Trial relaxation of the mandatory bicycle helmet laws in Fremantle

It is amazing how controversial the proposed trial relaxation of the mandatory bicycle helmet laws in Fremantle has been the last few days. When by Adele and I raised the issue after many months of discussion I don’t think either of us expected such a strong response to the issue.

Both the West Australian and the Fremantle Herald ran prominent stories and it also ran on all of the commercial news stations. Here is the West article:

After wide examination of the evidence it seems to me that the benefits outweigh the costs. It is clear that more research would add clarity to this often divisive debate. A key advantage of having it as a trial in the geographically defined area of Freo is that it will also enable the State Government to collect more data and evidence on what are the best laws for balancing rider safety whilst increasing cycling numbers.

I would be interested to know what people think and whether a trial as outlined below would make you use your bike more in Fremantle?

For those wanting more detail this article is a good summary with references.

Here is our thinking in more detail too:

Trial Relaxation of the Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Laws

Building on the amendments the Northern Territory enacted in the 1990s it is proposed that there be a 2-5 year trial in the City of Fremantle based on the following principles:

1. bicycle helmet will be optional If you are over 18 years of age and cycling on a separated cycleway or mixed path

2. bicycle helmet will be optional If you are over 18 years of age and cycling on a road that is speed restricted to 50km/h or less


More choice in low risk environments

The trial is based on the principle that adults on bicycles could be treated as such and should be given the choice to wear a bicycle helmet, particularly on low risk, low speed roads and on footpaths and cycleways. Australia and NZ (along with a few cities in Canada) are the only countries in the world that have mandatory bicycle use

Encourage more cycling

When helmet laws were introduced in 1991, cycling dropped by 40 per cent in Australia. It is interesting to note that the Northern Territory, where helmet rules are more relaxed, has a bicycle mode share of 4.2% compared to less than 2% nationally, while 31% of their bicycle users are women, compared to less than 20% nationally.

Safety in numbers

Northern Territory safety record shows they have paid no penalty for this amendment instead the NT has a lower injury rate of cyclists per head of population.

One of the most important safety issues for cycling is the number of people cycling. Numerous studies from around the world have shown a strong inverse relationship between the amount of people cycling and the risk of cycling. Put simple, by doubling the number of people cycling, cycling becomes 30% to 50% safer as fewer people are driving and motorists adapt their behaviour to the increased number of cyclists

Enables Bike Share Schemes

The public bicycle hire schemes in both Melbourne and Brisbane alternative recommendation not doing as well as similar schemes around the world One of the most common publicly raised concerns about the bike hire bikes is the requirement to wear a bicycle helmet.

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

28 Responses to Trial relaxation of the mandatory bicycle helmet laws in Fremantle

  1. Kell Barnes says:

    Dear Mr Pettitt,
    I’m quite concerned about, not just your suggestion to relax the mandatory bicycle helmet laws, but what it means. It would put my mind at considerable ease if you could ensure that those cyclists who sustain a considerable brain injury from an accident while cycling helmet-less, that would have been completely avoided if a safety helmet was worn, are ineligible for government funded ongoing health maintenance. Fair is fair, after all.

    • Bill2 says:

      Why not apply that same logic to drivers and pedestrians who fail to use a helmet too. “Fair is fair, after all”.

      In fact, lets’ include drivers who are careless, drink drive, use a mobile, don’t use a safety belt, or were at fault in any way. And let’s make them financially liable for all the damage they inflict – to innocent families and to property.

      But now the small-brained people face a real conundrum; cyclist injuries are largely caused by careless drivers. So, should driver responsibility be discussed?

    • Paradoxically, more brain injuries will be avoided by repealing helmet laws than retaining them. This is because most serious brain injuries result from collisions with motor vehicles, often because the driver is not looking out for cyclists.

      If helmet laws are repealed, more people will cycle and drivers will expect to see cyclists, so there will be fewer collisions and fewer serious brain injuries.

      One of my saddest cycling experiences was knowing someone whose son died of a brain injury. His helmet didn’t save him – cycle helmets are so flimsy they can’t even protect in low speed collisions with vehicles.

      Why is it so hard to understand that it’s far cheaper for our health system to encourage more cycling and so reduce brain damage from heart attacks and strokes?

      Why is it so hard to understand that it’s cheaper for our health system to prevent brain damage by reducing car/bike collisions by increasing safety in numbers, instead of the status quo, where the risk is higher because vehicle drivers forget to look out for cyclists, so there are more collisions and more brain injuries because flimsy cycle helmets offer very limited protection when collisions do occur?

  2. Bill says:

    Let the research be the guide, and it sounds like it points towards no helmets. Politics is no way to make decisions! hehe

    Good on Freo for being the avant-guard in this matter!

    • Bill2 says:

      Clarification: it’s not about no helmets, it’s about helmet choice. Some can and should always wear helmets, e.g. members of Cycling Australia and other such sports cyclists.

