Would You Cycle More If Helmet Laws Changed?

In discussions of how cycling could be encouraged in Australia, the fact that we (like New Zealand) require absolutely everyone to wear a helmet is seen as a major disincentive. But is it the biggest factor?

Picture by Bill S

Cycling is great: it keeps you fit, it doesn't pollute the environment, and it doesn't require a lot of expensive gear (though you can totally go there if you want to). At The Conversation, Chris Rissel notes that while the absolute number of cyclists in Australia has risen in the last quarter-century, the proportion of us cycling has dropped. He identifies three key factors: a lack of decent infrastructure for cyclists, the Aussie obsession with motoring, and the fact that we're forced to wear helmets, which represent something extra to carry around (or leave attached to the bike to get stolen).

The helmet rule is annoying, but I'm massively unco-ordinated and I need protection so I can't say it's the main reason I don't cycle as much as I should. (That would be my fear of traffic and the relative lack of bike paths in my area.) What's your take?

Expand on your thoughts in the comments (but keep it civil: rival claims from cyclists about how drivers are psychos and drivers about how cyclists always flout the law won't get us anywhere).

Australian cycling boom? Nope – it’s a myth [The Conversation]


    Removing helmet laws would only succeed in bringing the total number of cyclists down, the wrong way.

    It's like saying people would drive more if they didn't have to wear a seatbelt.

    Getting kids riding at an early age would get them continuing to cycle.

      agree on all points.

      and do kids even ride these days? theres probably a nintendo wii version...

      Here in Brisbane we have the city cycle program with bikes and stations for quick use within the cbd. but no-one uses them as you have to plan for their use by bringing a helmet everywhere with you.
      I would certainly use them If wearing a helmet was not compulsory.

    are you serious cyclists complain about the lack of safety cycling currently offers non stop if any cyclists would seriously consider cycling more often if they didn't have to wear a helment, your fools

    and if anyone is on the helmets make me look like tool and ruin my hair train trust me removing your helmet is not going to improve how you look cycling in the gutter

    if anyone cant tell i my vote went to the bottom option

      From your post, I honestly couldn't tell. I wasn't sure if you were supportive of cyclists or not until your last line...

        i did try to refrain myself guess i did a little too much

      @dox: what the hell did you just try and say?

      seriously I could tell if you were for or against the use of helmets. until the last line. If you cannot put your opinion into words that normal people can understand, what makes you any safer on the road. even if I was in a car I wouldn't feel safe if I saw you driving.

      Back to the discussion

      I do commute to/from work on a regular basis. At the speeds I travel at it is actually more dangerous to not wear a helmet. Any kind of fall from 20km/h is dangerous and poses a high risk of serious injury either from the fall or from cars trying to avoid you.

      There are some areas in melbourne where cyclists are accepted, there are some areas where they are tolerated, and some areas you just shouldn't go on two wheels (either motorized or pedal power).

    I'm a klutz and probably wouldn't ride much without a helmet anyway. But I certainly have never adopted the Brisbane rental bicycles because logistically, carrying a helmet around with me on the off chance that I might want to ride a bike, or using a rental helmet and risking lice / etc just doesn't appeal.

    I'd much rather that all private motorized transport (IE cars) be stopped at the outskirts of the CBD and left in cheap parking, and public transport and bicycles/human powered transport (or even those stupid segway things) be the only option allowed within zone 1. I It would require a high volume of high frequency public transport services, and a large parking infrastructure to be built at the outskirts. In Copenhagen, where they have a simillar model - there are bikes freely available through all of the down town area. You walk out of wherever you've been shopping/eating/whatever and get on one of the communal bikes and ride to wherever you're going next. With relaxed helmet requirements around the CBD and that kind of policy? I'd probably never drive in Brisbane again.

      I couldn't agree more. Leave the city streets for public transport, bicycles, pedestrians, and maybe taxis. Private cars can just go away.

      In Brisbane specifically, they also really should integrate CityCycle with the Go Card.

    I will happily post as many Bike vs car videos to make the point compulsory helmet laws are a great idea,
    the next point is, if you consider yourself of average intelligence that means 50% of people in this world are not as bright as you, laws like these exist to protect those too ignorant to do it themselves.
    And finally it reminds me of this

      oh man that should not have been as funny as it was

      I've yet to see any evidence to show that compulsory helmet laws are a great idea. You can show as many bike V car videos as you like, but that doesn't make for sound data. It's like judging helmet protectiveness by monitoring hospital intakes - you see only some minor and most/all major injuries only; you don't see any of the minor injuries where people had no reason to got to hospital.

