09 August 2009

Cyclist versus Goliath - Fighting Australian Bike Helmet Laws


Australian cyclist goes to court to fight ticket for cycling without a helmet.

Cyclists have been fighting for their rights for more than a century. It has largely been an uphill battle but in some countries, like Denmark and the Netherlands, political lobbying has paid off and the bicycle is a main feature on the urban landscape. Much of the battle has been waged from the grassroots angle.

In Australia there is a woman named Sue. She has always cycled and when Australia passed mandatory, all-ages bike helmet laws in the 1990's, Sue kept on cycling while many Australians parked their bikes in the garage. Despite the helmet laws, Sue continued to cycle without a helmet and she has never felt as though she needed one.

It took the better part of 15 years before Sue was finally stopped by the Austalian police earlier this year and ticketed for not wearing a helmet. After the formalities, Sue struck up a conversation with the policemen:

"One of the policemen expressed interest in why I wasn't wearing one. I mentioned I had done some research which had confirmed my view that helmets put me at risk. He was somewhat surprised, and so I continued that there was further information to show that there is a correlation between fat nations and helmet laws, and that in some parts of the US, much of Europe, the UK and Asia there were no such laws. I mentioned that now I had been issued with an infringement ticket I intended to take this matter to court.

Both he and his mate were really startled at that, and he wished me good
luck in my quest and hoped I got somewhere with it. He admitted that he had
given up cycling when the legislation became enacted in the early 90s, and
that his bicycle had sat in his garage since that time."


Sue has recently had her preliminary day in court in Australia. Normally defending traffic violations is a speedy process but Sue's solicitor surprised the magistrate by asking to be served with a 'brief of evidence' from the prosecution on 'the grounds of necessity' in order to adjourn the case to a later date for a defended hearing.


"The police prosecutor was not happy about this and raised the issue with the magistrate that the crime of 'not wearing a helmet' is one that is usually dealt with by way of an infringement notice, and that therefore, under section 187 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW), the prosecution does not necessarily have to serve a brief. Undeterred, the Magistrate informed the police prosecutor that the prosecution would have difficulties if a brief was not served."

"So on Monday 28th September 2009 I am to appear again in the local court to defend my criminal action of riding a bicycle without a helmet. I am going to argue that my criminal act of riding my bicycle without a helmet was a question of necessity and therefore:

- I should be excused if I can show that it was done in order to avoid consequences of risk of severe brain injury and/or death which could not otherwise be avoided, and which, if they had followed, would have inflicted upon me 'inevitable and irreparable evil'.

- The act of me riding my bicycle without a helmet was no more than was reasonably necessary for the purpose, and that the 'evil inflicted' by the crime of not wearing a helmet was 'not disproportionate to the evil avoided by consequences' of risk of severe brain injury (R v Davidson [1969] VR 667).

Alternatively, I am going to argue that my criminal act of riding my bicycle without a helmet was a question of self-defence and therefore:

- I was entitled to take evasive steps which I believed were reasonably proportional to the threat of the risk of wearing a bicycle helmet (R v Viro (1978) CLR)

Plus I would like to raise the fact that by prosecuting cycling, which is beneficial to health, sedentary lifestyles have been encouraged which in turn have led to worse health outcomes and greater costs for the community. Undoubtedly, Australia has the worst public cycling participation rate in the world, and instead, has ignorantly embraced the greatest health risk of them all - inactivity. I truly believe that my beliefs are reasonably held as I perceive them and that my conduct was and is a question of my survival. Therefore I shall conclude that it was and is necessary for me to cycle and to cycle without a helmet in order to prevent severe brain injury and / or death.


It really is Sue versus Goliath and the odds for success in the court case may be slim but at the end of the day this is a woman with a bicycle fighting for her right to ride. Which is the very same battle that cyclists have been fighting for over 120 years.

Placing focus on the folly of helmet laws and the scientific data that has showed that bicycle helmets can be dangerous and lead to brain injury is a bonus in a country where the press is reluctant to tackle the issue of helmet laws.

The recent study by Professor Piet de Jong that shows that Australia's helmet laws cost the country $519 million AUD each year have caused a stir around the world. The big numbers and the failed helmet laws serve a good purpose in the discussion of how promotion and legislation of helmets is destructive to cycling and public health.

But one woman with a bicycle in one local court room fighting for her right to ride as she sees fit is, for me, an inspiration to cyclists everywhere. And Copenhagenize.com wishes her the best of luck.

For more Australian angles:
- www.cycle-helmets.com - Website that explores the Australian helmet laws, with focus on Western Australia.
- The British CTC has information on helmet laws here.


From Yehuda Moon.

74 comments:

Taliesin said...

Well, with a hair style like that, no wonder she won't ware one.

Seriously, I don't ware a helmet because to me both the arguments pro/anti helmet seem to come down to lies, damn lies and statistics. You can point to an anti-helmet site, and I could point to this pro-helmet one http://www.bhsi.org/stats.htm

Brent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brent said...

She may win on her arguments and have her ticket dropped, but it doesn't appear she's arguing against the law itself. A more interesting case would be one that challenges the law itself based on some overriding principle. In the States, that often turns out to be a challenge on the basis of constitutionality or a law against public policy. Australia may have something similar.

