Aussie advert calls for end to Queensland's compulsory helmet laws for adults

But images of Florence's citizens riding through the streets bare-headed fail to sway powers that be

by Simon_MacMichael   November 2, 2011  

Helmet Freedom.org YouTube still

A film-maker in Australia is looking to secure TV airtime for an advertisement he has shot which calls for an end to the country’s compulsory helmet laws, at least where adults are concerned.

Geoff McLeod, from Brisbane, believes that forcing Australia’s cyclists to wear helmets has contributed to rising obesity rates in the population, as well as deterring people from taking to bicycles for their daily journeys, reports the website News.com.au.

Filmed in the Italian city of Florence at a reported cost of A$40,000, the 60-second slot on behalf of the campaign group Helmetfreedom.org shows a succession of cyclists going about their business without a single helmet in sight – although, it should be noted, a slow-moving police car apart, there’s very little motorised traffic in evidence either.

“Australia is only one of two per cent of nations that have this absolutely ridiculous law,” Mr McLeod pointed out.

“It’s the equivalent of telling people who drive cars that they have to gear up like [five-time Bathurst 1000 motor race winner] Craig Lowndes, or telling beachgoers they have to wear life jackets or surfers to wear headgear.”

He insisted that bike riders aged 18 or over should have the personal choice over whether or not to wear a helmet.

According to News.com.au, last year some 6,522 tickets were issued in Queensland relating to bicycle helmet infringements, compared to 7,500 in 2009. During the first half of 2011, 3,153 cyclists were ticketed.

Adults not wearing a helmet face a A$100 fine, while children aged between 10 and 16 are in theory fined on their third offence, having first been issued with a caution and a warning.

That's not how the law is always applied in practice. Last year, we reported how police officers in the state had let down the tyres on the bike of a teenage boy they had discovered riding without a helmet, meaning that he had to walk home.

However, Mr McLeod maintained that “Police time could be much better spent than patrolling parks giving cyclists tickets for not wearing helmets.”

A spokeswoman for Queensland's Department of Transport and Main Roads dismissed Mr McLeod’s claims, insisting that deaths of cyclists on the state’s roads had fallen by nearly half since the introduction of compulsory helmet laws in 1991.

“A recent Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety Queensland report found that bicycle helmet wearing reduces the likelihood of brain injury by 69 per cent and the likelihood of severe brain injury by 74 per cent,” she explained.

“A black and white shot of cyclists in Europe is a lot prettier than the reality of a bicycle accident without a helmet,” she continued.

She added that the number of people commuting by bike in south-east Queensland, after an initial decline, was now higher than it was before helmets were made compulsory, “Therefore there is little evidence to support that many people would take up riding if the legislation was changed.”

The report referred to by the TMR spokeswoman was published in November last year and concluded that “Current bicycle helmet wearing rates are halving the number of head injuries experienced by Queensland cyclists.”

Quoted in the Brisbane Times, Professor Mary Sheehan of Queesnland Technology University said of Mr McLeod’s proposal to scrap helmet compulsion: “I don't understand why people would consider that. All the statistics point against it.”

The study acknowledged that it was “reasonably clear that it [compulsion] discouraged people from cycling twenty years ago when it was first introduced,” but added that “having
been in place for that length of time in Queensland and throughout most of Australia, there is little evidence that it continues to discourage cycling.”

It also said that “there is little evidence that there is a large body of people who would take up cycling if the legislation was changed.”

However, Mr McLeod insists that the legislation is deterring some from riding bikes, saying: “People don’t like wearing helmets. They’re hot and uncomfortable. A lot more people would jump on a bike and go for a ride if they didn’t have to and this is what this is about.  Increasing the number of people cycling rather than getting into their car.”

He added that the idea of the advert had gained a lot of  support on Facebook and YouTube.

47 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

leonrushworth wrote:
anyway spout as many stats as you like ... at least my head is kept safe.
As long as the missus does not have to pick you up or spend £500k using the air ambulance to collect you when you go head of wheels on a dirt path onto a brick, tree root or a pavement then thats all good. You looked cool and before you fell off.