        Funnily enough Graeme, monitoring hospital intakes is EXACTLY how almost all research supporting helmet laws get done.

      I'd much prefer freedom of choice rather than be told by the government what to do.
      I don't need to be nannied by the government.
      For the record I wear a helmet whenever I ride my MTB, I would its common sense.
      Those too ignorant that don't want to use a helmet then let them die, who cares. It is not the government's fault if you are too stupid.

      That said perhaps people under 18 years old should be made to wear them but Adults should be able to make the choice of wearing a helmet or not. In fact adults should be able to make many choices which don't hurt anyone but them.

      The Government shouldn't be telling us what we can and cannot do when the individual who makes the choice is the only one affected.

      Those of you who want to be protected, just protect yourselves and don't worry about the rest of us who are smart enough to make our own decisions.
      I hate the whole nanny state bullshit.

        Whilst I agree with the philoosphy- unfortunately we will all ultimately pay for acts of stupidity. Wait times in emergency and medicare levy are two examples. If we could guarantee death on impact we'd probably be ok with this approach but as it stands I don't want to pay more or wait longer for stupidity (wait in line at a hospital emergency line with an legitimate accidentally injury while those from acts of stupidity are given priority and see if you feel the same way)

      Just curious, macca, do you ride? It's too easy to claim the anti-helmet brigade as being of sub-standard intelligence. It's common sense. Why would someone even try to make an effective anti-helmet argument? My point is, I don't need an overweight beaurocrat (who has probably never ridden a bike since childhood) to tell me "you must wear a helmet". I know I must wear a helmet to improve my safety. But sometimes, I JUST DON'T WANT TO BE SAFE. That is my right and my decision, not yours.

    The helmet saves lives, has done since it was made mandatory.
    However, when it comes to hiring bikes in cities, the law should be amended to encourage more people to use public transport and get vehicles out of CBD's. The Brisbane system is crapping itself precisely because they are forced to bring one or hire a used one. Traffic in cities is a lot more controlled and thus safer.

    I agree these laws are good as they reduce deaths, but i also find it hard to take that i can get charged for something that only endangers my own life, not others. I should be free to make my own choice.

    I know its stupid, but i would probably ride more if i didnt have to wear a helmet, but thats just me.

    I would be more for it if it was mandatory for children to wear helmets, but a free choice for adults.

      you have fair point on the free choice side of things but whilst only you would get physically hurt the cost to others, in the form of your hospital bills, the emotional bs of someone having killed you should they accidentally hit you (as opposed to just injure) and so on far out weighs your suffering because you have to find somewhere to store a helmet once of the bike, its the same reason banning smoking in public areas isnt a freedom of rights issue

      "At your own risk" is really meaningless, because if you injure yourself for doing something dangerous, the government, and in turn the taxpayer pays for your mistake, too(which we should. People do stupid, or risky things from time to time, and we can't just leave them to die for it).

      As for the discussion at hand, I'd like to see the helmet laws modified to say you only have to wear a helmet if you're riding on a public road. When I'm riding on roads at speed because I have somewhere to be, I would choose to wear a helmet, but there are weekends where I treat my bike more as a fashion accessory, and a mild convenience. In these situations, I tend to ride on the shared paths around Brisbane going no faster than a jogger. It would be nice to feel the breeze. I just don't see how I'm more at risk for a head injury in these situations than someone going for a run.

      Wrong, it effects everyone who observes the incident.

      People get the traumatising experience of seeing your brains smeared up the road. Emergency workers then have to deal with you as well. In addition, brain damage (that may have occured) would rack up a heaps of tax payer money to support you.

      I am with you, though I live in a small country town. I would ride a bike to the post office and shops if I didn't have to wear a helmet. If I lived in the city on the other hand, I would wear a helmet because there is much more traffic.

      My husband is a committed cyclist who belongs to a few clubs and trains and races regularly. The testament to a good helmet is lined up on our shed wall. He has had four serious accidents in the 20 years he has been cycling. 2 are car vs bike while on training rides, 1 was an equipment failure where his handlebars snapped while going 40kms per hour and the other was a clipped wheel during an event and he was run over by the pelleton. I know the helmets saved him from more serious injury but his way of riding and my way seriously differ!

    Helmets do make cycling safer, you cant argue about that.
    The thing is, why is it mandatory to wear one. Aren't people suppose to take responsibilities for their own actions?

      You mean like it is mandatory to hold a drivers lisence or wear a seatbelt?

      Gee that one is a head scratcher.

