Why does anecdote trump evidence? The cost of helmets in Melbourne

While working on another research paper, I came across a discussion regarding bicycle helmet legislation that I read around the middle of last year. It originated with an article arguing against bicycle helmet legislation[1] and was followed by two responses[2,3]. This was then followed by a reply from the original authors[4].

I will not regurgitate the arguments here, but I I believe the Biegler and Johnson response is outstanding and I highly recommend it be read by anyone with an interest in this topic. One issue I found curious was the advertised cost of a helmet. Biegler and Johnson state

Helmets retail for as low as A$5 while treatment for brain injury can run into millions.

A citation was given which directed the reader to a page on the Melbourne Bike Share website. Information on this page states

Free helmets are now available with our blue bikes.  Just leave the helmet with the bike upon completion of ride.  Easy! Go to our Gallery to view the video as to how to secure the free helmet onto the blue bike. Alternatively, helmets are available for just $5 at many retail outlets or vending machines at Southern Cross Station and Melbourne University. A limit of 2 helmets per customer applies.

A list of stores nearest each Melbourne Bike Share Station follows. If it’s not completely clear bicycle helmets meeting the Australian standard can be purchased for $5, here is a picture.

CheapHelmetsForShareScheme

In a reply to Biegler and Johnson, Hooper and Spicer state

Biegler and Johnson also rely on the claim that the cost of purchasing cycle helmets is fairly marginal. However, quite aside from the fact that most helmets cost far more than the $5 quoted by these authors, it is important to realise that many people are unlikely to skimp when they buy helmets.

No citation or evidence is used to support this statement. I suppose it is possible cyclists could be turned off by a helmet being too inexpensive, but where is the evidence this is actually happening with the Melbourne Bike Share helmets? There’s also no evidence to support the authors claim the “extra cost may well be prohibitive.”

I have a hard time believing a free or $5 helmet is prohibitive to anyone. Also, shouldn’t the lack of supportive evidence presented by Hooper and Spicer have been filtered out during the peer-review process? To paraphrase a famous quote, the presentation of anecdotal arguments against helmet legislation does not constitute a valid argument.

  1. Hooper C, Spicer J. Liberty or death; don’t tread on me. J Med Ethics 2012;38 (6):338–41.
  2. Biegler P, Johnson M. In defence of mandatory bicycle helmet legislation: response to Hooper and Spicer. J Med Ethics.
  3. Trégouët P. Helmets or not? Use science correctly. J Med Ethics.
  4. Hooper C, Spicer J. Bike helmets: a reply to replies. J Med Ethics.
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