First Step Towards Australian U-Turn on Helmet Laws

Almost 20 years ago, in 1991, Australia became the first country in the world to make it illegal to cycle a bike on the road without a helmet. Since then debate has raged over this issue with strong opinions on both sides. Fast forward to 2009 when Sue Abbott was pulled over in country Scone, NSW, and fined for a no-helmet offence.

Read more, including the Judge’s decision, after the break.

The video of when Sue was arrested shows the police sergeant remarking “it’s a hair thing“, but Ms Abbott’s objections are based on a firmly held belief that wearing a helmet increases the risk of brain damage, and that being forced to wear one infringes on her civil liberties.

The argument is that falling from your bike whilst wearing a helmet increases the risk of rotational injuries, basically because when the helmet strikes the road it grips, increasing the angular acceleration and twisting the head more than would occur with an unprotected head. This increases the risk of brain damage from ”diffuse external injury”, an injury similar to shaken baby syndrome.

A 1998 report from the Federal Office of Road Safety was also shown, demonstrating that brain injury rates among motorists would be cut by up to 25 per cent, even where airbags were fitted, if car drivers wore bicycle helmets.

When Sue tried those arguments in the Scone local court, the magistrate would have none of it and fined her $50 plus costs. Not to be deterred, Sue appealed to the District Court where Judge Roy Ellis happily admitted his own doubts about the laws.

Having read all the material, I think I would fall down on your side of the ledger,” the judge told Ms Abbott, ‘I frankly don’t think there is anything advantageous and there may well be a disadvantage in situations to have a helmet – and it seems to me that it’s one of those areas where it ought to be a matter of choice.”

He found Ms Abbott had ”an honestly held and not unreasonable belief as to the danger associated with the use of a helmet by cyclists”, and quashed her conviction, although he still found her offence proven. So while this doesn’t change the law, it certainly goes a very long way towards it.

Comments

topmounter - 10/15/10 - 4:00pm

I’ve always wondered how Australia turned into such a nanny-state.

nv - 11/14/10 - 3:44pm

So, where to from here?

Wyatt F Huck - 12/26/10 - 8:58am

So when do they get their guns back?

Marc - 01/03/11 - 3:21pm

Its concerning that these comments are so partial and unbalanced. The average fall height from a bicycle is about the same as from a powered two wheeler (unsurprisingly: and check the drop heights in the various Standards too…), and the injuries (read the MUARC reports) are from impact rather than rotation- which is a secondary but relevant issue. Its perfectly understandable to hear the opinions, as they are shared still by any other helmet using groups in all sorts of modes and activities. Sadly ‘honestly held beliefs may be not unreasonable – just not founded in fact.

I had to address the car helmets issue raised by the quoted FORS report and its protagonists formally.. so the arguments used then are extremely familiar to me. Its just sad to see this type of ‘case’ presented as well founded when other forms of structure of argument could well be supportable!

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