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Bike helmet laws — baby steps

By John Hargreaves - 7 March 2016 11

bike-helmets

I wrote about the compulsory wearing of bike helmets back in 2014 suggesting that the laws were ill-conceived, arbitrary and downright dangerous.

I talked about the benefits of cycling and admitted happily that helmets do in fact prevent soft tissue injury and hairline fractures.  But I also suggested that the increased head mass due to the helmet caused Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI) which results in para- and quadriplegia and sometimes death.

Naturally, there was a howling of dissent from those with the emotive argument that helmets save lives.  There was not much science proffered.

I accompanied the President of the Cyclists Rights Action Group (CRAG) to a hearing of the Senate Estimates Sub-committee on 16 November 2015. It was the Senate’s Economic References Committee inquiry into personal choice and community impacts of, inter alia, bicycle helmet laws held a hearing at the State Parliament House in Melbourne. Senator Leyonjhelm chaired the hearing and Senator Canavan also participated.

It heard from scientists and journalists from around the world who had researched the matter in depth and most said that the construction of the helmets was dangerous, the standards applied to the manufacture of helmets was dodgy, and the health impact of the use of helmets was not only non-conducive to cycling but also dangerous because of the likelihood of DAI.

We now have here in the ACT, a courageous minister who has mooted that helmets could become optional on shared paths and around confined spaces such as university campuses.

This has been welcomed by those agitators who have been trying for decades to have this matter either further investigated on a proven scientific basis or repealed altogether.

As an aside, it has also been proffered that the insistence on the wearing of helmets is an infringement of civil liberties in that the only sufferer of a mishap is the cyclist and not a second party. I’m not sure about this one but it does open up another line of conversation.

Back to the changes in the law here in the ACT.

The disappointing bit is that any changes won’t be made until at least mid-2017; there will be another review (hopefully a proper one devoid of the emotive arguments) conducted by who knows who, with who knows what qualifications, a set of terms of reference yet to be developed (and if they have been, they aren’t out there for us all to see) and a report date unknown to the community.

Seems to me to be a bit too vague.

Just to add a couple of points to show the average reader what CRAG is on about, you can go and look at your bike helmet (if you have got one).  It has been designed with comfort in mind.  The problems are that the helmets reduce hearing, they are made of light weight material and they are made of substances which grip the road on impact rather than glance off it (as is the case with motorcycle helmets).

The increase in the mass of the head results, coupled with the gripping of the road surface, means that when a head comes into contact with the ground at speed, the head or body is rotated, sometimes snapping the spinal cord.

So this is a dangerous aspect of cycling and it matters not whether the cyclist is on a bike path, a university campus or just riding through Garema Place.  You run the risk of paraplegia or quadriplegia and at worst, killing yourself.

A man did die because in Wanniassa, of DAI attributed by the Coroner to the wearing of a bike helmet.  This finding has of course been ignored by those who espouse the emotive material put about some in the medical profession (who should know better) who say that the helmets save lives.

They quote stats from the ED that purport to sustain their argument.  But this data is dodgy.  There has not been a corresponding decrease in the incidents of injury due to the compulsion of bike helmets, there has not been a reduction in severe head injury attributed to the compulsion of bike helmets.

There has been a significant reduction in the amount of people riding for exercise, in commuting, in recreational riding.

The proponents of the law say that the expenditure on health is reduced because of the compulsion of helmets.  This is contested.  Sure there may be a reduction in soft tissue injuries but these are not that significant to the health dollar. Significant head trauma is a charge on the health dollar and there are no statistics to support the notion that helmets have prevented or reduced the cost to the health dollar.

CRAG and many scientists from around the world presented statistics to show that the removal of the compulsion would be the right thing to do.

Incidentally, when the federal government bureaucracy was asked for supportive data to sustain its position, the data was not available, it did not exist. Neither was the data supporting the position of Standards Australia in its determination of the manufacturing criteria for bike helmets.

It all smelled of the notion of a streaker’s defence.  It seemed a good idea at the time.

The ACT is in a good space to lead the way, to encourage other governments to repeal their legislation.  There are some jurisdictions who have an appetite for change but don’t want to be the first. Well, let’s do it and do it now.

Promising to look into it and delay the decision to 2017 smacks of election jitters to me.  If the Green Minister, a notable cyclist in his own right, can’t champion this one without worrying about his election chances, so much for integrity.

All the same the proposed changes here are welcome and eagerly anticipated.

What’s Your opinion?


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11 Responses to
Bike helmet laws — baby steps
1
MarkE 10:15 am
07 Mar 16
#

The Liberal Democratic Party may well have balance of power after the next election and we will force optional helmet laws through. It is way past time that the Nanny State let those who ride decide.

While we are at it the LDP supports marijuana legislation. IT should be legalized and regulated like alcohol.

Mark Ellis
President – ACT Branch of the Liberal Democratic Party

2
justin heywood 11:15 am
07 Mar 16
#

MarkE said :

The Liberal Democratic Party may well have balance of power after the next election and we will force optional helmet laws through. It is way past time that the Nanny State let those who ride decide.

