Would You Cycle More If Helmet Laws Changed?

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?

[polldaddy poll=6378425]

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.

    • Disagree.
      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

    • @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’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.

    • 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.

    • Queball,
      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?

      • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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.

    • @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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • You gotta change the culture first. Too many idiot drivers who are either dumb or inconsiderate to care about cyclists and idiot cyclists that think they own the road and/or footpath.

  • I think there are bigger issues in trying to get people to ride than just helmet laws. The perceived “Lycra” set culture for one. How many people do you see riding bikes to work in anything other than Lycra?
    Not many.
    How many people do you see that are not fit riding bikes – not many either.
    With Australian cynicism, you get into a cycle (excuse the pun) where only those who want to fit into the cycling culture take up cycling, but those who just have a casual thought of using a bike for transport/fitness are put off. The perception of riding a bike as adults needs to change where you don’t need to feel you have to dress up to ride, or be part of culture, but that anyone can ride. Just like we thought when we were kids.
    As for Helmet laws, I don’t think you need a helmet if you are riding at say running pace, but if you tear down the road – of course you do. Having a universal law makes things easier.

  • Personally, I very much enjoy riding as a leisure sport and for exercise – however the need to constantly drag my helmet around with me a massive deterrent. It makes a casual ride to the shops more of a choir than an enjoyable experience.

  • Shouldn’t we be made to wear helmets while driving cars too? More people die of head injuries driving a car than cycling. Come to think of it, what about pedestrians? They can die of head injuries too.

  • I don’t care about wearing the helmet per se, it’s more the ‘having to carry around a helmet when not riding a bike’ that annoys me.

    I love the idea of that melbourne bikes around the inner city areas, but it sucks because you have to carry an awkward size helmet around, either that or put it in a backpack, then you have to carry a backpack on your back.

    • Yeah but what happens when you arrive at your destination? You have to walk now! Why not just ride up to the 10th floor or drive your car into the lobby to minimise walking? Geez.

      God forbid you reach your destination and you find that you have to talk to someone now! That would be double annoying!

      • Thanks for being so patronising. It makes for great discussion! Maybe those of us that don’t want to carry a helmet around with us all day also don’t want to carry around a backpack. Telling us to carry something else that’s bulky and inconvenient around doesn’t solve the problem of us not wanting to carry something around.

  • I’m all for bikes and that but…

    I think riders should pay something towards the up keep of these bikeways. I know a lot will say no to this and I know it won’t happen but there should be a bike rego to help pay for the bikeways.

    • Also, we should have shoe registration for pedestrians. There’s no way we could maintain a footpath network without getting yearly fees from every thong and croc owner out there.

      • Different states, different amounts but in Victoria your rego is mainly insurance and pays for about 9% of the cost of the road. So the non drivers subsidise the drivers.

    • Damage of roads/cycleways is proportional to the fourth power of peak load. In other words a 1,000kg car causes roughly 10,000 times as much damage as a 100kg cyclist and rider (1000kg/100kg ^4). If you’re talking about a “user pays” scheme, then I’m happy to pay a few dollars a year to cycle but I’m not keen on having to the majority of my annual salary just to use my car.

  • I have come off my bike twice and have witnessed a few friends who have also taken a fall .
    The first thing that hits the ground are usually your wrists and the first bone to break is your collar bone.
    My helmet has never received a scratch
    The thing I am most afraid of whilst riding are ignorant and unaware motorists
    I truly believe that removing helmet laws will encourage more people to ride around the city as a means of transport
    More riders on the road will increase motorist’s awareness of cyclists and that will help bike safety

  • I don’t know that bicycle helmets offer much protection, so I’ve always been a bit baffled about why they’re compulsory. They’re horribly flimsy things.

    That said, I do wear one. It doesn’t bother me to wear it and it tends to keep low hanging foliage out of my hair.

    A bigger problem is the complete lack of respect for anyone else on the road by way too many Australian car drivers.

    • the plastic shatters which dissipates the force. The inner polystyrene acts as partially a cushion and partially another crumple zone. They are far from perfect, but if your head hits the ground then it is your skull that shatters and not the plastic. I can’t believe how some people can be so short sighted (not directing this at your per se). Sure it is annoying, and uncomfortable. But so is splitting your head open on the pavement on the off chance you get clipped by someone. Just because you don’t see it everyday doesn’t mean it won’t happen. And if you are silly enough to risk it particularly on a congested road with fast moving cars, I hope natural selection does the rest <- again not directed at you, but I can't be stuffed writing this 50 times

  • One of the principal findings from Prof Rissels research shows that 1 in 5 people do not ride a bike because of mandatory helmet law. In raw terms, 4.5 million Australians do not cycle because of helmets. Does this answer your question, Angus?

