Well the nannies of Australia certainly have us well-trained.

On holiday to the UK a few weeks ago, my family (husband, the 12 and 14 year-old and I) hired bikes to take off for a spin to enjoy the glorious sights of autumn in Hyde Park. The scene was idyllic. Complete with cheeky grey squirrels fossicking for acorns.( I thought my daughter would expire from Extreme Cuteness Exposure.)

Despite the cavalcade of cyclists whizzing by without helmets, I wasn’t going to risk a fine. I had to ask the three English Bobbies strolling by: “Excuse me, do we have to wear a helmet here?”

“No. You’re good to go,” they smiled and waved us on with a grin.

I wondered why they were sharing a chuckle? Is it because they’re always asked that question by Nervous Nellie Aussie tourists?

We happily tore off and before too long were confident enough to join others on the shared road for short trips to the museum or the art gallery and back. All without helmets… just like the Prime Minister, David Cameron (left).

Australia was the first nation to introduce compulsory bike helmets in the early 90s. It’s an article of faith here that helmets must be worn at all times. No exceptions.

However, while no-one would question the sanity of wearing helmets along any high-speed motorway, making helmets mandatory on dedicated bike paths or for short inner-city trips is just plain nutty.

Consider this remarkable statistic from the UK Barclays Bike hire scheme – in operation for two years and boasting 14 million journeys.

In August this year before the Olympics, the popular “Boris Bikes” as they’re known, with depots all over inner-city London, were officially audited.

The result? There was just one serious injury for every million journeys.

Yep, you read that right.

You have a one-in-a-million chance of being knocked over riding one of Boris’ grey clunkers. (And notoriously heavy they are to manoeuvre, which partly explains the lack of injury. You’d be flat out beating a squirrel from a standing start.)


London Mayor Boris Johnson off for a helmet-free spin. Image via AP. 


Here in Australia we are flat-earthers when it comes to urban cycling. Ironic since most of our capital cities are ironing-board flat and superbly suited to cycling.

We’re failing miserably at getting riders to use bike share options. One of the main reasons? Compulsory helmets.

We have bike hire schemes in Melbourne and Brisbane. Both of them are under-utilised. They’ve tried leaving free helmets on bikes or selling them cheap, but most are pilfered for private use. Others don’t want to share sweaty headgear for sanitary reasons. Of course non-English speaking tourists aren’t going to bother.

“Excuse me, where can I hire a bike helmet please?” is not in any phrase book I’ve ever used.

Sydney (where cyclists are widely regarded as vermin on wheels) is considering a bike-sharing scheme on its network of bike paths, but only if it wins an exemption from compulsory helmet laws. Law makers are adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude. But exactly what they are waiting for remains a mystery when the data from overseas seems conclusive: Compulsory helmets mean fewer cyclists. Fewer cyclists means fewer bike paths. Fewer bikes means more traffic.

Of course the idea of making helmets optional on inner-city roads is enough to make most Aussie safety experts have a coronary. 

But the free-wheeling peletons in Paris, Barcelona, China, Ireland, Denmark, Montreal and the Netherlands – where cycling is so popular that locals complain they’re running out of places to park at train stations – can’t be wrong. All of them are able to ride without helmets. Some on paths. Some on the shared road.

Mexico City just repealed its compulsory helmet laws to get its bike-sharing scheme going.

In fact, even in New York City, where sharing the roads is hairy – and there were 21 cyclist fatalities in 2011 – they’re rolling out a 10,000 bicycle share scheme next year. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has rejected calls  for mandatory helmets.

This October is Safe Cycle Month and perusing the Victoria Police website I read: During the month long campaign, a variety of vehicle, foot and bike patrols will be used to enforce road rules and speak to cyclists about safety issues.”

Rules and enforcement, that’s the angle. As it always is in Australia which ex-pat friends ruefully say is the most over-regulated nation in the world.


Would more relaxed helmet laws encourage use of our bike share schemes? Image: Jase Wong via The Conversation.


And before you regale me with hair-raising tales of reckless cyclists, and how your life was saved by a helmet, I’d like acknowledge that of course safety is important. But something reseachers also cite is that the mania for helmets makes cycling seem more dangerous than it really is. Some studies show it has about the same risks as being a pedestrian.

We should be promoting the joys and benefits of gettin’ on yer bike: Good for the environment, tremendous for physical health and brilliant for easing inner-city traffic congestion.


Free wheeling in Mexico City. Car-free Sunday mornings attract 80,000 cyclists.

Finally, perhaps we should listen to Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney who says that in some instances cycle helments can have a “large, unintended negative impact.”

“Pushing helmets really kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn’t justified — in fact, cycling has many health benefits,” he says. Through mathematical modelling, he concluded that the benefits may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.

He adds: “Statistically, if we wear helmets for cycling, maybe we should wear helmets when we climb ladders or get into a bath, because there are lots more injuries during those activities.”

So we continued to cycle without helmets in London, feeling the lovely drizzle in our hair, but we did seriously think about using one for rush hour at Piccadilly Station.

* Oh, and a reader sent this article, well worth a read: Australia’s Helmet Law Disaster from the Institute of Public Affairs.


What do you think? Are Australia’s helmet laws draconian?

What would encourage you to get around by bike more frequently?



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  • Reply October 22, 2012


    Well yeah, you might not fall off your bike much, but when you do, do you really want traumatic brain injuries? Do you want that for your children?

    • Reply October 22, 2012


      Fi, I have to wonder… did you actually read the article?

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    Brisbane is not a good city for cyclists- hilly as all heck, narrow busy streets with hardly any designated bike lanes. There would be no way I would cycle without a helmet on the roads here.
    Actually there would be no way I would cycle on the roads, period!

    • Reply December 24, 2015


      Anne, it would seem you are not a fan of cycling so may I ask why you are here?

      The facts are the facts Anne and they are that cycling is a safe as houses no matter how emotional the helmet debate becomes, period.

      Cycling is great and since our roads are clogged with cars, we’re becoming more obese, we’re using more drugs and alcohol than ever and our kids are addicted to iPads it should be encouraged.

      Riding on busy roads – wear a helmet, not riding on busy roads or on a path – Big Woopy Do!

      What have nanny state regulations ever achieved?

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    I am going to reiterate what I said on Twitter. You can’t compare apples with oranges – you are comparing us to countries which treat cyclists very differently I have ridden overseas happily and safely without a helmet, but I would never do it here. You don’t provide statistics for Australia, but I’m sure that its more than one in a million people.

    “Statistically, if we wear helmets for cycling, maybe we should wear helmets when we climb ladders or get into a bath, because there are lots more injuries during those activities.” – but we control those things ourselves. And they are reasonably stationary. As a cyclist you can’t predict what other road users especially cars are doing. Whilst I am all for more people riding bikes, more people should be riding bikes safely. Would you let your children ride without helmets here? The Government has this law for a reason, and obviously saw a need for it. I’m sorry, Wendy, but have lost a bit of respect for you with this article.

    • Reply October 22, 2012

      Wendy Harmer

      I find your reply here competely unconvincing, Caroline. Why does our Government have this law when no-one else seems to?
      There are many things I would go into with you, however since you’ve “lost a bit respect for me” I shan’t bother.
      What a poor way to enter into a debate!

      • Reply October 22, 2012


        Because maybe we need it? Because the government legislates about what is important to us. Not about the rest of the world. Because safety is more important than anything else. Look I apologise about the respect comment – that was low of me – but I don’t find your article convincing at all, and truth be told, I was annoyed by it. That getting people to ride is more important than maintaining the safety of those who do ride. Maybe we can agree to disagree?

        • Reply November 22, 2012


          I read a comment above defending mandatory helmet laws as follows:
          Quote: Because safety is more important than anything else. …I don’t find your article convincing at all,…That getting people to ride is more important than maintaining the safety of those who do ride….”
          And here’s the problem.
          First the suggestion that “safety is more important than anything else” is such an un-thought-through nonsense statement. If we as a society really believed that we’d immediately insist on a man with a red flag in front of every car (would save the 52 pedestrians killed in Victoria by cars each year – definitely have to have that one), we’d ban all tobacco products and alcohol and guns. We’d do, as suggested, and mandate helmets for all ladder climbers. The list goes on and is clearly ridiculous and debunks the above proposition. Truth is we all take risks every day in everything we do. The important thing is to be informed by facts and be reasonable in deciding what risks are too much and what mitigations are excessive – insurance companies do it every day and we pay premiums, or not, of a magnitude proportional to the risk.
          The second part of the quote above dismisses the research article Wendy cited. The reasoning was that a helmet might make current riders safer – no evidence offered, no consideration to the actual number of injuries prevented or mitigated vs the downsides (no cost or risk benefit analysis). If we dismiss considered research because it doesn’t agree with our pre-concieved ideas we’re going to be a very much poorer society for it.
          The article suggested that society as a whole is better off, in terms of health outcomes and health care costs, if more people cycle than if they are put off doing so by mandatory helmet laws. It does not suggest that anybody who currently cycles should stop wearing a helmet so current cyclists are no less safe than they are today but, because of the increased numbers of cyclists and the consequent increased awareness of their presence, ALL cyclists will be safer as motorists consider their driving behaviour around ALL cyclists.

