South Oz police threaten to fine unhelmetted riders on anti-compulsion protest ride

Scrapping helmet laws is a ‘debate ahead of its time’ says Adelaide Mayor

by Sarah Barth   May 24, 2014  

Australia flag.jpg

Police in Australia have said they may fine any riders who take part in an anti-helmet compulsion protest ride who aren’t wearing helmets.

South Australia Police have issued the warning to dozens of cyclists who plan to gather for a 15km ride in Adelaide on Thursday to raise concerns that an ‘overbearing’ helmet law is an obstacle to increasing cyclist numbers in Australia’s towns and cities.

Cyclists who ride without helmets could face an AU $153 (£84) fine - but the event’s organisers have told attendees that the decision of whether or not to wear them is up to them.

“If a person is observed by a police officer riding a bike on a public road in South Australia without a helmet, the police officer ... may fine the person for not wearing a helmet,” a spokeswoman told The Australian.

Rally participant Will Matthews, 35, said the “overbearing” law needed to be eased.

“Give adults some choice depending on the cycling they want to undertake,” the graphic designer said.

New York transport expert Janette Sadik-Khan who vastly increased cycling numbers in the populous city, said infrastructure prevented more deaths than helmets.

“We built almost (650km) of bike lanes in six years and ... we saw the fewest bike riders killed in traffic crashes in 30 years,” she told Bike SA magazine.

The Tel-Aviv Municipality in Israel saw a 54 per cent increase in cycling when it repealed its mandatory helmet law.

Eran Shchori, who lobbied against the law’s introduction in 2007, said: “Anything that is an obstacle to people getting on their bike to go commuting isn’t a good idea.”

But Associate Professor Robert Atkinson of the Australian Medical Association SA said helmets saved lives.

“Mandatory bicycle helmet laws should absolutely be maintained,” he said.

“Overseas experience is not necessarily directly applicable here.”

Adelaide mayor Stephen Yarwood said scrapping the law was “a debate ahead of its time”.

“It will only be a relevant debate in the city where it’s safe to ride without helmet,” he said.

Late last year we reported how a survey in Australia has discovered that there has been a “small but statistically significant” decrease in levels of cycling in the country during the previous two years.  Some 37.4% of Australians rode a bike last year, compared to 39.6% in 2011.

The decline was particularly marked decline among children aged 2 to 9. Some 44.4 per cent of 2 to 9-year-olds rode a bicycle in the week prior to being surveyed, down from 49.1 per cent in 2011.

While that remains the age group with the highest levels of bicycle usage among the overall population, such a big decline among a group that represents the adult cyclists of tomorrow does not bode well for the future.

Regular cycling is also in decline. The percentage of people of all ages riding weekly has fallen from 17.8 per cent in 2011 to 16.6 per cent in 2013.

South Australia, where the state tourist agency heavily promotes the country’s highest profile race, the Santos Tour Down Under, showed the lowest levels of participation, with around one in three residents cycling once a year or more.  

While Australia’s nationwide compulsory helmet laws are often singled out as being a deterrent to cycling, Bicycle Network Victoria spokesman Garry Brennan told the Guardian that it was the perception of danger on the roads that discouraged people from getting on a bike.

Noting that while cycling was experiencing a boom in inner city areas in contrast with what was happening in the suburbs and countryside, he said: "With the rapid population growth in the state, we have to convert new riders faster than population is growing,” he said.

23 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

So the rest of the world is wrong? The statistics compiled in your own country are wrong?

“Overseas experience is not necessarily directly applicable here.” Oh! Really?

I know that just because your paranoid doesn't mean that no-one is out to get you, but, you don't think that, horror of horrors, you might, just might be out of your [insert expletive here] gumtree?

posted by levermonkey [378 posts]
24th May 2014 - 14:20

43 Likes

If cyclists need laws to make them wear helmets then so do car drivers and all pedestrians as head injury stats are not massively different for all these groups.

posted by Alan Tullett [1457 posts]
24th May 2014 - 14:42

53 Likes

Does Professor Atkinson have a figure for how many lives would be saved due to fewer cases of medical negligence if doctors concentrated more on what the patients in front of them were telling them rather than on what kind of hat the people cycling past the office window are wearing?

Northernbike's picture

posted by Northernbike [148 posts]
24th May 2014 - 15:53

36 Likes

To see the effects of neighbouring new Zealand's cycle helmet law http://rdrf.org.uk/2013/12/17/the-effects-of-new-zealands-cycle-helmet-law/ , with a discussion as to why the supposed benefits of helmet compulsion were not apparent http://rdrf.org.uk/2013/12/27/the-effects-of-new-zealands-cycle-helmet-l....

posted by ChairRDRF [137 posts]
24th May 2014 - 16:21

33 Likes

Australia is basically what a colony of Daily Mail readers would look like, I can't imagine why anyone would want to live there. They always like to sell themselves with images of beautiful bodies surfing all day, but in reality it's a society with some of the worst obesity and alcohol problem in the first world.