Martin said...

Good luck to her, from a Melbourne rider!!

Melbourne Cyclist said...

Yep, definitely good luck to her!!!

And boo to our media - this is the first place that I'd seen this story (was it published over the weekend mayhap? I don't read the news on the weekends...).

If she wins, I'm going to need details of how she did it, so that I can do the same - if enough of us go through the courts and manage to get tickets dropped, the media will start paying attention, and then maybe the laws will be altered...

Good luck Sue!

sexify said...

Planning on heading over to New Zealand next year where they apparently have a similar law, so I have a personal interest in this case.

I thought it was common knowledge these days that the two best ways to make cycling safer were a) to protect cyclists from the threat of motor vehicles and b) to increase the numbers of cyclists.

Adam

Erin said...

Go, Sue.

Anonymous said...

I wish Sue the very best. I don't fancy her chances. There is a fair probability that the Magistrate will dismiss her arguments quite quickly. Nonetheless, it would be great if our newspapers and tv actually reported so that a debate could be started. The fact is that like in other countries, the only effect of the introduction of helmet laws in Australia was a reduction in the number of cyclists.

If I wasn't a lawyer working for a State Government, I would offer to act for Sue pro bono.

All the very best.

Kim said...

I would like to add my voice in wishing her luck and hope that she wins her case.

I think that cycle helmets are ridiculous and no one should be made to wear one, but if people choose to wear helmets that should be up to them alone. Personally I have seen no convincing evidence that wearing a cycle helmet will increase my safety and so do not wear one.

Ryan said...

Good luck to her.
I'm fortunate to live in a Province that still allows people over the age of 18 to go helmet-less.

Just a few days ago I read that PEI has started to bribe people with gift certificates to people wearing helmets, while handing out tickets to those that don't.

ModelCarGuy said...

I don't know whether to wish her well or not.

I'm in favor of making helmets optional, but I'm not in favor of pretending that helmets keep people off bikes. It sounds more like an excuse not to ride than a reason.

Mikael said...

She want to ride her bike as she sees fit. Isn't that reason enough to wish her all the best?

nathan_h said...

I think Sue's "hair style" looks beautiful, but her riding a bicycle doesn't make that my business or anyone else's. I suppose when Australia sensibly legislates obligatory walking and driving helmets for adults they will have a mass Safety Shearing of the full public to ensure everyone's coiffure conforms to Bell's spec. Unless of course—the mass of non-cycling Australians are worried about their hair.

Karl McCracken (@karlonsea) said...

ModelCarGuy - it only takes a small nudge to persuade people that cycling's too difficult, so this is relevant. When helmets are mandatory, cycling decreases. Whether it's cause-and-effect, or just an association with other factors as the cause, who can tell?

In the UK, the usual reason (excuse) for people not riding to work (~75% of commuting trips <6 miles) is that there "are no showers at the office". Here in southern France, it's 35C in the shade, yet I've seen lots of morning cycle commuters in Beziers today.

Mikael - this is definitely one to watch - thanks for highlighting it!

lagatta à montréal said...

I have thick curly hair too (though styled more into a curly bob).

Would be hot indeed in an Oz summer - I'm jealous of Sue's "winter clothing" in the picture. I wish her well and hope she encourages others to fight this silly, counterproductive law.

ModelCarGuy, cycling rates DID fall in Australia following this legislation, and Australia still has a very low rate of cycling, especially considering that it is generally warm there. Encouraging cycling is a matter of public health, both in terms of healthful physical activity (a gentle exercise most people can do) and reducing air pollution, motor noise etc.

Ryan, I didn't know helmets were mandatory in PEI. If they aren't, how on earth can they ticket non-helmeted cyclists?

Anonymous said...

Helmets are dangerous?

That must be why all those Tour de France guys wear them. Yeah, baby! Livin' on the edge...

Mikael said...

the tour de france riders wear them because: A. they're forced to [and they protested when the rule came into play] and B. they are RACING cyclists in high-risk settings, not urban cyclists going to work.

do some research. you'll sound more clever.

Gordon Inkeles said...

Who pays for her reconstructive surgery when she falls?

Just before helmets became mandatory for motorcyclists, a hospital near me in Northern California was bankrupted by an uninsured motorcyclist who was exercising his right to ride without a helmet. He fell and needed brain surgery...

Taliesin said...

Firstly, it isn't "when she falls" it is "if she falls". And if you look at the data, that is a pretty big "if"!

Second, if you start going round blaming people for hurting themselves, where does it end? Most people who get hurt have contributed in some way, or someone else has.

Finally, just because the US has a crappy healthcare system where a single brain surgery could bancrupt a hospital, that doesn't mean you should assume the rest of the world is so backward!!!

Ryan said...

lagatta à montréal, helmets have been mandatory since 2003 in PEI.
http://www.city.charlottetown.pe.ca/residents/bicycle_safety.cfm

As far as I know, only Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan are the only Provinces without an all ages helmet law. I know for sure that ALL Maritime Province's and BC have have helmet laws.

Gordon Inkeles, who should pay for the thousands that are treated year in and year out with head injuries caused my car accidents or simply slipping on ice while walking?

Mikael said...

