Friday, February 24, 2017

Table talk: NSW politicians and me on bicycle helmet law

Me, Melinda Pavey & Michael Johnsen
What a week it's been! ... and yes the Minister for Roads and the Member for Upper Hunter have a new fan!

Having publicly divested myself of cycling opportunities to use my bicycle in the Upper Hunter Shire last week, since I was in Randwick yesterday I used the one parked in my sister's garage to attend a meeting at Parliament House with my local representative the Hon. Michael Johnsen MP (Member for Upper Hunter) and the Hon. Melinda Pavey MP (Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight) to discuss my position on mandatory bicycle helmet law ...

... and they listened.

They gave me the opportunity to express my frustration at this uniquely Australian compulsion ... and I did.

We discussed how mandatory helmet law (MHL) has created such a significant barrier to cycling especially to older women such as me, and how any barrier to cycling is always a shame. And yes we discussed hair and how that is an issue for women even if it isn't for me because we all know nothing could squash my crazy hair!

We discussed my long running legal saga and what a waste of police resources and court time and money that has been.

We touched upon health issues and our nation's obesity problem continuously gobbling up precious resources in the health system, and the need to get more people on bicycles.

We discussed the lack of all-age helmet compulsion in other countries such as Scandinavia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain, Ireland, how the US and Canada have a mish-mash of helmet requirments in certain states and provinces but not the blanket all-age helmet compulsion that we have across our nation across theirs.

We also discussed bike share and how Mexico and Israel got rid of their helmet compulsion when bike share was introduced because they wanted their programmes to succeed unlike our dismal Australian attempts in Melbourne and Brisbane. For the sake of comparison, I pointed out that Melbourne and Dublin both started bike share in their cities at exactly the same time and that Dublin's has been a huge success story whereas Melbourne's has been a monumental fizzer.

We looked at the 'safety-in-numbers' factor and how the more bicycles on the road there are the safer it is, and how much better cycling is in the Northern Territory with their watered down helmet requirements that are far more lenient and therefore don't put up so many barriers to cycling.

And I have to say I was heartened. Yes truly ...

Both politicians ride bicycles and both were open to the view that bicycles provide avenues and opportunities that we are not utilising at the moment. The Minister for Roads said they would re-visit the data, and I urged her not to only look at Australian material which has been so very blinkered to date, but to look at what the international community have to say on this subject as well.

There were no promises made, but this new roads minister was affable and open to suggestions, even on how a new approach could be drafted!

Whether bicycle helmet law is a Department of Roads issue or a Department of Transport is yet to be decided ... but hey, we were talking, we were talking ... and that is certainly something.

Baby steps, I know, but all the same ... baby steps get you somewhere!

Thank you, Melinda Pavey and Michael Johnsen, and I look forward to chatting again very soon!!!!


(Note to self for today's TO DO list ... send Freestyle Cyclists' contact details to Road Minister's department)


  1. Well done Sue. It is very pleasing that Melinda Pavey and Michael Johnsen are open to hearing the case for reviewing the current arrangements. Good call on the NT that an easing of the laws could be a start. Maybe decriminalisation and riding on footpaths could be future agenda items?

    1. Riding on footpaths is IMO an essential change to have on the path to NT-style MHL relaxation. Its very politically doable, as evidenced by SA and WA recently making it legal.

      Sue, congrats on your meeting and well done. I'm impressed and very pleased that Pavey and Johnsen agreed to meet you. I recently wrote to Pavey about footpath cycling and MHL so hopefully she has my letter to provide some further depth and references to your meeting.

      In regards to whether MHL repeal is the responsibility or the Roads of Transport ministeries, I suspect that while it may be possible for Transport to change the law – it would have to go through parliament regardless – it is primarily the remit of Roads. After all, it was Duncan Gay that recently raised the helmet (and footpath) fines by up to about an outrageous 500%. So lets not accept an excuse for inaction along the lines of "not my ministry's responsibility".

    2. As far as I can tell, the MHL are part of the Australian Road Rules - that are regulations. So a change wouldn't go through parliament, and would surely be in the provision of the Minister for Roads. The minister increased the fines without any legislation. It's the same deal.

    3. @inas: The ARRs allow a state to opt out of mandatory helmets.

    4. Sikhs wearing turbans exempt. What about atheists?

    5. Can I get a béret-based exemption if I claim to be Basque?

  2. Firstly congratulations on getting a meeting with a State Roads Minister. Our Victorian Minister refuses to meet with us at all.
    As a gesture of good intent, on the way to deciding 'how a new approach could be drafted', and while they are deciding whose responsibility this is, could they simply reverse the 500% increase in fines Duncan Gay imposed. It is never difficult ti bring in fines or massively increase them. Why is it so difficult to reduce them or draw a line through them. I fear that while they talk and listen they will do nothing for a very long time. They will find excuses why they can't do anything. The excessive fines need to be addressed immediately as people simply can't afford them. It is a justice issue.

  3. As a cyclist since a young age, road and mountain bike rider the sooner we get rid of compulsory helmets the better things will be. I will still wear a helmet when MTB and road riding but when ducking up to get some milk I will ride my bike over using the car if I don't have to whack on a helmet. My wife and children will ride more socially as well. Please review and change the rules.

    1. Most cyclists DO wear helmets for those activities, even in the Netherlands. I believe that here in Québec, where we have no such stupid law, at least 90% of cyclists competing or training do. In some languages, a different word is used to describe cycling to work or to the shops etc, and athletic cycling. Like walking and running...

  4. Well done, Sue. This sounds very promising. And it's good to know you can still get some cycling in!