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Transportation

How Bike Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good

They don’t do much to improve safety, but they’re great at getting people to avoid cycling altogether.
Helmets are good. Helmet laws? Not so much.
Helmets are good. Helmet laws? Not so much.Paul Krueger/Flickr

Bike-share programs have proved hugely popular in hundreds of cities around the world—but not in Australia. While bikes in the London and New York systems see three to six trips a day each, their unloved peers in Melbourne are lucky to be used once. One study declared Brisbane’s system to be the least popular in the world. Their shortcomings are partly due to flaws in the networks, but there’s another factor at play: helmet laws.

If you use bike shares in London, New York, Paris, or Hangzhou, you can bring a helmet if you want, or just leap on and pedal away. Do that in Melbourne or Brisbane and you risk being fined by police because of compulsory helmet-use laws. Both systems have tried to get around this by leaving complimentary helmets on the bikes—Melbourne leaves 1,000 new ones a month—or selling cheap helmets nearby. But for many people, it’s simply too much trouble.