Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The "Having-Your-Cake-&-Eating-It" Helmet Laws

A bill has been passed in Israel with the intention to repeal part of the mandatory helmet laws that were introduced last year. If the final votes to be cast this week confirm the bill's status in law, adults will no longer be required to wear a helmet whilst riding a bicycle in the city however...(here comes the tricky bit!)...children, those riding off-road or those biking between cities would still be required to wear a helmet.

The position in Israel certainly lends some weight to our arguments here in Australia but I seriously hope our governments do not fall for such a 'creatively complicated' pathway when it's our turn to repeal mandatory helmet laws (surely on the horizon; the repeal of MHLs!?)

Mandatory helmet laws are dangerous for anyone, anywhere, anytime, & we need to just get rid of them in their entirety!! Complex provisos for children, or urban areas, or weather, or types of bicycle, or shared pathways or any other daft reason beloved by bureaucrats would only complicate the issue, lead to uncertainty, and be guaranteed to be unenforceable.

We want these laws repealed; not complicated!


  1. Hi Sue,

    I've followed your story via Copenhagenize with some interest. I've been living in the UK for the last year and a half having grown up in Australia and spent the first 10 years of my adult life as a utility cyclist under the MHLs. Here in the UK, I rode away from the local bicycle shop on a nice city bike without even being asked if I wanted to buy a "lid".

    I hadn't given much thought to the MHL up until I started utility cycling in the UK, and noticed that although "slow" cycling isn't exactly thriving, I can expect to occasionally see people riding situp bikes going about their business, sans helmet. I've even seen women in skirts and dresses cycling. That is something I've never personally seen in Australia. Not even in Canberra, which is arguably Australia's most cycling friendly city (and also the most car friendly as well).

    Based on my own observations in the UK, Paris and the Netherlands, as well as Mikael's writings on Copenhagenize, it is clear to me that there is something that is almost completely missing from Australian cities. And it isn't just accountable motorists and cycle lanes, it is simply people using bikes to get from A to B with an attitude and clothing as though they were driving, taking public transport or walking. As long as the MHL lasts in Australia, all attempts to encourage cycling will be hindered by the inability of Australia to normalise cycling while maintaining the MHL.

    So, in a round about way, I have to come to the reason why I cannot completely agree with your distain for the Israeli proposal to wind back some of their MHL. Sure, it is completely irrational to think that a helmet is more necessary when cycling on a country road, and I agree that the choice of whether a child wares a helmet should be a house rule not state law.

    However, such irrational, face saving compromises are the stock in trade of democratic politics. If a partial rollback of the MHL based on bicycle type, road type, urban or rural, child or adult distinctions was on the table, it would be crazy not to take advantage of it. If such a partial rollback allowed bike share to proceed without the current hindrance, this would be a significant victory. Every time someone takes a Velib/Bixie/Bicing cycle out onto the streets of their respective city and rides in whatever clothes they wore at the time without a helmet, they become a rolling advertisement for practical everyday cycling.

    Further, you point out that such a law is likely to be unenforceable. Will police be checking ID to confirm if a younger cyclist is over/under the cut off age? Will they have an interest in arguing about where the city ends and countryside begins? Would they be stopping cyclists to check if there bike was a particular type? Probably not, or not often. So the law would be flouted, and likely eventually completely repealed, especially if cycling were to become more normalized.


  2. Hi Tali,

    Thanks for your great post - I suppose I struggle with the concept from a civil liberties abuse angle. By going down the 'partial law' path we yet again allow a commercial reality to dictate the way we lead our lives - it's pathetic that governments are so easily persuaded by what they stand to gain in terms of finance.

    Obviously if it was on the table we wouldn't knock partial MHLs back but I think it's a shame to pursue only half the cause - it would lead to discriminating circumstances for many cyclists.

    Thanks again for your thoughts!