Hospital Admissions Data: Number and Percentage of Cyclists Admitted, Western Australia, 1987-2000 (single years) (Source: Bicycle Crashes and Injuries in Western Australia, 1987-2000 - Road Safety report RR131 (PDF 840kb) commissioned by Road Safety Council, dated November 2003 and authored by Lynn B. Meuleners, Arem L. Gavin, L. Rina Cercarelli and Delia Hendrie)
The law was not introduced in Western Australia for medical reasons. Instead, a Senate road safety committee in Canberra threatened to withdraw Black Spot road funding from any Australian state that did not enact helmet laws.
No medical or other research data was used by any Australian state government to justify drafting and gazettal of the law. The main research available at that time in Western Australia is here.
A cursory glance at statistics suggests that bicycle helmet wearing resulted in a marginal reduction in skull and intracranial injuries as a proportion of WA's total hospitalised cyclists. However, as shown in the following graph, this proportional reduction went hand in hand with a substantial increase in the overall number of cyclist injuries:
Research from Bicycle Crashes and Injuries in Western Australia, 1987-2000 - Road Safety report RR131 commissioned by the WA Road Safety Council, dated November 2003 and authored by Lynne B. Mueleners, Arem L. Gavin, L. Rina Cercarelli and Delia Hendrie from the Injury Research Centre at the University of Western Australia. Note that the graph data for 1999 is based only on six rather than 12 months.
Public cycling participation during the study period declined by more than 30% after helmet law enforcement and had recovered to pre-law levels by 2000. Per cyclist on the road, there was little discernible reduction in head injuries but a substantial increase in upper limb fractures (up by 147% from 1987 to 1998 - 17% of all cyclist injuries in 1988 to 37% in 1999). This substantial increase in upper limb fractures is largely responsible for the increase in total WA hospital cyclist admissions in the eight years following 1992 helmet law enforcement.
As illustrated in the above graph, overall injuries increased substantially in 1993, the year after bicycle helmets became mandatory in Western Australia. This graph should be compared with the cyclist number graph. By 1995, the number of people riding bicycles in WA was between 30% and 40% less than in 1991, as demonstrated by government cyclist surveys, and later on this page... 1, 2.
The dramatic increase in WA hospital admissions may be partly due to a change in the injury coding system introduced by the WA Health Department in 1992. However, the Health Department states here that:
"Although helmet legislation has undoubtedly increased helmet-wearing rates in Australian cyclists, it has also been associated with decreased bicycle usage in some cyclist sub-groups (Finch et al, 1993b; Marshall & White, 1994). Furthermore, some hospital admission practices have changed since the introduction of the helmet legislation. For example, patients presenting to emergency departments with short episodes of concussion are no longer routinely admitted to hospital for observation. The introduction of case-mix funding may also have affected admission rates. Thus, it is difficult to conclude from preliminary studies that reduced bicycle injury numbers (more precisely head injuries) are a direct result of the helmet legislation."
The above graph would indicate a major change occurred within cyclist behaviour and accident patterns during 92/93.
There was a sharp rise in Perth cycling popularity during 1998/00, official figures showing the number of cyclists on Perth roads was slightly more than in 1991.
It should be noted that the West Australian population increased by about 15% during this time and petrol prices rose by more than 30%.
It should also be noted that Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released in June 2002 confirm that the residential population of Perth's Central Business District - the region in which most cyclist surveys are conducted - increased by 33% between 1996 and 2001.
Total cyclist hospital admission data for Western Australia since 2000 is not available. However, the graph below is extracted from the WA Road Safety Council's Reported Road Crashes in Western Australia 2006. The data shows traffic crash hospitalisations involving cyclists rather than total cyclist hospital admissions as quoted above. The traffic data below indicates cyclist hospital admissions have continued their disproportionate increase in the new millennium.
Seventeen years after law enforcement, it is difficult to gauge how many West Australians are discouraged from cycling by the bicycle helmet legislation.
Anecdotal and survey evidence suggests a continuing resentment toward the law in the new millennium, and it is relevant to consider the law's impact on cycling popularity during the first ten years of enforcement:
NOTE: Western Australia has a population of approximately 2.2 million. The capital city of Perth has a population of approximately 1.6 million (2009). The Causeway and the Narrows are the two main entry points to the city from the eastern and southern metropolitan sectors. Both the Narrows and the Causeway are bridges spanning the broad Swan River, creating accurate and focused survey points to count cyclist numbers. There is an alternative river crossing about 2.5km north of the Causeway, no bridge crossings between the Causeway and the Narrows, and no alternative crossings south or west of the Narrows Bridge.