      • Reply October 22, 2012

        Betsy Bicyclist

        Hear, hear!

        • Reply October 22, 2012

          Betsy Bicyclist

          Hmm that hear. hear did not go where I wanted it to go… hear, hear to Wendy!

    • Reply October 23, 2012


      Caroline argued “you can’t predict what other road users especially cars are doing.”
      Actually you can make some predictions. Research showed that, on average, vehicle drivers leave less room when overtaking a helmeted cyclist.
      The researcher, Dr Ian Walker, was struck by a bus and a truck in the course of the experiment, both times when wearing a helmet.
      Bicycle helmet laws were introduced because governments thought they would reduce injury. But with hindsight we now know they had the opposite effect – cycling became less safe because of risk compensation and reduced safety in numbers.
      The best solution is therefore to allow cyclists to choose whether or not they want to wear helmets. Many will continue to do so. Overall, healthcare costs will decline because the health and environmental benefits from cycling are many times greater than the risk of injury from cycling without a helmet. More info:

    • Reply November 21, 2012


      Caroline wrote something to the effect that cyclists don’t get treated the same as other countries to her this is justification of the helmet law.
      It would say that Carol’s disrespect of the rights of bike users is the cause of the problem – perhaps if she can do a little experiment for me – wear a helmet when driving her car and see how people then treat her and how she gets along doing that every time she uses a car.
      The ignorant bigots among us seem to think it’s ok to subject bike users to helmet laws and deny free choice. But they will all have her eyes wide shut to any such suggestion that they wear a helmet in their car – instead they come up with excuses not to.

      Someone once said “First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

    • Reply March 1, 2013


      Caroline wrote:” Whilst I am all for more people riding bikes, more people should be riding bikes safely … The Government has this law for a reason, and obviously saw a need for it.”

      The reality is that the law didn’t work – it discouraged cycling without producing any obvious reduction in head injuries. If anything the risk of injury increased because when fewer people cycle, motorists forget to look out for them –

      With hindsight, it’s clear that the government made a mistake. Adult cyclists (or for children, their parents) are in a much better position to decide about the dangers of riding on a dedicated cycle path or quiet road and whether the risks justify the bother of wearing a helmet.

      Helmet laws continue to discourage cycling and deprive us of health and environmental benefits because Australian Governments do not like to admit their mistakes.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Benison O'Reilly

    Sorry, couldn’t disagree more Wendy! No anecdotes – just statistics.

    ‘Australia was the first country to
    introduce compulsory cycle helmet
    legislation in 1991. It was a major safety
    improvement. The Cochrane* review of
    bicycle helmet effectiveness found
    that helmets provide a 63-88%
    reduction in the risk of head, brain and
    severe brain injury for cyclists of all

    ‘An examination of admitted
    patients suffering a bicycle-related
    injury at Brisbane’s Mater Children’s
    Hospital, shows that in the two years
    preceding the introduction of
    compulsory helmet wearing in
    Queensland, head injuries made up 34%
    of admitted bicycle injuries, whilst in
    the 10 years following, the percentage
    fell to 17%.’

    *BTW Cochrane reviews are regarded as the highest level of medical evidence.

    OK I lied. An anecdote: Have you ever visited the neurology ward of a major hospital? I have often in my capacity as a hospital pharmacist. Young men who should be in the prime of their life lying there ‘gaga’ with nasogastric tubes to feed them and and on high doses of anticonvulsants to stop the fits. I’m talking several months after the accident too. It’s not death people should be most worried about – it’s permanent brain injury – often a fate worse than death. That’s what helmets prevent.

    It’s not likely to be you, but it could be.

    • Reply October 26, 2012


      And when you’ve finished up at neurology, pop over to the cardiology ward where legions of fat, unhealthy, type-2 diabetic and emphysemic Australians live out their dying days because they never climbed onto their bikes.

      Thank god for the nanny state.

      What you are missing here, my friend, is an adequate grasp of the concept of the “counterfactual”. It can be difficult to see, but it is always there!

      • Reply October 26, 2012


        Oh – and dear pharmacist busy doling out Keppra to poor young men cut down in the prime of their lives – tell me, how many of these were afflicted so from cycling or pedestrian-related accidents, rather than from smashing into power poles in hotted-up hoon cars, or from slapping one another into oblivion in acts of alcohol or drug-induced rage?

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    if we had dedicated cycling routes, then sure, no helmets. but if you’re cycling down an aussie highway you’d be mad without one. maybe some helmet-free zoning is an option.

    • Reply October 26, 2012


      Maybe we should just issue cyclists handguns? 😉

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    My husband and several of his co-workers ride to work in the city from various outlying suburbs whenever weather permits, and all have had and or/seen so many heart-stopping catastrophes and near-misses, on both open roads AND dedicated bike-paths, that none of them would ever consider going without a helmet.
    Day in, day out, safety comes first.

    • Reply October 22, 2012


      Repealing the compulsory helmet law is not the same as banning helmets. Your husband can carry on wearing a helmet if he wants, as can anyone else.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    In parks, on dedicated bike lanes, and for traffic free streets days, then no helmets for some gentle, family-oriented bike riding is fine by me.

    For busy inner city streets, highways, all other road use, then helmets should be worn.

    There are degrees to this conundrum. I live in a regional town with flat streets and barely 2km from any direction into the CBD but… I wouldn’t ride a bike without a helmet on these streets. One, because there is a rule against riding on the footpath (which is fair enough) but there is no dedicated pathway for bicycles and I would have to share the street with cars. Cars who have drivers with little to no respect for bicycle riders. It’s a really fraught and dangerous world on two wheels out there. It would require massive infrastructure change and cultural change for cars and bikes to live safely side by side.

    That said, there are heaps of beautiful parks where no cars (or very few) can travel, where pedestrians are also few. Bikes on these for families to borrow and enjoy without the need for helmets would be fantastic.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    Once again we get the “safety is everything” mob trying to stifle debate. Nobody is saying that we should scrap helmets altogether (are they?), rather how about giving us the choice?

    I cycle to work every day, using shared bike/footpaths, dedicated bike paths, quiet roads and busy roads. I’d never consider going without my helmet on these daily runs. I sometimes go down Beach Road for a big ride, again, no helmet=insanity. But to zip up to the local shops I would consider going without were it not for the risk of a cop spotting me. Presumably others who don’t cycle might consider a bit of meandering around the local area if they didn’t have to wear a helmet? And might that lead to more people cycling? And isn’t that a good outcome?

    Did you safety-is-paramount people actually read the bit that said serious accidents occurred in one in a million trips? Compulsory helmets seem like a giant overreaction to me.

    • Reply October 22, 2012

      Benison O'Reilly

      I’m not the least safety-first about everything, As a matter of a fact I’m always telling overanxious mothers to stop worrying so much about ‘stranger danger’ as the statistics tell us that the risk of your child being abducted by a stranger is the same as being hit by lightning.

      I’m just a health worker who has seen the consequences upfront and knows that while rare, bike accidents can ruin lives and helmets save them. If we take your attitude we may as well get rid of our life-saving seatbelt laws too.

      If people want to flout the law that’s their choice – it’s not like it doesn’t happen all the time already, anyway (well certainly where I live). But to make them non-compulsory would mean open slather and many people wouldn’t make the same sensible judgements as you.

      • Reply October 22, 2012


        But Benison, that’s completely ignoring the other side of the debate! Yes, an accident can quickly turn your head into a pulpy mess, but it’s a relatively low risk. Sitting on a lardy butt and not exercising leads to some pretty poor health outcomes too, as I’m sure you know. It’s a trade-off.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    I’m probably going to get flamed but it’s a vanity thing for me. I live in Balmain in Sydney. The entire penninsula is a 40km zone. I can ride from my house to the city on virtually 100% dedicated cycle paths or deserted, 40km an hour back streets. It’s a pretty safe journey. It was a similar story when we lived in Surry Hils. It’s helmet hair that holds me back. And yes, I realise that my head is going to look a great deal rougher under a car wheel but when you do a possibilities/ probabilities analysis and factor in the enormous benefits of improved cycle rates vs the risks I think dedicated ‘helmet optional’ zones for adults per Milkey’s suggestion above makes sense.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    I have seen the utter devastation caused when rider & car collide. The lives ruined. Accidents are so called because we don’t know when they will occur. In my friends case popping to the corner store in suburbia. If we had better roads, footpaths or dedicated cycleways it might be possible. The better discussion would be how to improve infrastructure to support this concept.

    • Reply October 22, 2012

      Wendy Harmer

      And that’s what the City of Sydney is attempting to do- but as is pointed out in my article, ( and in the suppprting references) the insistence on helmets is discouraging the building of this better infrastructure we need. Which comes first? Maximum useage of the inftrastructure already built…

    • Reply March 7, 2013


      Ettianne: “I have seen the utter devastation caused when rider & car collide.”