    • 1 in 5 australian’s are lazy. That is why were are, per capita, the fattest nation on earth. Has nothing to do with helmets. That my friend, is called a soft excuse. To coin a pertinent phrase, GET ON YOUR BIKE

  • god i hate this concept that wearing a helmet saves your life. Mandatory helmet laws were introduced in 1991 as a part of a randomized worldwide trial. Australia jumped at the chance to join in and was made to force us to wear helmets. Has anyone been outside of Australia? No one wears helmets. they serve no purpose. Fall off your bike next time and see what hits the ground first. Knees, wrists, elbows and maybe if you are unlucky your chin – none of these are protected by helmets.

    The rest of the world figured it out. And now 20 odd years later we have this arbitrary law so ingrained into our heads that people think riding a bike is more dangerous than driving in a car!

    I do not understand how stupid we are as a nation.

  • I am appalled by the Iranian government forcing women to wear a hijab for their “safety”, when we all know that a progressive and positive attitude towards women creates safety…wait, what?
    Hahah, seriously, wearing a cycle helmet is like wearing a condom- it just doesn’t feel right, might give me some protection, BUT I’M NOT GONNA WEAR ONE unless there is a genuine threat to my safety. Does the government force you to wear a condom due to the risk of chlamydia?
    A bicycle helmet may protect your skull, but not your spine or limbs or anything else. A car with equivelant safety for the driver would be banned on the road, but whoopdedo, I’VE GOT A FOAM HAT TO PROTECT ME from the speeding tonnes of steel zipping past me. The argument for safety of helmets is completely flawed without adequate cycle infrastructure, community education and a serious change of attitude towards sharing our publicly funded road network.

  • To the 9.xx% that said they would run cyclists down… “FU!”

    91% of driver are courteous, the other 9% should have their licences taken away. Driving is a privelidge, not a right.

  • Having followed this debate for a couple of decades (or a similar more rational one with better grammar) I wear my polystyrene hat, because if I didn’t I know that it would form the target of a contributory negligence claim in the event I was hit by a car.
    I appreciate that wearing it makes it more likely a car will impinge on my space – but I try to “increase my big” other ways.
    The greatest improvement to a cyclist’s safety is to have more people cycling, or cycle aware: see the Critical Mass movement. Putting up real barriers in the way of people cycling because of imaginary problems or flawed science does not help. However in the land of the mouth breathing ute driver any real improvement in this is unlikely to happen in my lifetime.

  • One of the strongest positive correlations is not between cyclist safety (using the rough measure of KSI stats) and helmet wearing (or compulsion) but between cyclist safety and number of cylists. i.e. the more cyclists there are about the place, the safer they are. Look at two countries with high numbers of cyclists; Netherlands and Denmark. They have very high rates of cycling and very low rates of cyclist injury.

    Compulsory helmet laws do decrease numbers of cyclists (all places where they’ve been introduced have shown a significant reduction), so removing that disincentive should increase cycling rates and therefore cyclist safety.

    Nobody is saying “ban helmets”, just that the choice should be left to individuals.

  • On a related note, have a look at the number of cyclists who don’t wear helmets despite the current laws. The enforcement of helmet laws is very poor. I often see police cars pass helmetless cyclists and take no action.
    So 1 – Why is this? Do the police feel it is not worth their time?
    and 2 – kids are growing up seeing this and could draw the obvious conclusion – “Some laws clearly aren’t worth bothering about. I’ll pick and chose the ones I want to obey.”

    How would you combat point 2? Either ensure strong enforcement (see point 1) or repeal the law.

  • It can’t just be one thing, it has to be a combination
    I’d vote for in order:
    More cycle lanes and paths
    More incentives to ride (i.e. Londons congestion charge pushed more people to ride because it was cheaper and Sydney made it free to park motorbikes which helps)
    Better parking and facilities like water taps or air pumps and repair stations/vending machine that supplies repair equipment and materials
    push bikes getting right of way more often
    In london there is a space at the front of every set of lights set aside for push- and motorbikes, which are allowed to filter through to the front, also bikes are allowed to use bus lanes

    To be honest the helmet thing is very far down the list, its just not an issue

    Really all they have to do is make it more attractive to ride than drive and you will see a surge of riders

  • IMHO if you are going to ride on the road, you need a test of the road rules. I don’t understand how a scooter requires a license, a motorbike, a car all require knowledge of road rules, yet any old schmuck can get a bike and ride on the road doing whatever they like. Its nuts. Bike riders are a pest, they should pay rego so they can at least be identified when breaking the law and also be subjected to regular road tests if they are riding with cars that pay to use the road. And for those people that sya, they already pay rego on their car, you pay twice if you have a motorbike and a car, so you shoudl really pay for your pushbike and car.

