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Policy statement

Helmet laws: New South Wales

Introduction and scope

The New South Wales helmet law came into effect from 1st January 1991 for adults and from 1st July 1991 for children under 16. From that date it applied to all ages.

Compliance and enforcement

Adult helmet use rose from 28% to 77% at the time that the adult law came into force, and then to 85% upon enactment of the child law. Child helmet use remained at 31% until enactment of the child law when it increased to 77%.

The law is strictly enforced in most, but not all, localities. The fine for not wearing a helmet is AUD 146 (2010).

According to a statement made in the New South Wales Parliament in 2005, helmet use was then much lower than when the helmet law was enacted (Hansard NSW, 2005). The Roads and Traffic Authority had continued to monitor helmet use but the data had not been released because compliance had fallen. Paul Gibson MP claimed that fewer than 26% of adults and 12% of children wore helmets when cycling in 2005 but it has not been possible to verify these figures. Over a period of two years more than 23,000 people had been issued with traffic infringement notices for not wearing helmets.

In 2012, a one-day police crackdown in Sydney resulted in 15 cyclists being fined for not wearing a helmet, as many as for all other offences put together (The Age, 2012b).

Effect on casualties

For children over the first two years of the law, the decline in head injuries and the decline in injuries to other parts of the body was proportionately smaller than the decline in cycle use (Smith and Milthorpe, 1993). Child cyclists were 21% more likely to suffer death of serious injury than pre-law, whereas child pedestrians were 21% less likely and other child road users 20% less likely due to the benefits of other road safety initiatives that should also have been enjoyed by cyclists. (NSW, 1994)

Information about adult cyclists does not seem to be available.

Effect on cycle use

Prior to the law, cycling was growing strongly in New South Wales, with an increase of 250% during the 1980s in Sydney (BFA, 1992).

However, in the first two years of the child law, the number of children cycling declined by 36% and 44% respectively compared with the year before the law. The largest reduction in cycling was among secondary female students in Sydney: 214 in 1991 down to 20 in 1993, a drop of 90.6% (Smith and Milthorpe, 1993). The decline in the number of children observed cycling was 5 times that of the number who started to wear a cycle helmet (569 v 2,658).

Rissel and Wen, 2011 estimated that repealing the law could be expected at least to double cycle use in Sydney. 1 in 5 adults surveyed said they would cycle more if they did not have to wear a helmet. There was found to be an inverse association between riding frequency and support of the helmet legislation, with those not riding in the past year most likely to support helmet legislation, and more frequent riders less likely to support it


No analysis.

The references below include additional related studies


BFA, 1992

Cycling in Europe. Proceedings of a national bicycle conference, Melbourne, March 1992. Bicycle Federation of Australia, 1992. .

Hansard NSW, 2005

New South Wales Hansard. 4 May 2005.

NSW, 1994

Road Traffic Accidents in New South Wales, 1992, 1993, 1994.. Roads and Traffic Authority of New South Wales.

Rissel and Wen, 2011

Rissel C, Wen LM, 2011. The possible effect on frequency of cycling if mandatory bicycle helmet legislation was repealed in Sydney, Australia: a cross sectional survey. Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2011; 22: 178-83.

Robinson, 1996

Robinson DL, 1996. Head injuries and bicycle helmet laws. Accident Analysis & Prevention 1996 Jul;28(4):463-75.

Smith and Milthorpe, 1993

Smith NC, Milthorpe MW, 1993. An Observational Survey of Law Compliance and Helmet Wearing by Bicyclists in New South Wales - 1993 (4th survey). NSW Roads & Traffic Authority ISBN 0-7305-9110-7.

The Age, 2012b

Helmet crackdown makes no sense. The Age, Mar 22 2012.

Walker, 1991

Walker M, 1991. Compulsory helmet wearing in New South Wales (2nd survey). Roads Traffic Authority NSW .

Walker, 1992

Walker MB, 1992. Law compliance among cyclists in NSW (3rd survey). Road Traffic Authority NSW .

See also