      So have I. The kid was airlifted to hospital where the doctors tried valiantly to save him, but he died of a brain injury. His helmet didn’t save him.

      Too many people have misplaced faith in helmets. This gives them a false sense of security. Statistics show that head injuries per cyclist *increased* when helmet laws were introduced –

      The people who argue ‘Safety first’ should actually be campaigning to repeal helmet laws.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    John Roach

    Disclosure – I work with brain injured adults. I often get asked questions about helmet or no helmet. A professor of trauma medicine once answered as follows: ‘If I am about to hit you on the head with a hammer, would you rather put a helmet on first or not?’ Worth a thought. You don’t need a bicycle helmet until (a time comes when) you do!!

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Frankly Feisty

    Hi Wendy.
    Here is the answer…and developed by two women, naturally!
    It just needs a LOT more money thrown at it.
    Watch the video.
    It’s brilliant.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Merryl Chantrell

    You might not like anything between you and the road but you sure will if your head falls on it.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    I see the nannies are out in force crushing debate on this. I grew up in a country that did not mandate helmets, and cycled to university daily for a number of years. I had one accident in all that time when a pedestrian stepped suddenly in front of me and I came off my bike( going over the handlebars and landing on my back- no injuries, not a scratch.) the risk is vastly overstated by the nanny brigade, I am so tired of them censoring every little infintismally small risk out of society. Why not leave some individual choice? No one is stoppingthemfrom wearing a helmet if that is their choice.I live in Balmain too, it has slow road speeds everywhere. Why am I more at risk on my bike here than a pedestrian is crossing the road- next they will be made to wear helmets! Incidentally, I was recently in Melbourne and saw the shared bike scheme, I was very keen to try it,but no helmets,so I didn’t. Surely we need to be encouraging people to exercise more,ditch cars, and reduce traffic. It certainly is a eye opener to visit Europe and see all the “reckless” cyclists without helmets! By the way,a helmet is of minimal protection anyway in any collision with a car or larger vehicle, as any motorcyclist would know( and they all wear substantially sturdier helmets) the answer is to stay out of mixed traffic and have separate cycle ways where possible- why aren’t the safety nazis pushing this instead.

    • Reply October 26, 2012


      Thank you Amanda. Regrettably, the nannies never let the facts (or the right of the individual to simply accept and take personal risk) to stand in the way of a good “rule” (or several).

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    The overwhelming view seems to be we are consigned to being a “two tonnes of metal to get from A to B society forever” so we better start pumping out some serious C02 and get them roads up to scratch and while we are at it get hospital obesity wards cranked up…perhaps we can use all bikes for their metallurgic value to pay for some of this.
    I’m sure the article is not proposing to BAN helmets but rather add a few hundred thousand cyclists to the mix over a number of years so that dedicated cycleway systems have a chance and motorists start to realise that our roads are not soley for the benefit of “one person per two tonnes of metal” Respect for cyclists in other countries is born at least in part to the number of them on the road (ergo the number of cars not). There is no doubt the mass and speed of a car can do some serious damage to a human head (with or without a helmet BTW) but the CRITCAL MASS of a population that cycles can do wonders for the headspace of what may be possible.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Rebecca Ivers

    We are all in agreement that increasing cycling is good for many reasons. However, the research about the benefits of cycle helmets is compelling; the much quoted research about how cycling would increase if we dropped legislation is far less robust. What stops people cycling is actually lack of safe infrastructure. We now see, with better cycling infrastructure, increased riding in Sydney and Melbourne, with good helmet wearing rates. And why not maintain this growth? Head injuries cause death and life long disability – and helmets reduce the risk. We also need to remember that cyclists crash on cycle paths – and helmets work very well in these crashes too. Most parts of Australia do not have safe cycling infrastructure, and (from lessons in motorcycle helmet legislation) it is likely that any exemptions to legislation will result in overall weakening of the law – and lower wearing rates, and increased head injury. Or – we could be more imaginative about how we can get helmets working for bike share programs. Let’s not take the easy option here.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    Three years ago my uncle was on a shared path when a truck mounted the curb and he was struck and killed.

    He was walking, and therefore not wearing a helmet. Should he have been? Because it would seem to me that walking was a pretty dangerous activity that day.

    Why do cyclists have to wear helmets when those walking on shared paths do not?

    How about skateboarders? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone being fined by the cops for skating without a helmet.

    Give us back the choice, and in the mean time start developing cycle ways & educating drivers so they stop thinking we cyclists are scum.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Michael O'Reilly

    Well said Wendy!

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    As a naturopath, whose reason for being is to promote preventative medicine, I strongly support wearing bike helmets, as passionately as I support wearing a seatbelt when driving.

    Working in the centre of Melbourne I’ve seen numerous helmet-less tourists riding the blue bikes along unfamiliar city streets. Unlike locals who regularly ride they’ve not learned how to navigating trams or avoid slipping on wet tram tracks. Nor why some cars turn right on red lights from the left lane. Many haven’t learned that our drivers are hostile to cyclists and often cut riders off without warning or open doors without looking. And many of them just can’t ride. They’re the ones that really need to wear a helmet!

    Thanks to the bike scheme we can now buy ultra-cheap helmets (about $5) in convenience stores near most of the bike depots. For a fraction more than a coffee in the city, there’s no excuse to not buy a helmet and use the bike scheme.

    As for the locals zipping along at high speed on city streets making a fashion statement by not wearing a helmet (or worse, carrying it on their handlebars) I’d like to introduce an exemption for those who are signed up organ donors. We need more organ donors and these beautiful, healthy young things are perfect candidates.

    Let’s not be a nanny state by all means. But brain injuries cost a lot to the public purse. But more importantly brain injuries rob beautiful young things of fulfilling their potential. I’ve yet to meet a neurologist who refuses to ride with a helmet. They might just know something.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    Amanda made some very good points. In Europe people learn to ride from a young age and continue, using their bikes as a viable form of transport. Other citizens in their cars respect those on bikes whether they are meandering, commuting or cycling as their sport. It seems to be an unfortunate fact that in Australia many road users have a strong dislike for bikes on the road, believing the road is for vehicles with engines. I am not saying these drivers aim to hit cyclists but it seems they are are not very mindful of sharing the road.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    adults don’t have to wear them in the Northern Territory!

  • Reply October 22, 2012



    exactly correct. Well written.

    The rest of the world does indeed look at Australia as a lesson on how to get public health and cycling completely wrong. No other civilised nation will follow us down the path to Mandatory Helmet Legislation.

    Helmet nannies (as evidenced by some comments above) are prevalent in Australia, and like to impose their own insecurities on others.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    I’d also add that “one in a million journeys” is very different to one in a million riders. (I’m mentally tallying the thousands of journeys I’ve cycled in my bike riding life thus far). But let’s look at the Australian research. The stats tell a stark story about the reduction of bike related injuries and deaths in Victoria, in the first two years after the introduction of mandatory helmet wearing (and with only a 75% uptake).

    But I know stats are often meaningless, unless you or someone you love, become one.
    “On July 1, 1990, a law requiring wearing of an approved safety helmet by all bicyclists (unless
    exempted) came into effect in Victoria, Australia. There was an immediate increase in average
    helmet wearing rates from 3 1% in March 1990 to 75% in March 1991, although teenagers
    continued to show lower rates than younger children and adults. The number of insurance claims
    from bicyclists killed or admitted to hospital after sustaining a head injury had decreased by 66%
    in Melbourne and 70% Victoria-wide two years after the law. Analysis of the injury data also
    showed a 16% and 23% reduction in the number of bicyclists killed or admitted to hospital who
    did not sustain head injuries two years after the law in metropolitan Melbourne and the whole of
    Victoria, respectively. The proportion of all injured cases with a head injury in 1992 was
    significantly less than that projected on the basis of continuing pre-Iaw trends. The mechanisms
    by which this reduction was achieved seem to be twofold: a reduction in the number of bicyclists
    involved in crashes resulting in severe injury and a reduction in the risk of head injury for bicyclists
    who were severely injured. “

    • Reply October 22, 2012

      Wendy Harmer

      Thanks Gill, but these stats are not for dedicated bike paths. Thay also do not say which injuries were sustained from collision with cars, other bikes or falling off.
      And since we have of no way of getting those stats, it would seem that we have to take them from overseas.

    • Reply May 19, 2015


      I’ve read that study, and what it doesn’t mention is that at the same time as the mandatory helmet law introduction into Victoria, there was a large-scale police blitz on speeding and drink-driving.

      Since most life-threatening injuries to riders come from cars, and helmets are not rated for this type of collision, I’m not convinced helmet uptake was the cause of reduced injuries.