A thin, softshell helmet is not keeping your head safe. It might spare you a flesh wound or make the difference between a headache and concussion, but what will save you from death or serious injury is not having an accident. Anything else is a distraction.
PS Ta for the typo headsup.

Sven Ellis's picture

posted by Sven Ellis [31 posts]
2nd November 2011 - 13:31

1 Like

leonrushworth wrote:
WOW .. why is it about they dont do it so why should I , it is a selfish justification really.. not about deaths but possible brain damange and the implications not just to yourself and way of life but the people left to pick up after you and pay for your wellbeing.

Equally we might ask what is it about 'I do it, and so should you'.

It essentially comes down to whether one has an authoritarian view of society, where the state compels people to do things for their own good OR a libertarian view where people are compelled/prevented from doing only to the extent that such actions cause harm to others.

Cyclists as a whole will impose a much lighter burden on the state than others, because they are in general fitter, healthier and more affluent.

The motorists' road infrastructure is subsidised by everyone. The smokers and the obese are not denied hospital care because of their lifestyle choices.

Even if one could show that not wearing helmets caused increased need for support (which it doesn't, but let's pretend) it's just not a sustainable argument to suggest that cyclists should change their behaviour any more than other more numerous groups.

Sorry about the punctuation BTW, hope you can still understand it.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [540 posts]
2nd November 2011 - 14:55

1 Like

There is s a reason why the UCI imposes rules that the BEST road cyclists in the world has to wear a helmets when racing.

And they wear it on "closed" stages with no other dangers than other riders, the occational crowdee, and the pavement.

And its not because they think it looks cool..

Here:
http://www.bhsi.org/stats.htm

"Head injuries accounted for 62.6 percent of bicycle fatalities."

So yes - a plastic piece on you head can save your life, and/or your dignity.

But I am unsure whether it should be ILLEGAL to cycle without one - perhaps it only should be if you are cycling on the road.

seabass89's picture

posted by seabass89 [235 posts]
2nd November 2011 - 18:09

7 Likes

"Even if one could show that not wearing helmets caused increased need for support (which it doesn't, but let's pretend) it's just not a sustainable argument to suggest that cyclists should change their behaviour any more than other more numerous groups."

You can turn that argument the other way too..

If a cyclist cocks up not wearing a helmet - gets a brain injury, and ends up in rehabilitation programmes for the rest of his life - paid by the tax payer then it is a matter of public interest that cyclist wears helmets.

seabass89's picture

posted by seabass89 [235 posts]
2nd November 2011 - 18:15

2 Likes

The UCI probably has a fair case for insisting on helmets in racing - the risk there is from inter-cycle collisions where the primary risk is from the fall to ground. In a similar vein it makes sense to wear a helmet for off-roading - a slip on gravel or a tip on a tree root could likewise lead to head making contact with ground, at a speed within the deisgn norms for cycle helmets (ie about 12mph and a fall-height of 1m).

If anyone thinks that a helmet is going to do much good in a collision with a cement truck they are deluding themselves. The sheer momentum will crush their head like an eggshell, and in any case body crush injuries are far more likely. As someone else above says, there is no statistically meaningful evidence to support helmets in these circs. Simply saying "a helmet saved my life" or "my wife is a nurse, and she sees better outcomes for helmet wearing casualties" lacks any scientific validity.

posted by Paul M [315 posts]
2nd November 2011 - 18:36

2 Likes

I have suffered head injuries 4 times in my life. None of these were on a bike.
The incidents occurred once whilst running in a fell race, once slipping in the gym, once as a passenger in a car and once as a pedestrian being hit by a car. Should I have been wearing a helmet during these activities?

It's crazy to say that all cyclists should always wear a helmet. Most head injuries actually happen in the home (some even falling out of bed!) - should we wear helmets whilst going around our houses? Of course not.

