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Australian group’s turnaround on helmet laws

Choice Biking welcomes leading Australian group’s turnaround on helmet laws

Choice Biking welcomes recent recommendations of The Bicycle Network, Australia’s largest cycling advocacy group, to liberalise Australia’s mandatory helmet law.

The Bicycle Network have concluded an intensive policy review with a recommendation for a 5 year trial for helmet choice on footpaths and cycle paths, for people older than seventeen.

Choice Biking’s Tim Gummer says: “This turnaround by a large organisation, previously support of mandatory helmet laws, is a key milestone in the civilising of Antipodean cycling.”

“The Network’s recommendation is close to Choice Biking’s own recommendations for reform in New Zealand,” he said. Choice Biking, launched earlier this year, while acknowledging the case for full repeal, has been advocating similarly for adult cycling helmet choice, but in all environments.

We also note the Network’s recommendation for nationwide liberalisation of footpath-riding (which has inconsistant legality between Australian states). While we acknowledge footpath riding is no substitute for real cycleways it is frequently the pragmatic choice of riders reluctant to brave riding in mixed traffic, and should not be an illegal act.

The work of the Bicycle Network in assessing over 2500 studies on Mandatory Helmet Laws (MHLs) has been invaluable.

The Bicycle Networks Key recommendations are:

• Australia’s mandatory helmet laws should be relaxed with a five-year trial permitting people older than 17 to decide whether they wear a helmet when riding on footpaths and cycle paths.

• Riding a bicycle on the footpath should be made legal for all people in Victoria and New South Wales so that the five-year trial can be successful. This would bring Victoria and New South Wales in line with all other states and territories.

• More must be done to protect people who ride a bike on the road by reducing and eliminating a key hazard: motor vehicles.

The key reasons for Bicycle Network’s recommendations are:

• Australia (as with New Zealand) is out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to mandatory helmet use

• The risk for bike riders is largely from people driving motor vehicles

• Personal Protective Equipment is the worst method for preventing injury and is no excuse for not providing protected riding spaces

• 58.3% of bike riders are calling for a change to Australia’s mandatory helmet law and their knowledge and beliefs are highly valuable.

The Bicycle Network’s white paper also acknowledges key points Choice Biking has been making:

• Mandatory helmet laws have not reduced trauma for bike riders

• Cycling is fundamentally safe – safer than most people realize – the risk is barely more than for driving a car.

• The number of people riding bikes in Australia has stagnated

• Most countries with a law have reformed for adult choice. In recent years: Mexico City, Israel, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Malta have liberalised.

Our growing cities are dependent on cycling succeeding. Despite the inconclusive picture from thousand of studies on MHL’s reducing cycling, and the undoubted benefit to helmeted riders in a crash, it’s clear that blanket laws have little place in Antipodean cities of the future.

Tim Gummer continues: “Here, as panic spreads on the introduction of scooter share, the absurdity of our law’s unique application to cycling amongst a plethora of more dangerous, unregulated activities, is shown in stark relief.”

“Much has changed since New Zealand and Australia mandated a blanket requirement for helmet wearing,” Gummer adds. “Here and across the Tasman, separated cycleways are rolling out, our cycling culture is shifting away from intensive ‘sporty’ riding, bikeshare is elsewhere a raging success, and we look aspirationally at less car-dependent urban models. A clear majority of Australian riders want reform, and we should expect a similar proportion here. The only thing that hasn’t changed yet are our laws.”


The Bicycle Network Review

Bicycle Network Decision Short Form Paper, Appendix 1 and Appendix 2.


About Choice Biking

Choice Biking, launched earlier this year works to help position cycling as a desirable, serious transport alternative for a wide range of New Zealanders. We unambiguously support helmet law reform, and look forward to joining the rest of the civilised cycling world.

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