      I’m not opposed to helmets, and plan to wear mine for lots of trips after this silly law is finally repealed. But the evidence suggests that the confidence we have in them is misplaced.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    The Huntress

    I have to say that I think helmets should be a matter of choice, rather than compulsory. We’re all grown-ups and we’re perfectly capable of making the decision for ourselves. We are also perfectly capable of educating our children to wear helmets when riding their bike, if that’s what you wish for your child to do – it’s no different from educating them about drugs, alcohol, smoking or stranger danger.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Michael O'Reilly

    Folks, if you want to wear a helmet, you are free to.

    But if you don’t, you should be allowed to make that choice.

    As in EVERY OTHER COUNTRY save Australia and New Zealand.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    As a long term cyclist both before the introduction and post the introduction of compulsory helmets I have hit the bitumen a few times both ways. I have come out of it far far better for the helmet.

    Also try visiting a close friend in a trauma ward with a head injury then decide if protecting your brain just a little is a good or a bad thing.

    Several good spills in yesterdays Round the Bay I saw hold them up as a good idea too with just bikes around.

    I am a happy helmet wearer and will continue to do so!

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Nik Dow

    Freestyle Cyclists Australia and New Zealand is campaigning for the repeal of helmet laws. Wendy has done a good job of pointing out how harmful these laws are.

    Riding a bike without a helmet is good for your health. The benefits of the exercise far outweigh the risks, 20:1 as quoted by Wendy is from a British Medical Journal article based on UK data. For the Barcelona Bike share, a later article in the same journal gives 77:1 benefit:risk ratio. So the law is outlawing a healthy activity that saves money and saves lives.

    Don’t confuse the individual’s ability to choose to wear a helmet with compulsion for everybody. Not all cycling is as dangerous as riding a racing bike on the road with cars at a high speed. Those riders wear helmets in countries without a law.

    Whatever people’s individual reason for not wanting to wear a helmet, the outcome is that helmet law contributes to the 16,000 Australians who die each year from not getting enough exercise (figure from Heart Foundation Australia).

    If you don’t think helmet law puts people off cycling, there have been many surveys done which report about one in five Australians saying helmet law puts them off riding. In Victoria, two in three fines issued to cyclists are for not wearing a helmet. That doesn’t put those people off cycling?

    Sign up at to support reform of helmet law.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    Once upon a time I would have agreed with you Wendy, but my mind was changed one lovely afternoon when out scootering with my younger son, then aged 7. Not wearing helmets, hell they’re just scooters and we were on the footpath – right? Well no, I was horrified to see my son swerve to avoid some tiny living thing in front of him, colliding with a brick wall and being thrown off the scooter in the process. His head missed the edge of the wall by milimetres and he escaped with bruises and scrapes. Needless to say, we are a helmets family now, whether bikes or scooters.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    Head injuries have a profound and forever impact not only on the victim but on their families. Interesting that a number of pro – helmet comments are from people who work in health care and/or people who have informed positions based on research findings. An informed decision can’t be made unless you understand the ramifications. In risk management this is one that would be in the Relatively Low Risk – Catastrophic Consequence category. Any one who wants to give up the helmet should spend a day in an Emergency Department, a day in an acute Neurosurgical Unit and a day in a slow stream Rehabilitation Unit. If they then decide that junking the helment is a risk they’ll take for themselves and those who love them, then that is their choice. Unless you have that exposure, or you’ve worked in a brain injury setting or have been personally affected by brain injury as a victim or family member sorry, you just do not have the information you need to make an informed decision.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Michael O'Reilly

    Well what does that conservative think-tank the IPA have to say eh?

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    Compulsory Helmet Laws (CHL) should be repealed immediately. This article makes clear the benefits of increased cyclign participation. Many of those who angrily denounce the helmet freedom lobby don’t ride bikes at all. CPL just stops more people from riding, helps the car lobby and makes helmet manufacturers more profit. We also see the self promoting ‘I am an expert’ types pop up all over in this debate, especially our many from UNSW whose aggression towards those who advocate for repeal of these laws is legendary. And yes I ride and yes I woudl wear a helmet when I’m in a bunch training, but when I ride down the shops I don’t want to have wear a helmet. If I get hit by a car the helmet will be worthless. More cyclists on the roads and in the streets means more awareness. Repeal these laws.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    Hi Wendy, the stats don’t look at bike paths, that’s correct. Nor when other vehicles etc are involved. But I’d say that is the reality of bike riding. So few regular cyclists ride off-road only.

    I have an off-road bike path 1 km from my house. The on-road bike path I use to get to it looses it’s dedicated lane in areas where there is on-street parking or at peak hours or sometimes they just randomly stop. I wonder how many riders drive to off-road bike paths versus get in the car (which defeats the point of riding somewhat). I’d likely think ‘oh it’s only a kilometre, I can risk not wearing my helmet’ to get to the path. It’s a slippery slope.

    The on-road bike paths in Melbourne are frankly dangerous.And the Vic government has recently stopped the bike path funding. So it won’t improve. And I do almost anything to avoid riding my bike through the city, where the bike share scheme is centred. My comment before about what I’ve observed about tourists using the scheme confirms why I think they’re at more danger than regular riders.

    I was serious about the exemption for organ donors. It wasn’t a flippant throwaway line. I was a student and had just bought my first adult bike when mandatory helmets came in. I hated them! I was cautioned by police a number of times, though never fined. I saw it as my human right to not wear one. It’s only as I’ve got older and got in touch with my own human frailty that I realise I’m not going to live forever. It was at that time I signed up to be an organ donor. The process of doing it made me realise I was mortal. So I’m fine with those wanting to ride helmet-less but an act, literal or symbolic, of acknowledging mortality convinces me that they understand that they’re not invincible.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Herman Koop

    Australia was not only the first country to have compulsory helmet laws. After 20 years it is (with NZ) still the only country in the world. Is Australia so clever or the rest of the world so dumb? When the laws were introduced there was a reduction in head injuries. What nobody tells you is that the participation dropped even more. It’s like taking all cars off the road and you won’t have car accidents. Despite all kind of claims from governments participation has never recovered and it won’t with helmet laws. On a nice day you see a few lycra clad cyclists. Not the numbers that governments claim. 20 years of helmet laws have brainwashed Australians in thinking that a plastic helmet is going to save their life. At the same time it gives Governments an excuse to do nothing about infrastructure. If you want to save lives through plastic helmets, please make motorists, pedestrians and people in their homes (particularly elderly) wear helmets. That would make a lot more sense. This debate is now gone to the stage where everyone considers cycling dangerous with a risk of horrific brain injuries. And of course everyone knows someone whose life has been saved by this plastic helmet. This debate has to go back to the issue of public health, where the advantages of cycling far outweigh the risks of an accident. We are an obese nation (increasing) and actively discourage activity

    • Reply October 22, 2012


      Hear hear.

      I wear my helmet when I am going to be riding on a busy city road. I don’t wear my helmet when I’m popping down to the shops. I do wear my helmet when the magpies are swooping. I don’t wear my helmet if my route takes me along cycle paths. My kids wear their helmets on their bikes on the way to school, because their route includes some road crossings and they’re too young to read the traffic.

      It should be a choice. And for anyone who argues that I might end up with a brain injury from a fall? You don’t think I know the risks? I know them as well as I know the risks of everything I do, because I’m an adult and I can weigh them up myself. I don’t consider not wearing a helmet being foolish risk-taking. I also don’t run out in front of traffic or take illicit drugs or smoke.

      It should be a choice! And we should have much better infrastructure for cyclists so that nobody has to worry about our brains getting hurt.

      • Reply May 19, 2015


        Actually, I take mine *off* in some busy parts of town. The people driving treat me with much more civility when I’m helmet-less.

        I have no doubt that in a collision, it’s better to have a helmet than not. But my impression is that I’m more likely to be hit when my helmet is on. The times I get cut off, swerved around, and punishment-passed are all when I’m wearing a helmet.

        So I risk the fine, because I’d rather be fined than hit.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    I would love to use the Brisbane city cycle scheme. But a few things stop me, and I have to say the helmet issue is the biggest negative factor. There should also be cycle lanes on all the main roads in the city centre, or alternative space on the footpath. And motorists have to respect cyclists. The heat in summer and the hilly nature of Brisbane are other drawbacks.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    I agree with you 100% Wendy. I cycle everywhere to the shop, to work, to the pub etc in Melbourne that’s unique. In Berlin where I have also lived it’s extremely common. For two reasons North American style car-centric transport planning and helmet law. One thing most of the negative responders here have seem to forgotten is that no one is suggesting you shouldn’t or can’t wear a helmet, just that there should be a choice!

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Christine Gates

    Last year, I fell from my bike in a stationary position going up a slight incline and hit my head on the path railing, denting the rail !! Without a helmet, instead of slight concussion I would have had head injuries. Australia has lead the world in anti smoking when it was not fashionable and the same can be said for bike helmets – it is simply safe practice.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    steven herrick

    I’ve recently returned from cycling west to east across France and Germany. I was one of the few wearing a helmet. The number of cyclists in Europe means that car drivers are much more aware of cyclists at all times, leading to greater safety for all road users. If we remove compulsory helmet laws here, it’s clear that we’ll have an increase in cyclists which, in turn, will lead to more awareness by drivers. I sometimes think that anti-helmet people are aggressive motorists who don’t want to be responsible for their actions. As if a helmet allows them to drive that bit closer to we cyclists.
    I’d still wear a helmet on 90% of situations. But i’d welcome sharing the road with lots more cyclists because I know that only in numbers will the attitude to cyclists change in this car-loving country.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    Simple… keep the helmet laws that keep our hospital costs and trauma lower.

