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Helmet laws and health
  1. Caroline Acton
  1. Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal Children's Hospital, Herston Road, Herston, Brisbane, Queensland, Q4029, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Acton.

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In 1884, Louis Pasteur told his students that “when meditating over a disease, I never think of finding a remedy for it but, instead, a means of preventing it”.

That laws enforcing helmet wearing for cyclists do more harm than good is an ethical, philosophical, and scientific debate. As stated by Unwin in 1996, the law has principles, precedence, and consequences, all of which have undergone much evaluation and heralded benefits. These are a reduction in the number of head injuries in cyclists as well as a reduction of their severity in most Australian states.

Pasteur's principle of prevention may be applied to either the incident or the injuries resulting from it. The effectiveness of an approved helmet in preventing head injury, both serious and minor, is proven worldwide by case-control studies.

The riding behaviour of injured cyclists has been examined rigorously and most investigations negate the “risk compensation” theory, that is, that riders who wear helmets take more risks. This is the argument mooted by those who do not advocate such a simple safety measure.

It could also be asked whether the health benefits of this intervention outweigh the disadvantages of any lost civil …

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