        Because many riders ride in a situation where it is unnecessary. Cars travelling at 60km need seatbelts. Bike travelling at 10km in back streets probably don't.

          Matt are you saying that all bikes travel at ten km/hr?

          Because they do faster along pedestrian paths. I have a friend who managed to break his wrist coming off his bike at 20km/hr so I'd disagree that low speeds are not dangerous.

          @Matt: ...until they get hit by a car, which more often than not, is the cause of a bike related accident on the road.

          You're right. Bike travelling at 10km in back streets do not need seat belts.

        Further more, yes. You should take responsibility for your own actions.

        But you do not live independent from society.

        No matter how retarded your actions may be, your death will impact society. As such, we are stopping the ultra retarded from making bad life choices that will bother the rest of us. You can argue that it's errosion of civil liberties or whatever, the fact remains that you can't live in a high population city without some liberties removed from you.

        Finally, technically, you DO have a choice not to wear a helmet, no one will physically force you to wear one. If you don't wear one however, there are clearly defined consequences that you are aware of that will occur.

          exactly right you make think your only gonna get affected if you dont wear a helmet and end up dead instead of injured but there alot more consequences to society then just your life as i said above its the same reason its not a freedom of rights issue to ban smoking in public places because it effects alot more then just the person smoking

            What are the consequences may I ask? tax dollars wasted on treating injuries just as this?

        I am willing to bet it is alot easier to kill someone with a car than a bike. Any chance you have the statistics for people killed because they got run over by bicycle last year?
        Actually, same logic for seatbelt. you should have the freedom not to wear seatbelt. you just have to accept the consequence of your action (e.g. death).

          That's all very well to say. You get to accept your consequences, who cares, you're dead right! Tell that to your parents. Or say the driver of the car you were in, who may not be at fault, but still contributed.

          Or say your dumb arse manages to survive? Are you paying for your medical bills? Or is the government? Are you going back to work immediately or will you be on welfare.

            That's what insurance are for. Why the hell do you think they exist. For one, I have comprehensive insurance because I am willing to pay a small sum of money to make sure when those things happen I can pay for crap like medical bills. So I can safely say that, yes, I am gonna pay for my own god damn medical bills. Believe me, I have paid more taxes to support dumbasses who gets hurt than me claiming medicare.
            I came from a country where you can't rely on government support. People there actually saved up or purchased insurance for the types of accidents you spoke of.

              Your argument is plain wrong
              I'm in the hospitals every day. There was a man who broke his neck making him a paraplegic. Until he can raise the money for his own care WE have the burden of keeping him in ICU costing over 50k per week. He has been there for 4 weeks so far. So no. Unless you live alone from society in the woods then you have to play according to the rules set for everyone. Because sadly everyone is obliged to look after you if you are an idiot and mess up. On a personal note I would hate to be associated with you because you act like an impetulent child

                erm.. your argument is correct if you have made the assumption that everyone is obliged to look after others. however, that is an assumption. my argument is strictly based on logic. you will have to convince me on why you are "required" to look after a strangerbefore i can agree with you (the norm of the society is not a good argument btw).
                On a personal note, don't worry, the feeling is mutual. none of my friends are this naive.

          I don't know how many died last year, but i do recall some guy on a bike ran a red light and knocked over a elderly man at a crossing and killed him.

          I don't like bikes on the road, when they are not in the way they are most often violating road rules (i must admit there are some that don't but they are few and far between), they should be forced to get registered if you are riding them on the open road, and suffer fines disqualifications etc the same as a driver.

          It takes less for a biker to get killed on the road yet they are more likely to be the ones who act dangerously. If they don't want to wear helmets they should be allowed to but if they aren't they can rot on the side of the road or invoice the remaining family if they don't care enough to protect themselves why should our tax dollars pay to help them.

          There is a cyclist in my area i have seen him numerous times on without a helmet and on the foot path (when there is a bloody bike lane right next to him). The next time i see him i'd be tempted to clothesline the bastard.

    helmet laws should stay, it would be stupid to repeal them and expose people to unecessary risk.

    simple way to increase cycling, provide more dedicated bike paths, sydney has some excellent cycling infrastructure (bourke st, pyrmont, the bay run etc.) these paths are excellent but there is no overall vision for sydney cycling (as far as i know), and some extremely dangerous black spots (e.g. hay st with the tram lines). if the cycling networks improve i believe an increase in cyclists will be inevitable.

    (for the record i cycle commute daily 16km each way)

      FFS. James Gould was killed in 2006 - 8 years ago. In no way saying his death was not a tragedy caused by wrongdoing but please there must be a time limit on how long anti-cyclists trot this one out.