    But make exceptions where we calculate that more good than harm will be done.

    It’s not rocket surgery!

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    One of my favorite topics and something I have often considered – the pros/cons of helmets!

    I am working a couple of times a year for a month or so at a time in a small German village where I regularly use a bike riding a short distance to work, shops – and love the fact that I don’t have to wear a helmet. My understanding is that children (not sure to what age) have to wear them but once an adult you can decide!

    I also believe that there are some situations where it would be better to use a helmet (riding most places around Sydney!) and I do think that Sydney (and many other parts of Australia) do need to improve their attitude and we need safer cycling paths – but certainly would encourage moving to have choice.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    I don’t think this should be such a black and white issue. It’s possible to promote helmet use in a sensible way that targets people most at risk, but the current law is excessive because it applies the same level of risk to very different forms of cycling. When an introduction of the law is discussed in other countries (as what happened in Britain recently), Australia and New Zealand are often held up as examples of why *not* to introduce the law.

    As for bike share schemes, they are designed to cater for short trips, not long haul/high speed commutes. The weight and balance of the bikes are far different from your standard Australian commuting bike. Riders of these bikes are also more likely to be risk-averse, which is reflected in the tremendous safety record worldwide. And there’s absolutely no doubt that these schemes can get more people on bikes and transform urban centres. To allow our Australian schemes to wither away and die based on alarmist assumptions will be a major bike policy failure.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    I think helmets should be encouraged… they are (usually) safer after all and I do know people who have escaped death and/or serious brain injury as a result of wearing them. I also agree that children should always wear helmets. I don’t think anyone could ever successfully argue that helmets are bad, unsafe or should be discouraged.

    However, I don’t think we need a law forcing us to wear them. Give us the credit to weigh up the risks and to make that decision ourselves.

    I personally don’t ride to work (on quiet roads and bike paths) because of helmet hair. Partly out of vanity, partly out of the inconvenience of requiring hair products & styling tools at work. Instead I drive my car to work every day, thus increasing congestion, further polluting the environment and endangering myself and other people on and around the roads.

    I would definitely ride far more frequently if not for helmet laws and know many other people who would do the same.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    I think I just want to add in to my comment above that I am a nurse with a large amount of major trauma experience. I still believe helmets should be encouraged, but not compulsory

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    It’s hard to know really whether we should make these laws or leave it to the individuals. When my brother was twelve he was hit by a truck, in a como for three weeks and forty years later still suffers because of it. Equally I have worked in Aquired Brain Injury units and seen the horrors.

    Yes it is a low risk as far as occuring but then the consquences are massive. On the other hand as my 16 yr old points out Australia has so many laws that it takes all control out of our own hands.

    I think maybe for kids it should be law but not for adults based on the idea that kids can’t make informed choices but we can.

    another tricky dilema!

    • Reply May 19, 2015


      I’m sorry about what happened to your brother.

      I don’t know if it’s any consolation, but helmets aren’t rated for much more than falling on your head doing a brisk jog. I don’t know your brother’s circumstances in the collision, but the “hit by a truck” scenario isn’t helped much by a helmet.

      Helmets are very good at preventing bruises and scrapes, surprisingly bad at preventing skull fracture (the help a bit, but a lot less than you’d think), and not very effective at all at preventing intracranial bleeding (brain injury). This surprised me.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    I think bike riders need to reclaim our roads from cars, it’s cars that kill and are dangerous, not bike riding. Bike riding is increadibly safe, many more pedestrians die on our roads than cyclists, and we don’t require pedestrians to wear helmets. The best way to make our roads safe is to have more riders out there, all round the world the statistics show the more bike riders there are, the safer it is to ride. If removing compulsory helmet laws increases bike riding substantially, it’ll become safer for everyone on our roads. Drivers become more bike concious, plus more riders means less cars which are the real killers.

    • Reply May 19, 2015


      Hear hear!

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Betsy Bicyclist

    My two cents worth… I live inner city Brisbane and ride my bicycle whenever I can, to get groceries, to run errands, to go to dinner and sometimes to ride to work. I prefer not to wear a helmet. I quite often don’t and if I get a fine, I get a fine. I do worry that if I am involved in an accident that a paramedic or other service person will have to clean up my ‘head mess’. That is the only thing that makes me pop on my helmet again. Regardless of everything and anything… it should be a choice not a rule.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    yesterday my 4yr old grandson was riding his scooter and his helmet hit the path with a thud.A bit of skin off his elbow but head ok thank God. 2 wks ago when out walking I tripped and hit my head on the path.I needed stitches and still have a bruised face, I WISH I’d been wearing a helmet.
    PS who said exercise is good for you???

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    There are so many more people dying or suffering serious morbidity due to obesity than any bike accidents. Plus it improves mental health.
    People are not stupid. Let them calculate the risk. We’re allowed to smoke cigarettes and blow the toxic fumes over anyone but we can’t pedal down a bike path ? Get a grip people!
    And for those carrying on about lack of bike paths… I’ve lived in three of Australian states and I’ve never had a problem.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Sue Abbott

    Wendy! – what a breath of fresh air…

    …given academics cannot agree on the merits (or not) of helmets, Australian politicians should never have enacted helmet law in the first place. I have been fined, criminally convicted, had that conviction quashed, had other helmet matters heard & dismissed in court, been ordered to pay into NSW Victims Compensation Fund (which I refused to do) for criminal behaviour of riding a bicycle whilst not wearing a helmet, had my driver’s licence removed, and have now had 2 bicycles removed as well by the local sheriff – all because I refuse to abide by this unsubstantiated, ‘still in scientific dispute, and completely unnecessary law – sigh

    Well done you for your insight & honesty!!!

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    There are two separate issues that are usually conflated in the debate on helmets:

    1) Does wearing a helmet reduce the severity of head injury in a crash? Let’s assume it does.
    2) Does it follow that helmets should be compulsory? No.

    Most activities – crossing the street, climbing the stairs to the bedroom, riding a bike – carry an element of risk. I could wear a helmet for all three activities if I wanted to. But it’s only when I’m riding a bike that the law says I MUST wear one.

    Personally, I will always choose to wear a helmet when riding my bike. But it should be my choice.

  • Reply October 22, 2012


    Fantastic article Wendy. I am very involved in bicycle advocacy and I couldn’t agree more with your comments. In Australia, we are so brainwashed by the “cycling is dangerous” mantra that most people couldn’t imagine cycling without a helmet. In fact, the “cycling is dangerous” mantra means that most people couldn’t imagine cycling at all. What a pity when they are more likely to die from inactivity than from a cycling accident!

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    Peter T

    Question : how many cyclists are injured a year with head injuries before Mandotory Helmet Laws? How many of elderly? How many children? How many motorists? Surely all these demographics are equally important.
    Its true helmet saves lives, especially if I’m going to hit you with a hammer, as an example above stated, cyclist or not.

  • Reply October 23, 2012


    I rode a bike to school for most of my school life – as did most of the kids. I don’t recall one instance of a serious head injury during those years. I have stopped riding bikes now purely because of the helmet laws. Rollerbladers and horse riders don’t have to have helmets yet they are more likely to have accidents. The laws are ridiculous – it should be optional to please both camps.

  • Reply October 23, 2012


    Riding a bicycle is a safe activity with many health benefits for the rider & the wider community. We should be following the rest of the world & doing whatever we can to promote cycling. If Helmet Laws are so great why did Mexico & Isreal repeal their laws? Because they stopped people riding! If everyone is so concerned about saving lives then lets target smokers, the obese and the inactive, then we will see some results.

  • Reply October 23, 2012


    So obviously people don’t like wearing helmets. Can someone who belongs in this category explain to me why you all object so strongly? Is it hats in general you don’t like, or is it just that you don’t like being told what to do? Genuine question, I myself wear hats in summer to protect my skin and helmets while riding bikes, skiing etc to protect my head, and I have never understood the reluctance of others to do the same.

    • Reply October 23, 2012

      Wendy Harmer

      In my article I am not saying I’m against helmets, per se, it’s just that they are diffcult to procure and carry for those who use bike hire schemes. Helmets have also been proposed for skiiing and surfing too. You can imagine what my husband and son – both skiiers and surfers – think of that idea!

      • Reply October 23, 2012


        Very true Wendy, I appreciate that but we have (including me!) gone off-topic a little and strayed into other areas. A lot of the posters here seem to have issues with wearing helmets anywhere, as someone who thinks it is no big issue, I was curious to hear what their reasons might be. I take your point that helmets are a hindrance to the practicalities of a bike share scheme.

