Unquestionably cycling safety in Australia has become a 'marketplace of products' which has led to us being held captive by helmet manufacturers...
...and inexplicably, we seem to be countenancing an almost 'Stockholm Syndrome' quality to any mention of Mandatory Helmet Laws (MHLs), whilst simultaneously disregarding evidence exposing their deletorious effects on communities.
This continuation of a 'blind Freddy' approach to any debate on the topic is at our peril.
For nigh on twenty years we have witnessed an unwelcome departure from commonsense to the extent that virtually a generation of Australians has grown up minus bicycles & their accompanying 'every-day-ness'. Our complete obsession with MHLs has allowed an exploitative superficialality to inform our approach to cycling safety. Rational, informed discussions on the critical issue of MHLs have been impossible, & ridiculously, the commercial paradigm of the legislation has mesemerised our entire nation, whilst single handedly terminating utility cycling.
We are loving cycling in Egypt though we are the only two women we've seen so far enjoying the marvels of this wonderful mode of transport!!
Without doubt Cairo could do with considerably more cyclists, and interestingly, has given us a glimpse of Sydney's future! - if we don't get a wriggle on in investing in these liberating 'wheels', we have only pathological and terminal congestion to look forward to.
So at the risk of sounding repetitive, one of the first things we can do is:
(Article: Evening Standard, London, Friday 19 March 2010 - debate in UK informed & 'grown-up') Not only do the Helmet Corporations continue to control the way information flows (see p.391) in New South Wales but they also continue to wield the power.
"Just released NSW Bike Plan, $158m over 10 years. Largest bike-related capital works program in NSW. Priority projects include Parramatta to Syd Oly Park, Penrith CBD to Nepean River, Blacktown to Prospect, North Ryde to Macquarie Uni, and fast tracking bike networks in Parramatta, Liverpool & Penrith."
* Your favourite routes * Your observations of your current cycling routes * Your family cycling patterns * Your recreational cycling patterns
I decided to comment on the "your family cycling patterns" option - and my post on KK's website is currently awaiting moderation (fingers crossed!!)- see below for the 'copy':
"My family cycling patterns demonstrate us cycling for transport and utility. There are six of us in our family, and as far as we can we cycle everywhere. Not one of our 4 adult children owns a car, and two of them live in Sydney, and therefore do not contribute in anyway to the appalling traffic congestion problems so clearly evident throughout the city.
I would like to add that to further enhance this wonderful initiative please repeal mandatory helmet laws. Australia continues to be hindered by them.
The rest of the world (apart from New Zealand, and they don’t count because they always do what we do) is mystified by our stubborn adherence to them. Israel has repealed them to aid their newly implemented bike share programme, as have Mexico. We need to do the same before we consider bike share for Sydney. As you would be well aware, Brisbane and Melbourne are on the brink of installing these programmes in the next couple of months, and as we are all aware, both ‘city-bike’ and ‘bixi’ are doomed to fail.
Given that we are the fattest nation in the world and that we are now killing ourselves with the effects of obesity more than we are with the effects of smoking, we must consider every avenue possible to get us moving. There is scant evidence that helmets actually offer the protection they advertise.
In previous communication with you I have recounted my court experiences pertaining to this matter to defend my unhelmeted cycling behaviour. I am currently researching my next ‘legal avenue’ from a civil liberties angle. If we had a ‘human rights bill’, mandatory helmet laws would already have been contested and cast out.
Please consider my request – Sydney is on the brink of something very special in terms of cycling – we have the most beautiful city in the world to work with, a cycling premier and a population enthusiastically embracing the joys of ‘freedom cycling’ – you will have already noted that over 50% of your cyclists have dispensed with helmets – the law is fragmented, contradictory and largely unenforceable.
I am still keen to meet the premier when she has a moment to discuss my position.
Kind regards, Sue Abbott The Freedom Cyclist http://www.freedomcyclist.blogspot.com/"
Kristina Keneally's invitation is open to all of us so don't forget to leave your comments too!!