    The % of the population who cycle is falling but for some reason Clover Moore and her Lycra fascists insist on pissing away millions on making city centre congestion worse by taking away traffic lanes.

    If you want to reduce congestion and pollution, introduce a congestion toll, or make more streets pedestrian only, but don't sit there and lie through your teeth about how reducing the number of lanes available in city centre streets will lead to less congestion.

    I doubt the helmet thing stops anyone from riding a bike. Not sure that I agree it should be a law, but I see no value in repealing it.

      except none of your first paragraph is true...http://www.pcal.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/36785/Cycling_in_NSW_-_What_the_Data_Tells_Us.pdf

        Bob, thanks for dropping that 160 odd page report link in here with no reference. Very handy addition to the discussion.

        The helmet thing does stop people from riding. If wearing a helmet was not mandatory and there were decent alternatives to having cyclists on main roads in heavy traffic, more people would ride on the bike path or the back street to the shops because they could easily do so without helmets. You would also assume that most people riding in heavy traffic would wear a helmet and lights etc or get on the footpath. If not, too bad, so sad.
        Callous? Yes and there would obviously be times when innocent people have to deal with a pretty ugly aftermath. But, we would save big dollars long term with better overall health outcomes for everyone who rides. Make it appealing and safe and people will do it.

    I live close enough to the city that I would ride to and fro if there were showers/changerooms, and a secure place to put my bike/helmet. As it is I bus it in every day and that works out well for me too. Driving FTL!

    Having to wear a helmet is discouraging use of those bike share programs, like melbournebikeshare.com.au because you need to be prepared and have a helmet with you. I think the law should be changed to take that into consideration, but only that -- it should not mean no-one has to wear a helmet...

    I ride to and from work, and would never think about making that trip without a helmet, and would never let my kids ride anywhere without one...

      I completely agree. I don't think helmet laws are a disincentive to anyone who owns a bicycle, but they are a big disincentive to bicycle share programs. I think for any of these programs to be successful then the infrastructure where the program exists needs to be improved so cyclists can ride safely within that area without a helmet. Outside of that area helmet laws should remain as is.

      I'd like to see a comparison between how much is spent on infrastructure for cars and how much is spent on infrastructure for bicycles. I realise a direct comparison isn't fair, since roads are used for more than just commuting by car (e.g. transport of goods), but even with that taken into consideration I think the disparity would be massive.

    Only living in australia for just over a year I am still used to the Dutch way of life, taking my bicycle everywhere.

    Helmet laws are counter-productive, however the main problem are cars that pass to close to you or even try and run you over on purpose. Somehow Holden utes are way over represented in this group.

    The basic premise of helmet laws is that this creates a fake feeling of safety and thus cars would actually pass closer to the cyclist, thus creating a bigger risk. Furthermore the rotational forces a head is exposed to when an accident does happen is greater when wearing a helmet. The only thing a helmet does is reduce the direct force impact on the head. However the disadvantages are great. Fore example look at Denmark, the wearing of helmets was heavily promoted and as a direct result the bicycle usage dropt dramatically.

    The only way to get people on a bicycle in australia is to create an extensive network of bicycle lanes with dedicated trafic lights. Only this can get people motivated to use a bicycle. When more and more people use bicycles, a car driver is no longer a car driver but it will be a cyclist driving a car and is thus more likely to take other cyclists into consideration.

      +1 from me

      @wouter: I'm sorry, but you're plain wrong. Helmets save lives. I know 2 people who would have died as a result of head trauma if they weren't wearing helmets. Sure they may have received 'different' injuries from wearing the helmet (as opposed to death) but a different injury is better than a potentially fatal injury.

      "The basic premise of helmet laws is that this creates a fake feeling of safety and thus cars would actually pass closer to the cyclist"

      who came up with that rubbish just because a cyclist has a helmet on does not make every motorist out there think 'well shit hes being safe i can drive so close to him ill love tap him with my mirror' that just does not happen, the only reason cars drive so close to cyclists is because our roads are been squeezed thinner and thinner to provide cyclists with a pointless lane and most drivers would prefer to avoid having a head on with another vehicle with going at 50kmph and will drive in the bike lane

    I for one would like the helmet laws to match places where cycling for transport (not exercise) is more common. Netherlands for example.

    I ride to the train station most days, about 5k. I don't wear a helmet, because I hate the feeling. I'm on paths the whole way - so there's not really a traffic danger.

      but a helmet doesnt protect you from traffic, it only protects your head from injuries from falling from standing height, which is likely on paths.