  3. Bill says:

    Let the mayor & Adele visit Shenton Park rehab.then ask if they still seek the change to the law that saves lives

    • Bill2 says:

      Why is there no such helmet law for drivers? There is a high rate of head injury for drivers. Also, why are drivers so protected from their consequences of their carnage? The cost to society of that is enormous, let’s go for the big, clear issues before going for the small and highly contested ones.

  4. Kathy Francis says:

    Congratulations on your courageous stand on bicycle helmets. There are many people throughout Australia who are waiting for a Politician to show some leadership on this issue. It is now widely recognised that the Mandatory Helmet Laws have been a failure . However, it is hard to know the way forward. You have suggested a really moderate and feasible proposal and I wish you all the best with getting it taken up. If the trial goes ahead I promise you we will be holidaying in Fremantle to take advantage of the improved cycling conditions.
    Be prepared for some strong and vocal responses.

    Cheers and well done.

    Kathy Francis

  5. hasbean says:

    Yes please.

  6. Sean Vincent says:

    As a Freo-boy living and working in Copenhagen, enjoying the great life of riding helmet free every single day around the city (yes, the infrastructure is far more mature and people are well adjusted to it), I think this is a great idea.

    Provided the infrastructure continues to be developed, and the laws are kept within central Fremantle, this will no doubt get more people out of their cars and onto their bikes.

  7. Maryse says:

    I cannot believe that anybody would propose this change. I lost my father in law in an accident riding his bike to work (at the time without helmet as there was no compulsory law), he was an experienced cyclist, doctor and father of 4. His head hit the ground, he went in a coma and died. Recently my collegue had a similar accident riding to work, she broke her leg and her helmet was split but not her head! She is a mother, happy to be able to go back to work and look after her family. You might be thinking that “everybody can chose to wear one or not” ? Really ? An adult may be … what about a kid that get laughed at if he wears his helmet? Does he really have a choice? My other friend had a beautiful smart 9 year old until his head hit the ground while doing skateboarding, not wearing his helmet like Mum told him because his friends thought it was “not cool”. Now he has learning difficulties and nobody knows if he will ever recover. How can you talk about “looking at stats?” How many accident will mean to get back to compulsory helmet again? How many families destroyed? You want more people cycling in Freo? Get them proper bike paths all the way to and within Freo. How can you be safe cycling on the capuccino strip with narrow lanes and a bus passing you? With or without helmet it’s dangerous. And, to makeit even better, make Freo car free, that will definitively help the environment :))

    • Bill2 says:

      Sorry to hear about your FIL. That’s truly a loss to your family and society. However, we should not decide general policies on individual cases, especially when they are statistical outliers. (We could save many more lives by banning cars altogether – statistically they are dangerous in the extreme). Many people can and should continue to wear helmets.

      On the other hand, there is irrevocable evidence showing that relaxing the helmet laws will mean a saving of lives through avoidance of longer-term health issues. That news is just not so sensationalist.

      As for kids – you may be right. However, this trial relaxation doesn’t apply to under 18’s.

      Increased cycling is correlated with a reduction in injury rates and severity. Check out

      There should be a greater focus on the responsibility of drivers in causing cycling injuries; for example Danish-style laws which make drivers responsible by default, unless shown otherwise.

  8. Pingback: Fremantle Council proposes a trial of helmet-free cycling | The Urbanist

  9. There is no doubt this is an issue that brings out strong and mostly polarized responses.

    I thought this piece in Crikey was a good summary of the debate

    If and when we get a meeting with the minister on this I will provide an update
    cheers, Brad

  10. Alan Todd says:

    Hi Brad,
    I meant to contact you over a year ago when Mike Rubbo did an interview with you, and you first suggested helmet laws might be an impediment to a public bike share in Freo. Well, better late than never. I totally support your modest move to reform helmet laws. Australia would have to have one of the most fearful and infantile attitudes to cycling in the world. Well done for standing up to this, and seeing that the way forward for civilising urban space is to get people using bikes to get around – ordinary people who are totally turned off by our present cycling culture which compels us to wear silly noddy helmets to get on a bike.

    Don’t be discouraged by the “helmet saved my life” and “visit the neuro surgery wards” scaremongering. I’ve heard it all before. Facts are that the safest places to cycle in the world have the lowest usage of helmets. Even in traffic crazy places like Paris, public bike share works, is used by ordinary people, and is much much safer than the sort of competetive helmeted hoon riding that passes for normal in Australia. Quite simply, compelling people to wear helmets has made cycling less safe.

    Good luck. If you are successful, Perth will definitely be my next destination for a holiday in Australia. Meanwhile, I’m saving my pennies for a trip overseas to somewhere I can ride without the moronic harassment I suffer from the police in Victoria.

    • Bill2 says:

      +1 … Agree with Alan – “infantile” is the key word. Congratulations to Brad for his intelligent & courageous stand.

      However, please don’t demonize the lycra boys; as with drivers & all segments of society, yes, there are bad eggs. They are in some senses a distinct set, but overall there’s mutual benefit to both camps (in fact all road users) in promoting cycling.

