Transportation Deployment Casebook/2018/Helmet Usage in Australia

The Cyclists' HelmetEdit

A helmet has one primary purpose – to protect the user’s head from damage upon impact. The type of impact often depends on the usage of the helmet which can include a variety of sports, construction, mining, police, and most commonly with cyclists and motorcyclists. This creates helmets with very different designs which use different materials based on the activity for which they will be used. However, there are still aspects of a helmet which will always be shared such that it must cover and protect the skull and remain securely attached such as by using a chin strap. They also all have the same purpose which is to absorb the energy of the impact to the skull as well as protecting it from penetration of any externalities.

A bicycle helmet must protect the user from any blunt impact to the head as cyclists are most likely to fall forward in an accident, thus putting their skulls at danger first. Motorcyclists’ helmets would require more even more protection as they travel at higher speeds and are prone to more severe damages upon impact. Hence, these helmets have more coverage and padding, as well as extra features such as googles, face screens, ear coverings, ear plugs, or inbuilt communication systems.

Bicycle helmet

Helmets must also be practical and comfortable for the user to wear and so simple factors such as the volume and weight are considered to prevent any pain to the neck or head of the user. Practicality is also another inherent design built into helmets which ensure that they are aerodynamic, well-ventilated, and overall comfortable for the user to wear. Again, for motorcycle helmets, there are more measures to consider such as protection against weather elements by including flip down face screens and protruding visors to prevent glare.

These design characteristics are dictated by several different standards and lab testing that ensures its strength, reliability, and functionality. These tests and standards would obviously differ based on the type of helmet and what it is being designed for as the potential dangerous situations would have to be replicated to test the helmets. For example, a lab test for a rock climbing helmet would be very different to one for a motorcycle helmet. They may also slightly differ according to different countries and companies but will generally consider similar elements such as the strap length, shell configuration, visor attachments, and amount of head coverage required.

Motorcycle helmet

The importance of helmets is widely recognised by many countries and is even made a legal requirement in countries such as Australia. There are several conflicting arguments whether this is feasible but there are statistics showing that helmets do save lives and prevent lethal injuries from accidents. Helmets are heavily marketed towards bicycle and motorcyclists through its branding, design and aesthetics so that safety of the riders are prioritised. They are also promoted by several different organisations and governments to reduce the number of injuries and deaths that occur from accidents where cyclists were not wearing a helmet. The World Health Organisation has recently focused on supporting governments, particularly in lower income countries, in increasing helmet usage and have realised a publication Helmets: a road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners. The publication outlines the core concept that ‘Helmets save lives’ and contains information about why helmets are necessary, different helmet designs, and how to implement a helmet programme or policy. Helmets are important for cyclists on the road and have many safety advantages as they can be very effective in reducing fatalities.

A Brief HistoryEdit

Pith helmet

The first record of a bicycle helmet was the pith helmet which became popular with the invention of the high wheel bicycle as its design was quite dangerous due to the large difference in size between the two wheels. A small bump in the road could cause the bicycle to tip forwards and cause the rider to fall head first onto the ground which could result in a lethal impact. There were also earlier uses of the helmet as military equipment which were often made of metallic elements such as bronze, iron, and brass as well as components made of leather.

The High Wheel bicycle

The pith helmet was found to be very weak and the material wore away easily and so it moved towards a leather helmet which still was not a large improvement. It also broke down easily from the users’ sweat and did not provide any absorption of impact or protection if it were dragged or scraped against. Over time, the pith helmet was improved on and several components were added to increase the protection, thus providing riders with a safer journey.

It was not until the 1970s, that the Snell Foundation discovered through extensive testing, that the helmets at the time provided essentially no protection. So, they formed a set of guidelines to making helmets that were protective for users and actually achieved the purpose of a helmet. Fortunately, this endeavour occurred at the same time as the bike boom in America where cycling was taken on by many adults as a form of exercise or sport.

In 1975, Bell Auto parts invented the first helmet that could properly provide protection and that was the beginning of the helmet design we have today. It was the first helmet to move away from using fabric materials and incorporated plastic shells with foam covering and padding which addressed many of the disadvantages of leather helmets.

