Is it mandatory to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle?
In short, yes. Australia was one of the first countries to make wearing bicycle helmets mandatory. Between 1990 and 1992, the States and Territories introduced various laws mandating that cyclists wear bicycle helmets while riding.
Although each of the eight State and Territories in Australia have their own Road Transport legislation (or ‘Road Rules’), due to an absence of Commonwealth power to legislate in that area, the Australian Road Rules (developed by the National Transport Commission) stand as a model set of rules for the States and Territories to base their own legislation on. This helps to create uniformity across the various jurisdictions.
Section 256(1) of the National Transport Commission (Road Transport Legislation – Australian Road Rules) Regulations 2006 (Cth) provides that:-
The rider of a bicycle must wear an approved bicycle helmet securely fitted and fastened to the rider’s head, unless the rider is exempt from wearing a bicycle helmet under another law of this jurisdiction.
Each State and Territory has subsequently enacted their own Road Transport legislation that mimics the above national rules. Victoria was the first State to introduce mandatory helmet laws in 1990, followed by New South Wales (for adult cyclists) and Tasmania (all ages). New South Wales amended the laws to include children in 1991. Similar laws covering all cyclists were also adopted in South Australia and Queensland, then in the Northern Territory and Western Australia and finally, the Australian Capital Territory in 1992.
Are there any exceptions?
In 1994, the Northern Territory Minister for Transport announced an amendment to the Northern Territory Traffic Regulations to permit cyclists over the age of 17 to ride without a helmet but only along footpaths or on cycle paths which are not on roads. Reportedly, the compromise to continue to require cyclists to wear helmets while cycling on the road was to avoid any repercussions from the Federal Government.
The position in the Northern Territory is unique and sets it apart from the other States and Territories.
Image credit: Nic MacBean