Australia is to examine its mandatory helmet law as part of a broader inquiry into ‘personal choice and community impacts’ reports Bicycling Australia. The Federal Government Senate Standing Committee on Economics will be looking at a number of measures which restrict personal choice ‘for the individual’s own good.’ As well as cycle helmets, this will include the sale and use of tobacco and alcohol and the classification of publications, films and computer games.
In 1991 Australia became the first country to require cyclists to wear helmets, and while there has been a fall in the number of head injuries recorded among cyclists since then, opponents of the law claim this is down to other factors. Furthermore, they say the law deters many people from riding bikes, arguing that this has an even bigger impact on public health in a wider sense.
The Australian reports that the new inquiry into ‘nanny state’ laws and regulations was initially launched by New South Wales senator, David Leyonhjelm, who is described by the newspaper as being ‘a staunch defender of the right to make bad choices.’
“It’s not the government’s business unless you are likely to harm another person. Harming yourself is your business, but it’s not the government’s business.
“So bicycle helmets, for example, it’s not a threat to other people if you don’t wear a helmet; you’re not going to bang your bare head into someone else.
“I’m expecting the people who think we should all have our personal choices regulated will find this uncomfortable. These are the people who think they know better than we do what’s best for us.”
Submissions to the committee close on August 24 with a report due by June 13, 2016.
Earlier this year, Arnold Schwarzenegger became the latest celebrity to fall foul of Australia’s compulsory cycle helmet laws after he was stopped by a policeman for not wearing one while riding a bike in Melbourne. Boris Johnson and Twilight star Robert Pattinson have also been stopped in the past. Last year, police also said they might fine any riders who took part in an anti-helmet compulsion protest ride in Adelaide if they didn’t wear a helmet.
In 2010, two researchers at Sydney University claimed that Australia’s compulsory bicycle helmet law did not work and called for a trial to be conducted to try and predict what would happen if it were repealed. They said that the fall in head injuries largely came about before the law was introduced due to other road safety measures, such as random breath testing, and suggested that having greater numbers of cyclists on the roads would do far more to make cycling safer.