The American National Standards was then formed in 1984 and released a widely accepted set of standards for bike helmets. This effectively removed all the inadequate helmets form the market and the universal standards for helmets was raised. A helmet in the 1990s was commonly made of an expanded polystyrene foam lining with a thin hard-shell casing. This set the path for the helmets we have today which have become lighter, sturdier, more comfortable, and use adjustable straps for different sizes.

Market DevelopmentEdit

The demand for a helmet came with the rise in popularity of the high wheel bicycle. Its infamous larger front wheel created many dangers as the rider sat very high above the ground and would fall head first very easily when the bike hit a bump in the road. It was clear that there was a need for a helmet as the more people rode bicycles, the number of head injuries also increased. This called for the design of the pith helmet which attempted to protect riders from potential head injuries.

The bike boom occurred in America in the 1970s, when bicycles became widely used as a form of transport, sport, exercise, and recreation. This pushed the for the advancement of the helmet design and technologies involved in the materials put into the helmets. Safety of bike riders was also enforced with some countries forming policies and regulations for the design of helmets. As bike ridership increased, many more organisations and manufacturing companies took an interest in helmet development and improving its design. This drove the market to grow to the size it is today.

Helmet LawsEdit

Map of mandatory bicycle helmet laws

Countries around the world have different regulations and policies for the use of a helmet. Australia is one of very few countries which make it a legal requirement to wear helmets in all situations. Other countries are more lenient where only children may be required to wear helmets or it is only required depending on the nature of the trip.

There are many different arguments regarding the effectiveness of implementation helmet regulations. Many organisations such as World Health Organisations and several interest groups push for the requirement of helmets. Helmets are widely shown by several different statistics about how they save lives, reduce injuries, and prevent accidents. Governments of all countries advocate the use of a helmet but very few make it a legal requirement like Australia or simply have a much lighter policy. There are also groups of cyclists which oppose Australia’s decision to make the use of helmets mandatory as it may be inconvenient.

Future of the HelmetEdit

There are many more countries to implement policies for the mandatory use of a helmet but for Australia it has already reached this point. This policy has not changed since 1994, and there have been several opposing views about helmet laws in Australia. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the decision as there was no trial period before the law was officially implemented. There is also further debate about the penalty fines that are incurred if helmets are not worn by riders. Furthermore, with the recent launch of share bikes in Australia, the mandatory use of helmets draws on the question of who the responsibility of supplying a helmet falls on: the bike share rider or the bike share company? Helmet laws in Australia may need to address who the penalty falls on if no helmet is used when using bike sharing services.

Bike share companies also face the issues of possible requirement to supply helmets to the users of the service. There was an immediate problem when bike share was launched that helmets were easily stolen from bike shares and so are now rarely supplied. This issue will push for the industry to develop a solution where helmets can be securely locked to a bicycle. A system like the bike itself where, helmets can be unlocked from the bike when the user starts their session. However, there are also many obstacles with this solution such as keeping the required design of the helmet while also integrating this software into it as it may increase its weight or structure. The bike sharing industry is still in its early stages and so it is unknown how much it may grow and the need for developing this helmet will largely depend on this. Furthermore, the introduction of bike sharing may also be the extra push for a change in policies for mandatory helmet use in Australia.

The design of the helmet is also continually improving and developing with advancing technology and materials. In particular, motorcycle helmets are often fitted with several features that add more to the helmet beyond its safety and protection. Features such as communications systems, ejection systems, reflective surfaces, anti-fogging screens, and cameras. The ejection system of the helmet is important for emergency responders during an accident when helmets need to be removed from the rider. When the helmet needs to be removed, there is a concern that the force required would damage the rider’s neck, especially when they are already injured. Design improvements not only apply technological advancements to helmets but also add many more safety features to the helmet beyond just the prevention of impact.

Motorcycle Helmet UsageEdit

National Occupant Protection Use Survey DataEdit

The data used to analyse a portion of the life-cycle of the helmet is obtained from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS). This organisation operates under the National Centre for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which is a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The data summarised below in Table 1 provides the usage of motorcycle helmets from the years 2000 to 2016 and is given as a percentage. Reports from each year (2002 – 2017) also included the sample size of that study, which was then used to calculate the total number of helmets from each year's study as seen in the final column of Table 1.