87,000 people are hospitalised in america each year because they fell over a pet...

over 40,000 people are killed in car accidents in that country each year and many more injured.

cycling is safe. safer than even gardening.

so gordon, you have some lobbying work to do if you wish to preach your ideology.

Mikael said...

ryan: alberta only has a law for under 18's.

lagatta à montréal said...

Gordon actually has some interesting stuff on his blog, including a plea for cycle chic: http://bikesocial.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-would-make-bikes-more-fashionable.html

(with a photo of Amsterdam, where cycle helmets are utterly unknown).

But there is a slight difference between a bicycle and a MOTORCYCLE. One of the above is a motor vehicle.

Ryan, pity about PEI; I had been thinking of doing a little holiday there.

On my homepage you'll find lots of info about our protracted and successful struggle against an anti-bicycle law here. There is no such law in Québec, for any age group.

Mikael said...

thanks for pointing out gordon's blog. glad you did.
a nice post.

le homme au velo said...

I wish her well in her Campaign against the Government,now is the time for Cycling Organisations in Australia to make a Stand on this Issue.

I have only fell off my Bike three Times in my Life and it was always my Hands and Elbows that got Hurt and not my Head. One time I was on the Commute into the City of Dublin on the Malahide Road on the miserable little Cycle Lane of about 3/4 Metre or 2feet and a Car encroached onto it and nudged me off my Bike. They continued on for about 200metre before stopping to see if I was alright. The first thing I did was check out the Bike and saw it was alright. I waved on the Car,a couple of People stopped to see if I was alright. I discovered I had Grazed my Leg at the Knee but no Head Injuries.

I would strongly Advocate Mandatory use of a Helmet for Car Drivers as these are the ones that cause Fatalities and not Cyclists. They are forever getting Killed on Lonely Country Roads that are Straight with no Rain and in the Early Mornings and at Night.

Most People on Bikes Travel at 15-25k or 10-15mph what do they need a Helmet for that is Overkill.

What we need is better Infrastructure more Dedicated Cycle Lanes and Wider Cycle Lanes, more Traffic Free Areas in our Cities and Towns and at least a 30k or 19 mph Speed Limit in our Cities and Residential Areas.

ModelCarGuy said...

She's arguing in part that helmets are dangerous. That of course is pure non-sense. It could not possibly be more dangerous to wear a protective device on your head. The added safety could be negligible (and I suspect it is) but it can't possibly be a greater danger.

Why not just be honest and say "I don't want to wear a helmet. They are uncomfortable, and I don't think the risk is great enough to justify having to wear one".

The health outcomes are an appropriate reason for law makers to reconsider, but not for her to violate the law. She's going to loose her case.

Mikael said...

modelcarguy: the fact remains that there are numerous scientific studies that show that helmets increase your chance of brain and neck injury and even just your chance of getting into an accident.

fine if you choose not to agree with them, but denying their existence is a bit odd.

Adrienne Johnson said...

As a woman of much greater than average height, I am advocating the use of helmets for all people over the height of 6 ft. There have been studies that show that heights over 6 ft will decreases your life expectancy by up to 2 years- when the causes were investigated, it was found that tall people are more likely to suffer brain injury from things falling on their heads when short people ask them to "reach that ______ on the top shelf, will you?"

Sue- kick 'em where it hurts! Right in the old logic bone!

diktan said...

This is interesting. I never found it problematic to bike with a helmet back in Norway, but after moving to The Netherlands I have had to give it up. It's completely taboo, unless you're doing some kind of sportsbiking. No tricot, no helmet. I was even stopped by people on the street complaining that I was wearing one.

Ingo said...

@ Karl McCracken: "it only takes a small nudge to persuade people that cycling's too difficult, so this is relevant. When helmets are mandatory, cycling decreases. Whether it's cause-and-effect, or just an association with other factors as the cause, who can tell?"

Well, we have the effect documented and we have the cause given by the people in surveys afterwards (http://www.cyclehelmets.org/papers/c2022.pdf). This is completely different to the case of "I would cycle more if..." where there is no effect documented.

punch said...

The best she can hope for is a Section 10.

ModelCarGuy said...

Mikael

I'm not denying the existence of such studies, I don't believe them. You believe what you like.

It's interesting to note some similarities and differences between Oz and the US.

Both countries are geographically huge, and highly suburban. It's small wonder ridership -especially commuting and running errands on a bike- is low compared to say The Netherlands.

What is different is this - In the US we see adults voluntarily wearing helmets. Fewer than half the states have any sort of helmet law, and of those that do, none make it a requirement for adults. Yet, cycling is on the upswing, and helmet use is pervasive.

I would caution against using the Australian experience as if it were a universal.

It's true that many parts of the US are not as hot as Australia, but then, it might be interesting to look at helmet use in the southern parts of the US, where it is quite hot.

diktan-

Interesting comment.

Mikael said...

modelcarguy: the geographical myths have been busted. heat has nothing to do with it - just look at the booming bicycle cities in spain and south america.

surburbia? 50% of all americans live with 8 km of their workplace. in addition, the average commute in european countries, on average is not much lower than in north america or australia.

