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Varied helmet laws in each state

Helmet laws sticker
Australian Standard sticker

The days of a single standard for helmets are over.

So says Wayne Carruthers who has created a web page to explain the vagaries of our comprehensive, complex and confounding helmet laws and also helped draft a petition for some sanity in the laws.


Wayne Carruthers helped draft helmet petition and created helmet laws website
Wayne Carruthers helped draft helmet petition and created helmet laws website

The situation with helmet laws in Australia is so confusing we have police in different states fining people for non-conforming helmets, helmet cameras, tinted visors and Queensland throwing out all the rules and accepting international standards. But that just means Queensland riders could be riding with an illegal helmet when they cross the border.

Wayne’s petition seeks to change the helmet laws to accept more standards and give riders a reprieve from unfair fines.

“The Federal Government has a major problem with the World Trade Organisation and the free trade agreements we have signed,” Wayne says. “We are required to remove the technical barriers to trade and required to legislate to force subordinate governments to remove any barriers such as “use” regulations under WTO rules. (Helmet standard) AS1698 is exactly one of those technical barriers.”

He says that until we open up to other standards such as United Nations Economic Commission for Europe we are permanently at risk of WTO action.

Wayne has also drafted a submission to the ACCC about these issues.

“We know the ACCC was reluctant to hold a helmet review as they knew it opened a can of worms but they had no choice as bicycle helmets had already been reviewed in 2009.”

At the risk of boring some readers and incoming others, we have decided to publish Wayne’s short history on the helmet laws and how they vary in each state to give riders a better understanding of how we came to this ludicrous situation.

State Road Use Helmet Offences, by Wayne Carruthers:

To understand the offences proscribed by the various state regulatory authorities in their road rules a little stroll down memory lane is needed

In 1972 wearing a helmet was made mandatory. The regulation stated motorcycle helmets must comply with a recognised standard, then in 1974 Australia moved to create a standard to be specified and the US Department of Transportation Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 (FMVSS 218) commonly called DOT was adopted as AS1698.

Helmet laws
Australian Standard sticker

In 1978 AS1698 was mandated under the Trade Practices Act as the Australian Standard for the sale of helmets and Customs regulations were enacted restricting the importation of motorcycle helmets to AS1698 compliant helmets. These restrictions were removed in 1990 for commercial reasons.

Each State Fair Trading Department then enacted regulations mirroring the federal regulations for the sale of helmets, each time the commonwealth updated the standard the states followed.

This meant the States only needed to specify in the road rules that an approved helmet was required to be worn as the standard was set in both State and Commonwealth sale regulations.

Any helmet able to be purchased by australian motorcyclists met the mandated national and state standards so the only offence required in the State Road Rules was that of not wearing a helmet.

The introduction of the ACL (Australian Consumer Law) legislation changed the system which served us well for 30 years. The States repealed much of the fair trading legislation and regulations as part of the ACL national system. This included the state Helmet standard definitions. The state road regulation authorities clearly did not understand what to do and implemented their own differing helmet standards into the road use regulations rather than refer to the Commonwealth ACCC standard. (CPN 9).

Roll forward to today and helmets to any “international” standard can be easily purchased and the States have differing standards in the road rules but most states have failed to update the proscribed offences under their road rules with a specific offence of wearing an unapproved helmet so the only offence which riders can be considered to have committed is that of not wearing any helmet.

NT is the exception where they have proscribed 2 offences with different penalty levels and no demerit points: Ride without wearing helmet (passenger or driver) $100; wear helmet not approved or deteriorated $60.

Here is the reason for the infringement notices recently issued by the NSW/Qld/Vic police to riders with cameras fitted or wearing UNECE/DOT/Snell helmets. There are no proscribed offences in those states for wearing an unapproved helmet so they have concluded they should issue infringement notices for not wearing any helmet.

It is leaving riders with the choice of wearing the expense of the fine or the expense of challenging these infringement notices.