Having a big head, sweating profusely, and stress are enough to excuse a cyclist from having to wear a helmet, but the Transport Agency has stopped accepting "personal desire not to wear a helmet" as a medical condition.
Three cyclists have this year been granted exemptions from wearing helmets on medical grounds, all for "headaches and/or claustrophobia".
Information obtained by The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act shows 147 people have successfully applied for helmet exemptions since records began in 1994. Twenty-five applications have been declined in that period.
Last year, there were five exemptions issued by the NZ Transport Agency: two for headaches or claustrophobia, two for "hypersensitive scalps, eczema, heat, sunburn", and one "physically unable to fasten strap".
Easily the most common medical ground accepted by the agency was headaches or claustrophobia. In the past five years, four people with "abnormally large heads" have been granted helmet exemptions, as have two people for "stress" and one for "excessive sweating".
"Personal desire not to wear a helmet" - listed as a "medical reason" in the Transport Agency's data - has not been approved for helmet exemption since 2003.
Wellington cyclist Hilleke Townsend has a helmet exemption for her auto-immune condition, which causes "brain fogs" that are made worse by wearing a helmet.
The 31-year-old Lyall Bay resident applied for an exemption because she did not want to stop exercising - and actually feels safer without the protective equipment, she said.
"If anything, since I got the exemption and stopped wearing the helmet I feel safer.
"People tend to give me more space and slow down around me. They sort of see me more as a human."
Police stops had been a minor inconvenience, but they were usually "really good about it". A bigger problem was drivers taking exception to her lack of helmet and shouting at her, she said.
"It happens fairly regularly and can be quite upsetting, especially if I'm having a bad day."
Cycle helmet exemptions can also be granted on non-medical or religious grounds.
People of the Sikh faith are legally exempt from wearing helmets and do not need to apply.
- © Fairfax NZ News