Petition to reform helmet laws in Australia and new Zealand

Freestyle Cyclists Australia and New Zealand have a petition going on the home page of their website. The petition calls for the reform of mandatory helmet laws in both countries, to promote and increase cycling. Although information about this petition has already been put on the helmetless riders forum, I'm posting it here to reach a wider audience.

This petition is not about the performance of helmets in a given situation. Nor does it concern an individuals preference for wearing a helmet when cycling. It is about whether people who choose to ride without a helmet should be fined for doing so. The law currently imposes a fine for riding without a helmet on all roads, off-road bike trails, parks, National Parks and footpaths. Reform would include removal of the law in any of those places.

This is an opportunity for those who prefer to wear a helmet to support those who sometimes or always do not. It will free up Police from the job of fining cyclists to concentrate on more important road safety issues. Furthermore, if the repeal of the law results in more cyclists, this will increase demand for cycling infrastructure and contribute to a diverse cycling culture in this country.

The Freestyle Cyclists petition has already attracted over 1000 signatures and is growing into an important movement in this country. The recent launch of the campaign in Melbourne included speakers from the ACT, NSW, Queensland and Victoria. The group will be campaigning everywhere until the State laws are changed.

To support this petition go to http://www.freestylecyclists.org/

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This has been one of the more intelligent and interesting exchanges on how to get rid of MHLs, that I have been involved in.  However, as the person who set up the Freestyle Cyclists website, the anti-anti MHL comments are a bit of a kick in the guts.  Especially from people who say they don't always wear a helmet. Perhaps they could run a more effective campaign? I'm all ears.


As for the person who refered to Freestyle Cyclists as "whining", my response is best not put in writing.


And as for quoting statistics excessively, I'm over that too. The people in Parliament and Universities who want us to be fined for the healthy activity of riding a bike use their stats to justify creating this victimless crime. In most discussions about helmet law we have various of these thrown at us. So we should just remain silent?

But excessive stats is self-defeating. People who don't want to be convinced won't be. Best to keep it very simple.

Disputing the fact that increasing cycling will improve public health is on about the same level of credibility as disputing anthropogenic climate change. The academic and bureaucratic proponents of helmet compulsion don't dispute it. We don't have to win that argument, it's a given. There are huge amounts of work showing that getting more exercise makes you healthier, lowers your burden on the health system and gives you extra (healthy) years of life. A useful fact (sorry for those who are allergic) is that Australia saves about $1000/year for each person who was sedentary and changes to getting a moderate level of exercise (i.e. about average 30min/day moderate exercise). If you weren't completely sedentary before taking up cycling the benefit would be less, but for the Australians who are going to be part of the 16,000 premature deaths each year due to lack of exercise (source, Heart Foundation website), taking up cycling will have a health benefit.


It's also not disputed, even by the staunchest supporters of helmet compulsion, that cycling without a helmet is a big health benefit, compared to not cycling. Helmets at the most optimistic assessment of effectiveness, reduce a risk that is already tiny compared to the health benefit.

There is only one refuge for the helmet compulsion enforcers. And that is to maintain that the amount of cycling is not depressed by helmet law. Once again we are in the realm of statistics, so I'm sorry to inflame sensitivities. Thousands of fines are issued to cyclists in Australia every year for not wearing a helmet. In Victoria it's 2 out of every 3 fines issued to cyclists (Source: Vicroads website). Can somebody explain to me how that is not a disincentive to ride a bike - for the people fined, and for others who also exercise choice but fear being fined, and for others who don't ride because they fear being fined?

I don't know how Copenhagen arrived at this figure, but their study predicted a 50% decline in cycling if a helmet law were introduced (cited by Jan Gehl on ABC radio).  That's in a high-cycling country. Perhaps Australia will never be in that league, but I want to live in a high-cycling country. I am not satisfied with accepting car dominated cities. I don't want a glass ceiling imposed on cycling by anti-cyclist measures such as this one. I could emigrate, it's a dream I have, but while I'm here I'll fight.


