Friday, January 8, 2010

"Over-regulated - under-biked"

The Sydney Morning Herald started the year off with a predictable cycling article that noted the increase in cycling and the fact that more bicycles than cars are sold in Australia. Before the reporter indulged his smug fantasies with his grouping of cyclists, he recorded that the state government has recognised the increase in cycling, and, joy oh joy, has included 'cycling' into their transport blueprint, whatever that is supposed to mean.

But the real government reaction has been to cry from the rooftops that cycling is dangerous, cyclists are dangerous and, truly, it would be safer all round if we all stayed indoors. Naturally these sentiments have been fully supported by Bicycle NSW and various Emergency Departments and have led to some heated debate in letters and blogs.

Whilst a significant proportion of the population is deterred, for the most part cycling continues to grow. It is clear that the Lord Mayor and the City of Sydney have stoically rolled up their sleeves and have already produced some bicycle friendly intitiatives. This has left the state government and Bicycle NSW looking somewhat pointless.

In a desparate bid not to be left behind as the current 'cycling zeitgeist' steam rolls into our psyche and city, the chairman of Bicycle NSW, Alex Unwin, has used the New Year's Day issue of the herald to deliver copious platitudes:

''We have reached a fundamental turning point,'' he said. ''Ten years ago bike riding was a specialist activity. Now bike riding is a mainstream activity. Increasingly, government understands that this is a good thing. The City of Sydney has put a lot of money into specialised bike infrastructure and now the State Government is coming into line [with the bike plan], and there's now a national cycling strategy being reworked this year.''

But I take issue with his 'ten years ago bike riding was a specialist activity' platitude because twenty years ago it was a mainstream activity yet because of specific advice from organisations such as Bicycle NSW, we went backwards almost to the point of no return. The true history of cycling over the past two decades is now being conveniently ignored, including the most enormous 'elephant-in-the-room' - mandatory helmet laws. Repeal them!!

We cannot dodge this issue any longer.

Mandatory helmet laws:
1) are dangerous for our society
2) have specialised cycling to the detriment of the community,
3) have allowed the sport of cycling to hijack the way we live our lives, and
4) are an abuse of our civil liberties.

To all intents and purposes the far reaching consequences of mandatory helmet laws were unintended yet perhaps they were callously factored in from the start - afterall it was a significantly cheaper option for our state governments to sign legislation compelling us to wear helmets than to sign cheques for the necessary cycling infrastructure. Notwithstanding the saving for government, mandatory helmet laws have been a short term gain, and can no longer be tolerated as the substitute for cycling infrastructure.

If mandatory helmet laws were repealed we would have a good chance of reaching the projected 'target of 5% cyclists by 2016' overnight - but then the state government really would have to 'walk' their new 'fluffy' feel good 'talk' by providing us with "Copenhagen" - in fact they are going to have to do this anyway, but in the meantime perhaps the Herald could explore mandatory helmet laws in an investigative manner, whilst limiting the spin and hype from state government and Bicycle NSW.

Repeal Mandatory Helmet Laws Now!


  1. Great post again Sue.

    I note in the final paragraph of the article the author talks about all of those people who own bikes but do not use them. He also correctly says that it is a very large group. Interesting that he doesn't ask why they don't use their bikes.

    All the very best for your appeal next month. I have a feeling your appeal will be allowed but it will be sent back to the Local Court for you to be given a proper chance to put your defence.

  2. Thank you, Edward, for your on-going interest - your comment is really supportive, and provides me with courage!

  3. 'reached a fundamental turning point' my ass! The reason why so many people own bicycles but do not use them are the same reasons why cycling IS still a specialist activity in NSW - bicycles have become 'other' rather than 'ordinary', and the helmet laws have really helped add to that decline. Bicycle NSW can spin it how they like but there is a looooong way to go before cycling becomes everyday and ordinary again in Australia.

  4. And this morning, Jamaica has announced mandatory cycle helmets will be introduced in the next Road Traffic Act. Looks like the world is going backwards on this matter. So much for 'progress'