Mandatory bicycle helmets

I usually wear my bike helmet when I go for a ride because its the law and because I have generally accepted the view that it is good for my wellbeing. However that view is flawed according to this website:-

Perhaps that lump of plastic on my head is making me a more dangereous cyclist. And maybe compulsor helmet laws are causing us to exercise less. Given the obesity crisis in Australian (not to mention all the CO2 created when we drive instead of riding) then perhaps it is time to make bicycle helmets illegal. 😉

30 thoughts on “Mandatory bicycle helmets

  1. My advice is, ride your bicycle without a helmet but don’t carry identification. In the unlikely event you get stopped by the cops, don’t give your name or other details due to “catatonia” (ie don’t refuse, just be unable to say it).

    They’ll have to go to a great deal of trouble to charge you and you’ll get off with a warning. Even if prosecuted, the magistrate will toss it out. Most importantly, those particular cops will never bother bike riders again.

    Compulsory bicycle helmets are the ultimate nanny state obscenity.

  2. Yes, I agree.

    Its because I have to wear one, that makes me want to ride LESS.

    But who wants to ride in car crazy Australia? You are takign your life into your hands.

    Therefore you need a helmet.

    But because I hate helmets, I won’t cycle.

    Anyway, you need to be nuts to ride in car crazy Australia…

    and on and on it goes.

  3. So if I ride to the shops without a helmet I can’t take the credit card. How will I pay for lunch?

  4. Terje, use m.o.n.e.y. This is usually paper with coloured ink and numbers, or metallic discs. I find that carrying a few hundred-dollar bills is good enough for all but the priciest restaurants.

  5. I’ve seen that research too. You need consider:

    1) Its old data. No-one uses soft-tops anymore (they all have the plastic coating). So the problem of helmets supposedly “sticking” is no longer.
    2) Correlation vs. causation
    3) It was released at the time helmets became compulsary, so some people stoppeed riding then, which is not surprising.
    4) Excellent and very light helmets are cheap these days — you can pick up something fine for less than $100. THat’s less than 10 years ago.
    5) I need a visor anyway to keep the sum from my eyes, and my helmet doesn’t weigh a whole lot more than a hat anyway (and ventilation is better)
    6) Summing up number of injuries is a stupid measure. I’d rather have a body injury than a head injury any day of the week.
    7) Australian car drivers are more dangerous than many places of the world — especially Sydney.
    8) The data is pretty flimsy — I’d want to see more than one study from Perth.

    I’m biased, I cycle every day, and have worked occasionaly in places where people have head injuries (you definitely don’t want one). I wouldn’t throw my helmet out yet, and I still wear mine in places I work where I don’t have to wear it (France, for example). Of course it depends on where and on how fast you are riding. If you are just going down a dirt trail on a mountain bike, or on a path for cyclists, thats obviously a different story to riding down Epping road. Similarly, riding to work in the Netherlands with a thousand other cycles at 15ks per hour is nothing like riding to work in Australia.

  6. Definitely correlation not causation if you ask me.
    The Netherlands probably just has good bike paths, and a better cycling culture. (Also the whole country is flat). Australia is massive too, we can’t cycle everywhere, and perhaps Australians are a little lazy – apparently over 50% of people are officially fatty boombahs these days (classed as overweight or obese).

    While I’m against mandatory helmet laws, I don’t think people avoid cycling because of them, to any large degree.

    However it does suggest that helmets are a minor consideration in cycling safety, and that other factors are of more importance. – So this is another example of the state focusing on the largely insignificant – a definite nanny state problem.

    I disagree with those saying Australian car drivers are more dangerous. I don’t see why that would be. My overseas relatives always complain about how slow Australians drive! – But maybe that’s just my family.

    One last point – Do you think a hypothetical private road builder would provide cycling lanes if cyclists didn’t pay for them? Perhaps cyclists would have to be charged, but then again bicycles don’t damage the road like cars and trucks.
    I imagine a private road builder would still want to add bicycle lanes to their roads to look good in the public eye, especially in these days of environmentality.

  7. I rarely ride at speed or in heavy traffic. Is there any reason we don’t have to wear a helmet when running?

  8. As both a push bike rider & motorcyclist, I don’t see helmet laws defining a nanny state.

    There are numerous differences in the road culture of the two countries. The Netherlands has a rather established cyclist culture, whereas Australia does not. I can tell you, the percentage of drivers that are either unaware or just don’t care that two wheels share the road is scary.

