Cyclists group wants mandatory helmets scrapped

A cycling lobby group is again pushing to have New Zealand's controversial bike helmet law scrapped, amid conflicting studies about the effectiveness of the 21-year-old law.

A group of keen cyclists say the law has done more harm than good. Source: 1 NEWS

Cycling Health New Zealand spokesman Clint Trass says forcing people to wear helmets has drastically reduced the number of cyclists on roads, increasing the risk of being hit by vehicles for those who remain.

"Certainly from a public policy perspective [the law] has been an absolute failure", Mr Trass told ONE News.

"What really makes cycling safe is investing in proper infrastructure and proper education."

Leading brain injury specialist Dr Rosamund Hill says some form of head protection is better than none, although cheaper helmets are less likely to protect against brain injuries than modern, high-tech models.

"Generally I would advise you to buy the best helmet you can possibly afford", she said.

Dr Hill also disagreed with anti-helmet campaigners' arguments that helmets provide little protection for cyclists hit by cars or buses.

"There's no doubt that you are at greater risk of fracturing your skull if you don't have a helmet on ... it's not going to completely prevent you from having an injury but I think it will reduce the severity of the injury."

Research is split on the effectiveness of mandatory cycle helmet laws, which only exist in New Zealand and Australia. Researchers across the Tasman recently concluded that children injured while wearing helmets were seven times less likely to require brain surgery; while a 2012 study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal slated the bike helmet law as being ineffective and increasing the danger to cyclists.

Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss says the Government has no plans to review the current law, citing a recent cycling safety panel draft report that concluded there was no current need for change.

Mr Foss also rebutted Clint Trass's view that New Zealand should follow the example of many European countries where helmet use is neither encouraged nor discouraged.

"Many European countries already have many dedicated cycling networks and roads and have had quite a cycling culture for many years, so their circumstances are somewhat different to ours", he said.

But Cycle Health NZ believes an eventual law change is inevitable and plans to open a dialogue with the Government, Mr Trass said.