On the 31st of October, Bicycle Network released a revised policy position on mandatory helmet legislation to recommend that people over the age of 17 should be allowed to ride without a helmet when on a footpath or bike path. Helmet legislation has been debated for over 30 years since it was introduced in the 1990’s. WestCycle’s position on helmets remains unchanged and we support the existing legislation.
Whilst there are arguments for and against the use of helmets we would rather focus the debate on measures that we know will make riding a bike safer. As it currently stands it’s a legal requirement to wear a helmet in Western Australia and we strongly urge all bike riders to obey the road rules. It is often cited that other countries don’t have mandatory legislation but this is not a fair comparison. The infrastructure and community acceptance of people on bikes in places such as the Netherlands cannot be compared to those in Western Australia and we, therefore, must make decisions based on our own circumstances.
We appreciate and understand that there will be strong opinions on all sides of this topic, and we respect and listen to those opinions in forming a balanced view. We understand that there are a vast array of rider types, all with varying risk profiles – it’s not dissimilar to saying a Formula One driver has a different risk profile to a driver on a residential street. Yet having two set’s of rules creates too much grey area and moves the focus of the conversation from what we believe are the priorities.
We recently made a submission to the Western Australia Select Committee on Personal Choice and Community Safety. In that submission, we acknowledged that there are both micro and macro impacts of helmet legislation. It is argued that by relaxing the laws it will promote more people to ride which will, in turn, create a healthier community and reduce the financial burden on our health system. On an individual or micro level though research suggests that helmets save lives and prevent serious injuries. Over the last few decades, there has been a dramatic decrease in motor vehicle deaths and serious injuries. The same cannot be said for bike riders and safety needs to be the number one priority if we are to increase the number of people on bikes.
We applaud Bicycle Network for reviewing their position and the process they went through to get to a new view. The Board of WestCycle have regularly reviewed our position within the Western Australian context and will do so again with any new information from Bicycle Network’s research. We ourselves have done extensive research into the issue and our position currently remains unchanged. The discussion around abolishing regulations have the potential to take oxygen out of the progress we are making on infrastructure investment, participation and education and it’s these advancements that will help create a safer cycling environment.