Daily surveys conducted by the government's road department on the Narrows and the Causeway show that during the nine months prior to bicycle helmet law enforcement on July 1, 1992, the monthly averages of daytime trips across these two river bridges added up to 17,180 cyclists.
During the nine months to July 1, 1998, they added up to approximately 14,600 cyclists. This equates to a 15% reduction in cyclist numbers over six years, despite an increase in Western Australia's population of more than 210,000 people since 1991.
If just half this 15% population increase is factored into the decline, it can be estimated that approximately 22% less people were riding bicycles in 1998 compared to 1991 - that is, one out of every five potential cyclists had either stopped riding altogether or was riding less frequently.
The following government survey figures are sourced to Main Roads WA data:
The average daily number of cyclists on the Narrows Bridge from October 1991 till law enforcement in July 1992 was 1064. This nine month average (October-June) fell to 926 per day in 92/93, 874 in 93/94, 752 in 94/95, 767 in 95/96, 986 in 96/97, 899 in 97/98, and 1391 in 98/99.
Four day comparisons conducted by Main Roads WA in October 1991 and October 1992 showed a 37% reduction in cyclists on the Narrows and Causeway combined. Sunday cycling was down by 57%.
Between September 1983 and December 1989, Perth enjoyed a 10% annual growth in personal bicycle trips. By 1994 - two years after enforcement of the bicycle helmet law - the total number of recreational cyclists had fallen by almost 50%.
In December 1991, 10,596 bikes were counted on the Causeway on weekends; December 1992 - 6719; December 1993 - 5295; December 1994 - 4564. This was down from a mean daily count of 1177 in December 1991 to a mean of 507 in December 1994... a reduction of approximately 57%.
In December 1991, 11,406 bikes were counted on the Narrows on weekends; December 1992 - 4526; December 1993 - 6507; December 1994 - 6863. This was down from a mean daily count of 1267 in December 1991 to a mean of 762 in December 1994... a reduction of approximately 40%.
In December 1991, 33,828 bikes were counted on the Causeway on all days; December 1992 - 26,227; December 1993 - 22,772; December 1994 - 18,101; December 1997 - 24,856. This was down from a mean daily count of 1091 in December 1991 to a mean of 802 in December 1997... a reduction of approximately 27%.
In December 1991, 35,122 bikes were counted on the Narrows on all days; December 1992 - 20,581; December 93 - 29,506; December 1994 - 27,216; December 1997 - 32,408. This was down from a mean daily count of 1132 in December 1991 to a mean of 1045 in December 1997... a reduction of approximately 8%.
Time scale figures for other metro sites are scarce. However, a Main Roads WA government survey on Mitchell Freeway north of Powis St in November 1991 showed an average 179 cyclists per workday. In November 1998 the average was 79.
Surveys in October/November 1991 at the Mitchell Freeway site north of Powis St showed the workday averages during the surveyed weeks at 202, 230, 207 and 226 cyclists. The average for October 1998 was 61 per day. The Annual Average Weekday Cycling flow for 2003 on the Mitchell Freeway cycle path north of Scarborough Beach Rd was 265.
The opening of a northern railway and widening of the freeway during intervening years would influence these figures. However, they suggest cyclist numbers fell dramatically after the bicycle helmet law was introduced with the increase in numbers since 1998 compensating for that fall.
Much of Perth's 15% population increase (210,000 people) between 1991 and 1998 was concentrated in the northern suburbs.
Click the graph above for a full statistical breakdown of annual cyclist numbers
The graph above was researched and published by the West Australian Government's road department, Main Roads WA. This graph should be compared with the injury graph.
Hospital admission numbers for different road user types in Bicycle Crashes and Injuries in Western Australia, 1987-2000 - Road Safety report RR131 commissioned by the Road Safety Council and dated November 2003, shows that the number of hospital admissions for bicycle crash injuries went from 1,942 in pre-law 1990-1992 to 1,937 in post-law 1993-1995 and 2,319 in 1996-1998.
In 1999 and 2000, the total was 1,775 - almost as much as the three years before the law.
Cartoon thanks to Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery
Western Australia cyclist injuries
Western Australia cyclist numbers
Helmet law research
Helmet law research before law
Different Australian States
Helmet law in New Zealand
Helmet law in Canada
Helmet law in England
Australia's health crisis
Australia's obesity crisis
Bicycle accidents 1987-1996
WA injury severity