Ice Cream Sales depend on Air Conditioner Sales

by Jinryu

… or something like that, is an assertion I’ve heard to explain the difference between mutual exclusivity and correlation.


From , I’m copy pasting their main page here.  My thoughts on the matter will follow in the next post.  Although you can probably guess by the fact that I’m tagging this post in my “stupid people” metacategory which side of the fence I’m on with this.


Earlier this year, the Cycling Promotion Fund, in conjunction with the National Heart Foundation conducted a survey of 1000 Australian adults in relation to whether or not they ride a bike for transport.

We’ve mentioned the CPF survey previously. It has a great deal of useful information, regarding people who use a bike as a form of transport. But what is probably more interesting is the information on those who currently don’t ride a bike for transport. Do they want to and if so why aren’t they riding?

Of the 1000 people surveyed only 158 had used a bike for transport in the last month. However a further 515 reported that although they don’t ride regularly or at all, they would like to.

So what are the things that are preventing over 50% of the population from hopping on a bike, and what can our governments do to help the situation? Here’s what the they said was stopping them:

  • Unsafe road conditions: 46.4%
  • Speed/volume of traffic: 41.8%
  • Don’t feel safe riding: 41.4%
  • Lack of bicycle lanes/trails: 34.6%
  • Destinations too far away: 29.9%
  • No place to park/store bike: 23.5%
  • Do not own a bike: 22.5%
  • Weather conditions: 22.1%
  • Not fit enough: 21.8%
  • Too hilly: 19.6%
  • Don’t feel confident riding: 18.6%
  • Not enough time: 16.7%
  • Don’t like wearing a helmet: 15.7%
  • No place to change/shower: 14.6%
  • Health problems: 14.4%

Clearly some of the reasons offered are beyond the control of anyone – no government can change the weather, reduce the steepness of the hills, make our destinations closer or give us more time in the day. But some things can be improved.

The first four reasons are variations of exactly the same theme: safety and perceived safety on the roads. There is no doubt that this is the most important barrier to getting more people on bikes. People generally don’t like cycling with fast moving motor traffic – they want to be safe and they want to feel safe. But if we eliminate those other responses which are beyond the control of government, we see that there are only really three things that can realistically be improved upon:

  • Road and traffic conditions / safety: 50%+
  • No place to park/store bike: 23.5%
  • Don’t like wearing a helmet: 15.7%

We can see that mandatory helmet laws, while not the most common deterrent, are clearly a significant factor in discouraging people from cycling. While the provision of more Dutch-style bike lanes would be without question the best way to get more people on bicycles, the unfortunate reality is that this sort of infrastructure will take decades and huge amounts of money to introduce to our cities and towns. In contrast, repeal of helmet laws is costless and immediate. However, it’s not an either/or proposition. Helmet choice and better infrastructure support each other – more people riding means more support for quality bike infrastructure, and ultimately a safer road environment for everyone.

It’s not just those who aren’t cycling that our helmet laws are discouraging. Even amongst those people who do cycle for transport, 16.5% reported that they would ride more often if they were not required to wear a helmet at all times.

So around 16% of people who are interested in cycling are riding less, or not at all, due to our mandatory helmet laws.

Even adjusting for the fact that some people do not have any desire to cycle at all (around a third of all respondents), it’s clear that helmet laws are preventing a huge number of people from riding a bike.

In fact, if the CPF survey is an accurate representation of the population, it shows that compulsory helmet laws are keeping 2.4 million Australians off their bikes.

Getting 2.4 million people to start riding or ride more often would be hugely beneficial to cycling in Australia, especially considering only 3.6 million are riding currently according to this survey.

Given that it is widely acknowledged that the health benefits of riding a bike vastly outweigh the risks of having a traffic accident – even while riding without a helmet – it does not make sense to be preventing so many people from cycling, simply on the basis that this already safe activity might be made even safer with the addition of a helmet.

The evidence is clear – mandatory helmet laws deter people from cycling. Even after 20 years, our laws are still reducing cycling levels by 30-40%.

* See the comment from Dave below.  Given a sample of 1000, population of 20 million and 95% CI, the margin of error in the survey is +/- 3.1%.  So the fully qualified claim is that 15.7% (+/- 3.1%) of Australians are put off cycling by helmet laws.That equates to between 1.8 and 3 million Australians.