    • So bicycle riders need to be tested too? Maybe, but having heard several driving instructors saying that bike riders (motorised and pedal powered) make far better drivers due to their better habits (stemming from a justified “those other road users might just kill me” attitude), perhaps it’s more appropriate that a minimum period of cycling should be required as part of the driving test.

  • Definitely the helmet law. It’s a huge impediment. To carry it around while shopping is a pain, so now I drive. To wear it on warm days is uncomfortable, so I stopped all longer rides 9 months of the year. TO ALL the helmet lovers, no one’s saying ban them, they say allow the choice. If you’re so crazy about helmets, they would also slash the road toll for motorists and pedestrians. Of all hospital admissions through road trauma head injury, just 3% are cyclists. Once we’ve mandated all road users, let’s move on and mandate lifejackets for swimmers. You cut beach drownings in an instant. I bet NONE of the mandatory helmet fans would like those measures, so therefore apply some consistentcy and stop picking on minorities with your do-gooding nanny-state FASCISM.

  • I would support the removal of compulsory helmet laws. When living in Europe, I had a bike especially for shopping: it sat unlocked by the door, had panniers on the rear and a funky lock that jammed the rear wheel making it less attractive to a casual thief. I’ve since sold the bike as I just didn’t use it here in Australia and I put that down to helmet laws.
    If helmet laws are to continue, then they need to be enforced and to ensure that people wear their helmets correctly. Too often do I see people wearing helmets unfastened, or worn on the rear of the heads leaving their forehead unprotected. I would also like to see all Australian states accept European and US safety standards. All helmets sold in Australia must comply with AS/NZS 2063:2008 (http://www.productsafety.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/974624). This must surely add to the cost of helmets due to the need for manufacturers to comply with another set of standards whilst reducing variety and thus competition.

    I would also encourage lifehacker readers to read the following two articles:
    Whilst I won’t argue that helmets save lives, I will argue that compulsory helmet laws might increase overall healthcare costs of a nation (with socialised healthcare).

    On a tangent to the helmet argument, I would like to see the standardisation of electric bike laws across Australia. From my research, many countries allow bikes up to 250w to be used as a bicycle (i.e. no registration, insurance or license required). In Queensland the limit is 200w and in NSW they are considered motorbikes point blank.
    If all states were to allow bikes up to 250w to be ridden as bikes (perhaps with a pedelec device that requires the rider to provide at least 50% of the effort as in the UK) then [I guess] we would be able to import electric bikes that are mass-produced for overseas markets.

    I would support retaining compulsory helmet laws for under 16s and would like to see effort put into educating people in how to fit them correctly. I would also agree with requiring people on electric bikes to wear helmets.

    The argument about healthcare costs being higher with compulsory helmet laws is contentions, so I would also consider that a CTP-style system be introduced to allow people to ride helmetless. I could write a long article on effective ways of implementing this (for example making insurance certificates appear in a smartphone app to make it easier for people to have them on them at all times) and to make it more likely that they have them on them if questioned by police or if they arrive injured at hospital.

    When I was at school, we had to take part in a ‘Cycling Proficiency’ program where fake roads were drawn on the playground and we practised keeping left and using hand signals when turning. It was a good scheme which I’m sure would promote cycling amongst children and their parents.

    In summary: I would like the option as an adult to choose whether or not to wear a helmet when I cycle. I would be prepared to pay a nominal fee (let’s say $20 per annum) in insurance costs and would probably wear a helmet for 95% of the kilometres travelled and 99% of the kilometres travelled on road. I suspect I’m not atypical.

  • Simon, you are the stupidest person I have ever had to deal with. whats the difference between a bicycle / scooter / motorbike / car?

    if you picked A MOTOR THAT ALLOWS IT TO GO FASTER THAN HUMANLY POSSIBLE then you win! maybe you should get rego for your legs. imagine if you walked into someone and knocked them over and just walked away!!! and how dare you use that pathway without paying taxes for it (even though you do, but obviously rego is ‘taxes’ in your mind which is a whole other story).

    find bleach. drink it.