50% of americans currently wear helmets. the reason is quite simply marketing. the sports industry has had three or four decades to brand cycling as a sport or a recreation and not much else. all the 'gear' is a part of the marketing image and therefore a helmet is part of that package.

promotion of helmets has been shown to have much the same effect as legislation.

interestingly, what we're seeing in american cities as cycling increases is more and more cyclists choosing not to wear helmets.

ModelCarGuy said...

Mikael

"modelcarguy: the geographical myths have been busted. heat has nothing to do with it -"

Then people should stop making the heat excuse for Aussies not wearing helmets. If they stay off their bikes rather than wear a helmet, that's a choice they are making. A helmet is no great impediment to riding.

" surburbia? 50% of all americans live with 8 km of their workplace. in addition, the average commute in european countries, on average is not much lower than in north america or australia."

But you are missing the difference between small towns/suburbs and cities. (for that matter, the difference between small and large countries) The distance from work isn't the only factor. It's also the availability of bike lanes and the speed of traffic.

I live 6 miles from work (9.6km) but I must leave my city, and travel to a smaller town. Most of my daily commute is between the city I live in, and the towns I work in. Speeds for cars are 45mph (72kph)and there are no bike lanes.

We also have high separation of use, so not only are we 8km from work, we are 8km from the barbershop, 8km in another direction from the grocery, and so on.

If I lived in Copenhagen I might live 7 miles from work, but be able to ride the entire commute on bike lanes, with cars going reasonable speeds. I might also find shops on my route, selling everything I need, so I wouldn't have to go out of my way to shop or run errands on the way home from work.

" 50% of americans currently wear helmets. the reason is quite simply marketing. the sports industry has had three or four decades to brand cycling as a sport or a recreation and not much else. all the 'gear' is a part of the marketing image and therefore a helmet is part of that package."

You have a point here, but it's not just marketing. First, there are studies that suggest helmets decrease the risk of head injury. It could be Americans are responding sensibly to the available information.

Second, cycling really isn't much else but recreation here.
Distances, lack of bike lanes, and weather extremes make commuting and shopping by bike a rarity. We can't squeeze 300 million people into Portland.

Helmet use probably does correlate with recreational biking. It might be interesting though to see what the numbers would be for helmet use among the few commuters that we do have.

I can't pretend my own observations are in any way statistically accurate, but this is what I see -

Commuting through the city, most other commuters are wearing helmets. Commuting across a large university campus, most students are commuting between classes, and not wearing helmets. Leaving campus and entering the small town on the other side, the few commuters that exist wear helmets.

IOW, the Campus is a mini Copenhagen, with bike lanes, 25mph traffic, and drivers are accustomed to cyclists. Off campus it's a completely different environment.

"interestingly, what we're seeing in american cities as cycling increases is more and more cyclists choosing not to wear helmets."

Maybe, in those few cities with really good bike culture. But some of that is hype in the same vein as marketing. Some people believe that if we ditch the helmets we'll suddenly have the kind of bike culture that exists in The Netherlands. Here and there, it will happen. Mostly, it won't.

I'm all for freedom. Let people make their own choice. For me, under the conditions I must cycle in, helmets make sense. This is not Copenhagen or Amsterdam, and it never will be.

Since my morning commute is in darkness I also look at helmets as a way to increase my visibility. It's a good spot to attach reflective tape, and even lights.

CycleChic would not like the way I look. Though I ride in my normal work clothes, I also have on my reflective helmet and reflective vest. I also have a lot of lights and reflectors on my bike. I'm not so concerned with being stylish as I am in getting there (and back) in one piece.

lagatta à montréal said...

I absolutely disagree with the stuff about "it never will be". If that is how you feel, you might as well commit suicide today, as severe climate change and other catastrophic impacts of pollution will do you and all of us in.

No, I don't want you or anyone to commit suicide (except the terminally ill who make that informed choice rather than suffering useless agony). But your country abolished slavery, pretty much abolished child labour, granted women the right to vote and hold property and all sorts of other social changes nay-sayers said could never happen.

We have a horribly severe climate, but are one of the most cycling-friendly cities in North America, in large part due to the protracted efforts of cycling and environmental activists, and the type of tactics we adopted. Helmets are a definite minority here.

I believe reflectors and night lighting are the law in most jurisdictions. They are certainly as common in Amsterdam as helmets are uncommon.

And I care very much about looking as cycle chic (or urbane) as possible, though I'm not 20 years old, long-legged or blonde. ;-)

At least I have calves of steel!

nathan_h said...

Many of us in the US can envision streets and roads that are less hostile to people, but for some the lie of Rugged Individualism has corrupted cycling like everything else. They see the lethal, built environment of the 20th century as natural and advocate riding a bicycle like a motor vehicle while trying to make up for 10x mass differentials with an inch of foam padding around one area of the body. (And pedestrians should run for their lives, presumably.) The broader outcomes of this pad-the-victim approach to safety speak for themselves—at least, for those suckers that believe in arithmetic. What is the cycling fatality rate of Denmark REALLY? Can we trust that the Danes are not hiding cyclists behind DEATH PANELS? Mark Twain said there were damn lies and statistics!

Annnnywho. It's actually getting better here in New York. I see it every day when I ride.

Gordon Inkeles said...

I've fallen twice in the past 20 years. Fortunately, I landed on the top of my head both times and cracked only my helmet. The second time I could see daylight through the crack. "That would have been your skull," said my Doctor. I donated the shattered helmet to her where it hangs in her office as a mute example to one and all.

