This weekend a mass of bicyclists took to the streets of Melbourne to protest Australia’s regressive bike helmet mandate. They were, of course, riding helmet-free. The fine for doing so is an absurd $200.00 AU.
Organized by the group Freestyle Cyclists, the protest ride drew immediate media local media attention, which was then magnified across the globe.
As many bike commuters know, Australia is one of only three nations in the world that require bicycle helmets. And as most also understand, mandating helmets means less people will ride, period.
The reasons for this are many, but chief among them is the inconvenience, the fear of penalty, and the increased perception of cycling as an inherently dangerous activity that forcing helmet use creates.
It’s estimated that soon after Australia’s bike helmet law went into effect, as many as a third of the nation’s regular bike commuters simply quit riding altogether. This is truly a case of a law meant to increase safety doing more harm than good. It should be apparent that safety in numbers is the best line of bike defense.
Opposition to mandated helmets has been growing for years in Australia, with one politician there calling for a government inquiry into this and other so-called ‘nanny state’ laws in the summer of 2015.
— Melbourne Crank (@MelbCrank) March 18, 2017
NYC has no helmet law, 38 million bike share trips & 0 deaths.
Seattle has a helmet law & 1 dead bike share system https://t.co/UsaW1Bs7lk
— Janette Sadik-Khan (@JSadikKhan) January 17, 2017
As noted by Momentum Magazine some years ago, “Helmet arguments focus much-needed energy away from what really matters in making cities safe for cycling. We understand that our readers often have personal stories of loved ones who feel that they were saved by wearing helmet. Before you write us about helmets, please first write a letter to your local representative asking for better bike infrastructure and separated bike lanes. We need to move the conversation forward. We all have much more important things to talk about.”
As it’s been said so many times before, you can promote cycling, or you can promote helmets. You can’t promote both. Here’s hoping the people of Australia keep breaking ridiculous rules until their helmet mandate gets tossed for good. There’s far too much at stake not to.
See you in the streets.