Winds Of Change

A proposed change to Australian Mandatory Helmet Laws

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.

2 thoughts on “Winds Of Change”

  1. Australian cycle helmet laws are for me a reason not to live in Australia. I think Melbourne is one of the world’s great cities – naturally suited to cycling too, were it not for its overprescriptive laws. It’s not an academic, throwaway remark either. Australia is somewhere I could work and I was at one stage in fairly advanced discussions about moving there. I didn’t know about the rules then.
    For me cycling is a way of getting from A to B. In cities it’s usually the quickest, most enjoyable way of doing that – plus you get a bit of exercise and see the world go by (rather than the armpit of the guy standing next to you on the train). You can do it 24 hours a day and there is no timetable or reduce service on public holidays to worry about.
    Why do politicians like these sort of rules (a) because politics attracts who like telling other people what to do (b) almost none of them ride bikes at least as their main way of getting around. It’s what I call the Hong Kong embroidery problem. Can you do embroidery in Hong Kong? I haven’t a clue but I do know that the way to find out is to ask someone who actually does embroidery. Not nearly enough politicians cycle and legislating when they have no first-hand experience but it doesn’t bother them at all that they don’t. Why try cycling for a while before telling other people how to do it? Do they need to do some deep-sea fishing before making the rules on that? etc
    (Boris Johnson in Britain might be an exception although I’m not sure how things are now. His girlfriend I believe bought him a Honda-cub style pizza delivery scooter for Christmas. Quite when the PM gets to ride it or his bikes (presumably with security outriders on massive BMWs in attendance, I don’t know. But, like him or not, Boris is not the typical politician.
    Why do I dislike cycle helmets? They encourage a “them and us mentality” (“splitting” is I believe what the psychologists call it). – the guy you see in front of you is not just a guy on his way into work. He is a strange alien type of person – a “cyclist”. They are nasty, aggressive, a funny shade of yellow and they have odd-shaped heads too. You don’t want to get into an argument with one of them.
    I first noticed this when I cycled for a little while with my friend who cycles (very slowly) on a thing that weighs half a ton in tweed jackets and the like – like an extra from Jeeves and Wooster. I thought this was an eccentric choice – but up to him. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much nicer London traffic was to him. I don’t know why. Maybe they thought he was in his 90’s (he’s 40), maybe they thought he was unhinged, maybe they are all big Fry and Laurie fans. By far the most likely is that he looked like a normal human being who happened to be on a bike that day. He was treated as such.
    More recently I had well-meaning pedestrians telling me to “be careful” because I was cycling in Hong Kong in a suit (I was on my way to an interview). I didn’t mind at all – they were being friendly and kind as well you might to a fellow human.
    Politicians love splitting. It’s their world – they are a member X party and so Y party are obviously the devil. But the biggest and best splitter of them all? Donald Trump. I don’t like making character judgments of those I’ve never met but what cycling experience do we think he has? Maybe its right after all – being a weird alien cyclist might not be so bad if I could claim Mr T was a different species. Where do say I can get that helmet?

    1. Hi Alex. Thanks for commenting. I like the sound of your friend in the tweed jacket – he seems to have the right idea 🙂

      I’m not really sure if anything more has or will happen regarding the change I have written about here. It’s been over a year since I wrote this post and I can’t find any good information on what else has happened on this issue since. Unfortunately the attitudes of the policy makers here are quite regressive across the board at the moment so it’s probably something we’ll have to keep fighting for.

      You’re quite right about the divisiveness that the MHL creates – we end up with cycling being a fairly niche activity because helmets discourage such a large number of impromptu trips where a car gets used instead which in turn creates an “us and them” leaving cyclists as minority scape goats for the problems created by excessive car usage. Drivers never cycle so they have no empathy for cyclists, road congestion continues to increase and it’s cheaper to just have someone to blame rather than fix the problem properly – bike infrastructure is coming along but very slowly with spending representing only around 1% of the road infrastructure budget.

      Sometimes it all seems a bit hopeless but every drop wears away the hardest stone as they say so continuing to ride as much as possible is the probably the best thing to do.

      Happy riding 🙂

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