If NSW mining policy can be rewritten so can NSW cycling policy! There's a space now in the 'lobby' queue for us to persuade our politicians to SAY NO TO MANDATORY HELMET LAWS!
If the Premier is not prepared to "jeopardise the growth" of the racehorse industry, then perhaps she ought to apply that same reasoning to cycling. Otherwise by refusing to consider an altered government position on mandatory helmet laws, she is complicity jeopardising the growth of cycling. When you consider Australia's dire levels of obesity coupled with our disinclination to accept our global responsibilities, it is clear that the government's current position on mandatory helmet laws is cavalier.
...but back to Scone & the Upper Hunter, during the exquisitely timed media announcement, our media savvy premier elaborated that "this mine is simply not compatible with the unique rural characteristics of this locality, including the horse-breeding industry," exactly mirroring the incompatible characteristics of mandatory helmet laws, 'porky' Australians, traffic congestion, Australia & the cycling industry 'full stop'.
By claiming that "it's the first time NSW had rejected a coal mining project", Kristina Keneally (KK) scaled the 'uber-scary-political' hurdle of a first pioneering brave move!
This is great news!
Now she can move on to assessing mandatory helmets laws - & it won't take her long, using her Bickham Coal parameters, to see that the merits of mandatory helmet laws "just do not stack up!"
Go, KK, we haven't a moment to lose!! TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!
The unicycle is defined in the Road Rules Dictionary as a:
'wheeled recreational device, built to transport a person, propelled by human power or gravity, and ordinarily used for recreation or play'.
The definition continues that a:
'wheeled recreational device (a) includes rollerblades, rollerskates, a skateboard, scooter, unicycle or similar wheeled device, but (b) does not include a golf buggy, pram, stroller or trolley, a motor-assisted device (whether or not the motor is operating), or a bicycle, wheelchair or wheeled toy.'
The definition is completely silent on the issue of helmets, as are the various regulations pertaining to 'wheeled recreational devices' within the NSW Road Rules 2008.
Notwithstanding my abhorrence for helmet laws, heaven forbid that the bicycle is ever included in that 'wheeled recreational device' definition - the provisions of regulations 240 - 244 (Road Rules 2008) would catergorically prohibit us from using certain roads!
(Photos: Dr Paul Martin) Here we go again!! - it had to happen!
Dr Paul Martin, a specialist anaesthetist in Brisbane, has just been booked by the Queensland police for riding a bicycle without wearing a helmet, whilst on a quiet bike path doing 10km/h:
"The officer was reasonably polite but he did bang on a bit (as did his plain-clothes colleague on a bike) with a few anecdotes on the effectiveness of helmets. I did not lie, and said that I wasn't wearing a helmet because I didn't have it on me and that I don't wear it, and gave my reasons."
Predictably, the plain-clothes bike-officer then proceeded to regale Paul with endless anecdotes of bicycle calamaties suffered by him personally, and how he was mightily glad in retrospect that he'd been wearing a helmet on all those occasions! The 'sporty cop' also divulged to Paul that he had been careering down mountains when these 'incidences' occurred - what a surprise!!
Notwithstanding his own statement, the 'bike copper' then mentioned, somewhat helpfully, that if Paul did possess any evidence to support his 'anti-mandatory helmet law' stance perhaps he should consider contesting the infringement.
Without wasting a moment, Paul has instructed a law firm in Brisbane to represent him in the looming court matter. He clinically accepts that this traffic infringement might be "the most expensive $100 fine I'm ever to get", yet he hopes his case will further expand the legal argument in Australia against mandatory helmet laws.
Considering that the Roads & Traffic Authority are quick to give effect to 'demerit point' totals, 'overdue' licences, inaccurate log books etc etc, why is it that their promised 'one month' turn-around to reach a decision concerning my application for exemption to wear a bicycle helmet when riding a bicycle, appears to be transmogrifying into a 'three month' one?