There are risks in everything we do and as adults we should be free to make our own assessments of those risks and act accordingly.

andybwhite's picture

posted by andybwhite [199 posts]
2nd November 2011 - 20:18

2 Likes

andybwhite wrote:
I have suffered head injuries 4 times in my life. None of these were on a bike.
The incidents occurred once whilst running in a fell race, once slipping in the gym, once as a passenger in a car and once as a pedestrian being hit by a car. Should I have been wearing a helmet during these activities?

For the sake of argument; well yes of course! If you're that unlucky! Big Grin

seabass89's picture

posted by seabass89 [235 posts]
2nd November 2011 - 20:56

2 Likes

seabass89 wrote:
If a cyclist cocks up not wearing a helmet - gets a brain injury, and ends up in rehabilitation programmes for the rest of his life - paid by the tax payer then it is a matter of public interest that cyclist wears helmets.

if you're going to make it about saving the taxpayer money then there's no argument, so far as i can see: every study conducted finds increased cycling gives a net financial benefit due to increased health and productivity, even accounting for higher incidence of cycling injury. since one of the effects of helmet compulsion is reduced cycling uptake, helmet compulsion costs the taxpayer money.

You can't pick on one particular outcome and say it would be expensive, without considering all the other possible outcomes, the most obvious of which is that the cyclist doesn't die or suffer a TBI, and lives a longer and healthier life. Yes it's possible they'll get a bang on the head. I've yet to see any population-scale data to suggest more helmets means less incidence of head injuries though. The most useful data, Australia and NZ pre- and post-compulsion, suggests that helmets are pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7435 posts]
2nd November 2011 - 21:26

2 Likes

I wear a helmet because i want to, not because i'm told to.

I wear a helmet because i had a broken cheekbone and concusion after coming off my bike and was in hospital for 5 days getting an operation. I wasn't wearing a helmet then.

Would wearing a helmet stop that happening again? I don't know but i wear a helmet because i don't want to go through that again and if wearing a helmet gives me a chance, well that is good enough for me.

Most of you are old enough and ugly enough to make your own decisions. Make your own mind up and live by your actions.

Let's just hope that the Government don't try to enforce this in the UK. As you all know that once you are told to do something, you go on the defensive. I don't want to see you on the tv sleeping in a tent somewhere... Wink

If that ride is important to you, you'll find a way to get it in!

road slapper's picture

posted by road slapper [93 posts]
2nd November 2011 - 22:28

1 Like

just wondered what people thought about seat belts?

When they brought that in in the seventies there was big opposition to this, notably from people like Michael Foot, on libertarian grounds. Essentially the same range of viewpoints that people are expressing here. But am I right in thinking that now, 30 years on, we just accept it as a fact of life / common sense? Or do people see it as state oppression?

Personally I've come off my bike twice. First time I buggered my hip, second time - at 30mph - I did my collar bone. But both times the helmet did its job and protected my head, so I'm sold. But do I really give a monkey's if you wear one or not? 'fraid not.

Pete

PeteH's picture

posted by PeteH [159 posts]
2nd November 2011 - 22:47

0 Likes

PeteH wrote:
just wondered what people thought about seat belts?

When they brought that in in the seventies there was big opposition to this, notably from people like Michael Foot, on libertarian grounds. Essentially the same range of viewpoints that people are expressing here. But am I right in thinking that now, 30 years on, we just accept it as a fact of life / common sense? Or do people see it as state oppression?

The introduction of seatbelts brought a reduction in the number of KSI of car drivers & front seat passengers but not as much as anticipated and the KSI of rear seat, pedestrians & cyclists went up.

Essentially drivers felt safer & were safer, so drove more recklessly & caused more accidents. Really we need to remove the driver's seatbelt & air bag to improve road safety for all.

If riding without a helmet was made compulsory, would all the people that 'always wear a helmet' stop riding a bike?

posted by tarquin_foxglove [85 posts]
2nd November 2011 - 23:15

2 Likes

I wear a helmet because a lot of the time it seems sensible to do so. I wear one most days on my five-mile commute, and i wear one on longer rides and off-road rides.

but riding to sainsbury's 300 yards away from my house? riding into town when i know i'll have to carry my helmet around because it won't fit in the lock shackle? i can't see how the state needs to intervene in those decisions for the good of society. If, like today, i was prevented from riding into town at lunchtime because i didn't have a helmet with me (i drove in), who does that benefit?