Since the head it a heavy object, it's very likely to hit the ground first in almost any fall that sends you over the handlebars. Both of mine were caused be turning over sand/gravel at less than 5 mph.

Mikael said...

oh for god's sake what nonsense. helmets are not designed to crack you silly man. a helmet that cracks is a helmet that has failed and one that has not offered much protection at all.

you should have sent it back to the manufacturer for a refund.

seriously it's think kind of stupid 'folklore' distributed by pseudo-religious people who are NOT experts in cycle helmets that is killing off cycling before it has a chance to blossom and, indirectly, killing people through heart disease, obesity and a host of other ailments caused by an inactive lifestyle.

Read A Helmet Saved My Life! and move on.

Mikael said...

oh and your 'thoughts' about heads being most likely to hit the ground is not backed up by any science on the subject.

again. move on.

Gordon Inkeles said...

"Finally, just because the US has a crappy healthcare system where a single brain surgery could bancrupt a hospital, that doesn't mean you should assume the rest of the world is so backward!!!"

Yes, the government will take care of you so it's OK for you to act like an irresponsible child. Why should you educate yourself or for that matter, why should you show any initiative at all in life?

Gordon Inkeles said...

"oh for god's sake what nonsense. helmets are not designed to crack you silly man."

Helmets certainly ARE designed to crack in a serious fall; that's the whole point of wearing one. Any helmet manufacturer will explain this to you--and replace your cracked helmet with a new one for a small fee.

Sounds like you ride a bike daily, like me. If so, you might consider educating yourself on modern helmet design because the worst case alternative is brain surgery--and/or death.

If you want to continue this discussion, you might want to skip the ad hominem attacks which weaken your position.

Mikael said...

unbelievable. simply unbelievable.

Mikael said...

by coincedence, I recently saw the wonderful series with Richard Dawkins who visited various religious fundamentalists in the Channel 4 series The Root of All Evil?

I know how the man feels.

Gordon Inkeles said...

Please spare me the straw man arguments. I'm not religious or "fundamentalist." Nice try, though.

I do realize that not wearing a helmet may be one of the few avenues of personal expression left for you in a society that is rigidly regulated by the government in so many ways. In Amsterdam those who wear helmets around town risk public ridicule. And those who fall--including mothers who carry babies on flimsy handlebar (!) seats--are patched up courtesy of the tax payers. Or buried.

Mikael said...

you've made your choice. fearmongering based on brainwashing - over a sober exploration of the collective body of science on the subject.

Belief over knowledge.

Fair enough.

don't you think it's a good idea to go somewhere else on the internet and promote your ideology? might be best.

Gordon Inkeles said...

Now I'm supposed to be "brainwashed" because I disagree with you.

Below is a link which will provide you with the science on bicycle helmets that you seem intent on ignoring. Let's leave it there.

http://www.bhsi.org/index.htm

Mikael said...

i've just heard this all before that's all.

Funny how the cyclist federations in so many countries, including the European Cyclist Federation, the British CTC, the Dutch Fietserbond and the Belgian, as well as Germany, France, Spain, etc. all seem to disagree with your one-sided appraisal of the science.

The collective scientific work is what we need to look at. Not websites sponsored openly by the helmet industry, like your link.

Try this one:
The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation

Gordon Inkeles said...

"The collective scientific work is what we need to look at. Not websites sponsored openly by the helmet industry, like your link."

Direct quote from the site:

"The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI) is the helmet advocacy program of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. It grew out of WABA's Helmet Committee, whose members began testing helmets in 1974, and was set up as a separate program, still under WABA, in 1989.
BHSI is a small, active non-profit that serves as a consumer advocacy program and a technical resource for bicycle helmet information. Its volunteers serve on the ASTM bicycle helmet standard committee and are active in commenting on standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. BHSI provides an email newsletter, and sends out many copies of its Toolkit for Helmet Promotion Programs to anyone who is organizing a helmet effort, and to anyone needing materials for teaching. We are staffed by a few volunteers and funded entirely by consumer donations. We do not accept funding from the helmet industry."

Gordon Inkeles said...

If you want to read further you'll find many peer-reviewed studies on the very significant protection that is afforded by good helmets.

If you go over your handlebars in a fall, you are very likely to land on the top of your head, since the head is such a heavy object. That's not my opinion, it's elementary physics.

Unfortunately, we don't all enjoy the ideal cycling conditions that you take for granted in Copenhagen. Obviously, you're free to ride without a helmet in Denmark. However, since this is a widely read blog, it's irresponsible of you to needlessly put cyclists at risk by advocating a policy that definitely will kill people.

Morten Lange (Reykjavik, Iceland) said...

Gordon and Mikael : Lets try and cool this down a bit and remember that you both are cycling advocates and brothers in arms as it were. Obviously you have both looked into the helmet issue at some depth, but come to different conclusions.

