Melbourne cyclists plan protest against Australia's compulsory helmet laws

Civil disobedience protest launched by new campaign group Freestyle Cyclists

by Simon_MacMichael   September 27, 2012  

Melbourne (© Diliff, Wiki Commons)

Cyclists in Melbourne will next month take to the city’s streets bareheaded in an act of civil disobedience protesting against compulsory helmet laws. The city is the capital of Victoria, which in 1990 was the first state of Australia – indeed, the first jurisdiction anywhere – to make helmets mandatory for all cyclists.

The protest is being organised by a new group called Freestyle Cyclists, the aim of which is to have compulsory helmet laws in Australia and New Zealand overturned. Cyclists riding without a helmet in Victoria currently face a fine of A$176.

According to Melbourne newspaper The Age, the group has around a dozen core members, although more than 600 people have signed a petition backing the group’s manifesto, which states:

“Our objective is to reform bicycle helmet laws in Australia and New Zealand, to remove the discouragement of cycling they cause.

“The key to getting more people to ride bikes is to make it as attractive as possible.  Dangerising cycling and blaming the victims of poor road infrastructure and car-centric road culture has the opposite effect.

“The more people who ride, the faster governments will improve roads for cycling.  In turn, as the roads are improved, more people ride.  This virtuous circle needs to be encouraged, not discouraged by making it less attractive and less convenient to cycle.

“By signing up to support Law Reform on our home page, you add your voice to the campaign.  When we have enough supporters the law will fall, and Australia and New Zealand will rejoin the rest of the world.”

- Freestyle Cyclists

The Freestyle Cyclists’ ride will take place on October 6 along Merri Creek, and beforehand supporters will attend a talk at CERES Community Environment Park in East Brunswick for a talk by Chris Rissel, professor of public health at the University of Sydney.

Rissel is longstanding and vociferous opponent of helmet compulsion who has published widely on the subject.

Opponents of helmet compulsion insist that the benefits of cycling to wider public health outweighs any potential reduction in head injuries as a result of making helmets mandatory, and Freestyle Cyclists spokesman Alan Todd says that compulsory helmet laws deter many people from riding bikes.

''It's hurting the people who might ride but don't,'' he maintained, ''and they are exactly the people we want to get more active.''

Citing a 1999 review which reported an 88 per cent reduction in head and brain injuries and 65 per cent fewer upper and mid-facial injuries, James Holgate, director of road user safety at state highways agency VicRoads said: “Helmets are designed so that the foam material they are made from spreads the force of an impact and absorbs the energy, greatly reducing the risk and severity of head injury in the instance of a crash.”

Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld, head of neurosurgery at Sydney’s Alfred Hospital says that the compulsory helmet laws should remain.

“I'm the one who sits at the hospital looking after the victims of road trauma,” he explained. “There are many cyclists among them, and I can't help but think that if they weren't wearing helmets their injuries would be significantly worse,” he added, and said that the idea that the legislation deterred people from undertaking exercise was “specious.”

A spokesman for Victoria Police said that the force would monitor the protest ride and take action “when appropriate.”

Australia’s compulsory helmet laws have been blamed for usage of bike-sharing schemes in Brisbane and Melbourne that is at low levels compared to those in cities elsewhere, as outlined in this On Your Bike blog post written by Michael O'Reilly and published in The Age.

14 user comments

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About time and I hope they are successful, should have stopped pandering to the motor lobby a long time ago.

posted by southstar [11 posts]
27th September 2012 - 16:15

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Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld, head of neurosurgery at Sydney’s Alfred Hospital says
"I can't help but think that if they weren't wearing helmets their injuries would be significantly worse,”

Hmmm - 'he cant help thinking'?
So that means he is actually just speculating and not actually basing it on an empirical evidence?
Thats a strong argument!
Thinking

posted by Some Fella [524 posts]
27th September 2012 - 16:42

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Some Fella wrote:
Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld, head of neurosurgery at Sydney’s Alfred Hospital says
"I can't help but think that if they weren't wearing helmets their injuries would be significantly worse,”

Hmmm - 'he cant help thinking'?
So that means he is actually just speculating and not actually basing it on an empirical evidence?
Thats a strong argument!
Thinking

I think you will find its a figure of speech not a direct answer. Judging by his qualifications he is in a very strong position to comment about the effectiveness a helmet would make in reducing injuries and its not all just guess work.

As for the protest i, personally, dont think the govt will take any notice. The Oz govt dont bow to public pressure at all.

Stumpy

posted by stumps [2076 posts]
27th September 2012 - 18:32

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Sorry Stumpy I can't leave your comment without a response. The doctor is not in a strong position to comment about the effectiveness of a helmet in reducing injuries - it is indeed all guesswork. The reason is quite simply that it is not possible for the doctor to replicate the same impact and circumstances with and without a helmet (and of course which helmet would you test).

Any doctor who claims to "know" the benefits of helmets and says so publicly in this way is simply using his/her position as a trusted professional to influence opinions in areas where they are not qualified.

I'm not qualified either so I won't tell you whether or not to wear a helmet. Neither are governments and they shouldn't tell you either.

Shay

posted by shay cycles [133 posts]
27th September 2012 - 20:21

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Here we go again arguing about helmets. I'm surprised no-one has dregded up the reduction in head injuries amongst motorcyclists folowing the helmet law being introduced in the UK in 1976.

I am curious if the good doctor has seen destructive testing of helmets and understands what's involved.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1783 posts]
27th September 2012 - 20:55

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To Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld, head of neurosurgery at Sydney’s Alfred Hospital.

I can't help thinking that if you removed the bad drivers you would be out of a job!

