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The history of bike helmets in Australia: do they save lives?

6 minute read

Motor vehicle accident

Some Australians remember when mandatory bicycle helmets were first introduced in their state. Others have grown up with them and can’t remember a time when it wasn’t compulsory to wear one. To the second group, wearing a bicycle helmet might seem like a simple matter of common sense. But what does the research say? Do bike helmets save lives like conventional wisdom claims?

Australian bike helmet statistics

A major study of bicycle helmets from around the world showed that they reduced the risk of a serious head injury by nearly 70%. Australian statisticians Jake Olivier and Prudence Creighton drew on data from more than 40 different studies and 64,000 cyclists worldwide.

They found cyclists who wear helmets reduce their risk of dying from a head injury by 65% and that there is no correlation between helmet usage and neck injuries.

Choosing the right helmet

Picking the right helmet is vital – if it’s uncomfortable you’re less likely to enjoy your ride. When picking a helmet, make sure it fits comfortably yet firmly on your head and can’t be tilted in any direction. Ensure that there is no slack when you fasten the straps.

You should check the helmet follows the accreditation standards from the Joint Accreditation of Australia and New Zealand: AS/NZS2063. If the helmet was manufactured after 2012, there should be a symbol showing this. Australian stores by law must not sell helmets which don’t meet the accreditation. Ensure when buying helmets from overseas they meet Australian certification, otherwise you could be risking your heath.

Bike helmet laws in Australia

Victoria was the first state to introduce mandatory helmet laws in 1990, followed by the remaining states and territories. Helmet laws exemptions vary slightly between jurisdictions.

Exemptions to Australian bike helmet laws

All Australian states and territories allow exemptions to mandatory helmet wear for religious reasons, generally when observers must wear religious headdress, such as Sikhs. Medical exemptions are also allowed in some jurisdictions - you will need a doctor’s certificate and may need to apply to your state or territory’s Department of Transport.

The Northern Territory only requires riders over the age of 17 to wear helmets when on the road – when riding on footpaths or in a public space, helmets aren’t required. It is the only jurisdiction in Australia with such an exemption.

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