A piece of common ground, might be that several researchers have found that regular cycling extends life and improves health, and that the positive health effects overshadow any traffic injuries, regardless of helmets, and that on a per hour basis cycling is not exceptionally unsafe. (understatement)

Then move on to looking at some specific studies that are interpreted as though helmet efficiency has been shown. Next take a long hard look at the criticism of method that this research has received, amongst other places in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Other suggestions on how to move the discussion forward, very welcome :-)

The Wikipedia article on Bicycle helmets has lots of links, and arguments in both directions, but could still be strengthened on the "pro-compulsion" side.

Morten Lange (Reykjavik, Iceland) said...

One line of argumentation in the helmet issue, could be to point to the view of various "authorities" in the issues of helmet compulsion and promotion.

Several governments have legislated helmet compulsion and even more actively promote helmets. Both in North America, Europe and elsewhere. Likewise many governments or jurisdictions, both in N.A., Europe and even in Australia have decided against helmet compulsion. The World Health organisation has been promoting helmets in several reports, but in the latest they also offered the line of argument of the Dutch government that helmet compulsion and promotion is in effect counter-productive in part by focusing on something that is not the core problem. Internal info from WHO Europe, shows their support for helmet compulsion is diminishing. Two official booklets from the European Union both provide arguments against victim blaming by focusing on helmets. ( Cycling the way ahead for towns and cities. Kids on the move. )

Or you could go to the scientific journals like Accident Analysis and Prevention and BMJ ( formerly British Medical Journal) where the debate has been intense between scientists.

All persons that I have become acquainted with in "real life" or on the net, that have digged into the scientific studies, amongst them former helmet advocates, come out doubting the sanity of focusing on helmets amongst the most viable paths to even better safety and health for cyclists.

Mike Rubbo said...

There are two expressions still in everyday use which date from the Pennyfarthing era, or Ordinaries, as I think they were called at the time.

One is; "to take a header" meaning to go over the handle bars of the high wheel and land on one's head.

The second expression, also still in use, suggests that helmets would not have helped these riders.

That's "breakneck speed" suggesting that the usual injury was a broken neck, something no helmet would prevent.

I'd be interested in filming Sue's trial if she wants to get in touch. rubbo@aapt.net.au

Mike Rubbo

Gordon Inkeles said...

God help us all if we let the Aussies set safety standards!

Morten Lange (Reykjavik, Iceland) said...

Gordon Inkeles :
"God help us all if we let the Aussies set safety standards!"

I am sorry, but I cannot make any sense of that statement, especially given earlier comments. ... Even though I think I understood the jargon, both about God and Aussies / Australians :-)

The general safety standard relevant here would be the Australian near-universal and heavily enforced helmet compulsion for bicyclists.

So one interpretation could be that we all agree on the Australian safety standard concerning helmets is a poor example to follow ?

Gordon Inkeles said...

Have you spent time in Australia? Aussies have an irrepressible wit and verve and they really understand what it means to have fun. Put a couple of Aussies at your dinner table and you will laugh your head off.

But when it comes to saftety they fairly bristle. Helmets, seatbelts, cueing instructions, baby seats, warnings, indeed regulations of any kind are made to be ignored, publicly if possible. It's all part of their "devil may care" charm but of course it can get you killed.

Listen, I'm going to take a break from this discussion. People are talking past each other and I'm disappointed with the hostile responses to my dissenting opinions. Nice photos here. Let's just leave it at that.

ModelCarGuy said...

" lagatta à montréal said...

I absolutely disagree with the stuff about "it never will be"."

If that was in response to my comment, all I meant was the small mid-western city where I live will never be Copenhagen - it will never have that type of cycle culture.

The population density is very low here, the distances to travel are far. The willingness of people to be taxed for public goods, such as bike paths, is low. Automobile use will prevail for the foreseeable future.

It will always be more dangerous to ride a bike where I live, compared to Copenhagen or Amsterdam. The cycle culture here is different, and always will be.

That's all this argument really boils down to - those who want a Dutch style bicycle culture are anti-helmet because it's contrary to their ideas about how bikes should be used. Those who support the use of helmets (even voluntarily) see bike use in a different way because of the conditions that exist in their local. Different places will have different cycling cultures, which should be no surprise.

Just a cyclist said...

Please Mikael, when you see someone reiterating old pro-helmet klichés just like Gordon did, don't start to bark furiously and aimlessly, as if you've been hurt. Leave that kind of behaviour to those who really, really are convinced about their stuff... you know what I mean ;-)

It'd be better to just reiterate your own arguments as a response, even if that may seem rather pointless for someone who states that brittle failure is the working mechanism of styrofoam helmets.

Concerning the BHSI web-site, my own little observations suggest that most of the content - linked on top spots - seems to be thorough reviews of the latest Bell models...

Anonymous said...

sue you are very sexy (one love)

Niki Lea said...

This topic fascinates me because we have had helmet laws in BC for years. So long, in fact, that I don't even think about it anymore. I just put my helmet on, hop on my bike, and go.

In my city, there is a large population that cycles so we have more than 20 bike shops and many offer a wide selection of helmets. For that reason, helmets are becoming a fashion accessory. There are some very, very cute ones on the market right now.

Anonymous said...

I'm a British cyclist and here in England helmets are not compulsory and I hope it stays that way. I own a helmet and wear it in icey or very wet conditions in order to trai safely. But when the sun shines to put on a helmet would take away the pleasure of cycling in lovely weather. Lose that and one might as well pack it up, as I did with motorcycling when that helmet law came in. Good Luck to Sue, I hope you win your case and help to protect peoples freedom of choice. Alan Jones UK

Caledonia said...