Oh, and they've got really big spiders. Seriously, they're like the size of a dinner plate. I don't care if they're harmless, to hell with that.

posted by bikebot [641 posts]
24th May 2014 - 16:23

62 Likes

ChairRDRF wrote:
To see the effects of neighbouring new Zealand's cycle helmet law http://rdrf.org.uk/2013/12/17/the-effects-of-new-zealands-cycle-helmet-law/ , with a discussion as to why the supposed benefits of helmet compulsion were not apparent http://rdrf.org.uk/2013/12/27/the-effects-of-new-zealands-cycle-helmet-law-the-evidence-and-what-it-means/.

That graph is very, very striking and those who favour compulsory helmets (which probably doesn't include many people here, to be fair) need to do some work if they want to explain it away. If they can't, they should maybe shut up and move on to pushing some other nonsense.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [695 posts]
24th May 2014 - 16:45

39 Likes

If the protest "ride" riders took their helmets off and walked the route it would take longer and possible provoke a stronger reaction from the powers that be plus then the rozzers wouldn't be able to nick em Wink

FATBEGGARONABIKE's picture

posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [594 posts]
24th May 2014 - 17:46

37 Likes

The more i hear and see about Australia the nearer i come to the conclusion it is possibly the worse place on earth.

posted by Some Fella [786 posts]
24th May 2014 - 19:19

33 Likes

Wow. I always thought places like Iran, North Korea and Southern Somalia seemed much worse; but your carefully reasoned argument has made me rethink.

posted by brackley88 [76 posts]
24th May 2014 - 20:51

30 Likes

Im doing a sportive in Southern Somalia later on this year.

posted by Some Fella [786 posts]
24th May 2014 - 21:36

34 Likes

I'll bite, though I shouldn't.

I'm a cyclist in Australia. Melbourne to be exact. Melbourne is supposed to be the most cycle friendly city in Australia. And in some areas you can use bicycle paths, or clear bike lanes have been marked on the roads.

But for the greater part the city, and Australia, is stubbornly car orientated. This does not just include the way that the transport corridors are marked it, it includes the way they are used, the psyche of the users and the tone of discussion in the media.

People have pointed to me the studies that show that in a fall the person can suffer from injuries that are caused by the wearing of a helmet. So I don't disregard that. I've also read the studies on the uptake on cycling reducing the cost of medical care in later life. That is an excellent finding and should be promoted.

However, it is currently still too dangerous to cycle around without a helmet on Australian roads. One of the points made in the study that looks at the contribution of the helmet to injuries is that there needs to be a safe cycling environment to begin with. If the fall was to occur at a moderate pace without the collision of a car then the helmet is a detriment. That is still probable in Australia, but much less probable than in a country that has cycling infrastructure and a cycling culture.

I do hope that one day I can cycle about safely without a helmet. But to suggest that now is the time is to stubbornly place my desire above the reality of the situation.

I doubt that this post will have any effect upon some of the previous posters but I hope that other readers will consider it against what they already know or believe in a measured way.

posted by footsore tramp [6 posts]
25th May 2014 - 5:32

23 Likes

levermonkey wrote:
So the rest of the world is wrong? The statistics compiled in your own country are wrong?

“Overseas experience is not necessarily directly applicable here.” Oh! Really?

I know that just because your paranoid doesn't mean that no-one is out to get you, but, you don't think that, horror of horrors, you might, just might be out of your [insert expletive here] gumtree?

He's probably referring to the difference in car divers attitudes towards cyclists. A lot of Australian drivers have lost the [insert expletive] plot !

Blandman

posted by Blandman [8 posts]
25th May 2014 - 6:42

26 Likes

footsore tramp wrote:

However, it is currently still too dangerous to cycle around without a helmet on Australian roads.

Even with a helmet Australia remains two or three times as dangerous per mile cycled as Britain, and Britain is two or three times more dangerous than the Netherlands. So it seems helmets do not make cycling as safe as it can be.

footsore tramp wrote:
I do hope that one day I can cycle about safely without a helmet.

You are mistaken if you think helmets make Australia "safe".

I cannot be bothered to look up the exact figures for head injuries per mile in the countries I mention, but I know my approximations are in the right area.

When the compulsion law increased wearing rates from about thirty percent to over ninety percent the rate of cyclist head injuries did not decline. This seems pretty good evidence that helmets do not have the protective effect you believe.

felixcat's picture

posted by felixcat [250 posts]
25th May 2014 - 10:13

25 Likes

felixcat wrote:
When the compulsion law increased wearing rates from about thirty percent to over ninety percent the rate of cyclist head injuries did not decline. This seems pretty good evidence that helmets do not have the protective effect you believe.

A couple of things I've noticed about commenters from Australia both on UK and Australian media comment boards - the apparently unbreakable association they make between cycling a bike and falling off a bike - as if one activity can only, indeed must inevitably, be followed by the other, and that only cyclists sustain head injuries for which helmets are the essential and obligatory mitigation.

posted by congokid [130 posts]
25th May 2014 - 14:06

32 Likes

I do not wear a cycling helmet and in the last forty years since learning to ride a bike I have hit the road seven times out of probably fifteen incidents.

