Yolanda Zaw, The West Australian, Updated May 11, 2012,
Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt and Adele Carles with her daughter Charlotte. Picture: Ian Munro/The West Australian Austrlia
The City of Fremantle wants cyclists to be able to ride without helmets as part of a two-year trial that has angered safety experts.
Independent Fremantle MP Adele Carles and Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt proposed a "no helmet" trial as a way to encourage more people to take up cycling.
Under the trial, helmets would be optional for adults cycling on separated cycleways, dual-use paths and roads where the maximum speed is 50km/h or less.
Helmets would remain compulsory for those aged under 18.
The trial would be monitored to determine whether cycling numbers increased.
The council needs State Government permission for the trial.
The proposal comes after comments from Manfred Neun, the president of the European Cyclists Federation, who told the International Transport Forum in Leipzig this week that cycling numbers would treble if WA scrapped its compulsory bicycle helmet laws.
Ms Carles said anecdotal evidence suggested that many more people would consider riding if helmet laws were revised.
"Research has shown that compulsory bike helmet laws do little to improve cycling safety and act as a disincentive to people taking up cycling as a daily means of transportation," she said.
"Many potential cyclists are missing out on the health benefits of this activity while our roads are increasingly getting congested. Safety can be addressed in other ways such as dedicated bike lanes and reducing suburban traffic speeds."
In January, Ms Carles and her then-partner Transport Minister Troy Buswell caused contro- versy when they were spotted riding around in Fremantle not wearing helmets.
At the time, Ms Carles admitted she occasionally rode on cycle paths in Fremantle without a helmet but always insisted children wear them.
Mr Buswell admitted breaking the law and donated $100 to charity for the blunder.
Mandatory bicycle helmet laws were introduced in WA in 1992. Road Safety Council chairman D'Arcy Holman said the argument that helmet laws should be revised to encourage more people to cycle was misguided.
"Suggesting that not wearing a helmet would encourage more cycling is going against the basic principles on which the laws came in the first place - to prevent injuries among cyclists," he said.
"Where cyclists are interacting with pedestrians and vehicles, their risks are increased, but it's important to note that a fall from a bicycle could be just as disastrous if the person failed to wear a helmet.
"Furthermore, suggesting that adults who are parents shouldn't wear a helmet gives mixed messages to children who want to cycle when it really should be learned behaviour."
Dr Pettitt said he was keen to start the trial this year. "We are expecting this proposed trial will see cycling numbers jump in Fremantle, especially among women," he said.Mr Buswell's office said the Government was not considering any changes to the helmet legislation.