New Zealand (NZ) helmet law (all ages) came into effect from 1 January 1994. It followed Australian helmet laws, introduced in 1990–1992. Survey data from Australia indicated legislation was a poor approach as it discouraged cycling—e.g. child cycle use fell 44% by the second year of the helmet law in New South Wales, Australia.1
A NZ report from 1985 by Sage et al2 detailed that out of 20 bicycle riders fatally injured in Auckland, between 1974 and 1984, 16 died (80%) of injury to multiple organ systems and suggested that not many lives could be saved by wearing helmets.
The aim of the study was therefore to review the efficacy of the New Zealand’s bicycle helmet law in terms of safety, health, law enforcement, accident compensation, environmental issues and civil liberties.
This evaluation reviews publically available data and analyses3–7,9
to assess the outcome for cycling activity levels, safety, health, law enforcement, accident compensation, environmental issues and civil liberties. The data compares cyclists to pedestrians and evaluates changes to population and road safety trends. A summary and conclusions draw together the findings and suggests the best way forward.
Results and Assessments
Changes in walking and cycling activity—Consideration of both cycling and walking may provide a clearer indication of overall changes in physical activity.
Table 1 provides survey information on hours walked and cycled for four time periods.3,4 Estimates for the NZ population are shown for each period.
This evaluation of New Zealand’s bicycle helmet law finds it discouraged cycling usage by 51%. It results in more than 5000 of fines (for not wearing a helmet) per year, plus it may promote aspects of discrimination in accident compensation cases. Road safety and cyclist’s safety should be improved by coherent policies, which support health, the environment, and without the legal requirement to wear a helmet.
The New Zealand helmet law (all ages) came into effect on 1 January 1994. It followed Australian helmet laws, introduced in 1990–1992. Pre-law (in 1990) cyclist deaths were nearly a quarter of pedestrians in number, but in 2006–09, the equivalent figure was near to 50% when adjusted for changes to hours cycled and walked. From 1988–91 to 2003–07, cyclists’ overall injury rate per hour increased by 20%. Dr Hillman, from the UK’s Policy Studies Institute, calculated that life years gained by cycling outweighed life years lost in accidents by 20 times. For the period 1989–1990 to 2006–2009, New Zealand survey data showed that average hours cycled per person reduced by 51%. This evaluation finds the helmet law has failed in aspects of promoting cycling, safety, health, accident compensation, environmental issues and civil liberties.