  • Having – in a moment of pure unparalleled clumsiness – fallen off my bike and broken both arms, I’ll keep my helmet and my very very unattractive elbow pads no matter the law.

    • ^ Find a better argument than this one… if you can!

      Also, back when I did speed rollerskating, there was a girl in my class that fell over and split her helmet open against the wall. Imagine if that had been her head…

  • I would really love to see the stats on bicycle injuries. The real question here is “are the extra injuries resulting from less strict helmet laws worth the amount of cars it would take off the road”.

    To answer that we need to know two things:
    1. How many bike injuries are prevented by helmets?
    2. How many people would start riding if the laws were changed?

    Only when we know the answer to those two questions can we give an informed opinion.

  • What I find interesting about all these comments is the acceptance of claim “helmets save lives”. However, the evidence just doesn’t support this view. Australia and NZ actually have far more accidents than OS where helmets are almost never worn. Whilst there was a slight decrease in cycle related admissions to hospitals, this was less than the associated decrease in cycling within the population! Compare this to seatbelts – once mandatory laws were introduced, injuries decreased dramatically. All the helmet laws have done is reduce the proportion of the population that cycles.

    There are a number of reasons for this:
    – infrastructure is way more important than gear. We have very little, and the infrastructure we do have is poorly designed (hence all the recent doorings). Also, our footpaths are very narrow, which means cyclists only ride on the road.
    – At speed, the sorts of helmets cyclists wear do little to protect from impact (look at what constitutes a legal motor cycle helmet). In fact, some researchers believe they may actually cause spinal damage in an impact.
    – In other countries, people wearing helmets are also more likely to be hit by cars too – there is a false perception of safety by other road users.

  • All for adults making their own choices. Should NOT be compulsory for adults but SHOULD be for children. If I were to dolly up in Lycra for the tour-de-block-a-lane then I would probably want to be wearing a helmet as this is a high speed, high risk. I would also like to be able to jump an a push bike and ride down the footpath to the corner store without plod raining on my day for not wearing a lid.

  • Honestly this is like people not wanting to wear motorcycle helmets, i have come off at mid speed on my motorbike and my helmet while it was fucked beyond belief protected my noggin from more serious damage i only managed a mild concussion and broken ribs.

    So no if you want to ride a bicycle wear a bloody helmet and long pants and a shirt or jumper, because road rash is not fun kiddies. Also the cyclists that ride in formation i hate you so much, your arrogance is what nearly gets you killed all the time on the roads.

  • The argument for mandatory helmet usage is ridiculous. If you have an accident that involves striking the top of your head on the pavement then yes, helmets will protect you. The fact is that bicycle accidents for utility riders are extremely rare and head strikes are an exceptionally rare event in the rare case that a utility rider does fall. The risks associated with obesity and poor air quality are more dangerous than riding a bike. Bicycle accidents that involve head strikes invariably involve cars or close-quarters racing on road bikes. Riding a bicycle is not dangerous. Speed and motorists are. Cyclists need safe infrastructure and they need motorists to pay attention. A helmet might protect your head in low-speed crashes but it’s not going to protect any other bone in your body. Why shouldn’t the goal be to reduce the number of collisions in the first place? Mandating helmet use is a cop-out. It’s the same as saying, “it’s not a matter of if but when you’re going to get hit so strap it on.”

    I live in Philadelphia where there is no such law for adults. Like most people here, when I bike to the store to pick up groceries I don’t wear a helmet. When I race or I’m in some other type of group ride I do wear a helmet – because those activities involve some level of risk. Cycling here has increased 150% in the last 10 years. In a city similar in size to Melbourne or Sydney (that is far colder in the winter and hotter in the summer) cycling county-wide is on par with the rates in Sydney or Melb. In the CBD (where we don’t yet have a bike share program) and adjacent neighborhoods residents on bikes account for 5-17% of all trips. You can’t expect to attract casual riders with such heavy penalties for not wearing a helmet and it’s absolutely disingenuous to assign the risk associated with road racing to someone running an errand on a 3-speed cruiser.

    The bike share programs in DC and Montreal have been enormously successful with both commuters and with casual riders – so much so that both cities have struggled with the logistics of keeping the more popular stations stocked with bikes. I’m comparing North American and Australian cities because they have similar automobile infrastructure and similar modal splits between bikes/peds/transit/cars. The success of the bike share model hinges on spontaneity. Helmets negate that.

    The catch-22 here? A doubling of the number of cyclists on city streets decreases bike/car collisions by 2/3. There is more safety in numbers than in helmets.

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