First it was motorbike riders, cyclists and skateboarders - now
motorists and their passengers are being encouraged to wear helmets.
The move comes in the wake of a new study which claims that
headwear can dramatically reduce brain injuries in road accidents.
A report by the Federal Office of Road Safety claims that "bicycle-style"
helmets would be as effective as airbags and better than seat belts,
reducing the severity of accidents by 50 per cent and saving the life of
one in five head-injury victims.
The report, released yesterday with the backing of the Department of
Transport and Regional Development, even suggested that protective
headbands could be designed as a fashion accessory.
It presents findings from a two-year study on head and brain injuries
conducted jointly by the accident research units at the University of
Adelaide and Monash University, which said head injuries were costing
the economy more than $1.5 billion a year.
The universities concluded that helmets would provide more protection
than safety options such as interior padding, side-impact airbags and
advanced seat belt designs.
Full helmet protection would lessen the severity of more than 60 per cent
of brain injuries, compared with a bicycle-style helmet (50 per cent) and
better interior vehicle padding (30 per cent).
A spokesman for the Office of Road Safety said the idea was being put
forward only as a voluntary measure, and there were no plans to make it
"Car occupants are already better protected than cyclists or motorcyclists,"
the spokesman said. "But this research shows that safety could be improved
quite a lot by using simple, low-cost protection. We are publishing these
results so that the community can make an informed choice."
Professor Jack McLean, from the University of Adelaide, said studies of
head injuries found that specially designed headbands could offer a
practical alternative to full helmets.
"The proposed headbands would apply padding to the front and sides of
the head, where most impacts occur," Professor McLean said. "They would
be lighter, cooler and less bulky than aconventional helmet."
Ms Pam Leicester, a behavioural scientist from the NRMA's Road Safety
Department, said the idea had merit, but it would not be easy to persuade
motorists to wear helmets.
The report, which concluded that a helmet would have avoided one in
five fatal accidents, will be given to Australian helmet designers
"A detailed analysis of head impact patterns ... suggests that
specifically designedheadbands could provide a practical alternative to
full helmets," it says. "With someimaginative designing, the headband
might well be developed as a new fashion accessory."