Comprehensive data set
The committee recognises that the efficacy of bicycle helmets is
contentious as demonstrated by the considerable evidence provided to it during
the course of this inquiry. The lack of comprehensive data has added to the
Submitters on both sides of the argument recognised current limitations
in the data set which have contributed to varying interpretations of the
Associate Professor Olivier informed the committee that there was inadequate
data to undertake a cost-benefit assessment of MHL in Australia and that:
We do not have any idea how often people cycle – how much
they cycle. In countries like the Netherlands they collect that data routinely.
Australia does not.
For these reasons, Professor Ivers noted that there were different
sources of data, some of which are imperfect, as well as different
interpretations of that data. She continued:
One of the things you have to say is that it is difficult to
understand the impact of legislation on cycling participation rates in
Australia because we have very poor data. There are studies that have shown
that it has had an impact, and there are equal numbers of studies that have
shown that it has not had an impact and that cycling participation is increasing.
Conversely, Mr Curnow noted that the data was insufficient to measure
the decline or level of discouragement of cycling in relation to adult
The Queensland parliamentary committee also raised concerns regarding
data. In its 2013 report, the committee noted that:
... while the actual relationship between cycling rates, injury
rates and safety risk is largely unknown it appears from the evidence that the
severity of injury and risk of fatality substantially increases for on-road
bicycle use and/or where a motor vehicle is involved.
The Queensland parliamentary committee recommendations 3 to 5 addressed
the issue of data collection. Recommendation 3 stated:
The Committee recommends that the Department of Transport and
Main Roads work with other relevant agencies to address the current lack of
centralised data collection and reporting for on- and off-road cyclist injuries
And Recommendation 5:
The Committee recommends that the Department of Transport and
Main Roads develop a strategy to better document the incidence of bicycle‑related
injuries on roads in order to target appropriate interventions more
The Queensland parliamentary committee also noted that the lack of
consistent and quality data in regards to injury trends had made the task of
improving cycling safety difficult. The small number of cyclist injuries
actually reported and the lack of consistency in reporting parameters such as
different statistical terminology, reporting timeframes and categories of
injury types, made it hard to determine safety issues and solutions.
Furthermore, the lack of cycling participation information made it difficult to
analyse cycling injuries and fatalities in the context of population size and
In terms of national data, the Department of Infrastructure and Regional
Development (department) clarified that there is currently no nationally
consistent collection of data on serious injuries from road crashes.
While indicating that there is evidence of increases in serious injuries from
road crashes among vulnerable road user groups, particularly motorcyclists and
cyclists, the department recognised that further investigation was required to
fully interpret apparent trends in the hospital data.
The department also noted that beyond the Australian Cycling
Participation Survey, there were limited sources of data relating to
cycling participation rates and the extent to which people choose to cycle. It
recognised the limitations regarding the Australian Bureau of Statistics census
data which is usually collected late in winter.
ACRS, AIPN and RACS recommended ongoing research be conducted to develop
an evidence base for potential road safety countermeasures to reduce cyclist
injury and promote increased participation, while maintaining MHL in Australia.
On the other side of the argument, Mr Gillham suggested that a proper
assessment of participation and injury rates be undertaken in a particular
jurisdiction to provide hard evidence.
The committee takes the view that a consistent and comprehensive
national data set should be established. Such data would inform any evaluation
of the outcomes of cycling safety programs and enable a cost-benefit assessment
of MHL to be undertaken.
The committee recognises that the ongoing debate regarding the
relationship between MHL, cycling participation rates and road injuries
(including the seriousness of injuries) will continue until such time as
nationally consistent data is available. While the committee recognises that
there is growing public support for a relaxation of MHL, as exemplified by the
Northern Territory legislation and recommendations of the Queensland
Parliament's Transport, Housing and Local Government Committee, it takes the
view that analysis of nationally consistent data should be obtained before any
recommendations for reform are made.
The committee recommends that a consistent and comprehensive national
data set be established. The data set should provide nationally consistent
information on cycling-related injury trends as well as cycling participation
rates. The committee recommends that the Department of Health in cooperation
with the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development and state and
territory counterparts develop the national data set for application across all
states and territories.
The committee recognises that it
is only once such nationally consistent information is gathered and assessed
that a national assessment of the impact of mandatory helmet laws can be
The committee recommends that the Department of Infrastructure and
Regional Development in cooperation with the Department of Health conduct a
national assessment of mandatory bicycle helmet laws once a national data set
of sufficient quality has been established. The impact of the Northern Territory
legislation should form an important part of the overall assessment. In
addition to safety concerns, this assessment should consider the relationship between
bicycle helmets and cycling participation rates, drawing on the experience of
bike share schemes and other initiatives directed at improving cycling
Senator Chris Ketter
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