  • Reply October 23, 2012


    Hi Wendy,
    I’m another that rode overseas then came home and realised how ridiculous our law is. I’m statistically more likely to be hit by a car as a pedestrian than a cyclist yet cycling has an aura of danger due to MHL. Remember racing car drivers wear helmets so why not all drivers too? Thanks for having the courage to post on this issue- those of use who are against MHL (but not necessarily helmets) are all too familiar with the vitriolic attacks as a result! 🙂

  • Reply October 23, 2012

    Jane Salmon

    Need to factor in the community cost of frontal lobe damage. No NDIS a problem if you are intellectually damaged and dependent for life. See it with skateboarders all the time.

  • Reply October 23, 2012


    Wow, what’s struck me on reading all these comments is how FEARFUL people are. Afraid of something that the rest of the world takes for granted as a pleasurable day out or simply a necessary, efficient means of transport. Because the roads of Australia are UNIQUELY DANGEROUS, unlike those of Europe, China, Mexico, and, well, everywhere else except Australia, NZ and small parts of north America.

    Personally, I think what this debate shows is how stunted the perception of cycling is in Australia, in part a result of the 30% or more reduction in cyclist numbers that resulted from the mandatory helmet law.

    And if it is uniquely dangerous, then why isn’t anyone asking why that is so? If sharing the road with people seated in the transport equivalent of a gated community is so difficult, what do we do about it?

  • Reply October 23, 2012


    Hear hear, Morgan. Be nice if we could all get off each other’s backs. it’s dangerous getting born for heaven’s sake.

  • Reply October 23, 2012


    A bike helmet recently prevented my husband from becoming a quadraplegic (opinion of a spinal surgeon *and* neurosurgeon) after he came off his bike on a dedicated cycleway and crashed into a fence post. Bike helmet destroyed, head okay.
    He is now in a brace from neck to waist and will be for the next three months. If all goes well, he won’t have to have spinal surgery.
    I will be out the door if he *ever* gets back on a bike without a helmet. It saved his life.

  • Reply October 23, 2012


    Fear is overwhelming good sense.
    What do neurosurgeons know about physics and polystyrene? No more than the rest of us.
    Helmets are NOT designed or able to prevent brain injury from a collision with a motor vehicle or at a speed over 20kmh. Any bang on the head in such circumstances will probably cause roughly the same injury with or without a helmet so we need to prevent such collisions not offer false solutions, deterrents or placebos which is what helmets are.
    PS A district Court judge has agreed with me and dismissed my fine for riding sans helmet.

  • Reply October 23, 2012

    Peter T

    @Jane Salmon re: Need to factor in the community cost of frontal lobe damage. >
    Indeed – I am curious if you extend this logic to non-cyclists ?
    Who would you say should fund the cost of the effects of say, smoking, drugs, alcohol, unintended and intended pregnancies, obesity due to sitting in car for every journey instead of walking or riding? And which laws shall Australia pass next?

  • Reply October 23, 2012

    Tom Nockolds

    Great article, thank you Wendy.

    Sign up at to support reform of helmet law.

    Helmet laws discourage cycling. Benefits outweigh the risks by a very large margin.

    This law has been in place for over 20 years. Good ideas tend to travel and yet only New Zealand has followed our example in all this time. Australia and New Zealand are regularly cited as examples of why mandatory helmet laws are a very bad idea.

  • Reply October 23, 2012

    Lady T

    I think we need to improve the arrogant attitude and attentiveness of many car drivers and make it clear that a car can be a lethal weapon.

    I gave up my car last year and ride everywhere now, I find it horrific how many people rely on their peripheral vision while typing a text and driving, and how many people abuse cyclists for going too slow/ holding them up on narrow roads until they can pass.

    I don’t think helmets should be compulsory, though I would opt in. I just don’t trust a reasonable amount of drivers to have the patience and respect for those on bikes.

    That said there are oodles of cyclists darting in and out of traffic that don’t exactly earn us respect either. It’s a tough one, to be fair, even if they scrapped the law, you can choose to opt in- so whats the issue?

  • Reply October 23, 2012


    Thanks Wendy, for having the guts to talk out against that most ridiculous of infringements against our civil liberties, that is mandatory helmet laws. Now, I’m not anti bicycle helmet, but I am definitely anti helmet law. Fact is, I would still wear one most of the time should MHL be repealed. But there are MANY occasions, as described in your excellent article, when helmets are NOT REQUIRED and actually INCREASE THE CHANCE OF ACCIDENT OR INJURY. Google it. I believe the law stems not from statistics, but from the violently anti-cycle stance taken by many motorists, the NRMA, some politicians and brain dead talk back radio hosts and their herd. None of whom have ever used a bicycle. Thanks again Wendy. See ya on the road!

  • Reply October 23, 2012


    Thank you Wendy. Is this something that comedians get? There was a hilarious take on this by Steve Hughes at last years comedy festival. Interestingly the very middle class Melbourne audience looked a bit uncomfortable at having one of their sacred cows mocked.
    Humour aside, the only statistics you really need to understand how wrong we’ve got this in Australia is that your risk of being killed on a bike here is four times the risk in Holland, and your risk of being injured is ten times. The Dutch don’t wear helmets, and we are forced to. So who has got it right?

  • Reply October 24, 2012


    It’s only an anecdote, but for what it’s worth: I was out cycling a couple of years ago when a cyclist misjudged the end of a cycleway entering onto a road and when up the back of a car. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and the sound of his head hitting the edge of curb still makes me want to throw up. It wasn’t pretty.

  • Reply October 24, 2012

    Nanny advocate

    Without compulsory helmet laws the take up of wearing them would have remained low. The reason? for feeling like an idiot, not looking good…vanity and standing out from teh crowd. If you don’t wear a helmet try and get a young child to wear one. Now we have a high proportion of helmet wearers and that’s great – it contributes to less severe injurires and death which in turn reduces the monetary and emotional costs to our families and the costs to health system and the tax payer.
    As one person has already stated, if we repeal the helmet laws should we also repeal safety belts in motorised vehicles? both types of laws are not designed to infringe of freedom, but to save lives and that is exactly what they are doing.
    Perhaps people who don’t want to waer a helmet and therefore won’t ride a bike should consider other forms of exercise eg walk to the shops/the park/the train station.

  • Reply October 24, 2012


    What’s the big deal about wearing a helmet? Helmet hair? Leave the bike at home if you’ve got a hot date 🙂

  • […] comedians cum writers Wendy Harmer and Catherine Deveny hopped on the helmet-less, two-wheeled bandwagon. While their sentiment may […]

  • Reply October 25, 2012


    I would cycle more, helmet law or not, only if dedicated bike lanes were put in. The few in my area double as car parking so you end up in the lane with all the cars anyway. I’m sick of dickhead drivers swerving at me, honking and throwing things at me. That’s why my bike sadly lives in the shed and I take the bus now. 🙁

  • Reply October 25, 2012


    Hear hear Wendy. Whilst I appreciate the safety aspects of wearing helmets (and recommend every one do so on major roads) I’m firmly of the opinion that adults should have choice. I cycle all through Europe and was fascinated by the main road through Copenhagen was dual carriage way – cars and bikes!

  • Reply October 27, 2012


    Wind in the hair bike riding romance is fine by me. If you don’t want to wear a helmet you should be entitled to make that choice. If you sustain an injury that requires significant or life long tax payer funded treatment then I’d like a choice as to whether my taxes fund your treatment. This argument is no different to the argument for seatbelts – I wear a seatbelt but its never saved my life ergo I live in an over protective nanny state? I’m not sure many would agree

    • Reply December 27, 2012

      colleen south

      Where does this end? Taxpayers don’t fund anybody’s health care who has bungy jumped, ridden motorbikes (even with helmet, risky), smoked, eaten too much chocolate, not exercised? Great article Wendy.When less people ride (and the loudest advocates for helmets are often non-riders) because of the helmet laws, then the population becomes less active and therefore at great risk of health risks associated with obesity. The whole idea that we armour up with helmets and pretend we are cars, obeying their road rules, is a nonsense. Because we are cyclists, we need to avoid sharing roads where possible with high speed traffic by using footpaths where needed, by riding on the ‘wrong’ side of the road to see cars that aren’t seeing you before you collide. It should be our choice about helmets as small slower rides with caution should be permitted to feel the wind through our hair (that includes leg hairs, which feel lovely in the windflow). All deterrents to riding, the act of which helps unclog our streets, our air, and our arteries, should be avoided. So forget talk of registration to add to insult of helmet laws. That will just stop people riding until the only legal recreational activity is computer/tv generated. HELMETS OFF

  • Reply October 27, 2012


    12 months ago I moved to London with my husband and three children aged 12, 10 and 8 from Australia. The first thing we bought was a bike for everyone (helmets for the children) and undertook cycle safety lessons supplied for free by our local council. It was a very valuable lesson for us in the psyche of British motorists and cyclists. Cyclists are taught how to use the roads and cycle paths and essentials like how to overtake a London bus! The lessons we undertook also showed us that British drivers are expected, by law, to allow full lane access to cyclists – which means if you are there first, the cars have to give way to you.
    I cycle everyday, to take the kids to school, do the shopping ( supermarkets have cycle parking bays) to go to work, and I cycle to meet friends for coffee. I do everything on my bike! I don’t wear a helmet, I haven’t yet had a near miss, and the most dangerous thing on the roads here in my opinion is the pedestrians who refuse to look before lunging across roads. To my utter amazement, more often than not I am waved through intersections by motorists and given plenty of lee-way and friendly nods.
    The point I am trying to make is that the cycling culture here is utterly different from that in Australia – cyclists here are a part of life, whereas in my experience in Australia, cyclists are a dangerous nuisance to drivers – the kings of the road. I wish I could find it and post it, but I was reading an online article a few months ago about cycling in Britain and the gist of it was that in the not too distant future, driving a car will be seen in the same light as smoking cigarettes – dangerous, expensive and self serving, as well as a public health disaster! Good luck to all cyclists at home – keep fighting for safe roads and cycleways.