Seat belts are a different proposition because there's unequivocal scientific data to back up their efficacy. That simply doesn't exist for bike helmets. No large scale study that I've seen shows a correlation between increased helmet use and decreased incidence of cycling head injuries. If anyone knows of such a study, I'd really like to be made aware of it. I'm happy to be persuaded, I really am. But as far as I'm concerned for now, helmets are a red herring that diverts attention from the real causes of road deaths.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7435 posts]
3rd November 2011 - 0:11

0 Likes

Seatbelts were made compulsory because cars were getting faster and drivers were becoming less responsible in their driving. Do you really think a seatbelt would have been necessary in a vehicle doing 10/15 mph?? The only thing these 'safety' features do is create an illusion of being indestructible!!

Go to a theme park, are you issued with a neck brace and helmet? NO. Yet, you are on rides that throw you around and subject you to similar forces of a car accident and present you with the risk of whiplash and brain damage!!

It does not matter how much you wrap your noggin up. All it will do is prevent the skull being pushed into the brain. NOTHING will stop the actual brain being thrown against the skull in the case of sudden deceleration.

The majority of people who take up cycling are those who take a leisurely pedal round the park or a wee tootle to the shops/work. They are not interesrted in building up their mph or what max speed on a descent Many are put off cycling because they have to deal with dangerous drivers. To be told you have to wear a helmet for your safety will further enforce the perception that cycling is a dangerous activity!

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1059 posts]
3rd November 2011 - 10:18

1 Like

giff, my point about seat belts has nothing whatsoever to do with safety. It is to do with civil liberty.

My point is that the government stepped in and made something that had previously been optional, compulsory. Their reasons (whether right or wrong) may have been safety-driven, but their reasons are not overly relevant since in a court the crown does not have to justify "why" something is illegal. It just is.

With seat belts, this all happened a sufficiently long time ago that tempers have cooled and we are able to look at this a little less emotionally. I don't particularly feel "oppressed" at having to put a seat belt on when I get in my car (although I might have felt exactly that in 1983 when the legislation first came in, in the UK).

With bike helmets the discussion evidently has not cooled but (especially wrt Australia) is exactly parallel.

Pete

PeteH's picture

posted by PeteH [159 posts]
3rd November 2011 - 13:41

2 Likes

Meanwhile, the Netherlands groans under the expense of treating thousands of brain-damaged cyclists... erm...

Incidentally, I was under the impression that the UCI mandated helmet wearing mainly to increase the sponsorship possibilities and allow manufacturers to market their products. I may be wrong about that one, but that's the impression I'm under.

posted by don_don [149 posts]
3rd November 2011 - 14:46

1 Like

On purely libertarian grounds seatbelts would not be compulsory but it is more clear-cut than helmets and one would have to be an extreme libertarian to argue against it.

With seatbelts there is clear and unarguable evidence about their effectiveness AND it strongly correlates to the types of accident likely to be encountered.
There is no benefit which would outweigh or even mitigate making them compulsory - it would not stop people driving, it does not affect their health or prevent them doing anything and it does not have a significant effect on price.

With helmets the argument about their effectiveness is far from settled, one aspect of which is whether they are actually fit for purpose.
Plus there is evidence that not making them compulsory has a net advantage in terms of encouraging cycling and overall fitness and health to the extent that it may outweigh the negative effects (if one admits them to be correct).

@seabass Yes I had already made that point in the comparison to smokers or obese people. We don't compel those groups to change their behaviour - although they are a far greater drain on resources than cyclists - so why crack down on one group and ignore others.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [540 posts]
3rd November 2011 - 16:56

2 Likes

Sorry Pete, misunderstood what you were getting across. Would agree with you to a point.

Seat belts though, were needed due to the poor driving skills and while very few choose to wear them the govt was forced to have them legislated.

