Associate Professor Chris Rissel, from Sydney University’s School of Public Health, has called for laws making the wearing of bike helmets compulsory to be repealed, to encourage more people to ride bikes. Professor Rissel says that the greatest drop in head injuries was in the 80s – before the laws were introduced – because of road safety campaigns and speed controls. He says the number of head injuries has remained steady since then.
The call to repeal the mandatory helmet laws follows the slow response to the public bike sharing scheme introduced in Melbourne in June. The scheme copied a Montreal programme in which the bikes have been used more than a million times since its introduction in May 2009. The Melbourne scheme is attracting only about 250 users a week although Melbourne has more than double the population of Montreal. Many believe that the poor response is due to Australia’s mandatory bike helmet laws.
Australia, New Zealand and Finland are the only countries in which bike helmets are mandatory for adults but in Finland there no penalty for not wearing a helmet. Israel and Mexico have repealed their bike helmet laws following difficulties with their public bike sharing schemes.
Bicycle New South Wales vice-president Richard Birdsey commented that “At the moment it’s important that we retain the law, but certainly once we see improved riding conditions for people, where the roads become safer, the governments should look at perhaps seeing whether they can be wound back a bit.”
Keeping mandatory helmet laws on open roads but abolishing them in parks and designated cycleways would seem like a sensible way forward.