One final thought. People tend to get confused between the reasons that individuals have for not wanting to wear a helmet while riding a bike, and the considerations that apply to policy and law. Individuals give their reasons, and these are criticised, as in "what is more important, your hair-do or your brain?". Irrelevant.  Unless you think that people who want to feel socially acceptable in respect of their appearance deserve to die younger and be less healthy. The reasons given by individuals are simply evidence that helmet compulsion hurts public health by reducing cycling. That is all. Getting people to exercise has money thrown at it by governments, health charities and health insurers. Removing barriers to getting exercise is the single most cost effective way of improving health. This is the policy and law level of reasoning, not the individual's reason.

I'm pleased to read this synopsis. Especially as Alex Greenwich has a spectacular win (65%) smashing dodgy BO's manouvre.

back to mhl, just petition against it if you don't care for it. no fancy rationale necessary!

tell govt what we want, as voters just did

"I am not satisfied with accepting car dominated cities. I don't want a glass ceiling imposed on cycling by anti-cyclist measures such as this one."

And that pretty much sums up my main opposition to the law. Given that riding is a healthy, sustainable, and less destructive form of transport than motoring, it doesn’t make sense (from an urbanist or environmental point of view) to burden it with this law.

It only makes sense as those who implement it will never be affected by it... just like how the German Transport Minister is planning on introducing a mandatory bicycle helmet law there if German cyclists 'don't start riding responsibly'... Unbelievable. Yes, because we all know the greatest risk to cyclists health is not the shitty environment or the car-sick streets.

No doubt he drives to work in a Porsche, BMW, Audi or Mercedes... sigh.

It's a catch-22. Keep cycling numbers low and you can keep rules to restrict cyclists as the majority (and the lawmakers) are unaffected by them. Open up cycling to the masses and just watch how people start to complain about these laws (I hear it all the time with CityCycle here in Brisbane...).

showers and ovens after that

That will be the end of trip facility then?

indeed, the final end of trips solution.

even they say mhl will have little effect on the number of fatalities.

That is a great article Nicholas, and one that deserves to be more widely shared. Would you object to me re-posting it elsewhere?

(blush), certainly, although I think you write very well yourself!

Thank-you in particular to Nicholas Dow and Dr. Paul Martin for their clear statement their position.

As Nicholas pointed out, those trying to change the law have been forced to deal endlessly with the statistics of this debate because those justifying the continuance of the law throw statistics at all our arguments and we have no choice but to engage with them.

It is not necessary to understand the statistics to sign the petition. You can sign the petition because you know the law is wrong. I challenge anyone who supports helmet laws to prove that riding without a helmet, carefully, at 15 kph on a separated bike trail is  unhealthy or dangerous. Yet this activity results in a $176 fine in Victoria, more than the fine for speeding in a motor vehicle. You don't need statistics to tell you this is wrong. There are other laws that conflict with civil liberties but this is the only one  in which  a healthy, safe and desirable activity is illegal.

If there is no one on this forum to challenge my assertion that riding without a helmet, carefully on a separated bike trail is safe and healthy, is there any chance that we, as a group, could agree to moving forward and ask for Northern Territory style reforms for the remainder of the country. Freestyle Cyclists have always expected reform to be incremental. This is one step that we could agree on.

 

Remembering for a second that Australia's MHL originated in Victoria, and that the fine and enforcement in NSW are far milder, I thought it might be good to reflect upon this Victoria sacks Accident Compensation Judges

for a bit of history on where Victoria was at the time and thus where it might be today.

 

Additionally I'm thinking both about the business of institutional blame shirking, judicial independence and social justice. I think some of the material at the website linked is relevant education for us.

Aside from when riding, a great use of helmets is to don a metaphorical one when partaking in a helmet-law discussion on the internet.

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