    The other false comparison was to Sydney. A flat state like the netherlands vs. the very unflat Sydney? I wouldn’t ride a pushbike in Sydney either, and it has nothing to do with helmet laws. Melbourne would be a better comparison. It’s flatter AND bike lanes.

    Still, you have to wonder. If a lightweight foam helmet is going to stop someone riding a pushbike, then I’d argue they don’t really want to & would find some other reason if the helmet laws were revoked.


  9. Even as a minimalist-libertarian, I believe that the owners of public roads, the ‘public’, (meaning everyone else) have a right to dictate user conditions, so I have no hassle with laws about helmets. How can anyone object? After all, it’s ‘For the Kiddies!’

  10. As a member of the public, I think I should be able to engage in activities that harm no one else on public property (i.e set user rules that only adversely affect me).

    No one should assess the risk for an adult except for them, unless it can hurt other people. Speed limits are tolerable if they are reasonable. Forcing people to use helmets is no different to forcing people to use condoms.

    This is tip of the iceberg stuff. Some people want to ban extreme sports, martial arts and boxing. Martial arts weapons that are difficult to use (nunchuku, sai, tonfa, kama (sickle)) are already banned even though most thugs would be simply better off with a tyre lever…interestingly enough a stick which is considered to be a Bo (i.e long martial arts stick) is considered dangerous enough to require the same kind of firearm cabinet as a category A (rimfire) rifle. This is just aburd.

    In the tradition of many Chinese and Korean martial arts, I suggest we ban hoes and walking canes as adepts can engage in rather nasty techniques. It’s for the kiddies.

  11. The suggestion from the stats is that they do more harm than good. I don’t buy that, personally.

    Of course, in principle I believe people should be able to do whatever they want as long as they aren’t hurting others/putting others at risk. That said, I can’t say it’s an issue I consider worth fighting over. The only time I think they really go overboard with it, is when cops try to antagonise people at bikie funerals (who don’t wear helmets at funerals as mark of respect).

  12. If it’s for the kiddies, then make the rule only apply for people under 18.

    If the government owns the road then they should be able to set the rules. But they shouldn’t enforce their rules on private property, and they should ultimatley be trying to privatise the roads. 🙂

  13. I didn’t say government, I said ‘public’, because I think that everyone who chooses to be a citizen should be able to vote directly on all issues.
    As for age limits, if an over-18 had an accident, and didn’t wear a helmet, and an under-18 saw this, then the trauma to the under-18 would be so great, they’d be in counselling for the rest of their lives! (And the over18 may be in difficulty as well!)

  14. For the kiddies? I thought it was the role of parents, not government to set rules that only apply to children?

    Personally I think the important correlation is the chance of injury compared to number of cyclists. When it comes to safety nothing beats experience, that goes to all tools from hammers to bikes to guns.

    Helmets prevent more severe injuries but potentially make Australian kids especially less bike-friendly, which in turn leads to less experienced bikers. Loose causation perhaps? Helmets need to be seen as smart and cool. Much as smokers are uncool. But government shouldn’t be involved- anything illegal is automatically more cool to teens especially.

    Helmets still save lives but individuals and parents should be responsible for ensuring they are worn.

  15. I wouldn’t go with the “coolness” argument but the offsetting behaviour argument.

    I think the optimal solution for activities without externalities is to allow people to choose the level of “safety” they wish to “use”.

    In activities where are others are concerned, a cost-benefits test should be applied to see whether there is a net loss or gain.

  16. The flaw in the argument for mandatory bicycle helmets is that they simply don’t work.

    After 18 years of compulsion, there is plenty of evidence to show that helmets are ineffective against anything that goes beyond a soft tissue injury.

    Moreover, they tend to aggravate the most dangerous type of injury – that caused by rotational forces.

    It’s a little known fact that for a bike helmet to offer even the very limited protection it is capable of offering, it must be of the correct size, fitted properly and not too old, as polystyrene tends to become fragile with age. One just needs to look at what helmets many people use and how they were them to see that the whole legislation is a total farce. This fact has not escaped the attention of other countries’ lawmakers and is the reason why there is no nation-wide helmet legislation applicable in any other developed country outside of Australia/NZ.

    For anyone interested in the topic, I recommend you visit the excellent international resource of
    It gives all sides of the story, with plenty of references.

  17. BTW, I am amazed that there are so many people at a libertarian blog who are prepared to support laws as ridiculous – and patently ineffective – as bike helmets.