I have a 'shopping list' of questions for the RTA:
1. why do I have to wait so long on the end of the phone-line every time I call 'you'? 2. why do 'you' never seem to know what's going on nor seem to possess any strategies to combat this administrative failing of 'yours'? 3. why is there no 'tracking system' for correspondence given that there clearly is a 'tracking system' for demerit points? 4. why has my application taken so long to consider given that 'your' policy states otherwise? 5. how can 'you' sanctimoniously claim that 'you' have a one-month turn around when 'you' continuously move goal-posts? 6. why is communication between 'your' various RTA departments (units or centres) so negligible, notwithstanding that 'you' work in the same Miller Street building? 8. how is 'your' current modus operandi 'procedurally fair'? 9. will 'you' uphold my civil liberties in light of your "acknowledgement of dis-benefits for certain headforms"?
I can barely contain myself!!! Given that my application finally 'landed' in the correct departmental inbox on Wednesday 5th May 2010, I have been informed that I can confidently expect a decision to be reached by Saturday 5th June 2010 (MAY DAY, MAY DAY; WEEKEND ALERT!!!)
Sigh! ok!- Monday 7th June 2010, and no later, RTA, are you listening?
(Cartoon: Alan Moir, Sydney Morning Herald 6/5/2010)As long as the oil companies hold the purse strings to our economies, our fragile world will continue to be systematically destroyed...
...and as long as governments continue to grovel for more contracts with these oil companies, intergenerational equity will remain as implausible as unicorns.
Important "POSTSCRIPT" to yesterday's post: Clinical Associate Professor Chris Rissel from Sydney University has weighed into the mandatory helmet law debate on Croakey - it is so heartening and so encouraging to read what he has to say!
The article I wrote for "Croakey", concerning Australia's vexed issue of mandatory helmet laws, was published today. Predictably, a small flurry of comments has raised implausible claims of protection afforded by helmets - the following is a classic!:
"...I could take you to ED and you could see the cyclists brought in by ambulance after a truck or a car has run over someone’s head."
...a bicycle helmet would protect me from a truck running over my head? No kidding!!!!
Unquestioning loyalty to bicycle helmets has spawned a general acceptance of fatuous helmet-protecting dogma. Notwithstanding this craven desire to believe all the helmet-hype, scientific evidence shows that contrary to popular opinion, bicycle helmets do not provide this mantle of protection.
The belief in helmets has been held together by a belief in their superior protective capabilities, coupled with the 'danger-mongering' of cycling. Inexplicably we have completely lost any critical powers to be able disseminate helmet information for what it actually is - helmet promotion.
But cycling is not dangerous:
- our 'fattest-nation' status is - our catastrophic committment to the oil industry is - our inertia in the face of climate change is
So what can we do?
Well for starters...lets' get physical (onto our bikes) & let's get critical (decide for ourselves whether to helmet or not)!!
...also visit "Croakey" and volunteer your thoughts...!!
POSTSCRIPT: Quick update with Roads & Traffic Authority (RTA) and my exemption application:
* application received by the Centre for Road Safety yesterday (despatched March 10 2010) * application currently being processed * application process cannot be discussed whilst being processed * application will be processed within a month (June 5 2010, 3 months after intitial despatch)
...and just as a little afterthought, how does one distinguish between a "Department", a "Unit" and a "Centre"? I'm curious - it seems to be an important distinction, and I have been the recipient of much 'authoritative disapproval' asking for the incorrect "whatever"!
1. Helmet laws discourage cycling - cycling rates dropped 40% when mandatory helmet laws were introduced in the early 1990s. 2. Fewer cyclists on the road made (& continue to make) cycling more dangerous, radically departing from the 'safety in numbers' factor 3. Helmet efficacy is greatly exaggerated, and largely unproven (full marks for brilliant marketing though!) 4. Helmet laws cultivate the notion that helmets are the first & last words in bike safety. Governments & parents feel immensely reassured once they've popped a helmet on a child's head - 'well done, us, we've done our bit!' 5. Helmet laws distract from measures that can actually keep cyclists safe such as comprehensive and extensive cycling infrastructure 6. The health benefits from cycling without a helmet outweigh the risk of 'imagined' risk of cycling.