This whole matter strikes me as just plain silly. Having fallen off my bike twice (once due to a dog and once due to a klutz move on my part) and destroying the helmet both times but saving my head, I would no more leave my house on any of my bicycles or motorcycle without wearing a helmet than I would leave in either of my 4-wheel vehicles without buckling my seat belt. Or are the anti-helmet advocates against seat belts too? Many years ago an editorial comment appeared in the M/C magazine "Rider" which observed that the natural position of a motorcycle (and by extension any 2-wheeled vehicle) is laying on its side, unlike vehicles with 3 or more wheels. Therefore the editor concluded there is no question that the rider of any 2-wheeled vehicle sooner or later if they ride long enough is going to impact the road or trail, and when (not if) it happens the rider had better be prepared with appropriate protective gear to minimize personal injury. I've never dropped a motorcycle but I wear the gear, and not because TN has a helmet law. My first bicycle fall when my helmeted head hit the pavement I saw stars just like the cartoons and was quite disoriented; my second bicycle fall at about 25mph I slide several yards on asphalt on my right side acquiring much road rash and torn cycling togs and loss of dignity plus smashing my helmet; I now know what a human eraser feels like; still have a nice scar on my right elbow as a safety reminder. Well, 'nuff said on this; you get the idea. DTI, Nashville, TN, USA

Caledonia said...

This whole matter strikes me as just plain silly. Having fallen off my bike twice (once due to a dog and once due to a klutz move on my part) and destroying the helmet both times but saving my head, I would no more leave my house on any of my bicycles or motorcycle without wearing a helmet than I would leave in either of my 4-wheel vehicles without buckling my seat belt. Or are the anti-helmet advocates against seat belts too? Many years ago an editorial comment appeared in the M/C magazine "Rider" which observed that the natural position of a motorcycle (and by extension any 2-wheeled vehicle) is laying on its side, unlike vehicles with 3 or more wheels. Therefore the editor concluded there is no question that the rider of any 2-wheeled vehicle sooner or later if they ride long enough is going to impact the road or trail, and when (not if) it happens the rider had better be prepared with appropriate protective gear to minimize personal injury. I've never dropped a motorcycle but I wear the gear, and not because TN has a helmet law. My first bicycle fall when my helmeted head hit the pavement I saw stars just like the cartoons and was quite disoriented; my second bicycle fall at about 25mph I slide several yards on asphalt on my right side acquiring much road rash and torn cycling togs and loss of dignity plus smashing my helmet; I now know what a human eraser feels like; still have a nice scar on my right elbow as a safety reminder. Well, 'nuff said on this; you get the idea. DTI, Nashville, TN, USA

Anonymous said...

It's odd that no-one has clarified properly the point between Gordon and Mikael. What Mikael knows, and Gordon clearly doesn't, is that helmets are supposed to compress and so absorb energy. If they just crack, they have not absorbed much energy, and so not done their job. If you survive an accident with a cracked helmet, it's evidence that the helmet didn'ttr save your life.

ModelCarGuy said...

"Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's odd that no-one has clarified properly the point between Gordon and Mikael. What Mikael knows, and Gordon clearly doesn't, is that helmets are supposed to compress and so absorb energy. If they just crack, they have not absorbed much energy, and so not done their job. If you survive an accident with a cracked helmet, it's evidence that the helmet didn'ttr save your life.

21:22"

Not true at all. It simply means the impact was high enough in force that it surpassed the energy absorbing ability of the helmet, and caused it to crack. There is no reason to conclude that the helmet was ineffective.

If anything, such stories simply tend to show that helmets aren't strong enough - not that they aren't needed.

cj on grey said...

No-one seems to have mentioned risk assessment. Are you risk-averse? Do you cycle in a congested environment? At speed? Or are you elderly/infirm, slow & wobbly. Or young and erratic? Is it snowy/icy out there today? Then perhaps wearing a helmet is a good decision. If none of these, and you dislike the discomfort of wearing a helmet (especially putting it back on 'soggy' for the return trip), or if it becomes an encumberance whilst you are at your destination. then you may not want to wear a helmet.

Compulsion-advocates appear to believe that there is a duty to remove all risk; there isn't. We'd never get out of bed. We make risk assessments in our everyday lives. One can balance the tiny risk of helmet-preventable serious head injury against the pleasure/convenience (if thats how you see it) of being helmet-free.
For the same reason I don't wear a cycle helmet whilst walking or a motorcycle helmet whilst in a motor vehicle. And for the same reason, I enjoy a bike ride rather than not go out because I might get hit by a car (in which case a helmet would be no use anyway).

And by the way, I have gone over the bars ...... into a dry stone wall ...... my arms worked well; so the discussion should not suggest that every accidental dismount leads to inevitable vegetation. Thats just plain silly.

Just a cyclist said...

ModelCarGuy, before you once more aim your big blunt bat right at our heathen heads, I'd just like to tell you that a helmet that "just cracked" - without any compression of the styrofoam padding - most probably provided less cushioning than, say, a fur hat.

ModelCarGuy said...

" Just a cyclist said...