There were some limitations to the data which may be important to note:

  • Data was only obtained starting from the year 2000
  • Only looks at motorcycle helmet and not bicycle helmets
  • From 2000 – 2004, the study was only performed every second year
  • The number of motorcyclists observed is different for each study
  • Helmet use in percentage was rounded, thus the number of helmets calculated in table 1 are not exact
Table 1: Data from NOPUS: Motorcycle Helmet Use in 2017 - Overall Results
Year Helmet Use (%) Motorcyclists Observed Number of Helmets Used
2000 71.0 1000 710
2002 57.7 1100 635
2004 58.4 1600 934
2005 48.3 1700 821
2006 50.9 1600 814
2007 58.5 1500 878
2008 62.7 1698 1065
2009 67.0 1132 758
2010 54.3 1083 588
2011 66.5 916 609
2012 60.4 871 526
2013 59.5 827 492
2014 64.3 806 518
2015 60.7 1019 619
2016 65.3 939 613
2017 65.2 998 651

Model EstimationEdit

The life-cycle of motorcycle use can be determined by using S-Curve modelling which can identify the birthing, growth, and maturity phase. The data which is given in Table 1 is used to estimate a three-parameter logistic function given by:  , where

  •   = number of helmets used
  •   = the year (time)
  •  = inflection time (year when   is achieved)
  •   = saturation status level
  •   = a coefficient (from regression analysis)

The logistic function was first rearranged to give the equation   which also corresponds to the linear relationship of  . Using Microsoft Excel Goal Seek and Regression Analysis formulas,   and   were estimated and the new relationship  . The original logistic function is then used with the newly determined variables to predict the helmet usage for the data sets, thus creating a model for the life-cycle of helmet usage.

Graphing the ResultsEdit

The number of helmets used calculated from the NOPUS data set and the predicted values are both graphed against the corresponding years as shown in the figure below. With such a small data set, it is very difficult to properly form a life-cycle model for helmet usage, thus making this graph very limited and unreliable. Due to the limitations previously listed, the modelling estimations of the data was not accurate and would not be solely reliable for determining the life-cycle of helmet usage,

Graph of the NOPUS data set and the modelled estimate of the life-cycle of helmets usage


Birthing PhaseEdit

The birthing phase is not shown by this data set as the studies only began in 2000 which is years after the first helmet was designed and manufactured. It may also be important to note the birthing phase of helmets and motorcycle helmets specifically would differ. However, the birthing phase of helmets overall would be during the 1870s, when the pith helmet was first introduced to cyclists. There are close to no data sets which would be able to examine helmet usage during that time and so it would be difficult to have a graphical representation of this phase. The birthing phase began with the pith helmet and also covered the development of leather helmets until the 1970s, when the growth phase of helmets began along with the bike boom.

Growth PhaseEdit

The growth phase of the helmet began with the bike boom in the 1970s as there was a now a stronger focus on the safety and protection of cyclists’ skulls. This saw many new developments in helmet technology and design which are very evident in the helmets we see today. The growth phase further enhanced the bike boom as bicycles and motorcycles became more popular in sports, recreation, and primarily transport. This phase also saw the creation of many new policies and regulations regarding helmet use, namely Australia’s mandatory helmet usage introduced in the 1990s. Hence, the growth phase is most likely seen to have ended around the early 2000s which is where the data sets given above begin. Most data sets being around this period, as the growth phase come to an end, more organisations and governments will attempt to again boost the usage of helmets. Hence, studies such as the one by NOPUS are designed to determine whether stricter policies and regulations are needed for helmet usage or further promotion of the benefits of helmets and the safety they provide.

Maturity PhaseEdit

The helmet is most likely in the maturity phase now as is shown by the graphed model above. Based on this model, it suggests that helmets are reaching a decline during this maturity phase as the predicted usage of helmets are consistently decreasing. This could be occurring for several different reasons, most of which may be linked to policies and regulations in different regulations. Mandatory helmet is both beneficial and detrimental to increasing helmet usage, as there are two opposing arguments regarding Australia’s helmet laws. One side of the argument suggests that it helps save lives and reduce fatalities and is very useful in keeping cyclists on the road safe. The others argue that laws deter people from selecting cycling as a mode of transport and make it seem too dangerous, thus decreasing the total number cyclists and helmets of the road. The maturity phase is the most important part of the life-cycle as it determines if this transport technology will regrow, decline, or stagnate.


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