a helmet. But I found myself developing a drinking problem. So since then I’ve always worn a helmet, which not only keeps my head safe but also keeps me on the wagon.

  • won’t be much comfort for those who want cycle helmet laws changed: people who ride without helmets are also more likely to ignore traffic rules and to ride drunk.

    haha what? how did you even come to that conclusion, Angus? do you think that not wearing a helmet is why they drink? this is the biggest load of crap I have read.

  • Correlation doesn’t imply causation.

    I’d bet on a third common-causal variable — a willingness to break the law. In other words, someone who has no problem with breaking the law is more likely to ride without a helmet and ride drunk than a person who *does* have a problem breaking the law. If the helmet law didn’t exist, this correlation would disappear.

    • I think the cause and effect would likely be the other way, drunk people are less likely to wear a helmet, rather than people who don’t wear helmets are more likely to ride drunk.

  • I live in Denmark. No helmet laws. I ride daily and always wear a helmet. Thanks Aussie compulsory laws for installing that in me. I genuinely appreciate it.

    A story for you all. Was following a group of school kids, teenage boys riding to school. Yes, they still do that here. Weird I know. They were skylarking as boys do and one got crossed up and fell, centimeters from a cars wheel. His head pounded the pavement with a mighty force, so hard I could hear the crack. He was the only boy in that group wearing a helmet. He got up, brushed himself off and kept riding. No helmet, possibly dead.

    • Using anecdotal evidence in the way you have, there are countless everyday activities that people should stop doing. If I told you the same thing happened with an elderly woman falling while crossing a street, would you feel stronger about mandatory helmet laws for pedestrians? For the record, for time spent, head injuries for pedestrians is comparable to that of cyclists, helmeted or bare headed.

  • Why don’t we just make a happy medium? If you have a helmet you can ride on the road. No helmet, and you’re restricted to sidewalks. The helmet is typically there to protect you from vehicles and high speed travel. It means people who are riding casually can ride quicker than walking (a running pace without the same effort), while people who want to ride very quickly, or over long distances will typically carry repair kits, pumps, patches, etc. so they should have some way to keep the helmet safe and secure upon arrival.

      • I think you will find the rules differ depending on what state you are in.

        NSW: Adults can accompany a child under 12 riding on footpath. Children under 12, any time.
        QLD: cyclists are allowed on all footpaths except explicitly signed.


    • Mixing cyclists with pedestrians results in a far higher KSI ration compared with mixing cyclists with motor vehicles. Many cyclists can happily cruise along at 40kph+, this is not something which should be mixed with pedestrians.

  • This study doesn’t have any bearing on the debate about the merits and drawbacks of helmet laws. As other have said it just shows that those who break one traffic law are likelier to break another. Stop the presses!

    The merits and drawbacks of mandating helmet use would be a good topic for another article. What seems clear to me however is that any law made on the grounds of public safety which restricts individual liberty must have a lot of good research to back it up. This research has to show a net benefit to the public that can be clearly measured. That type of research did not exist when Australian states instituted these laws in the 1990s and it’s very debatable as to whether that research exists today.

    My opinion is that if there’s a genuine, ongoing debate about the merits of such a law then that’s proof enough that it was drafted on faulty premises and should therefore be repealed.

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