The Northern Territory helmet law came into effect from January 1992 and initially applied to all ages. Like other Australian laws, it was introduced due to Federal Government pressure backed by a threat of funding reductions. It was never popular with most NT residents.
On 31st March 1994 the NT Minister for Transport announced an amendment to the law to permit cyclists over the age of 17 to ride without a helmet "along footpaths or on cycle paths which are not on roads". This was in response to a public campaign against the law, backed by petitions signed by 8% of NT's population. The compromise to continue to require helmets on roads was to avoid a penalty from the Federal Government. There was less public support for rescinding the law for children.
The fine for not wearing a cycle helmet is AUD25. If not paid within 3 months, this rises to AUD135 and the offender (children included) faces court followed by a detention centre or jail.
Helmet use is now low in NT, both off and on road, for adults and children. Estimates in 2004 suggested that 15% - 20% of cyclists continue to wear helmets, mostly 'serious' cyclists.
At first the law was enforced, aboriginal children being particularly vulnerable and suffering overnight detention for not paying fines.
Since the change in the law to exempt adults, NT police do not often enforce helmet wearing for any cyclists.
In 2001, only 75 cyclists were hospitalised – the lowest number pro-rata population for any Australian state or territory. (ABC, 2004)
For most road users, the Northern Territory has the worst injury rate in Australia. The sole exception is cyclists, for whom the serious injury rate is the same as the national average and better than several states where helmet use remains mandatory for all cycling. (Berry and Harrison, 2008)
After the law was first introduced, a street survey in Darwin found that 20% of people had given up cycling as a result of the law and 42% cycled less (Mead, 1993). Schools surveys showed a 17% reduction in primary schoolchildren cycling, an immediate reduction of 36% for secondary schoolchildren, reaching 39% by the end of the first year. (Van Zyl, 1993; RSCNT, 1993)
Counts of commuter cyclists showed a dramatic decline of about half following the law (RSCNT, 1993b):
|Aug 1990||Apr 1991||Aug 1991||Apr 1992||August 1992||August 1993|
Following the law's amendment, cycling recovered. By 2004, 4.2% of people cycled to work in NT (compared with a national average of 1.3%) and 15.3% of people cycled for recreation and sport (national average 9.5%) In particular, more women now cycle. (ABC, 2004)
Australia bicycle ownership and use. Australian Bicycle Council, 2004.
Berry JG, Harrison JE, 2008. Serious injury due to land transport accidents, Australia, 2006-7. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Injury Research & Statistics 42.
Mead P, 1993. Bike helmet survey results. CTRAC, Alice Springs, October 1993 .
1993 Bicycle helmet survey report. Road Safety Council of the Northern Territory.
Private communication from. Road Safety Council of the Northern Territory, October 1993.
Van Zyl R, 1993. Bicycle helmet wearing in the Northern Territory. Road Safety Council of the Northern Territory .