Helmetless riders


Helmetless riders

Sick of fools yelling "where's your helmet"? Can't understand why a safe mode of transport like cycling has been singled out for mandatory helmet wearing? Want to ride with the breeze in your hair? This is your group.

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Comment by John G on September 28, 2010 at 10:38am
I'd like to propose a movement of Ethical Objectors to helmet laws. This would not seek to make a specific argument against helmet laws. Instead it recognises that there are a number of reasons why an individual may Object to our current helmet laws. Hence, Objectors require no specific grounds to participate. Instead it would support personal choice, and allow individuals to protest with a common act of civil disobedience.

Here's how I believe it should work. To be recognised as part of the movement, Objectors must conform to three requirements:

1. You must carry a helmet when riding - put it on a rack, hang it over the bars, have it in a bag, whatever, as long as you can produce it on demand.

2. Your helmet must be marked with a sticker (yet to be designed...) identifying you as an Ethical Objector.

3. If stopped or challenged by anyone in authority, you must produce your helmet and identify yourself as an Ethical Objector. This should be done in a courteous and respectful manner.

These rules have a couple of purposes. Carrying a helmet demonstrates that you are protesting against helmet laws, not just disregarding them. The sticker also evidences that you are legitimately an Ethical Objector making a protest by your actions.

The rules also recognise that we are making informed decisions about if, when and where to wear a helmet. Myself, I almost always wear a helmet on public roads, but I will take it off on a bike path or other 'off road' location. I believe I should be able to make a decision about the risk in given circumstances. Even when wearing your helmet, the sticker publicly shows your support for the movement.

Some may think that these rules, and the need to carry a helmet are a burden - or just silly. Others may not be comfortable with identifying themselves in this way. If so, this may not be right for you, and that's OK. You should carry on with whatever you are doing and I wish you well with it. Key principles of this movement are tolerance and respect for individual choice.

There are two other principles that should be made clear.

a) Your involvement is a matter of personal choice and you may not hold any party responsible for your actions or any consequences. If you are subject to enforcement of helmet laws, beyond rule 3 it is up to the individual how they choose to respond: put it on; pay a fine; go to court; go to jail - your choice.

b) This movement does not support and will not condone any illegal activity other than riding without a helmet. In all other regards, Objectors should obey all rules and laws, and comply with any instruction from an authorized person.

So, is there anyone who would want to become an Ethical Objector with me? If there is any reasonable amount of support, I think we need to organize the stickers (perhaps someone has some design skills... Something small, clear, and simple.) If support is great enough, perhaps we can organize a ride to publicly demonstrate our conviction.

Comment by Kathy Francis on September 28, 2010 at 8:43pm
John, I'm thinking about your idea. My partner and I feel quite isolated here in Kyneton where almost no-one rides a bike let alone rides without a helmet. It helps just to know there are others out there like ourselves. Anything that begins to create a change of consciousness out there would be a good thing. If this takes off it could create pressure for change. I'd like to hear what other people think.
Comment by John G on September 29, 2010 at 9:08am
Thanks Kathy. I read your earlier posts and I'm sorry it seems so hard in a district that should be great for cycling.

I'm kind of greatful for the support too. I thought my post would generate at least a little debate.

So what do you think folks? I'm going to move this to a separate discussion, so speak up, even if you think I'm crazy.
Comment by John G on September 29, 2010 at 9:22am
I'd be more than happy to contribute, or have any of this reproduced on such a site.

How can I (and everyone else) get involved?
Comment by sydneyCommuter on September 29, 2010 at 2:06pm
Hi Kathy,

I feel sorry for you, as your task is much harder than what we face in NSW. In many NSW country towns, the helmet law is no longer enforced. When was the last time you tried in your area?

It seems that the govt in Victoria is a bit less cycling-friendly than here, with the police more likely to fine cyclists. A way to counter this would be to turn around public opinion on helmet choice. The failure of the bike share scheme in Melbourne is a good focus point to boost public support for helmet choice.

Have you considered lobbying in your community for public support for helmet choice? Maybe an article in your local newspapers describing how cyclists have disappeared since the helmet law. That might make enforcement of the helmet law less strict in your area.

You are not alone in this. They may be others in your area who have given up in cycling but would like to get back into it. Get in touch with them.

Sue Abbott in NSW has applied for an exemption to the helmet law. The details of it are in here:
It might be different in Victoria (with VicRoads) but it is worth a try.