While we are at it the LDP supports marijuana legislation. IT should be legalized and regulated like alcohol.

Mark Ellis
President – ACT Branch of the Liberal Democratic Party

Perhaps you will get the balance of power Mark, but it won’t be power honestly earned. The Liberal Democrats get significant votes because the name can easily be confused with a major party.

That’s why you fought so hard to keep the name. The party’s performance under the name ‘Liberty and Democracy’ party was abysmal.

If the party is proud of its policies, change the party’s name to something that cannot be confused, and let’s see how you go then.

3
Grimm 1:45 pm
07 Mar 16
#

Gonna be getting rid of the helmet laws for motorcycles as well?

4
Rollersk8r 1:45 pm
07 Mar 16
#

I hardly think bike helmet arguments rate on the howling and emotive scale… However:

1. Are helmet laws really something the government wants to be in the business of policing? No, they don’t.

2. If my head is hitting the road “at speed” would I want to be wearing a helmet or not? Yes, I would.

5
Postalgeek 2:32 pm
07 Mar 16
#

In truth I care little about helmet laws. I’ll wear them if I’m required to, and I’ll probably wear them if I’m not required to.

A helmet is not going to do much to save me from a distracted driver hitting me with their car. A separated arterial cycle lane will do more to protect me from such hazards than a helmet.

6
bikhet 4:41 pm
07 Mar 16
#

JH said:

“It heard from scientists and journalists from around the world who had researched the matter in depth and most said that the construction of the helmets was dangerous, the standards applied to the manufacture of helmets was dodgy, and the health impact of the use of helmets was not only non-conducive to cycling but also dangerous because of the likelihood of DAI.”

and

“Just to add a couple of points to show the average reader what CRAG is on about, you can go and look at your bike helmet (if you have got one). It has been designed with comfort in mind. The problems are that the helmets reduce hearing, they are made of light weight material and they are made of substances which grip the road on impact rather than glance off it (as is the case with motorcycle helmets).”

Might these be seen as making a case for changing the standards rather than the law?

JH also said:

“As an aside, it has also been proffered that the insistence on the wearing of helmets is an infringement of civil liberties in that the only sufferer of a mishap is the cyclist and not a second party. I’m not sure about this one but it does open up another line of conversation.”

Not a good argument. The same could be said of motorcycle helmets and seat belts in cars, though in those cases I hope that a risk assessment would result in a reasonable person using them anyway.

JH said, too:

“There has been a significant reduction in the amount of people riding for exercise, in commuting, in recreational riding.”

As I’m sure you are aware, correlation isn’t causation and the implication that in this case it is detracts from what is otherwise a good article. I strongly suspect the decline in bicycling is due to other factors, not compulsory helmet use.

7
Nilrem 4:42 pm
07 Mar 16
#

MarkE said :

The Liberal Democratic Party may well have balance of power after the next election and we will force optional helmet laws through. It is way past time that the Nanny State let those who ride decide.

While we are at it the LDP supports marijuana legislation. IT should be legalized and regulated like alcohol.

Mark Ellis
President – ACT Branch of the Liberal Democratic Party

I applaud your principled stand to defend to the death my right to have my head explode like a ripe watermelon when it hits the road or an oncoming bull bar. I’ll keep wearing my helmet. On what basis do you think the LDP will hold the balance of power after the election? Internal polling? A show of hands in the party room?

8
miz 7:23 am
08 Mar 16
#

I cannot wait to buy myself an Oma bike once I am no longer compelled to wear a darn helmet! All I want is to be able to ride to the shops, or just around the traps, without the added encumbrance of a helmet.
Happy to leave the helmets to the commuter fanatics.

9
Rollersk8r 10:36 am
08 Mar 16
#

miz said :

I cannot wait to buy myself an Oma bike once I am no longer compelled to wear a darn helmet! All I want is to be able to ride to the shops, or just around the traps, without the added encumbrance of a helmet.
Happy to leave the helmets to the commuter fanatics.

Fanatics? Interested to know where you draw that line? So there are just the two categories – serious people and those who just want to ride a bike without a helmet?

And seriously – you can’t wait to ride a bike – but helmet laws are stopping you??

10
Maya123 11:35 am
08 Mar 16
#

John Hargreaves said, “The problems are that the helmets reduce hearing”
Having worn a helmet for years, I have never experienced reduced hearing because of it. How? It doesn’t cover the ears…unlike earphones.

I have had two accidents that involved hitting my heard and I would have been a lot worse if my helmet hadn’t been between my head and a rock the first time, and my head and the handle bars/ground the second time. I will continue to protect my head thank you.

Though having said that, I can hear the argument for relaxing the helmet wearing law for low speed areas, such as around shopping centres. But once a person rides on the road, or a path further away where speeds are greater, helmets should be worn. Canberra’s shared paths are rarely maintained or cleaned, so are not a safe place to ride without a helmet. While I have seen nearby roads that don’t need it, resurfaced, the neighbouring bikes paths in far worse condition, are ignored.

11
Canfan 8:51 am
03 Jun 16
#

Helmets save lifes. I’d love to see more research on this.

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