Cycling lobby group calls for helmets to be made optional
THE country's biggest cycling lobby group is recommending bicycle helmets be made optional for adults when riding off-road and on footpaths.
The Bicycle Network has proposed a five-year trial of the plan. It follows a survey it conducted with 20,000 bike riders where 60 per cent said it was time for a change and one in three said they would be out riding more if helmets weren't mandatory.
The lobby group's chief executive Craig Richards told Channel 9's Today show that the mandatory helmet laws, which came into effect in 1990, needed to be reviewed.
"We have seen the Census come out and bike riding numbers are not going up and bike riding fatalities are not going down as well," Mr Richards said.
"We need to look at everything regarding bike riding and mandatory laws is something that bike riders wanted to have a look at.
"The rest of the world don't have full mandatory helmet laws. We said it is time to have a very careful look at this particular law."
He said 80 per cent of the time when there is a bike accident, it is the fault of the person driving a car.
"That is why we are saying as a first step let's have a look at places where bikes aren't interacting with vehicles … on our bike paths and footpaths," Mr Richards said.
"When I am going down to the beach or pop to the shop or a pedal on a Sunday on a bike path - we can assess our own risk and decide in those low-risk situations whether I should wear a helmet or shouldn't wear a helmet," Mr Richards said.
Bicycle SA and Freestyle Cyclists have backed the idea of a five-year trial.
Bike SA chief executive Christian Haag told Adelaide Now his organisation also was surveying members about the issue and any changes during the trial would have to take account of local law differences.
"Ultimately, our objective is to see more South Australians riding and mandatory helmet requirements may inhibit that outcome - hence our survey work,'' he said.
Freestyle Cyclists SA spokesman Sundance Bilson-Thompson said it is long overdue in Australia for recognition that riding a bicycle is safe, not an extreme sport.
"A trial will really kick this issue along. The total solution is that roads also be made safe, and when you do that you don't need to mandate safety equipment,' Ms Bilson-Thompson told the publication.
The Bicycle Network's also revealed bike deaths in the 1990s fell when the laws were introduced but the drop was in line with the overall road fatalities trend.
Victoria passed the world's first mandatory bicycle helmet laws on July 1, 1990. Other states and territories, except the Northern Territory, followed during the 1990s.
But the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) opposes any relaxation of mandatory helmet laws.
"Overwhelming statistics show a reduction in head injuries by 40 per cent in Victoria after the introduction of helmet legislation in the early 1990s. Helmet use is associated with a reduced risk of head injury in bicycle collisions with motor vehicles up to 74 per cent," said professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld.
Professor Rosenfeld, senior neurosurgeon at the Department of Neurosurgery, Alfred Hospital said that relaxing the legislation would be a backward step.
"Everyone who rides bikes deserves the best protection from injury. This includes helmets and applies to all ages and all situations. RACS will continue to strongly support the compulsory wearing of bicycle helmets based on medical and scientific evidence."
Dr John Crozier, chairman of the RACS Trauma Committee said accidents can happen anywhere, and to anyone.
"The risk is always higher when not wearing a helmet, no matter how old you are or where you choose to ride. Assuming you will not have an accident just because you are older, or because you have chosen a designated bike path, does not mean your ride will be free of an incident," Dr Crozier said.
"Each year, around 40 cyclists die on Australian roads and around 4800 are hospitalised. If helmet laws are relaxed we could see this figure increase.
"Head injuries are a serious health issue for individuals, their families and the community, and often have long-lasting effects on those who do recover.
"A proposal like this one only emphasises the need for better education in the area of the impact of trauma, and that more needs to be done to recognise and accept the risk of not wearing helmets."