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1059 posts]
3rd November 2011 - 17:24

1 Like

don_don, it'd be really interesting to do a study of injuries in UCI races from before and after mandatory helmets. Particularly as it'd be a very homogeneous group, with very similar riding behaviour, at least compared to normal riders. It'd also be interesting to consider only closed-road, professional UCI road races - could be an even tighter group, and would exclude cars as a variable.

E.g. have deaths on the big races decreased since mandatory helmets?

posted by Paul J [646 posts]
4th November 2011 - 11:14

1 Like

I always wear a helmet but that is my choice. I fully support peoples right to choose whether or not to wear a helmet. Can anyone tell me if this Aussie law applies only while riding on a public highway or when riding off-road also? If it applies off-road then that is a scandalous infringement on peoples human rights. I can't stand it when governments try to nanny people to the point where they are not allowed to have any fun just in case they might get injured and sue. I thought the Aussies were easy going but I'm beginning to change my mind. Next thing you know they'll be asking you to sign a disclaimer before crossing the road.

Andy

posted by jazzdude [60 posts]
4th November 2011 - 20:10

2 Likes

I totally agree with Andy, in so far as that I have chosen to always wear a cycle helmet (while cycling)due to my 9 year old nieces' life being saved by her helmet(and the wonderful ambulance crew/hospital staff)after she was hit by a police car on a quiet country road.
A couple of months after she was brought back from the brink of death, there was a church service held where she asked all the cyclist present to promise to where a cycle helmet in future.
I, like many other cyclist, absolutely hated the idea but went along with the promise and I can quite honestly say that over 99% of the time I have worn my lid. In fact it feels weird not too!
Having said all of that, I still feel that people should not be forced to wear a helmet as cyclist will always put more value on their freedom to do what they want over what is safest for them.

rog

posted by rogie40 [27 posts]
4th November 2011 - 20:47

3 Likes

How long have helmets been mandatory for motor cyclists? Would anyone suggest that these should not be compulsory? Yet, the majority of cycle deaths are due to head injuries. When moving forward the part of you that is likely to hit the ground first in a collision is your head. If you are struck at an angle you'll fall on your hands or your elbows, probably breaking bones.

I'm sorry to say that if people aren't cycling because they don't want to wear a helmet then they are pretty pathetic. It seems to me just being picked on as a reason to be lazy.

Cycling isn't itself dangerous it's the collisions that are. So why take an unnecessary risk? It's not like we are being asked to wear body armour. I've had gravel scraped out of wounds in casualty before, not a pleasant experience, but that's just the risk you take. The head does not repair quite so well. I'm brain damaged enough as it is! (I have Aspergers Syndrome and probably bipolar too)

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [290 posts]
4th November 2011 - 21:57

0 Likes

As someone else mentioned, some of the daft aguments on here mirror the attitude of the refuseniks when the compulsory seat belt law was introduced. I've had a couple of serious falls and it's pretty clear from the damage to the helmet that I was spared a serious head injury. Nothing the libertarians can say will persuade me differently.

And while it could be argued that adults are daft enough to decide for themselves, it's when that attitude is transferred to young children that it really bothers me.

posted by paulfg42 [376 posts]
4th November 2011 - 23:03

2 Likes

Let's face it, at least 80% of cycle helmets on the market offer such minimal protection a cyclist may as well wear a wet paper bag over the head instead. Unless you wear a proper helmet as a cyclist, and most don't, there's simply no point. The vast majority of shell type cycle helmets are a waste of money, so if you've got one you might as well put it in the bin and do without. If you wear a shell type helmet, please don't bang on about how you're looking after yourself, because in all likelihood you're just kidding yourself.

Motorcycle helmets have been compulsory since 1976 in the UK. But motorcycles travel considerably faster than bicycles and the nature of injuries to motorcycle riders are different from those involving cyclists.

I've been cycling across London for over 20 years and have come off a few times, my injuries injuries have been to arms and legs. If you look at the injuries cyclists suffer, head injuries are by far the minority.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2239 posts]
4th November 2011 - 23:30

1 Like

Since when is there a health benefit to motorcycling?