ModelCarGuy, before you once more aim your big blunt bat right at our heathen heads, I'd just like to tell you that a helmet that "just cracked" - without any compression of the styrofoam padding - most probably provided less cushioning than, say, a fur hat.

00:41"

Yes, you're right. I didn't read the previous anonymous post carefully. I thought we were talking about a helmet that cracks in severe impact. Going back and re-reading, I see he's talking about a helmet that cracks without compression of the foam.

It's certainly possible to drop an empty helmet on concrete and have it crack without the foam being compressed. It's also possible to be involved in a very low impact accident or fall and not have much compression, and yet have a crack. In such a case, it is certainly true that the helmet didn't save a life.

Had anyone claimed otherwise? I'm not sure why this point was raised. Gordon had previously mentioned being in 2 accidents where his helmet cracked. I assumed there was foam compression, though he did not say. (Gordon, perhaps you can shed some light on this)

It seems to me that Mikael misinterprets Gordon when he replies -

" oh for god's sake what nonsense. helmets are not designed to crack you silly man. a helmet that cracks is a helmet that has failed and one that has not offered much protection at all."

This is clearly untrue. Just because it cracked doesn't mean there could not have been any foam compression prior to cracking.

Morten Lange (Reykjavik, Iceland) said...

Thanks for those comments and clarifications, ModelCarGuy.

I can see now that Gordon was right in saying people are talking past each other, regarding the cracked helmet thing.

But my understanding is that most often you do not see any significant compression of the main area of the liner of the helmet, be it cracked or not. I recall a study done in Australia of helmets after head injury accidents, and very, very few of the helmets were found to have substantially compressed liners (as far as I remember). I think Mikael was (very) indirectly referring to the same study.

I found it referenced in Wikipedia, and more in the same vein :

See the section referencing the study in the Wikipedia article Bicycle helmet

"In real accidents "very little crushing of the liner foam was usually evident... What in fact happens in a real crash impact is that the human head deforms elastically on impact."


Title: MOTORCYCLE AND BICYCLE PROTECTIVE HELMETS: REQUIREMENTS RESULTING FROM A POST CRASH STUDY AND EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH. Authors: J.P. Corner et al


The next reference is to findings by a senior helmet engineer :

"In real accidents, while broken helmets are common, it is extremely unusual to see any helmet that has compressed foam and thus may have performed as intended. “Another source of field experience is our experience with damaged helmets returned to customer service... I collected damaged infant/toddler helmets for several months in 1995. Not only did I not see bottomed out helmets, I didn’t see any helmet showing signs of crushing on the inside.” "


Jim G Sundahl, Senior Engineer, Bell Sports. 19th January 1998. Letter to the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, c/o Scott Heh, Project Manager Directorate for Engineering Sciences Washington, D. C, 20207 [7] accessed 18th February 2008.

Melbourne Cyclist said...

Gordon: not talking about bike helmets for a moment, but when you say this about Aussies: "But when it comes to saftety they fairly bristle. Helmets, seatbelts, cueing instructions, baby seats, warnings, indeed regulations of any kind are made to be ignored, publicly if possible. It's all part of their "devil may care" charm but of course it can get you killed.", you're talking rubbish mate.

Not just speaking for myself, but everyone I know here wears seatbelts and uses baby/child seats for their kids in cars (because cars are dangerous), knows how to queue, pays attention to warnings etc etc. There may be the odd person who ignores valid warnings, but you get them in every country.

from an offended Aussie

Matthew said...

I've written off 3 helmets in major crashes while racing, but I rode through London every day for 10 years without. In the crashes, the helmet saved my life, no doubt about it, and I'd never race without. But my personal calculated risk for round town riding says I don't need it. I want to be able to ride down the road to get the milk without a helmet.

CM said...

Melbourne Cyclist said...
Gordon: not talking about bike helmets for a moment, but when you say this about Aussies: "But when it comes to saftety they fairly bristle. Helmets, seatbelts, cueing instructions, baby seats, warnings, indeed regulations of any kind are made to be ignored, publicly if possible. It's all part of their "devil may care" charm but of course it can get you killed.", you're talking rubbish mate.

Not just speaking for myself, but everyone I know here wears seatbelts and uses baby/child seats for their kids in cars (because cars are dangerous), knows how to queue, pays attention to warnings etc etc. There may be the odd person who ignores valid warnings, but you get them in every country.

from an offended Aussie

04:36


Was surprised nobody else commented on this! Rediculous generalisations! Must've seen about 1000 riders thismorning whilst riding on beach rd, all of which were wearing helmets.

I also don't know anyone who doesn't wear a seatbelt or use a baby capsule/seat.

Gordon: You sir are a douche.

webbrus said...

Gordon,
You say "because cars are dangerous"
presumably due to their high speeds. So why shouldn't the occupants of motor vehicles also be required to wear helmets?

Jay-Bee said...

Coming to this one real late from a long-ignored forum.

If wearing a helmet HONESTLY keeps you from riding a bike, well, your heart wasnt really in it, was it? Must be your vanity preventing you riding for enjoyment?

Its law, I wear one. My kids do. My wife does. Its not that hard.

Mikael said...

so... those of us who don't wear helmets are not 'real' cyclists. how interesting.