FATBEGGARONABIKE's picture

posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [419 posts]
28th September 2012 - 7:03

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An excellent initiative and for the sake of the population of Australia, I hope it succeeds.

The only effect of the helmet law in Australia was to reduce the number of cyclists, there was no reduction in risk to each individual cyclist. The drop in the number of cyclists more than explains the fall in the number of cyclist deaths. Sorry, not quite the only effect: the helmet manufacturers made obscene profits as well.

Cycling confers huge health benefits, with regular cyclists living longer and being fitter and healthier, so the drop in the number of cyclists was a public health own goal of staggering proportions, and a massive cost to the state. It may not be coincidence that Australia now has the second most obese population in the world. With fewer cyclists and more people driving, congestion and pollution must have risen as well. There was no positive effect from the helmet law at any level, and it's typical of the posturing politicians that they can't admit their mistakes.

Check out cyclehelmets.org for the facts rather than the assumptions of the ignorant.

burtthebike

posted by burtthebike [49 posts]
28th September 2012 - 10:28

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"The only effect of the helmet law in Australia was to reduce the number of cyclists, there was no reduction in risk to each individual cyclist. The drop in the number of cyclists more than explains the fall in the number of cyclist deaths. Sorry, not quite the only effect: the helmet manufacturers made obscene profits as well."

A great pity for your argument that that's not true. There was one study done in Melbourne, which I've read and I bet you haven't, which concluded that there appeared to have been a drop in teenagers cycling. Not adults and no other effect. The Rissel argument that there was no effect on injuries was thoroughly debunked - basically, Rissel and his co-author didn't align the time period for the injuries with the time period pre and post helmet law.

I've been riding in Melbourne for almost 30 years and I can tell you that there are far more cyclists around now then there were when you didn't have to wear a helmet. Frankly, the helmet law has not inhibited the uptake of cycling at all. Sorry.

"It may not be coincidence that Australia now has the second most obese population in the world."

And that's utter and complete rubbish - according to the OECD it's midrange. Noteably the UK obesity rate is much higher, by which I conclude that NOT requiring bike helmets causes obesity.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [47 posts]
28th September 2012 - 14:22

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Then Sakurahinmachi, I suggest you read the material on the Bicyel Helmet Research Foundation website.

See their presentations on the fall in cycle usage in these pages: http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1194.html and http://www.cycle-helmets.com/cycling-1985-2011.html.

See their links to various scientific papers here on health, obesity and diabetes and the impact of helmet compulsion here http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1193.html#301.

Rissel is just one of many studies and you have cleasrly just read the one which you believe supports your position.

posted by Paul M [281 posts]
28th September 2012 - 19:55

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I believe that the helmet law should be scrapped. I have cycled in Australia and the heat, allied to the effect of foam insulation on your head, can induce heat stroke. However, the final decision should be with the individual in this instance. Sick

posted by Bob McCall [14 posts]
29th September 2012 - 9:54

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shay cycles wrote:
Sorry Stumpy I can't leave your comment without a response. The doctor is not in a strong position to comment about the effectiveness of a helmet in reducing injuries - it is indeed all guesswork. The reason is quite simply that it is not possible for the doctor to replicate the same impact and circumstances with and without a helmet (and of course which helmet would you test).

Any doctor who claims to "know" the benefits of helmets and says so publicly in this way is simply using his/her position as a trusted professional to influence opinions in areas where they are not qualified.

I'm not qualified either so I won't tell you whether or not to wear a helmet. Neither are governments and they shouldn't tell you either.

Hi Shay, not meaning to be a pain in the arse however can i just ask you this "you bang your head on an object not wearing a helmet and then you bang your head with the same force whilst wearing a helmet" tell me which one you would prefer. I know a helmet wont stop you from getting run over but it MAY stop other minor injuries possibly leading to major injuries. Its entirely the individuals choice and you have to respect them for that choice. Big Grin

Stumpy

posted by stumps [2076 posts]
29th September 2012 - 18:54

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Hi Stumpy,

Of course I'd rather bang my head with a helmet than without. But I'd rather not bang it at all.

For a major impact I'd rather have a motorcycle helmet than a bit of expanded foam bonded to some plastic.

Mostly I do choose to wear a helmet and I am absolutely not anti-helmet but as I said "I'm not qualified either so I won't tell you whether or not to wear a helmet. Neither are governments and they shouldn't tell you either."

I'm definitely pro-choice and respect people's choice whether to wear a helmet or not.

Shay

posted by shay cycles [133 posts]
29th September 2012 - 22:28

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"Then Sakurahinmachi, I suggest you read the material on the Bicyel Helmet Research Foundation website.

See their presentations on the fall in cycle usage in these pages: http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1194.html and http://www.cycle-helmets.com/cycling-1985-2011.html."

Actually, that is the study I was referring to - and you'll note that they carefully state that the only measured effect was on teenagers. Problem is the study itself: small sample size, small time period, but very large assumptions being drawn, globally, on the basis of one far from authoritative study.

posted by Sakurashinmachi [47 posts]
10th October 2012 - 10:11

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By far the biggest elephant in the room with this subject is the emotion it stirs up between those who pontificate about safety and those who resent it.
Usually both sides come from totally different premises making resolution impossible. To make things worse the underlying issues are rarely addressed.
I, for one, explosively resent anyone saying that something is good for me and therefore a law to make me conform to it is alright. And I am not alone.
To me its a form of insanity to say you believe a thing is good for you therefore it follows a law to make you do it is good.
If not insane, it is damaging to our society's view of itself as fundamentally free.

posted by Pjrob [21 posts]
11th October 2012 - 22:40

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