Cycling in Sydney Australia
I had a brush with the law the other day. The officers were stopping cars going my direction and one female officer stopped me also and asked why I was not wearing a helmet. I started out with that it was about conciencious objection and that I and many others had ridden overseas and felt that helmet laws were implicated in why Australian roads had been kept so dangerous for cyclists when other countries could claim vastly better safety gains which we have been prevented from having by helmet laws. Went into great detail. I told her of my own efforts to see the situations for myself in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Sweden and went on to talk about the likelyhood that a helmet could increase a rotational injury and why and went into every detail. Then talked about the research indicating drivers going closer to helmeted cyclists and that I had communicated with the researchers and MUARC about replicating the research here. I got to the point of asking that if I believe this about rotational injury and passing distances, what am I to do? I was as courtious as I could be and kept as close as I could to the conciencious objection position. Interestingly, after listening really well, the officer said pretty much that she was obliged to tell me I had to walk the bike but the sense of it was that it was only within her sight. Feeling that she understood and didnt want to book me and that I was doing the right thing by her I walked through a nearby pub car park and rode on. I felt conciencious objection and a learned and verbose expression of doubt might have some merit in this sort of situation.
Does anyone else have any thoughts?
Good effort in explaining your beliefs to "the man", though in this case a woman. I would probably not be able to keep my cool long enough in that situation.
I'll just mention, in parting, (i.e. as I leave), that the word is "conscientious", an adjective deriving from the noun "conscience".
Quite right. Getting the spelling right can help at times.
My experience with the police is that cool works but I wish I had always known it. Can be difficult.
Peter, people on this site discussed the issue of conscientious objection about a year ago without reaching consensus on which way to preoceed
This is an idea I'd like to try in Victoria. People in other States might need to use other approaches.
We apply to VicRoads as a group, for an exemption to the helmet law, on the basis of the belief that Mandatory Helmet Laws make cycling more dangerous.
The supporting evidence would include:
1. Research demonstrating that after factoring in the decrease in cycling and the effect of other Road Safety Measures, cycling became more dangerous after the implementation of helmet laws. (Dorothy Robinson's Research)
2. Evidence that countries where helmet wearing rates are high are more dangerous for cyclists(European Cycling Federation research)
3. Cyclists wearing helmets may consciously and unconsciously take more risks.
4. Motor Vehicle drivers may drive more dangerously around helmetted than unhelmetted cyclists (Ian Walkers research)
5. In the event of an accident, a helmet may contribute to rotational brain injury and neck injury. (Bill Curnow's research)
We send copies of our application for an exemption to our local Member of Parliament and the Victorian Council of Civil Liberties.
The latter really needs to re-examine this issue in the light of what has happened in the last 20 years. I believe the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties has recently found that there is insufficient evidence of the benefits of helmet laws to warrant Mandation.
If our application for an exemption fails as I believe it will, we need to know how to appeal the VicRoads decision.
We back up our request with a Statutory Declaration stating the reasons we believe wearing a helmet puts us at greater risk.We carry this when riding to show to the Police if they stop us. This has the effect of demonstrating our sincerity and explaining our position. It may not stop us receiving a Penalty but could be used later in Court if we decide to fight it there.
I believe that those who originally framed the law intended exemptions to be granted to people who could not comply. Over time the exemptions became impossible to obtain.
If this grew it could become a movement of people opposed to the law.
Building on what Kathy said, I now always carry a statutory declaration with me stating that I do not wear a helmet because I have a reasonable belief that it could put me at greater risk of injury or death than not wearing a helmet, and that this belief was supported by Justice (? forgotten his name just now) in the case of Abbott v R in the District Court of NSW. (dates etc supplied). Interestingly, I haven't been stopped by the police in the year since I started carrying this, so I don't know how effective it will be. If I am still booked, I intend to plead not guilty at the Magistrate's Court, and base my defense on the Victorian Charter of Rights. This of course could not be used in other states. I have had advice from a barrister that such a use of the charter is unlikely to succeed at a lower court, such as the Magistrate's, as it is somewhat complex and unusual. Still, I can't think of a better approach, and in view of Dan and Sue Abbott's NSW cases, necessity seems a bit hard to prove, largely I think due to lack of immediacy.
I think it would be worth trying an application to VicRoads for an exemption as well, rather than wait for the random event of being booked. I will check on the details later, but from memory, the relevant regulation allows for exemptions to be granted if it is expedient to do so. I have little doubt that VicRoads will refuse, so we would have to appeal that decision. At this stage, I don't know under which legislation you could appeal, or even if you could appeal at all. Unfortunately, the VCAT act doesn't allow for VCAT hearing appeals against decisions made under the Road Safety Act. Possibly it would be the Magistrate's Court. I will look into it.
There is one part of the charter of rights that certainly applied to me the other day. That of protection from degrading treatment. An adult being told to walk!
More detail: You can apply to VicRoads under the Road Safety Rules 2009 - rule 256 subsection (4) states that the Corporation may issue a certificate stating that it would be impractical, undesirable or inexpedient that the person named in the certificate wear a bicycle helmet. If (more likely when) the Corporation - that is VicRoads - refuses your request, I think that may be the end of it. There is no avenue that I have been able to find that allows for a formal appeal on merits against such a decision. (please let me know if anyone can find one). It would be possible to appeal against the legality of the process, but this is unlikely either to succeed, or even if it does, it is unlikely to change the result, only require that the process be repeated correctly. It appears to me that the VicRoads officer making the decsion has an absolute discretion. You could of course make a legally informal appeal to someone higher up in the organisation, and if still not happy contact the ombudsman. I don't think however that the ombudsman could direct that the decision be changed. It would also be worth copying all correspondence to your local MP, the Premier, Minister of Transport and Liberty Victoria, plus any sympathetic journalists you know of.
I've been told off a couple of times, but never actually stopped or fined (in Sydney). I do have a rather good gift of the gab, though, to be fair. My usual line is "Ah, I left it with my other bike at my girlfriends' house, sorry! Then don't stop (unless they say "stop". "Hey mate, where's your helmet?" isn't an instruction to stop) and ride on.
I find my main issue with cops is that I feel like I don't want to flout the law so flagrantly, and rub it in their face. They try not to make eye contact, as they clearly don't want to have to fine me. It makes everyone feel bad. I feel bad that by not wearing a helmet I'm breaking the law, I feel bad that I'm effectively demonstrating my contempt for the law in front of a copper, and I feel bad for the copper that he's torn between doing his job to the letter, and not being a pillock.
That said, I do tend to ride without a helmet, however there are also enough times that I do, particularly in the city on busy roads.
Actually it's similar to me not skipping red lights. There's one near me where all the pedestrians will be crossing, no cars coming, but I need to sit and wait just to look like a nice cyclist. Even though if I did skip it I'd be much better and out of the way of the cars!
You handled it well Peter. It’s hard to comment without being specific to a state, as the situation is quite different in NSW compared to Victoria. I haven’t been stopped by the police here yet, so I don’t really know how I would handle something like that. Whenever I encounter the police, I ignore them and they ignore me.
It seems it is mainly because you were calm and polite, while demonstrating you had researched this topic, that made the difference. Adding a conscientious objection probably helps, but it does need to be backed up with well-reasoned arguments. For Victoria, I believe you achieved is a pretty good outcome. Well done. This seems like a good way to politely but respectfully express your concerns about this misguided law.