Interestingly enough, Sue Abbot is also a mother of four who started with determination to assert her right for freedom. She can now ride in her area without being harassed by the police.
Comment by Kathy Francis on September 29, 2010 at 3:38pm
Thanks for your encouraging words SydneyCommuter. It is true that I haven't tried to ride in my town for over 14 years. My early attempts at ignoring the silly law were over 6 fines and when i refused to pay these I was imprisoned for 24 hours while pregnant with my 4th child. Like Sue Abbott I promised myself that I would never wear a helmet so after this experience I moved on and got on with other things.
It might be worth testing things again. The problem we face, is not with community perceptions which I find are quite sympathetic, but with the entrenched positions of bureaucrats and cycling bodies like Bicycle Victoria who encourage massive fines for cyclist disobeying trivial road rules.
While it is comforting for us to communicate with like minded people on sites like this we actually have to engage with these bureaucrats and other public figures who have power.
The other possibility is to seek international disapproval from an overseas cycling body for Australia's persecution of its cyclists.
The failure of Melbourne's bike share scheme is widely known and talked about. When Mike Rubbo proposed exempting the scheme from mandatory helmets the Age newspaper ran a poll on the topic . 70% of respondents wanted the scheme exempt. There are plenty of intelligent observations coming from the public and journalists but none from the people who could make the changes. Still things are certainly more optimistic than they were when I was disobeying 20 years ago. Then Australia proudly expected the World to follow them. Now they just look foolish and short sighted.
I think a Victorian has already tried and failed to get an exemption but my partner is interested in having a go sometime.
Once again thanks for your thoughts. I hope Sydney succeeds in this as it brings Victoria that much closer.
Comment by sydneyCommuter on October 2, 2010 at 9:57pm

As you mentioned, the real problem is political. The entrenched position of the bureaucrats is disappointing. They are still at the stage of trying to deny that they made a mistake.

What might bring their downfall though is their stubbornness and blindness with the Melbourne bike share scheme. It makes the damage from the helmet law obvious, which helps rally public support against it. What can help complement it is some information showing people that the benefits of helmets have been exagerated, and people have been mislead into a false sense of security.

Have a look at the European Cycling Federation:
The made a helmet brochure that can help educate people.

The politicians can be forced to pay attention to this issue and stop regurgitating the same old lies. Don't you have an election soon in Victoria? Is there a way to make an exemption for the bike share scheme an election issue? I think that Melbourne elected a green federal MP recently, so there is hope that they might be receptive to the idea.

You might not be as far as you think to be make some progress in Victoria, because of the embarassing failure of the Melbourne Bike Share Scheme.
Comment by Kathy Francis on October 2, 2010 at 10:28pm
I hope you're right sydneyCommuter. I think it might be worth sending the European Cycling Federation pamphlet to Vicroads, Bicycle Victoria , The Greens and other politicians for comment. It is quite hard to refute. The effort it will take to make this change is more than I can muster at present. I've learnt a little of the time and work needed to achieve anything political and I know you may have to keep at it night and day and think and do nothing else which makes you seem fanatical.
I believe the change will come but I don't know what will trigger it . One possibility is that so many people stop wearing helmets and the police lose interest in policing it that the law becomes redundant.
I'm also hoping someone powerful and well known could be persuaded to take on our cause.Do you know any candidates for this job? Yet another possibility is that we get a precedent in the courts that could be used for all of us when we're fined. Any lawyers reading this feel free to comment.
I'm ready and willing to join a movement but not to lead one!
Thanks for your support.
Comment by Anthony Denahy on October 5, 2010 at 10:38pm
I've just listened to an interesting and informative ABC radio program on this issue: www.abc.net.au/rn/backgroundbriefing/stories/2010/3011382.htm. In terms of statistical analysis and science, it seems to be easy for anyone to cite evidence for their case. I'm 51 and have ridden for 45 years - fallen off maybe 5 times and never struck my head - we all have this kind of anecdotal type of evidence - experience seems to mean more to most people than statistics. Perhaps the crux of it is, I think I am much more cared for by motorists because I am helmet less... "look at that middle aged man in his work clothes, old fashioned type of bike, no helmet, waiting patiently to cross the road - I'll waive him over". Maybe we need to concentrate on these issues of the heart more than the stats - those Dutch people perhaps just care for each other more than we do. Or if we must do stats, lets study empirically how drivers feel about someone dressed in racing style lycra, wild colours, helmet (what is the image here - wasp?), as opposed to a pedestrian who happens to be on wheels?
Comment by John G on October 6, 2010 at 9:58am
Our real problem is that we have neither a peak body, or a grassroots movement to support this cause. With the exception of the CRAG, currently only in Canberra, none of our supposed cycling bodies are supporting this issue (correct me if I'm wrong people).

Lone action will not force change. As long as we are small in number and have no organization, anyone without a helmet will just be treated as an outlaw. And be clear, we are small in number. I usually ride around Parramatta and the inner west – people without helmets are very rare.

Nor will any study help – the laws were introduced without hard research or evidence, so they’re not reliant on that sort of information. Every study that finds no material value in helmets can be countered by one that does. If that ceases to work, emotive arguments can be used, probably with graphic pictures.

Failures by bureaucrats (as with the Melbourne share scheme) are a disaster for us. From my own experience, a mistake by bureaucrats is more likely to see the issue buried to avoid embarrassment. Worse, they might commission a study to prove something else was to blame.

I don’t mean to disparage anything that has been said or done by anyone, but I want a change, and I’m willing to agitate for it. I believe it will only be when bicycle riders actually organize themselves that we will see change. I’m going to go and see if I can join the CRAG in Canberra. Worst case, it’s a nice excuse to go and ride Canberra.

I’ll let you know how I go.



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