Calls For Bike Helmet Rules To Be Relaxed

Australia's largest cycling lobby has called for mandatory helmet laws to be relaxed so riders aren't forced to wear protective equipment in all locations.

Bicycle Network says all riders over the age of 17 should have the right to decide for themselves if they wear a helmet when riding off road.

It is currently compulsory for cyclists to wear a helmet when riding in all states and ACT -- but not in the Northern Territory -- and the Network is recommending these laws be relaxed.

"This debate isn’t if you should or shouldn’t wear a helmet," General Manager of Public Affairs for Bicycle Network Anthea Hargreaves told 10 daily.

"It’s about giving them the choice of whether they wear a helmet when they ride on a low risk road or park and giving people the chance of assess their own risk."

Cyclists are currently mandated by law to wear a helmet. Image: AAP.

Bicycle Network conducted a survey of 20,000 cyclists in August 2017 and found three in five riders wanted to choose when and where they wore a helmet. The Network is recommending relaxed laws be trialled over a five year period.

According to Hargreaves, having this choice will encourage more people to ride a bike in the first place.

"We know that if we manage the issues like this people might choose to ride more and it might become easier for people to make that choice," she said. 

"It’s a great alternative for transport, with the population growth and congestion we need people to get on bikes. It's an easy and cheap solution if people ride bikes."

Hargreaves said the response to the proposal has been "incredibly diverse, polarising and surprisingly emotional".

Bicycle Network says relaxing laws will drive more people to take-up cycling. Image: Getty Images.

Melbourne man Andrew Smeal rides to work each morning. He believes offering people a choice with helmets will drive more people to take-up the activity.

"I think it’s great. Anything that gets more people on bikes is a good thing," Smeal told 10 News First.

"Obviously people need to use common sense, but we don’t need to force people to wear protective equipment when it is not appropriate. The biggest risk to cyclists' safety is motor cars, so in situations when you aren’t exposed to that risk it should just be a healthy activity that people engage in."

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Fellow Melbourne cyclist Russel Coulson said he'd like to see the mandatory helmet laws stay.

"I’m not so sure because I’ve got kids and I want to encourage them to do the right thing, even as adults," Coulson told 10 News First.

"I’m on the fence but I’d prefer to make it mandatory myself.  I’ve had plenty of near misses… we are very aware of the dangers." 

Riding anywhere can be dangerous. Image: Getty Images.

Road cyclist and network engineer Allan Stones said the dangers of riding a bike need to be considered by motorists, cyclists and pedestrians collectively to make a difference to bike rider safety.

"I don’t think it should be legally mandated. I think you should have the right to choose and I do agree changing the law would get more people into cycling," Stones told 10 daily. 

He also said cities need cycling infrastructure to improve rider conditions.

"It will be much better when the cities get their infrastructure done ... cars still pull out without looking and it only takes a snap second for someone else to cause you a problem," Stones said. 

"Even riding around dedicated shared paths for cyclists and pedestrians, where cyclists are riding slow, pedestrians aren’t aware and they are zig-zagging between lanes and all of a sudden you have to slam on your breaks and you fall."

For more on this story watch 10 News First at 5pm. 

Featured Image: Getty Images.

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au