Exemptions from wearing a seat belt or bicycle helmet

This page details the exemptions from wearing a seat belt or bicycle helmet in Victoria.

Seat belt

The Victorian Road Safety Road rules 2017 allows an exemption for an occupant of a motor vehicle from wearing a seat belt (which includes a child restraint and booster seat) providing the following conditions are complied with:

  • a medical practitioner has issued a certificate stating that, because of medical unfitness or physical disability, it is impractical, undesirable or inexpedient that the person wear a seat belt, and
  • the certificate is signed by a medical practitioner and displays the date of issue and an expiry date that is a date not more than 12 months after the date of issue; and has not expired.

The conditions stated in the certificate (if any) must be complied with. In addition the certificate must be carried in the vehicle in which the person to whom it applies is travelling and must be produced by the person, or driver of the vehicle, when requested to do so by a police officer or authorised person.

There are a number of other exemptions [non-medical] from wearing a seat belt provided by the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules 2017 including when:

  • driving a motor vehicle in reverse
  • a person is engaged in door to door delivery, collection of goods or collection of waste or garbage providing the vehicle's speed does not exceed 25 km/h
  • travelling as a passenger in or on a police or emergency vehicle
  • a person is receiving medical treatment of an urgent and necessary nature while travelling in a vehicle.

Note: no application is required for these blanket exemptions.

Bicycle helmet

In exceptional circumstances, exemptions from the legal requirement to wear a bicycle helmet may be granted. If a registered medical practitioner believes that because of a disability or medical condition, a person is unable to wear a bicycle helmet, then an exemption certificate may be issued. 

The requirement to wear an approved bicycle helmet while on a bicycle is an important safety measure for cyclists and bike passengers, which can reduce the risk of death or brain damage in the event of a crash. Safety is a core objective of the law (Road Safety Act, Road Safety Road Rules, Transport Integration Act), and a registered health practitioner should not exempt a person from a safety requirement lightly and should consider any request from a patient for a bicycle helmet exemption with safety in mind. 

If a registered medical practitioner is satisfied that a person’s condition means that they are unable to wear a bicycle helmet, they may issue the patient with a Medical certificate. This certificate must be carried by the person to whom it applies while riding on, or being taken as a passenger on, a bicycle. The certificate must be produced by the person when requested to do so by a police officer or authorised person. 

Important Notes for Medical Practitioners

Helmet exemption applications should be taken very seriously due to the serious risks associated with not wearing a bicycle helmet, including increased risk of death or brain damage in the event of a crash. 

It is important that when issuing a patient with a medical certificate exempting them from the requirement to wear a helmet, that you help the patient understand that there is an increased risk of head injury when cycling without a helmet.

Medical Certificate Particulars

A medical certificate that is issued to exempt a person from the requirement to wear a bicycle helmet must state that “because of a disability or medical condition, the person named in the certificate is unable to wear a bicycle helmet”.

The certificate must also have an appropriate expiry date – particularly if the condition is short-term and not chronic. 

The certificate should not detail the particulars of a person’s condition.

The certificate must state the full name and address of the person to whom it relates.

While the decision rests with the Registered Medical Practitioner as to what an appropriate medical condition would be, to warrant an exemption from wearing a helmet; the following information may be useful.

Medical Condition
Skin conditions People with skin conditions who may be concerned about the lack of sun protection that a bicycle helmet may offer, or that wearing a bicycle helmet may cause them to sweat and exacerbate their condition, may or may not be aware of the numerous products that are available on the market which can be worn both under and over helmets that are sweat and heat resistant and can provide UV protection.
Hearing Aids/Bionic ears, skull protrusion, extra-large sized heads
These people will find it difficult, if not impossible to find a helmet that can fit appropriately on their heads. These people usually suffer from chronic medical conditions and could benefit from being issued with an exemption.
Past head trauma/operations/sensitive scar tissue etc
These people may also find it difficult to wear a helmet on their heads. Wearing a helmet may cause pain and sensitivity to them and hinder their ability to ride safely.

Bicycle Helmet Efficacy

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has publicly made a statement supporting mandatory bicycle helmet laws. The full statement can be found here.

The AHPPC affirms the importance of mandatory bicycle helmet laws for all ages to help ensure a flow-on effect of high helmet wearing rates among children and adolescents, who take their cues from the behaviour’s of adults and the broader cultural context. The AHPPC state that mandatory bicycle helmet laws are an important public health and road safety measure that should be maintained, and their protective benefits communicated with the community. The majority of states and territories have also accepted this evidence and have introduced mandatory bicycle helmet rules.

For interested practitioners, there is a significant body of evidence which supports the use of bicycle helmets in reducing road trauma. The following research papers provide evidence to support that bicycle helmets can reduce the incidence of brain injury and severity.

  • A large Australian case-control study published in 2013 (n=6745 cyclist collisions), found a reduced risk of head injury for cyclists wearing a helmet was as high as 74% (Bambach, Mitchell, Grzebieta, & Olivier, 2013). 
  • The magnitude of the protective benefits of helmets has been measured by a comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis presented at the 2015 Australasian Injury Prevention Network conference (Olivier & Creighton, 2015). This review found bicycle helmet use associated with a 35% odds reduction in head injury, a 64% odds reduction in serious head injury and 66% odds reduction for fatal head injury. 
  • Dinh et al., 2015; Mechanisms, injuries and helmet use in cyclists presenting to an inner-city emergency department
  • A. S. McIntosh et al., 2013 Motorcycle Helmets: Head and Neck Dynamics in Helmeted and Unhelmeted Oblique Impacts.
  • Olivier, Walter, & Grzebieta, 2013 Statistical Errors in Anti-Helmet Arguments
  • Otte & Wiese, 2014 Influences on the Risk of Injury of Bicyclists' Heads and Benefits of Bicycle Helmets in Terms of Injury Avoidance and Reduction of Injury Severity
  • Sethi et al., 2015 Bicycle helmets are highly protective against traumatic brain injury within a dense urban setting
  • Yilmaz et al., 2013 Bicycle injuries and helmet use: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Religious exemptions

The road rules state that a person may also be exempted from wearing a bicycle helmet for religious reasons, if religious headdress makes wearing a helmet impractical. You don't need a certificate for a religious exemption. 

This applies if you meet ALL of the following requirements:

  • you're a member of a religious group 
  • you're wearing a headdress customarily worn by members of that group 
  • the wearing of your headdress makes it impracticable to wear a bicycle helmet.

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