  18. In terms of ridiculousness, the WA police send (or at least did) bicycle cops over to Rottnest Island, a resort island off the coast of Perth that is almost completely devoid of cars except for emergency services and maintenance vehicles, to enforce the helmet law.

    There seems to be a lot of speculation about whether bike helmet laws discourage cycling, and the response seems to be an appeal to gut feeling, rather than imperical evidence. This is a revealed preference situation, the only way to know is to compare the number of bike riders actually riding before and after the laws came into being.

    From a libertarian persepctive, road owners would be perfectly able to dictate conditions on road users, and the state as road owner is within its rights. What is the position of traffic laws application to private roads? If the helmet laws don’t apply to private roads, then all we need do is press for privatisation of the roads.

  19. Brendan,

    I wouldn’t advocate privatisation of the suburban streets that I ride on. I’m okay with private roads in private estates maintained by a body corporate but in established suburbs I’m happy enough to have local government undertake the same function. The solution is to repeal the helmet laws.

  20. Terje,

    At a state level I’d agree, but if the local government own the streets, then I can’t see any problem with the council requiring mandatory bike helmets for road users. It might be irrational to try to enforce such a law, but it is also the owner’s perogative to enforce whatever rules they want on their property.

  21. Brendan – making helmet laws a local government decision would be significant progress in my view. I think most laws should be local. Although my more pragmatic approach to federalism is to increase the number of states (thus making them more local). We could make a start by spliting NSW in three.

  22. How would you split NSW?

    I prefer a new kind of Federalism that breaks down places to a shire level, and lets them form States as they please, or they can go it alone. The shires that go alone get “regional” status and the new states can choose state (state/local) or regiona; (state & local amalgamated) style Governance.

  23. I like the concept of city states and countys, with minimal state and federal government, much like the US used to be.

  24. Terje – road rules made at a local level sounds like a recipe for total confusion. how would you know when you were leaving one area for another? just doesn’t sound practical.

  25. pommy,

    It would depend to some extent on how big an area local government covers. If NSW was split in three and each region had it’s own road rules it would not be such an issue. And when I hire a car in NZ the USA or the UK the transition to different rules is not such a burden (although changing side in the US takes a little focus as does the right turn rule in NZ). If anything it makes you drive more cautiously.

    However your point has merit which is why there is always tention between centralisation and decentralisation. We deal with it in regards to many road rules by having a centralised framework at the state level with local determination of selected parameters and inter-state dialogue.

    I’d be happy enough if removal of helmet mandates for bicycles was a centralised initiative. Or if it was decided on empiracal evidence as implied by John Bayley with individual liberty being the default option if the evidence is inconclusive.

  26. Brendan Halfweeg says:

    “There seems to be a lot of speculation about whether bike helmet laws discourage cycling, and the response seems to be an appeal to gut feeling, rather than imperical evidence. This is a revealed preference situation, the only way to know is to compare the number of bike riders actually riding before and after the laws came into being.”

    This has in fact been done, Brendan – I am aware of such statistics being collected in Victoria and WA before and after the law was implemented. Cyclists were observed and counted at several check points/occasions.

    Additionally, other countries where helmet laws for children were implemented, in many cases did collect similar information.

    The results were the same in all instances. Compulsory bike helmets reduce cycling participation.

    Do have a browse through the site I reference above – you will find peer-reviewed statistical work there on this topic.

  27. Hi
    Regards the evidence that mandatory bicycle helmets deter people from cycling Australia has several very good examples of this effect within it’.
    In the Northern Territiry adults can cycle legally without a helmet.
    darwin helmet free zone

    Their safety record is also better then the rest of australia, and 3X as many people ride !.

    Turns out wearing a foam helmet is little more effective at saving you in an accident than wearing a good luck bracelet. Anyone who wants to put their helmet to the test will be suprised at just how little protection they offer.

    Do not worship false idols the bible wisely states, and here we are forced by law to worship bicycle helmets like some omnipotent idol of bicycle safety. I say trust in god and trust in your common sense, the last thing you should ever trust to save you is a bicycle helmet. Anyone who thinks themselves or their kin safe for just wearing a bicycle helmet had better hope their false beliefs are never put to the test.

    The liberterian principle of not punnishing victimless crimes here
    Goto the LDP (Liberal D
    emocratic Party) policy section titled victimless crimes.

    Actually makes far more sense than it first appears.

Comments are closed.