The enactment of the Australian helmet laws was just a 'smoke & mirrors' routine to provide an illusion that something significant had been done for cycling.
Instead of mandatory helmet laws, the following intiatives should have been implemented:
(i) A 'metre' passing rule for motor vehicles passing cyclists
(ii) Banning cars from parking in bike lanes (see photo above of Newcastle's attempts to 'provide' for cyclists - one open car door & hey presto you hit the deck!)
(iii) Creating more bike lanes
(iv) Creating bike-only thoroughfares
(v) Incorporating bike safety training into public school curriculum
(vi) Providing free bike safety classes to the general public
(vii) Enforcing traffic laws, for both motorists and cyclists
(viii) Holding at-fault motorists fully accountable when they injure or kill cyclists
It is sobering to note that many more motorists die from head injuries than cyclists do. Oh! and the seat belt argument just isn't comparable. Seat belt efficacy has been overwhelmingly demonstrated; bike helmet efficacy has not.
"Rules, Rules"...as Simon Cutting of Manly put it in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, "I can't wait till I'm old enough to move out and get my own country so I can do what I want."
Cycling into town, I passed one of those massive mining trucks that all too often descend upon our Australian roads. It was decked out with about a million B-double engines on the front, and about half a million B-double engines on the back - & every vehicle imaginable was accompanying this 'thing' on my country road.
After the 'lead highway patrol car' mentioned I might need to hop off at some stage and we had negotiated that I could go a little further up the hill before I did actually hop off, the 'second highway patrol car' quipped "you're not in Paris now!"
(Cartoon: Michael Golding, The Age, April 2010)We are in dire need of an application of a human rights doctrine to the vexed issue of mandatory helmet laws. Such a doctrine could not fail to present a persuasive argument against the continued criminalisation of un-helmeted cycling.
Unreasonably these limiting helmet laws force us to surrender our 'own person' responsibilities and our natural inclination to keep ourselves safe...and all for the commercial reality of an 'anatomy modifying' device (questionably fit for purpose); and the oil industry.
Our devotion to oil continues a relentless drive to plunder the globe. Not for us the message in Jared Diamond's "Collapse"! Who needs to take heed of the history examples in that prophetic tome? No - it's 'business as normal' for our blinkered economies, perversely blind to the 'global canary'.
But in the meantime, thank heavens Malcolm is planning on using the Pollie Pedal bike rack again!! (Michael Golding's brilliant cartoon appeared in The Age, April 2010 whilst 'M' was in the Wilderness)
Currently, Malcolm Turnbull is the only politician with any environmental 'street cred' in our Australian Parliament. Remember prior to Copenhagen? - he didn't sell out!! - in fact, he was prepared to give all his political ambitions away; he crossed the floor for the environment; impressive!...
(Photos: Chilango, Flickr) "Ecobici" is Mexico City's new Bike Share scheme, and part of the city's 15-year Plan Verde, a $1 billion-per-year program supported by Mexico's federal government, the World Bank and the United Nations.
"The plan includes a new, energy efficient bus system, once-a-week no-drive days for all cars, and subway system improvements. Every Sunday, 16 miles of downtown streets are closed to car traffic, allowing cyclists and pedestrians to safely cruise their city."
But in order to ensure their 'clean-air' bike share programme works, Mexico has repealed their mandatory bicycle helmet laws! Admittedly their helmet laws had been largely unenforced, but their urban planners & municipal leaders decided to leave nothing to chance, and appreciating that MHLs could pose an unnecessary hurdle, dispensed with them poste-haste!
So here's what's on offer for users:
* they can check out a bike for 30 minutes at a time * they return it to any of the bike stations, and 10 minutes have to pass before they check out another one * if a bike is kept out longer than a half hour, small fees start to accrue * the bikes have adjustable seats, and they come with lights that go on automatically when ridden and have small racks to hold purses or groceries.
Why do we have to make it so hard for ourselves here in Australia? The solution is so simple, and other countries are paving the way for us...