      Until a car backs out of, or turns into a driveway taking you out on the way

    There'll always be an argument about whether we are to consider those too ignorant to use a helmet when applicable and enforce laws upon the entire population, but given that Australia and NZ are two of very few countries that have this law, you can't really say that the death rates due to cycling without helmets in other countries are particularly alarming.

    In fact, I think there were some studies that showed that mandatory helmet wear does not correlate to an increase in cycling deaths.

    Be sure to note that I'm not saying that helmets don't save lives. They do, but it shouldn't be made compulsory for all cycling activities (like riding to the shops just a few streets quiet streets away at low speeds).

      Correction: I meant to say that "mandatory helmet wear does not correlate to a DECREASE in cycling deaths" and vice versa.

    The blue bikes in Melbourne are a clear illustration of how counter productive over zealous helmet laws can be. Most of the time the bikes sit unused as you have to go out and buy and carry around a cheap helmet if you want to use them.
    In France where a similar scheme operates the bikes are in use all the time, often by tourists who just want to travel a short distance and don't want the added expense and inconvenience of a helmet.
    There have been occasions in Melbourne when I would have grabbed a bike to go a short distance but couldn't be bothered with finding a place to buy a helmet and then having to either carry it around all day or throw it away.

    this is pretty funny basically what the comments and everything said here seems to suggest is that many people would be happy to bike, help the environment, get some exercise and what not, if only it wasn't for the huge burden of having to find a place to store a helmet after they got off the bike , wow.

      Where can we store a helmet? I actually don't know any options. Are there free(or even cheap) lockers all over Brisbane I'm unaware of?

        It's called a backpack. Get off the bike and clip the helmet through the top strap of your backpack. Or your purse straps or your fanny pack or your satchel bag or your god damn Woolies reusable checkout bag. And if that is too inconvenient for precious people then they can walk.

          So what you're saying is that there is no option that doesn't inconvenience me and other people around me. Thanks for the patronising bullshit though.

          BTW I don't have to walk. I have a car.

    If I drive a car I only have to carry a key. Until there is a helmet that folds into my pocket, as much as I'd like to cycle places it isn't going to happen.

    How about this as a compromise. Helmets are only mandatory on roads that are 60km/h or greater without dedicated bike lanes. That leaves casual cyclists using bike paths and riding on local streets to ride how they like.

    I still never really get why it's a law in the first place. When I go Skiing the recommend a helmet, all the instructors on the payroll have to wear one and if I had an accident it would no doubt be better for me. But no one gives a shit if I choose not to wear one. And I fall over a lot more when skiing compared to cycling.

      When was the last time you saw a car on the snow fields?

        Well I was there on Sunday so... Sunday. Even ignoring snowmobiles and other maintenance vehicles cars and busses can drive up mountains. In the case of Mount Buller (where I was) vehicles go halfway up the front run.

    If I want to get 2lt of milk from the local milkbar on my BMX in suburbia I shouldn't 'have' to wear a helmet.
    If I'm riding to work along Nepean Hwy I would wear one regardless of the law as I'm traveling at ~30kph.

    It's common sense.

    If I'm riding on a road, then yes I think a helmet is appropriate. If I'm on a bicycle path riding through a park, then no I don't want to wear a helmet.
    And it is a real shame about the blue bikes and IMO the low use of these is due to our compulsary helmet laws. I note that they now advertise the nearest shop to buy a helmet from

    I can't say I've seen the supposedly draconian helmet laws either rigidly obeyed or rigidly enforced in Sydney.

    The cyclists most at risk from me are those idiots that whiz past me on the footpath. I'm going to clothesline one of you idiots someday soon.

    If you're stupid enough to not wear a helmet while cycling, its your own fault if you get hurt. Natural selection.

    I commute 10k to uni everyday and I would wear a helmet regardless of helmet laws.

    However, if it were no longer the law then perhaps it would encourage more people to cycle. The increase in cyclist would result in more cycling lanes and drivers with more awareness for cyclist (either due to encountering more of then on the road or being one themself). So paradoxically it could be possible that retraction of the helmet laws will increase bike safety for the rest of us.

    Also, I remeber reading something ages ago that said that when people wear helmets they are more likely to cycle in a risky fashion due to feeling safer.

    oh, and I loved Scootah's description of the car free metropolis utopia. If only.

    I voted for running them over.
    I would ride in one of these though...
    A city network would be fantastic. You could even have a version with little motors in them for the lazy people willing to pay extra to help subsidise.

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