It’s generally agreed that “not feeling safe” is the biggest single reason that people give for not using the bicycle for transport. The second biggest reason is “compulsory helmets”. These two are closely related – making helmets compulsory, even promoting them, reinforces the belief that cycling is dangerous.
The Victorian Transport Accident Commission (TAC) provided a response to a question on notice from the Senate Enquiry into Personal Choice and Community Impacts stating that 28% of respondents who had ridden a bicycle in the last 6 months cited “dislike wearing a helmet” as influencing their decision to ride a bicycle. Their evidence to the Enquiry, along with others, can be viewed in full at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Personal_choice/Additional_Documents. Note that the TAC evidence includes sections of three documents, the third of which includes this survey result (search on “helmet”).
Research into Melbourne Bike Share (chart above) found that 25% of people didn’t use it because they “didn’t want to wear a helmet” while 9% cited “Safety Concerns”.
In “The possible effect on frequency of cycling if mandatory bicycle helmet legislation was repealed in Sydney, Australia: a cross sectional survey” (University of Sydney), it was found that 22.6% of people would ride more if they could choose whether or not to wear a helmet.
A West Australian government survey in 1993 found “…of adults … (n = 254), 28 .0% of adults from the Perth sample, and 25.0% of adults from the country sample, reported they would cycle more if they were not legally required to wear a helmet (p 19)”.
When the South Australian Royal Auto Association surveyed their members, they found that 27% would “cycle more” if there were no helmet law.
In other countries, where laws require children/youths to wear helmets, their use of bicycles declined significantly (one example).
The Northern Territory partially repealed their helmet law in 1994, giving people a choice not to wear a helmet on off-road paths and footpaths. Note that footpath riding is legal in NT. From 2011 Census Journey to work NT
“Alice Springs had the highest cycling figure (5.4%) and Darwin the second highest (3.1%) of similar sized Australian regional cities.”
Darwin has the highest figure for any Australian capital city.