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Helmet formative project

Bicycling accounts for a significant proportion of injury related morbidity in Australian children (41/10,000 per year). Fatalities from cycling injuries decreased during the 1980’s but have risen each year since 1992. The majority of cycling-related deaths and injury occur in young people aged five to 17 years. This leads to high estimates of potential years of life lost (PYLL = 43 years) for cyclists fatally injured. This combined with the severity of injury sustained by cyclists (ie: 100% of fatal and 44% of non-fatal bicycle injuries involve the head) means attention must focus on ensuring available preventive strategies such as helmet wearing, are effective and used. Past school- and environment-based bicycle helmet safety programs have not been successful in helping young people to counter negative peer pressure often cited as a factor associated with poor helmet usage. The use of school-based peer educators has been found to be an effective strategy to empower students with social skills to resist negative peer pressure. The Helmet Project used qualitative evaluation techniques to develop and pilot test a peer leader intervention to encourage 10 to 12 year olds to wear helmets.

This formative evaluation consisted of two stages: In stage one an extensive review of the literature was conducted to identify important issues related to bicycle helmet wearing by 10 to 12 year olds and consultation with key stakeholders in bicycle road safety and education. Stage two utilised qualitative research methods (focus groups) to explore the target groups’ practices and perceptions of cycle helmet wearing, peer pressure to not wear helmets and feasibility of using peer leaders to encourage bicycle helmet use and other safer cycling behaviours. These findings were used to inform the development of school-based bicycle helmet education strategies targeting children aged 10 to 12 years and their families.

The Helmet Project produced a literature review, consultation with stakeholders (meetings with experts in education and road safety and 20 focus groups with children aged 10 to 13 years) and a school-based intervention concerning children wearing bicycle helmets correctly. A three-year NHMRC grant was awarded to the WACHPR to conduct a randomised control trial to test the effectiveness of an intervention based on the findings of the Helmet Project. A total of 168 students participated in the 20 focus groups. Students discussed reasons for and against wearing a helmet when riding a bike, ways to cope with pressure to not wear a helmet and way to effectively use similar age peer leader to encourage correct bicycle helmet use.

Benefits of the program 

  • Provision of information through the findings of focus groups with students from schools within the targeted age groups;
  • Establishment of criteria by which to assess school-based bicycle safety intervention programs;
  • By including students and teachers in the initial stages of this research project, findings will contribute to a better understanding of the reasons why children do/do not wear helmets when riding bicycles; and
  • Findings of the project will provide positive steps that may be taken to encourage students to wear helmets while riding their bicycles.

Future benefits include:

  • Improving schools’ and the community’s knowledge of bicycle safety and the importance of wearing a helmet correctly;
  • Provision of a means of empowering teachers, parents and students to play an active role in the prevention and reduction of injury related to bicycle crashes;
  • Provide a better understanding of effective means to influence the health behaviours of children at a particularly vulnerable age; and
  • Ultimately, a reduction in morbidity and mortality related to head injury through bicycle crashes.

Project duration


Funding body

Main Roads Western Australia
Western Australian Office of Road Safety


Associate Professor Marg Hall
Professor Donna Cross

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