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.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.