Cyclists should not be required by law to wear a helmet on Hawke's Bay cycleways because "it just doesn't feel right," a prominent cycling advocate says.
Cycling Advocates Network (CAN) spokesman Patrick Morgan said tourists were flouting the country's helmet law on the region's bike trails.
"If police enforced the [helmet] law it would be a disaster for cycle tourism that Hawke's Bay is invested in for 10 years now. I would think police have higher priorities.
"It just doesn't feel right to wear a bike helmet on an off-road trail in Hawke's Bay. There's a real difference between racing down the mountainside in the Tour de France and riding along Napier's waterfront."
The region's cycleways are legally considered roads, and therefore, anybody found not wearing a helmet on the trails can be slapped with a $55 infringement fee or maximum $1000 fine on summary conviction.
Mr Morgan is exempt, on medical grounds, from legally having to wear a helmet while riding a bike.
He completed the "straight-forward" process by applying to the NZTA for the exemption with a doctor's certificate that said wearing a helmet caused him to suffer migraines.
Fishbike owner David Fisher, who provides bicycles for hire on Napier's Marine Parade, said the majority of his foreign customers ignored the helmet law.
"60 per cent of overseas people won't wear them. As a provider of bicycles we have to tell them to wear [a helmet] but we can't enforce the law."
Hawke's Bay road policing senior sergeant Greg Brown said the region's police "will always enforce the law as it stands - which is people must wear their helmet".
"I am disappointed to hear people discuss whether helmets should be worn or not, presumably because helmets don't fit with their image or hairstyle. This is a pretty flimsy view on the value of life and preventing injuries.
"No one would choose to deliberately hit their head on concrete from a height of two metres or run into a brick wall headfirst, yet that would be the net effect when someone falls off their bike," Mr Brown said.
Bicycle helmets were made mandatory in January 1994.
The origins of the helmet law were widely attributed to the campaigning of Rebecca Oaten, dubbed the "helmet lady", in the late 1980s.
Ms Oaten campaigned for helmets to be made compulsory after her son, Aaron, suffered permanent brain damage when he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle to school in Palmerston North in 1986.
In response to Mr Morgan's comments, Associate Minister of Transport and Tukituki MP Craig Foss said the Cycle Safety Panel had last month released its final report supporting mandatory use of cycle helmets.
"The panel found that in non-vehicle crashes, such as those on cycleways, wearing a helmet can be the difference between a nasty shock or headache, and long-term brain injury or death.
"Cycle culture is flourishing in the Hawke's Bay, and improving road safety for all road users is a key long-term goal for the Government."