THE compulsory use of helmets has been put back up for debate by the country’s biggest cycling group, but the State Government says there are no plans to relax laws in WA.
The Bicycle Network recently surveyed 19,300 people, finding 41.7 per cent were keen to see the laws surrounding mandatory helmet laws remain as they currently stand.
A similar amount – 40.7 per cent – believed helmets should only be mandatory in certain circumstances including riding on roads, in races and for people under 18, while 17.6 per cent said helmet-use should never be enforced.
Bicycle Network chief executive Craig Richards said the survey was one element of a review into its position on helmets.
“In my time as CEO, I’ve copped it from both angles,” he said.
“I’ve had a spinning-eyed, helmet-less stranger jabbing me in the chest yelling ‘you’re ruining my life’.
“I’ve also been given a stern warning from high places that if I even consider reviewing helmet laws, Bicycle Network will no longer be seen as an organisation with credibility.”
Helmets must be worn at all times in all states bar the Northern Territory, with riders risking a $50 fine in WA by not complying.
Mr Richards said if Australia is to become the “nation of bike riders we all dream about” the policy had to be questioned and both sides of the argument heard.
“It’s for this reason that Bicycle Network has decided to review its position as a supporter of mandatory helmets,” he said.
“The fact we’re conducting a review is not pre-empting an outcome.
“We may conclude our current position is the best one or we may conclude it’s not.”
Any potential change is unlikely to be supported by the WA Government, with Road Safety Minister Michelle Roberts issuing a firm response.“There are no plans to relax helmet laws in this state,” she said.
She said “helmets are like seatbelts – they could save your life”.
“They may not look fashionable but if you fall off your bike you will be glad you were wearing one,” she said.
“Cyclists are among our most vulnerable road users and we need to do what we can to provide greater protection and reduce the number of serious injuries and cyclist deaths.”
With a member of the Melville Fremantle Cycling Club dying after crashing into a bus stopped in Melville in August, reportedly while not wearing a helmet, president Russell Miller said his view would not be changing.
“Essentially 82 per cent (of those who took the Bicycle Network survey) are saying people should wear a helmet most of the time,” he said.
“That’s telling the government (the law) is fine as it is.”
Mr Miller said he did not understand why there was any consideration being given to change.
“It’s not in the best interest of the cycling public,” he said.
Australian Medical Association WA president Omar Khorshid said any plans to remove mandatory helmet laws in Western Australia would be opposed by the health body.
“While bicycle helmets might seem unnecessary to some, the reality is they save lives,” Dr Khorshid said.
“There was a similar pushback when mandatory seatbelt laws were put in place however it is now second nature to anyone entering a motor vehicle to put on their seatbelt.
“Helmets are no different – it takes seconds to put on and saves lives.”
The survey also found 30.4 per cent of Australians would cycle more often if they were permitted to ride without a helmet, although almost all of those who currently wear the headgear would continue to do so.
A National Cycling Participation Survey earlier this year revealed cycling in WA was tracking above the national average.Dr Khorshid said talk that helmets could be holding people back from cycling was “baffling”.
“It is often argued that in countries such as the Netherlands, where bicycle helmets are not mandatory, head injuries related to accidents are not significantly higher,” he said.
“However, in a city where dedicated bike paths are still relatively sparse and cyclists are expected to share the road with other traffic, helmets should be an absolute must.”
The debate comes just days from the introduction of new safe passing laws in WA.
From Wednesday, drivers overtaking a cyclist must keep a 1m gap between their car and those on a bike while on a road with a speed limit up to 60km/h.
A 1.5m gap will be needed on roads with a speed limit over 60km/h.
Ms Roberts said the Government was working to make the activity safer, introducing the new law and allocating $129 million over the next four years to build 95km of new cycling paths and fill gaps in the network.
The Bicycle Network’s review is due in April.
Bicycle Network surveyed 19,347 people across Australia, finding:
41.7 per cent believe Australia’s mandatory helmet laws should remain as they stand.
40.7 per cent believe helmets should only be mandatory in certain circumstances
17.6 per cent of respondents believe helmets should never be mandatory.
30.4 per cent said they would ride more often if it wasn’t mandatory to wear a helmet.
In WA, 1260 people took the Bicycle Network’s online survey.
37 per cent said mandatory helmet laws should remain as they stand.
44 per cent said you should have to wear a helmet in certain circumstances
19 per cent said helmets should never be mandatory.
33 per cent said they would ride more often if it wasn’t mandatory to wear a helmet.