Assessing Fitness to Drive

Table of Contents

Appendix 8 Helmet use

Relevance to driving/riding tasks

There is a large body of research that demonstrates the effectiveness of helmets in reducing injury to motorcyclists. Research studies have been conducted in countries where helmet use is voluntary, comparing crash experiences of users with non-users. The significant benefits of motorcycle helmets have also been measured in countries that have changed from voluntary helmet use to compulsory use.

Helmets are also beneficial for bicyclists. Research indicates that helmets greatly reduce the risk of head injuries, which are the major cause of death and injury to bike riders.17

Requests for helmet exemptions

It is compulsory for motorcyclists to wear helmets in Australia. Legislation does not allow for exemptions in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory. In the Northern Territory, legislation does not permit exemption on medical grounds. Exemptions are possible in other states only under extremely rare conditions and should be strongly discouraged. Health professionals are urged to point out to patients the risk of severe disability or death compared with the relatively small advantages of an exemption from wearing a motorcycle helmet.

It is also compulsory for bicyclists to wear helmets in Australia. In those states or territories where exemptions are possible, applications should be strongly discouraged in view of the greater risk of injury and death. The table below shows the laws on exemption from wearing bicycle helmets by state and territory.

State and Territory laws on exemptions from wearing bicycle or motorcycle helmets (as at September 2015)
State/TerritoryMotorcycle helmetsBicycle helmets
Australian Capital TerritoryNo exemptionsNo exemptions
New South WalesNo exemptionsNo exemptions
Northern TerritoryNo medical exemptionsBicycle helmets are not necessary for people who have attained the age of 17 years and who ride in a public place, on a footpath, shared path or cycle path (if separated from the roadway by a barrier) or in an area declared exempt by the transport minister.
QueenslandNo exemptions

A person is exempt from wearing a bicycle helmet if the person is carrying a current doctor’s certificate stating that, for a stated period:

  • the person cannot wear a bicycle helmet for medical reasons, or
  • because of a physical characteristic of the person, it would be unreasonable to require them to wear a bicycle helmet.

A person is exempt if they are a member of a religious group and they are wearing a type of headdress customarily worn by members of the group and the wearing of the headdress makes it impractical for them to wear a bicycle helmet.

South AustraliaNo exemptionsExemptions for Sikh religion only
TasmaniaExemption possible on medical grounds at discretion of Transport CommissionExemption possible on medical grounds at discretion of Transport Commission
VictoriaNo exemptionsExemptions possible on religious or medical grounds
Western AustraliaNo new motorcycle helmet exemption applications are granted; however, legislation allows exemptions granted on or before 30 November 2000 to be renewed prior to expiry, at the discretion of the Department of Transport with supporting evidence from a medical practitioner.Exemption on medical or religious grounds. A medical certificate from a general practitioner is required; however, issue is at the discretion of the Department of Transport with supporting evidence from a medical practitioner.

Riding bicycles on footpaths

While many states and territories have exemptions for young children riding on footpaths, Victoria and New South Wales allows this practice for medical reasons and the rider must carry a letter of exemption from their treating medical practitioner.

Riding bicycles on footpaths
New South Wales

A person may ride a bicycle on a footpath in situations where, other than a road, the footpath is the only other accessible path if the bicycle rider has a disability that makes it impracticable or unsafe for the cyclist to ride on the road, and the bicycle rider carries a medical certificate signed by a registered medical practitioner that: is on the medical practitioner’s letterhead; clearly states the rider has a disability that makes it impracticable or unsafe for the rider to ride on the road; and shows the date of issue and specifies whether the condition is a permanent condition or a temporary condition. (Note that if the rider is suffering from a temporary condition, the letter from the medical practitioner is valid for 12 months.)

When riding under this exemption the rider must comply with conditions stated on the medical certificate (if any), must carry the medical certificate at the time of riding the bicycle and must produce the medical certificate when requested to do so by a police officer or authorised person.

Victoria

A person may ride a bicycle on a footpath if carrying a letter of exemption from a legally qualified medical practitioner stating that it is undesirable, impractical or inexpedient for the rider to ride on a road because of a physical or intellectual disability.

The letter must be on a medical practitioner’s letterhead and show the date of issue and the date of expiry. The letter must specify that the rider has been advised of the requirement to slow down and give way to pedestrians at all times when riding on footpaths. The letter should specify that footpaths are to be used, avoiding, where practicable, footpaths in areas where pedestrian traffic is heavy.

References and further reading

  1. Henderson M. The effectiveness of bicycle helmets – a review, MAAA of NSW, 1995. Available: www.helmets.org/henderso.htm.
  2. Attewell R, Glase K, McFadden M. Bicycle helmets and injury prevention: A formal review (CR 195). Australian Transport Safety Bureau, 2000.
  3. Hynd D, Cuerden R, Reid S, Adams S. The potential for cycle helmets to prevent injury: a review of the evidence. Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) report for the Department for Transport, UK, 2009.
  4. Macpherson A, Spinks A. Bicycle helmet legislation for the uptake of helmet use and prevention of head injuries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008; Issue 3.
  5. Olivier J, Walter SR, Grzebieta R. Long term bicycle related head injury trends for New South Wales, Australia following mandatory helmet legislation. Accident Analysis and Prevention. 2013; 50: 1128–1134.
  6. SWOV (Institute for Road Safety Research, The Netherlands) Fact sheet: Bicycle helmets, 2012.
  7. Thompson DC, Rivara F, Thompson R. Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in cyclists. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 1999; Issue 4.