Helmet wearing is presenly compulsory for all cyclists in Australia, but that could soon change in and around the capital, Canberra.
A new road safety plan is being launched in the Australian Capital Territory and one of the proposals is for riders to be allowed to cycle without wearing a helmet in “parks, town centres and other low-speed environments such as shared zones and university precincts”, reports ABC News.
The aim is to increase participation in cycling and the obligatory use of helmets is seen as a barrier to this aim. In the UK, Olympian and cycle campaigner Chris Boardman has spoken about how the helmet debate is used to divert attention from the real issues surrounding participation and investment in everyday cycling.
Shane Rattenbury, ACT Road Safety Minister, who presented the plan said: “There is clear evidence that wearing bicycle helmets does reduce the rate of head injuries.
“There’s also evidence that it can reduce the number of people who cycle.”
The leader of local cycle campaign group Pedal Power ACT, John Armstrong, welcomed the review of compulsory helmet use, but wasn’t completely in favour of helmets being made entirely non-compulsory.
“The fact that adults could choose to wear their helmets is not a bad thing. Certainly in the Northern Territory they are actually engaging in a trial right now, to allow adults to choose to wear their helmets on enclosed paths,” he said.
“The jury’s out as to whether in fact the introduction of non-compulsory helmet laws would in fact encourage more people [to cycle].
“It’s highly likely to do so, given the information that we do have. But here in the ACT and Australia-wide, we really do need to analyse it.”
Tougher penalties for drivers
Away from cycling helmets, the Canberra road safety plan also aims to tackle motoring offences. There will be higher penalties for drivers caught texting at the wheel and learners will be banned from using hands-free devices whilst driving.
These plans are to be made law, but there are proposals that could go even further. A reduction in the number of penalty points each driver can receive is to be considered, as is an expansion of lower speed limit zones, and the possibility of automatic licence suspensions for serious offences.