Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rules glorious rules

Facts on the Rules

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" 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."

Needless to mention, all the pious goodie-goodies slaughtered his sentiments yesterday!


  1. Sue, I thought things were getting even stranger in South Australia. Section 162C of the Road Traffic Act now requires anyone riding on a wheeled recreational device or wheeled toy to wear a helmet. Parents face a $60 fine if they allow their children to disobey the rule.

    Strangely though, when you look at the definition of "wheeled recreational device", it includes things like roller blades and skateboards but expressly excludes a bicycle.

    Wheeled toy means a pedal car, scooter, tricycle or similar but only if the child is under 12.

    It is all very strange but potentially raises a defence. Section 162C applies to any person. Given the amount of lycra on the streets, a bicycle might be considered a wheeled recreational device. However the definition specifically excludes it. It is inconsistent with the Road Rule making helmets mandatory. I would have thought the Act would prevail.

    Having said that, I think the defence would probably fail but it is still all very silly.

  2. Edward, I continue to despair with our blinkered committment to inconsistency and silliness. Inexplicably we seem to make everything so hard for ourselves, and feel important doing so.

    I am amazed at the fundamental piety attached to the whole mandatory helmet law debate - why are we so wedded to maintaining this issue as a criminal one rather than a health one?

  3. Personally, I'm quite pleased that a bicycle is excluded from the list of 'wheeled recreational devices'. Only when bicycles are seen as a legitimate mode of transportation first, an a recreational tool second, will they be taken at all seriously in road planning, treatment of cyclists by other road users, etc.

    I agree with your list, although suspect we might disagree on priorities. (v) and (vi) would have the greatest benefit, both short and long term, for the safety of cyclists. You can provide all the segregated infrastructure you like but if people don't know how to ride properly they are still a danger to themselves and others (especially pedestrians).

  4. Re the push for a 1-metre passing rule. This was raised in parliament recently, and the advice from the RTA was that overtaking vehicles must move onto another lane to overtake a vehicle. Because bikes are vehicles a 1-metre rule is unecessary. Motorists must move into another lane to overtake cyclists.

    This means that taking the lane cannot be considered "selfish" riding. It actually helps motorists to obey the law.

    Next time you ride you bike take note of all those scofflaw motorists illegally overtaking you. If only they were registered we could hold them accountable.</sarcasm>