Kent Acott, The West AustralianUpdated May 7, 2012,
WA's bike helmet laws should be scrapped to encourage more people to cycle, according to one of the world's most respected pro-cycling lobbyists.
Manfred Neun, president of the European Cyclists Federation, believes the number of cyclists in WA would treble if helmets were not compulsory.
"Helmets are a disincentive to riding, there is no doubt about that," Mr Neun said at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany, yesterday.
"And if people aren't riding, they aren't enjoying the many health benefits associated with this pastime."
Mr Neun, known as a cycling guru for his worldwide campaigning for improved cycling conditions over 30 years, said politicians and health organisations supported helmet laws because they thought they improved safety for cyclists.
But he said the truth was far more complex.
"Wearing a helmet creates the image of cycling being an abnormally dangerous physical activity," he said.
"While this may be the case for cycling as sports, it is not necessarily so for cycling as a daily means of transportation.
"Statistics show that the more cyclists are on the road, the safer it is actually to cycle. Car drivers are more used to the presence of cyclists.
"There is no doubt that the main effect of bike helmet laws has not been to improve cycling safety but to discourage cycling, undermining its health and other benefits."
Mr Neun said dedicated bike lanes and reducing car speeds in urban areas would do more to protect cyclists than helmets.
Cycling was proving the answer to many problems facing fast-growing cities all over the world, including traffic congestion, energy use and pollution.
Governments were beginning to understand cycling was a relatively "cheap" investment that could create dynamic, livable communities."Bike infrastructure is cheaper than new roads, cheaper than new buses and trains," Mr Neun said. "It makes good economic sense and can go a long way to improving a community's health and lifestyle."