The only time that I have ever suffered a head injury was at the age of thirteen [Just had to be didn't it?]. I was struck by a car doing sixty in a thirty zone. This is the Police's estimation based on the distance I was thrown. No long term damage as according to my father I'm solid ivory from the nose backwards.

The point of all this is: If I swing a sledgehammer at your head what is going to protect you more, you putting on a cycling helmet or me putting down the sledgehammer? Thinking

posted by levermonkey [378 posts]
25th May 2014 - 14:58

31 Likes

footsore tramp wrote:
I'll bite, though I shouldn't.

I'm a cyclist in Australia. Melbourne to be exact. Melbourne is supposed to be the most cycle friendly city in Australia. And in some areas you can use bicycle paths, or clear bike lanes have been marked on the roads.

But for the greater part the city, and Australia, is stubbornly car orientated. This does not just include the way that the transport corridors are marked it, it includes the way they are used, the psyche of the users and the tone of discussion in the media.

People have pointed to me the studies that show that in a fall the person can suffer from injuries that are caused by the wearing of a helmet. So I don't disregard that. I've also read the studies on the uptake on cycling reducing the cost of medical care in later life. That is an excellent finding and should be promoted.

However, it is currently still too dangerous to cycle around without a helmet on Australian roads. One of the points made in the study that looks at the contribution of the helmet to injuries is that there needs to be a safe cycling environment to begin with. If the fall was to occur at a moderate pace without the collision of a car then the helmet is a detriment. That is still probable in Australia, but much less probable than in a country that has cycling infrastructure and a cycling culture.

I do hope that one day I can cycle about safely without a helmet. But to suggest that now is the time is to stubbornly place my desire above the reality of the situation.

I doubt that this post will have any effect upon some of the previous posters but I hope that other readers will consider it against what they already know or believe in a measured way.

It's never going to be the time. Do not make the mistake of thinking that being a good little cyclist will get you something out of a sense of fair play. The universe and bad drivers do not work that way and they do not give a fuck about you, so the only reason to wear a helmet is that you value only your head.

The only way you've going to get safer cycling for all of your body is by having so many cyclists, making such a noise, that it's easier to do what they want than not do so.

posted by nuclear coffee [164 posts]
25th May 2014 - 15:21

17 Likes

congokid wrote:

A couple of things I've noticed about commenters from Australia both on UK and Australian media comment boards - the apparently unbreakable association they make between cycling a bike and falling off a bike - as if one activity can only, indeed must inevitably, be followed by the other,

Its an odd one, that. I can only assume it must be because of the added difficulty of cycling while being upside down.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [695 posts]
25th May 2014 - 17:15

20 Likes

Some Fella wrote:
Im doing a sportive in Southern Somalia later on this year.

Just don't pee on any of their village greens and I'm sure you'll be fine.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [695 posts]
25th May 2014 - 18:06

19 Likes

levermonkey wrote:
The point of all this is: If I swing a sledgehammer at your head what is going to protect you more, you putting on a cycling helmet or me putting down the sledgehammer? Thinking

What does this have to do with riding a bike? Are you Australian?

posted by congokid [130 posts]
26th May 2014 - 12:21

18 Likes

I think that levermonkey's parable is meant to show how it is clearly better to avoid the road incident in the first place than attempt to mitigate the damage with a foam hat.

felixcat's picture

posted by felixcat [250 posts]
26th May 2014 - 12:51

13 Likes

felixcat wrote:
I think that levermonkey's parable is meant to show how it is clearly better to avoid the road incident in the first place than attempt to mitigate the damage with a foam hat.

Exactly! Big Grin

posted by levermonkey [378 posts]
27th May 2014 - 5:17

5 Likes

Northernbike wrote:
Does Professor Atkinson have a figure for how many lives would be saved due to fewer cases of medical negligence if doctors concentrated more on what the patients in front of them were telling them rather than on what kind of hat the people cycling past the office window are wearing?

Don't bother the man is clearly a quack. No sensible scientific assessment can come to that conclusion as a risk analysis. Of course on a perticular occasion a particular rider ina set of specific circumstances may benefit from a helmet to the extent that you might be able to claim that it saved their life. That's a possibility. A very remote possibility. to make every cyclist wear a helmet because a very improbable set of freak circumstances may one day occurr is just plain silly.

The so called Doctor clearly doesn't understand how cycle helmets actually work or their ratings for impact protection.

I would have to conclude one of the following:

1 Australian science is not very good and they let idiots become doctors
2 This man has faked his qualifications
3 This man hasn't looked at the issue properly
4 He's gutless and is scared he'll be fired if he doesn't say what he's told to
5 He's in receipt of brown paper enevelopes from cycle helmet manufacturers

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [660 posts]
28th May 2014 - 12:02

7 Likes

oozaveared wrote:
2 This man has faked his qualifications
You don't have to fake medical qualifications to have no clue about physics. You never hear actual engineers claiming that helmets save lives. But his inability to assess and weigh evidence is worrying.
The trouble is, doctors are a highly regarded group and their pronouncements, even on topics they have no clue about, tends to get more publicity than, say, estate agents or traffic wardens, who are probably equally well qualified on this subject.

posted by arowland [96 posts]
8th October 2014 - 18:04

1 Like