  • Reply October 30, 2012


    Once I hit a guy on a bike in heavy traffic – on an icy road – in slow motion my car hit his front wheel. He torpedoed past my drivers side window like he had been shot out of a cannon! If it wasn’t for his helmet he would have died – as it was he bruised his shoulder and that’s all. No – cannot agree – love people wearing helmets.

  • Reply October 30, 2012


    I’m all for helmet laws regarding children if they’re riding on roads… But forcing everyone to wear them, especially in parks or on dedicated cycleways is ludicrous!

    The laws need to be relaxed. For example; if riding on a road with a speed limit over say 60, helmets could be compulsary… If crossing the road to get from the cycleway to the park, helmets optional.

    Where kids are concerned, if they’re anywhere near roads and cars, yes, they need to be protected. Most schools have bicycle awareness programs in the later primary school years. Maybe after a certain age and passing a road knowledge test they could then be exempt???

  • Reply November 2, 2012

    Chris Gillham

    Congratulations, Wendy. Keep publicising the damage that helmet laws are causing to Australian public health and road safety.

    Recommended reading for people who prefer facts instead of opinions:

  • Reply November 16, 2012

    Tony W

    I’ve been chuckling to myself over some of the outlandish claims here about the value of helmets. My favourite:

    mezza “If it wasn’t for his helmet he would have died – as it was he bruised his shoulder and that’s all.”

  • Reply November 18, 2012


    I remember clearly when the helmet law was passed.

    There was a huge push for this legislation from the Plastics industry who lobbied the government for years until it was passed – and I was part of the industry when it happened.

    In my personal opinion, it wasn’t about safety, it was about plastics manufacturers selling millions of plastic helmets – legislation is a fantastic driver of business if you’re in the right place at the right time.

    Watch who screams loudest when there’s any suggestion of the legislation being repealed.

    • Reply November 18, 2012

      Wendy Harmer

      Interesting insight, Phil. Thanks for the comment.

  • Reply November 21, 2012


    Honestly, I read a lot about this and I totally agree we shouldn’t have to wear helmets, but EVERY approach to this here is wrong…

    As long as I (and 90% of other cyclists) at least once during a cycle journey have to share a 60kmh road with all manner of hoons and roadtrains, while dodging parked cars, how can you convince the rest of the voting population, who probably are too scared to cycle, that helmets are a bad idea? I agree, they’re a bad idea and would help little after being hit by a car or truck @ 60km/h, but can you really convince everyone that we do not need to wear a helmet when we have to deal with this kind of ordeal, day in day out?! Come on, all the people driving their cars around us know it’s as dangerous as it looks, how ever do you propose to change their opinion, regardless of how many more cyclists and safer cycling no helmets bring?

    Please pass this on to all anti-helmet people: you have to walk before you can run. People need to get pro-cycling and anti-car before this will ever happen, be realistic!

    If we managed to get our government, who is sadly one of the stingiest in the developed world, to develop a cycling infrastructure, and to get informed & push cycling for the many, esp. health, benefits, then maybe we could get rid of the helmets. Sadly, our politicians so far this year have proven to be self-interested, that I doubt anything will ever be done. They prefer to pay for the health problems later on down the track.

    And they say politicians reflect the people they govern, and this is probably true. 63% of Australians are obese apparently, probably from the love affair they have with their cars, and as voting is compulsory this 63% votes. So where’s the interest in getting cycling popular? Since everyone here is more than likely to be a driver too, how will it ever be popular to reduce speed limits to liveable levels, when we all have to bite the bullet and stop speeding around our cities when we’re not enjoying our bikes? Self interest, again I say, so it will never happen… I think it’s hopeless but I’m hopelessly optimistic. Over!

  • Reply November 21, 2012


    Has anyone else noticed that Wendy has advocated for the repeal of the legal obligation to wear a helmet and her detractors have criticised her for opposing the use of helmets? Or have we all lost the ability to read clearly without filtering through our own prejudices?

    At no time did I see anything in Wendy’s writing which was “anti-helmet”. I don’t recall her saying anywhere that people should not wear helmets or be prohibited from doing so. She merely suggested that the compulsion to wear a helmet has been shown to have some serious adverse effects which some researchers have demonstrated may outweigh the benefits of helmets.

    Obviously, there is nothing stopping a cyclist choosing to wear a helmet so we might actually get the best of both worlds by repealing the legislation.

  • Reply November 21, 2012

    City Rider

    Nice article Wendy. As usual most of the helmet law supporters fail to see that allowing choice does not mean that helmets will be banned.

    And of course most of the outrageous “a helmet saved my life” stories are hugely exaggerated or made up entirely – before we had helmet laws we did not have thousands of deaths every year from cycling head injuries.

    Finally to the zealots who apparently patrol hospital wards seeking out people with severe head injuries: the vast majority of those types of injuries are caused by things other than bicycle accidents. Many, many more are caused by car accidents. The day you guys start wearing helmets in cars to protect yourselves against head injuries is the day we can take this argument seriously.

  • Reply November 25, 2012


    As a new cyclist (well, since I was a kid, now in my 40’s and feeling more mortal as I now have taken up riding my bike to my train station) I am glad to have had the chance to read everyone’s opinion. Thankyou to all who contributed.

  • Reply December 27, 2012


    Having been through five windscreens off a deadly treadly I feel stupid mixing it with traffic without one. But on a dedicated bike path , it’s hard not to think of helmet laws as yet another nanny state piece of drivel.

  • Reply December 27, 2012


    Yes! I just want the choice to wear one or not. And bike paths that actually join up with each other (*ahem* Gosford Council). Love your thinking Wendy. Watching families and friends cycling together is a joyful thing.

  • Reply December 27, 2012


    Hi Wendy,
    As always I see people aren’t really reading the whole article and taking it out of context.
    Not once did I read that you said “nobody should ever wear a helmet” rather “we want the choice to wear one”
    I don’t feel I will need a helmet riding in the park on a flat plain riding slowly with my children, I’d prefer to wear a nice wide brimmed hat to keep my sensitive skin free from sunburn. But no, I have to wear a heavy, sweaty helmet and allow my face to get burned. What about beach riding? Bike path riding? All those places you can ride off the road? Surely we don’t need crash helmets for this.
    Road cycling, however, I believe could be where you would choose to wear a helmet. Mainly because, as many have pointed out, we are not used to riding or watching for cyclists. If we were free to ride more often in our leisure time, maybe drivers would be more considerate. We have to be lenient somewhere, and lets be frank, if you choose not to wear a helmet whilst cycling on the road, that has been your choice. You can’t blame the government for not protecting your safety. The more the government takes away our choices, the more we feel to compliant and reliant on them to keep us safe. We are adults, we should make our own choices. (Note also I said adults, children are more prone to accidents whilst learning. They aren’t old enough to make those responsible choices.)

  • Reply December 27, 2012

    colleen south

    great article. when less people ride (and the louders advocates for helmets are often non-riders) because of the helmet laws, then the population becomes less active and therefore at great risk of health risks associated with obesity. The whole idea that we armour up with helmets and pretend we are cars, obeying their road rules, is a nonsense. Because we are cyclists, we need to avoid sharing roads where possible with high speed traffic by using footpaths where needed, by riding on the ‘wrong’ side of the road to see cars that aren’t seeing you before you collide. It should be our choice about helmets as small slower rides with caution should be permitted to feel the wind through our hair (that includes leg hairs, which feel lovely in the windflow). All deterrents to riding, the act of which helps unclog our streets, our air, and our arteries, should be avoided. So forget talk of registration to add to insult of helmet laws. That will just stop people riding until the only legal recreational activity is computer/tv generated. HELMETS OFF

  • Reply December 27, 2012


    I used to ride to/from work, almost all if it along the excellent cycle paths in Canberra.

    One day I found myself grumbling about the stupid helmet laws – why would I need a helmet to ride along safe paths?

