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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

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The Tel-Aviv Municipality in Israel saw a 54 per cent increase in cycling when it repealed its mandatory helmet law.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

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.

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