It’s been a long wait but, after fourteen months, Bicycle Network have finally released their verdict on whether or not they will support a relaxation of the Australian Mandatory Helmet Laws (MHL) and the crux of the decision is this:
Bicycle Network is recommending that these laws be relaxed with a five-year trial permitting people older than 17 to choose whether they wear a helmet when riding on footpaths or off-road cycle paths.
All up, I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction but I have to admit, at first, I couldn’t help thinking that it seemed a little bit luke warm and perhaps a token to make it look like an effort was being made to change the law but at the end of the day it would be declared that all that could have been done was done but we had failed. That is until I realised the enormity of the change that was being proposed. This is a law that has been in place since the early nineties and used as a go-to by all manner of revolting, bottom feeding creatures to victim blame cyclists for their own deaths and injuries on the roads instead of addressing the real problems like driver attitudes, infrastructure and town planning based around the automobile while at the same time helping prevent the mainstream uptake as a cycling as a mode of transport. Add to that the Stokholm syndrome-like effect that a few decades of compulsory helmet wearing has on those who do actually ride and you start to realise that a slowly, slowly approach like Bicycle Network have gone for makes perfect sense.
One important thing to highlight here is that all that’s happened so far is that Bicycle Network has changed it’s view from supporting MHL to being in favor of a relaxation. The really interesting and thorny parts are yet to happen like drafting the actual terms of the legislation and then getting that legislation through the reptile enclosure in parliament in one piece. Then there’s also the related legislation to allow people to ride on footpaths which will also need to be passed in a few states (Queensland already allows this) if the helmet law proposition is to have any practical meaning.
It’ll be interesting times ahead and I’m certainly going to try and give whatever support I can give to the trial (however tiny that contribution may be). If nothing else, it’s certainly a historic event for cyclists in Australia.