Helmets and mandatory helmet laws

IMG_8840Now we are right into summer, I have stopped wearing my helmet on  really hot days. It makes riding very uncomfortable when I can’t take advantage of the cooling breeze around my head. I am not the only one. Even here around Adamstown there are many more helmetless riders nowadays, while formerly they were confined to the inner city areas.

The rides I have been doing take me along quiet, wide back streets where I am lucky to pass three or more cars, then onto separated shared paths for the majority of my trip, with very few pedestrians or other bikes, so there is very little risk. Even so, the first day I went out helmetless, a workman said, “Where’s yer helmet?” even before I was on the bike. Old attitudes die hard.

Recently, there was a proposed relaxation to  mandatory helmet laws in Queensland, along with a few other changes to make the roads more friendly to bike riders. The failing cycle share scheme in Brisbane would be exempt, as it is widely thought that the mandatory helmet laws we have are the reason for the failures of these schemes. A good overview of the proposed changes is in this article. I call the changes “proposed” because they were subsequently defeated. The online polls which I took part in during the lead up to this proposed change all voted in favour of changing the helmet law. And the changes would not even have allowed cyclists to go helmetless in many instances, though for the sort of riding I do, I would be exempt from helmet wearing. And, of course, there is always the option of wearing one, there is never mandatory non-helmet-wearing.

Old attitudes die hard. We have become accustomed to seeing cyclists wearing helmets all the time and when people don’t wear them, it is noticed. Hi-viz attire is often recommended for cyclists as well, in the belief that it makes us safer. It doesn’t, it makes us look like construction workers.  What makes us appreciably safer is the infrastructure we ride on, giving us as much separation from cars as possible. Laws are a reflection of the society we live in, they are not immutable, and it is obvious that Australian society has a strong perception that cycling is dangerous and therefore cyclists need to wear safety equipment to make them safer on the roads. This perception has largely been brought about by the laws we have. It will take a long time to change that.

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4 Responses to Helmets and mandatory helmet laws

  1. Good for you, Vicki. Sadly, I only wear a helmet in summer to keep the sun off my noggin. I know what you mean about Hi Viz. I only wear it when I’m riding to work as it’s compulsory for all workers on the wharves. Otherwise ,I can’t stand the stuff. Hope to check out that new beach side bike path in a couple of weeks on my Brompton.

    cheers,

    Ian

  2. anniebikes says:

    I’ve been following the non-helmet wearer versus safety debate for a number of years. I used to be pro-helmet, but I now realise I’ve been misguided. It really is all about safely dividing cars from bike riders. For me it boils down to where I would feel comfortable seeing my boys ride their bikes – definitely on a segregated path. If a mother feels her children are safer then the helmet issue becomes a minor point. With that said, I’ll continue to wear my helmet because I do occasionally fall and, unfortunately, hit my noggin. That’s between me and my bike, not because of bike and car confrontation. I’ll insist my boys wear helmets too, because it’s ingrained. But I’ll still teach them to ride on little used roads, or sidewalks even, and if they have the choice, to stick with separate bike paths as the best and first option. I believe helmets are a personal choice, especially for adults. I wonder if everyone rode on segregated paths, quite possibly the helmet debate would be a non-issue. An optomistic dream, but something to think about.

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