  11. An interesting article in the Age today on this:

    Drop speeds, ditch helmets, cycling experts say
    Adam Carey
    May 29, 2012 – 10:56AM

    The speed limit on city streets should be dropped to 30 km/h and helmet laws relaxed if Melbourne is to become a true city for bikes, European cycling experts say.

    Melbourne City Council will vote tonight on whether to endorse a strategy to boost bike use to 15 per cent of vehicles that enter the city by 2016, a proportion that would bring Melbourne in line with some celebrated bike cities in Europe.

    At the most recent count earlier this year, bikes made up 11 per cent of vehicles that entered the city centre during the morning peak. The council’s draft bicycle plan for 2012 to 2016 seeks to lift that figure by 50 per cent, by building a safer environment for cyclists, particularly novice riders. It will spend more than $5 million next year on new bike lanes.

    “A significant investment in time and resources is required to encourage more people to ride a bicycle. They need to feel legitimate, safe and supported,” the draft plan states. “There has been a comprehensive effort to make Melbourne a bicycle-friendly city, however work is needed if cycling is to become a more dominant mode of travel within the municipality.”

    The 15 per cent target the draft plan is aiming for is the same one that has recently been reached in Berlin, and The Age spoke to European cycling groups about how the city reached that mark.

    They said that good bike lanes, although crucial, were only part of the formula for a bicycle-friendly city.
    Bike use has risen from just 5 per cent of the German capital’s population in 1990 to today’s levels, where bikes outnumber cars in some neighbourhoods. Remarkably, the big leap has occurred with a corresponding 38 per cent drop in the cyclist injury rate, according to the Brussels-based European Cycling Federation.

    Federation spokesman Julian Ferguson said the German capital has invested in a vast 650-kilometre network of separated bike lanes and 190 kilometres of off-road lanes, and had set a 30 km/h speed limit elsewhere.

    “I don’t think Melbourne has been quite as politically brave in getting traffic to slow down,” said Mr Ferguson, who is a former Melburnian. “In any case in Europe, the magic formula for more cyclists tends to be: slow cars down to 30 km/h and where speeds are above this, you need to have separate, segregated paths.”
    A review of Victorian speed limits is now under way in an effort to simplify them and potentially lower them in some places.
    Another element of Berlin’s cycling culture, which is perhaps unlikely to be adopted here, is the absence of helmet laws. Only a minority of cyclists in the city opt for protective head gear and the city has no plans to force them to do so.
    “Most traffic experts in Germany say mandatory helmet laws will bring no positive effects because the use of bicycles will decrease and for this we always have the example of Australia, because this is what happened there,” said German Cycling Association spokesman Rene Filipek, citing statistics that indicated a large drop in bike use after helmets were made compulsory in 1990.

    Mr Filipek said the sheer number of bikes on Berlin’s streets had made the city safer for cyclists, because drivers had become better at avoiding them. But he said that the surge in riders had also created new conflict with pedestrians, due to the illegal but widespread habit of riding on the footpath.

    “There are not too many accidents but the feeling of security for pedestrians suffers from cyclists on the sidewalk. It’s always a topic in the news,” he said.

    • Bill2 says:

      1. Educate drivers to avoid harassing & endangering cyclists.
      2. Educate cyclists to avoid harassing & endangering pedestrians.
      3. Continue to evolve segregated cycleways, both tactically and strategically.

  12. To Brad Pettitt and followers,

    Just letting you all know that since this Blog story was written a Campaign has been commenced to reform Mandatory Helmet Legislation throughout Australia and New Zealand. The Campaign can be viewed at the new website :

    On the home page of the website is a petition which can be signed anonymously or to list your name. After filling in your details your email will be confirmed and your registration added to our petition when you click on the link in the email.

    We would appreciate your support in this initiative and hope that you can pass it on to friends.

    Thank you

  13. NeilA says:

    Thank heavens for some commonsense on mandatory helmets for cyclists. This discriminatory and counter-productive law has held back cycling in this country for far too long. The sooner the law is reformed nationwide along the lines proposed in Fremantle the better and safer it will be for cyclists and the more cyclists there will be. Congratulations on leading the country, Fremantle!

  14. steve says:

    The Bike Helmet Law’s should be repealed they are repressive, totally Ineffective and counter-productive in almost every way. Mind you any improvement on the present situation is welcome. Most countries including the UK have no bicycle helmet laws and the few states of the USA or limited other countries which have any laws are limited to children for example under 13’s in Japan.
    Visit the well researched website below for more about the issue.

  15. Fred says:

    It’s just a stupid law.

  16. Pingback: Biking Legal: Busting some myths | Bike Dr

  17. wayne holmes says:

    Yes we have to do it .choice thats all is needed. Wear one if u feel unsafe. Not if you are.

  18. wayne holmes says:

    Bill2.mate your a legend .spot on .i agrre fully.kell barnes obviously dosent enjoy freedom of choice.riding in a park on the beach or gentle sloping plains not hurting anyone.looking over your shoulder for the helmet police.thx mate

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