How does a broken or damaged helmet prove that it was effective? You could strap an egg, or some other fragile thing, to your noggin and claim it saved your life using that kind of faulty logic.

The facts are these:

- helmets reduce head injuries somewhat, though increase neck & facial injuries slightly.

- bicycle helmets change the behaviour of motorists, making closer passes.

- helmets discourage cycling

- in the UK, cycling has about the same fatality risk as walking (slightly less than or slightly more than, depending on how you compare).

- the long-term health benefits of cycling **greatly** outweigh the quite low risks

- Rates of helmet wearing in developed nations correlate *inversely* with cycling safety - the safest countries have the *lowest* helmet wearing rates, the worst countries (which are still pretty safe) have the highest helmet wearing rates.

This last fact could be interpreted in a number of ways. Draw your own conclusions.

posted by Paul J [646 posts]
5th November 2011 - 0:13

3 Likes

We dont have mandatory law in this country though do we?
(uk)
I only got a Helmet to race in Triathlons where its a rule.
I feel like it is probably giving me a false sense of security.
I would have to have a pretty bad accident for my helmet to come into play, and then I'd probably have serious injuries whatever.
When I come off my bike, my hands and knees take the hit, not my head.
A helmet didn't have a hope in hell of saving Wouter Weyland, sad to say.
When you see kids on the pavement and parks going no more than 2mph, with great big helmets on, it is pretty sad really.
But my helmet is pretty cool anyway I think, it also gives me somewhere to put my sunglasses. Smile
It is ridiculous, but we cant go back now, they've got us by the short and curlys.

Screen shot 2011-11-05 at 10.44.03.png

posted by pmr [172 posts]
5th November 2011 - 10:45

1 Like

pmr wrote:
We dont have mandatory law in this country though do we?
(uk)

It might not be on the statute books, but helmet compulsion exists in the UK, alright. In my case, it's enforced by the missus Wink

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8257 posts]
5th November 2011 - 11:48

1 Like

Paul J wrote:
Since when is there a health benefit to motorcycling?

.

Since you ask, riding a motocross bike requires co-ordination and upper body strength. It's a pretty tough workout just to manage a couple of laps, never mind a whole race. Just about any kind of competitive motorcyle event requires strength and ability in fact.

I agree with your other points though.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2239 posts]
5th November 2011 - 16:47

2 Likes

I wear my helmet every time I ride.

I choose to ride like a maniac most of the time.

When I ride relaxed, I'm usually hauling my kids in a trailer, and want to set a good example.

that being said...

•HELMET LAWS ARE OBNOXIOUS OUTSIDE OF COMPETITION!

•Adults can make their own descisions.

Many counties near where I live have helmet laws for adults. Imagine risking a ticket because your rode your commuter bike two blocks in a bike lane to get a carton of milk. That's just silly!

And one final anecdote: Ive been hit by more cars than I care to count. Helmet or not, never hit my head.
Urban assault and bike polo? Helmet saved my life both times!

dontcoast's picture

posted by dontcoast [21 posts]
5th November 2011 - 18:01

1 Like

'anyway spout as many stats as you like ... '
genius. Yeah, stay away from an argument like this if you've got FACTS on your side.

posted by andyp [965 posts]
5th November 2011 - 19:59

1 Like

OldRidgeback: Yeah, I agree that all-out riding on a track with a motorbike can be a decent work-out. It's *very* expensive though: you chew through costly tyres very rapidly, track fees, fuel, crash damage & lots of maintenance needed. All-out riding on the road will however get you killed very quickly. Riding a motorbike at the pace needed to have a fair chance of staying alive/uninjured on the road doesn't need much physical exertion IME (but does need lots of mental focus/exertion).

That's one reason I switched to bicycles, much *much* safer - and it hurts far *far* less when it goes wrong. Wink (Of course, some cyclists enjoy hurting themselves deliberately by pushing themselves hard up hills & stuff - but that's a good kind of hurt Wink ).

posted by Paul J [646 posts]
6th November 2011 - 10:18

0 Likes