ACT News

ACT Road Safety Action Plan flags no helmet rule for cyclists

Cyclists could be allowed to ride without helmets and drivers could have less demerit points to rack up before they lose their licence, as part of a raft of measures to help the ACT government achieve its goal of zero road deaths.

The suggestions are among 39 initiatives outlined in the 70-page ACT Road Safety Action Plan 2016–2020 launched on Monday, after 15 people were killed on ACT roads last year.

University of Canberra High School year 10 students Hannah Pengilly and Thomas D'Arx chat with Minister for Road Safety ...
University of Canberra High School year 10 students Hannah Pengilly and Thomas D'Arx chat with Minister for Road Safety Shane Rattenbury after the launch of the ACT Road Safety Action Plan 2016-2020. Photo: Jeffrey Chan.

Road Safety Minister Shane Rattenbury said there was a new emphasis on encouraging Canberrans to choose "sustainable transport" over cars to both reduce the crash rate and improve the visibility of cyclists.

Allowing cyclists to ride without helmets in "low speed environments", like shared zones and university campuses, is one way the government hopes to boost the numbers of bike riders, but it won't be introduced until the government has an expert assess the risks and benefits.

Road Safety Minister Shane Rattenbury rides with students at University of Canberra High School in Kaleen.
Road Safety Minister Shane Rattenbury rides with students at University of Canberra High School in Kaleen. Photo: Jeffrey Chan.

"There is clear evidence that wearing bicycle helmets does reduce the rate of head injuries, there's also evidence it can reduce the amount of people who cycle," Mr Rattenbury said.

"The ANU campus in the city… is all a low speed environment and we can imagine a scenario where people would move across campus or ride to a meeting across the city without having to wear a helmet."

Mr Rattenbury said no helmet rules already existed in other cities across the world and could be used for share bikes offered by buildings or departments.

"We're not talking about someone who's going to be commuting in from Weston Creek to the university, they'll have to wear a helmet, it's a higher speed, higher risk environment," he said.

In NSW, cyclists who ride without a helmet face recently increased fines of $319, but Mr Rattenbury said the tougher measures over the border, including the requirement for cyclists to carry ID, were counterproductive in increasing the number of bike riders.

Other initiatives in the action plan will crack down on drivers using mobile phones while driving.

P-platers and learner drivers will be banned from using mobile phones, including Bluetooth, to bring the ACT in line with other jurisdictions like NSW, and the ban could also be extended to cover other handheld devices.

While older drivers who text or check social media on their phones while driving will face tougher penalties - higher than the current $386 fine and three demerit points for using a handheld phone.

"An emerging issue for us is the increasing level of driver distraction arising from people inappropriately using mobile phones while driving," Mr Rattenbury said.

While in a "controversial" measure the number of demerit points drivers can accrue before their licence is suspended could be reduced under a review of the system.

"We don't want to see the level of death and injury we have seen on our roads in recent years, it's not acceptable," Mr Rattenbury said.

"Through sustained effort there's no reason we shouldn't be able to get to the point where we have zero deaths on our roads."

The number of mobile speed cameras will also be increased especially in school zones and school-based education programs for young drivers will be updated.

Penalties for speeding could also be increased with drivers caught driving at the highest speeds likely to face immediate suspension.

The plan also flags the introduction of more 40km/h zones after the "successful implementation" in 18 town centres last year, upgrades to infrastructure at crash black spots, and urban areas designed to encourage slower speeds.

While signage and road markings encouraging drivers to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front will be introduced to reduce tailgating, the cause of about 45 per cent of crashes in the ACT.

The full plan can be downloaded from: justice.act.gov.au.