    The next day I came off the bike on one of those cycle paths. Result wadi was knocked unconscious, smashed my glasses and scraped my face. Without the law, I would not have been wearing a helmet, and my two kids would have a dependent vegetable instead of an active father.

    The law overrides those situations where individual risk assessments are flawed (i.e. nearly all the time as humans are very poor at assessing risk) and keeps people safe until they have developed the ability to assess risk properly themselves – at which point they will be seen wearing a helmet 100% of the time.

    Pretty much all the ‘pro-choice’ arguments here seem to line up with the arguments against mandatory seatbelt use, or child seat laws.

  • Reply December 27, 2012

    Tom Ormond

    To Fi, the very first post, if your head is about to slam into part of the car in an accident, do you want a traumatic head injury?

    If you walk onto the road about to have hear head smashed into the windscreen of a car you did not see, do you want a traumatic head injury?

    If you are on a ladder, fall off, and about to crack your head, do you want a traumatic head injury?

    If you answer NO, then damn well wear a helmet during all these activities. For the record, head injuries from ALL THESE activities occur far more than from cycling. So stop the discriminate and allow people to choose. It’s only because cycling is such a minority that these do-gooders get away with it. Hey, it don’t affect them, so I’ll push my views onto others.

    The other issue is that helmet law is not helmet ban. A recent poll in WA said 83% of cyclists would still wear a helmet. I still would most of the time. From any law there are consequences. Most people just think “helmets are good”, therefore I support the law.

    The consequences being missed here are two simple questions: 1) Do you want a cyclist out with no helmet slammed with a $176 fine the same as a speeding motorist? That is the absurdity of the law. 2) Do you want cycling BANNED if a person chooses or cannot wear a helmet? That’s right, we are BANNING an activity that is actually healthy, all for the sake of our do-gooding nannyism.

    If cycling were dangerous and there were piles of dead cyclists on the roads then, yes, helmet law required. Truth is there’s no epidemic of deaths. There never was, even pre-law. It’s been around 8 to 10 a year in Victoria. Compare that to motor vehicle crashes, pedestrians, drownings, obesity, smoking, boozing, skin-cancer – all far more egregious ills on society – yet we don’t compel measures against them. Oh no, because that would affect most of us, and we can’t have our individual right there infringed. Therefore, don’t do it for the one activity of all that that is safe and healthy, and should be encouraged, not marginalised and persecuted with a vicious and draconian penalties.

    BTW, those that advocate helmets on busy roads, that’s a false security. Helmets are only rated to 20kph impacts. That’s why you never read anecdotes of “A car hit me and my helmet saved me”. As for that Cochrane review, 90% of the “injuries” they measured were superficial bumps and scrapes. Don’t trust a report that’s predicated on a reaching a specific finding.

  • Reply December 27, 2012

    Rocket Surgeon

    I’m a regular cyclist. I commute, road ride, mtb and cruise the beaches. I always wear a helmet.

    If you don’t wish to wear one, maybe that should be your choice. But I’d really like to know the answer to the question posed by the*sparrow, why don’t people want to wear helmets? Would the use of bikes really skyrocket if helmets weren’t compulsory?

    I know many regular cyclists. None complain about helmet laws.

  • Reply December 28, 2012


    I’m with you Wendy. I am opposed to the bike helmet law. My children and I have not worn them for many years and are able to avoid penalty because we are out of town and not under any watchful eyes. In our view riding a bike is pleasurable and practical and is in no way a dangerous undertaking. I wish we had the freedom to ride in town. I do not know anyone who likes wearing bike helmets and in fact some say the requirement to wear them stops them from riding altogether.

  • Reply December 28, 2012


    In the late 80’s, I campaigned for compulsory bike helmets. My stand was influenced by my work – I was an emergency nurse. One lovely sunny day, I treated a young boy, 16 years old, who had fallen from his bike and landed on his head – literally. The two things I found most difficult to deal with, and started me to campaign, where grey matter on my hands and arms (ie – his brain – literally) and his father could only identify the body from the cloths he wore, as his face and head were so misshapen.

  • Reply December 28, 2012


    Yip~ I know horror stories like that deaf/mute guy with one hand who lost his “good hand” to an incident with his bike and a power pole. His hands had been his means of communication. Such is the legacy of a former personal injuries lawyer. The only way this guy communicated was signing using his “good hand”. Such is the memory legacy of having been involved in personal injuries law etc..~ and powerless because there was no-one to blame. So,bring on a national disability insurance scheme, and meanwhile, better to bike ride , than not at all, as in get off our fat arses and have a go~even if you don’t wear a helmet. The last time I tried bike riding,on a relatively short course, a couple of years ago, with a helmet, I felt like I would die, and spent a couple of days on a verandah, overlooking the ocean,recovering, sipping wine.xx

  • Reply December 30, 2012

    PaulO from the getgo.

    Interesting how cycling in Australia is deemed more dangerous than any other country. Cycling in Australia only became more ‘dangerous’ since the introduction of compulsory helmets. Where have all the bike racks gone from schools? I, among hundreds of thousands of others, rode my bike to school daily (back in the days when it wasn’t ‘dangerous’). All the helmet law has achieved is labelling the simple joy of cycling as an extreme sport. Reading some of the comments here it sounds like one of the scariest pastimes and should be banned completely! Riding helmet free since I was 5… Then forced as an adult to put plastic on my head.

  • Reply December 31, 2012

    Tom Ormond

    Carmel, so why don’t you have sympathy for other victims of head trauma like peds and motorists? They are far more common than cyclists ever were? HYPOCRITE!

    I don’t like helmets because they are too damn hot, inconvenient and mostly unnecessary. I am more likely to crack my head carrying bike down stairs than from actual ride. So I am BANNED from much cycling. That’s right, BANNED!!! Is that the intent of the law?

  • Reply December 31, 2012

    Richard Powell

    Carmel, do you really believe that a styrofoam hat would provide protection to such a head injury?

    Seriously, if the injuries you described occurred even with a full face helmet & body armour it would have likely have had little protective benefit.

    I just read some fresh stats for causes of Australian deaths.

    Falling from ladders rates pretty high for a very specific activity. Perhaps it’s ripe for applying the MHL curse? We even have a celebrity poster boy survivor in Molly Meldrum to “prove” the benefit!

    Please apply yourself to this glaring legislative oversight.

  • Reply February 12, 2013

    Dick B

    What the pro-helmet nannies seem to conveniently overlook is the fact that at speeds above a brisk walk or jog, cycle helmets are ineffective.

  • […] Helmets Off and Let’s Ride […]

  • Reply March 9, 2013


    What IS the big deal about wearing a helmet?

    I grew up when there were no bike helmets, snow skied without one, faced fast bowling without a helmet, drove a car without a seat belt, didn’t wear sunscreen – but so what? Why not use the equipment that is available and can save your life or prevent you from becoming a vegetable for the remainder of it?

    This country needs better co-ordinated, more intelligent town and road planning which takes into consideration and encourages the use of bicycles, as well as better education of road users, including raising awareness of the rights of cyclists (and cyclists respecting the road rules also). I don’t think that discouraging people from wearing helmets is the answer.

  • […] Helmets Off and Let’s Ride […]

  • […] Helmets Off and Let’s Ride! […]

  • Reply January 14, 2014


    I’m pretty tired of hearing the knee jerk “Try looking at the vegetables in the ICU and then tell me helmets are a bad idea” response. They didn’t put themselves in the ICU, did they? Or “Oh my brain was saved by a helmet, how can you hate my brain so much that you want to go without one!”. You really are spineless and ignorant, bending over and taking the status quo of drivers that couldn’t give a toss as long as you don’t scratch their bumper on the way to the pavement. You have a culture where it’s normal to hate “fucking cyclists, get off the road!”

    I have a better idea, try hanging anyone who knocks over a cyclist because of dangerous driving, and we’ll see how the statistics change! I could cycle around wearing six inches of bubble wrap and a space hopper on my head, but there would still be an abundance of arseholes that think If I get hit by a steel box that can do 120 mph, that it must have been my fault. Australians, you have serious, serious issues with your priorities.

    Greetings from: A non-sweaty headed pommy bastard 😛

  • Reply March 25, 2014

    David V

    Thank you Wendy

  • Reply December 7, 2014


    Wearing a helmet for a bicycle ride is ridiculous…How ever did entire generations survive before AU gov’t decided we’re all dolts that need a freaking helmet?

    Hey! I’ve read of people who’ve fallen & injured themselves– while walking! Tripped over their own feet. Hmm…maybe we should wear a helmet while walking- but wait–> I’ve heard of people falling out of the top bunk, too!

    OMG! If we don’t wear our helmets 24/7– what will happen when the sky does fall!!!!!

    AU + mandatory helmets = Idiot gov’t dept’s justifying their jobs?? BINGO!

    PS: think about a sport that OUGHT to consider helmets, but doesn’t– and consider how many people “try” this sport & that FALLING IS EXPECTED—-> ice skating! Nope, no helmet indicated there, no sirree!

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