Monday, February 25, 2013

The Elephant in the Australian Room - my bicycle culture







As we all know (boring) Australian law requires all people sitting on bicycles in Australia, whether stationary or moving, to wear an approved bicycle helmet...and as we all know, this is determined by way of state regulation and has been part of Australian law since 1991.

Consequently, as we all know (still boring) if you ride a bicycle without a helmet in Australia there is a good chance you will be stopped by the police and issued with an infringement notice. In New South Wales the resulting fine for contravening Regulation 256 (Road Rules) is less than $60, and the majority of people who receive such notices tend to just pay them. Interestingly though in NSW, it's becoming more & more apparent that more & more people are factoring this fine into their cycle regime as more & more people are observed cycling without helmets. However this is not the case in Victoria where the fine almost requires you to take a bank loan - there, unsurprisingly, helmet compliance is high whilst diverse all-inclusive cycling remains muted.

As we all know (yawn!) for the past twenty years academics across the globe have not been able to agree upon the merits of helmets or helmet laws, and this ‘academic ping-pong' funded by taxes has left questions unanswered. The lack of conclusive evidence for helmet laws has played into the Australian cycling paradigm and ridiculously allowed anecdotal evidence to dictate the Australian cycling reality as opposed to science. This has been a great pity as the subsequent much pedalled notion that bicycle helmet laws have made cycling safer is not only superficially plausible but arguably misleading and deceptive.

At the risk of sounding extremely repetitive (who me???!), helmet laws have been one of the best marketing tactics ever - wouldn't we all love our products to be mandated for?..and in a nutshell, Australians are completely responsible for the continuance of this ridiculous situation which leaves us languishing under the mantle of 'just-about-world's-worst-cycling-nation' ever!

But enough ought to be enough and we simply just shouldn't be able to ignore the dark side to helmet laws any longer - and neither should we skirt around this deeply divisive topic at/in/during bicycle forums just because the topic often becomes fraught. I am sick and tired of the blatant 'pussy-footing' that goes on at interminable transport / cycling / green-sustainability / sustainable-greeness / lovey-dovey love fests where participants pretend that everything can be made wonderful ('Austrayerella, you shall go to the ball'!) if we talk in terms of 'villages & baskets' without ever mentioning the 'helmet-law factor'.

No matter your beliefs or otherwise in myths and mythological creatures, helmet laws are significantly destructive to any attempts at nurturing a bicycle culture...and being told to wait until suitable infrastructure is in place is equally unhelpful - I'm not content to lead an impoverished cycling-life because one day the cycling-kingdom of heaven will be mine!

I just don't buy that, and given that I have been fined, criminally convicted, had that conviction quashed, had other helmet matters heard & dismissed in court, been ordered to pay into NSW Victims Compensation Fund as a result of this Australian crime of helmetless cycling and had my driver's licence removed and 2 bicycles seized by the local sheriff all because of my refusal to heed this unsubstantiated and completely unnecessary law, I think it's time that the wider global community ought to be brought in to address this Australian issue at the numerous internationally-recognised transport forums that litter conferencing schedules around the world.

Countries like Australia could certainly do with the imprimatur of other nations' official recommendations, and by garnering such support, maybe we could manoeuvre ourselves into a better position to report back to our government in a more globally informed capacity which maybe, just maybe, might make a difference in our considered lobbying for Australian transport law reform.

Anyhoo, here I am...back in this climate-&-transport-challenged continent, and already on Day 1 I'm weary of the continuing battle ahead as our politicians continue to commission tax-payers' taxes to 'bottomless cup' studies

MASSIVE SIGH!

12 comments:

  1. Welcome back to the nanny zone!

    As I am about to return Oz, I too am bracing myself to the onslaught of helmet zealots when I touch down.

    On the subject of climate and transport challenged politicians, I recently received a reply from the Greens Party in regards to the ridiculous helmet law. They believed that helmet law is not a barrier to cycling.

    For all their lofty ideals of saving the planet, The Greens are no different from the other major parties in maintaining the status-quo on mandatory helmet law.

    It is time the Greens pull their collective heads out of their arses, and review the data on cycling under a helmet law regime. If they wish to maintain their green credentials on climate and transport policy, they would be wise to take a principled position to repeal mandatory helmet law.

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    1. Peng! I completely concur with your views on the outdated Greens and the need for them to 'pull their collective heads out of their arses'!!!

      I remember being completely gutted when Bob Brown wrote to me saying he and the Greens weren't in the least bit interested in bicycle helmet law reform - in fact it was somewhat akin to discovering the tooth fairy and the easter bunny weren't real!!!!!

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    2. I'm impressed you actually got a reply. Sarah Hanson-Young didn't bother replying to my letter.

      Dr Steven Fleming has suggested a 'World Mock Australia' bike ride (http://cycle-space.com/?p=12827). I think he might be on to something.

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  2. If it is any solace at all, the local constabulary seem to be relaxing a bit in the ACT (knock on wood!)...I have seen an ever increasing number of riders going lidless! Within the Braddon area (also known as civic) the number might be as high as 30-40%, though that is only my impression and not from any serious study. The majority are young people under 30, though there are a few older farts (like me) who prefer to place the onus on society to ensure we are safe in our transport choice :P

    May the wind always be at your back and your gears never rust!

    Paul J

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    1. Good to hear re 'ever increasing number of riders going lidless' and thank you, Paul, for that lovely saying!

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  3. Hi Sue,

    Great for Aust. that you're back in the country. I was starting to wonder if you would bother returning to this cycling backwater. Completely agree with you and Peng about the Greens. I have had equally disappointing exchanges with them. Their response could have been written by one of our tunnel-visioned Transport Departments rather than a party interested in sustainable transport.
    We're riding in Melb. this weekend to Port Melb bikefest if you want to join us. Otherwise let us know next time you're down and we'll gather together for you.

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    1. Sadly, Kathy, I can't make Melbourne this w/e for Port Melb bikefest, but would love to catch up with you all next time I'm down your way!!! xx

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  4. This particular blog entry not really the place for this... but I thought you'd find this interesting (if you haven't already seen it of course):
    http://www.nber.org/papers/w18773

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    1. Thank you, Smithy! - no, I hadn't seen it before, and yes, I found it really interesting - in fact refreshingly measured and considered!!! - thanks!

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  5. Helmet compulsion is coming to Europe. Spain's right wing government are about to change the law to force cyclists to wear helmets alongside a raft of new anti cycling measures. No more cycling trips to the Canaries for me: http://goo.gl/mxFxu

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    1. Hi goodwithwords!...that is just so devastating - Australia ought to be held up as a case in point for not going down that pathway - we clearly have demonstrated over the last 20 years how useless helmet laws are - brilliant marketing but that is all - hope you can stall it before it's enacted!

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