I met Jo Jones from Radio 2SER in Newtown on Saturday afternoon, and happily partook in an interview concerning bicycle helmets and why I choose not to wear these mandatory devices. I was really fascinated to hear from Jo about some of the stuff that Bike Sydney and the City of Sydney are making available to everyone in a bid to promote cycling to everyone. It is certainly starting to show as clearly more and more people are taking to the road on bicycles - very exciting!!!! - also I can't help noticing that as more and more people take to the roads, less and less people are taking to helmets - aaahhhh! so heartening! I am not on my own cycling without a helmet.
Despite all that, a predictable 'bossy boots' article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald today, coralling bicycle users into making life easier for motorists. Apparently, new government guidelines have been formulated with the help of Bicycle NSW although they're not enforceable. But what I found mystifying was why the chief exec of Bicycle NSW uttered that 'it's counter-intuitive but as more people take to their bikes ... [motorists] are more and more aware of people on bikes and take more care around them' - com'on ...it's hardly rocket science!!!
...and following on from that blatantly deliberate and unnecessary reference to academic travails, our eldest daughter, Philippa (Pip) has just received first class honours in Arabic and Islamic Studies!!!!! - is it superfluous to mention that she has always cycled with the wind in her hair? - (left: us in Canberra, 22 years ago!!!)
The skirt guard on my beautiful Dutch bicycle allows me to wear anything, so tonight I wore 'long' to the Belvoir Street Theatre in Surry Hills when we went to see Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days"! It felt heavenly to be completely unrestricted in my wardrobe options and to be able to cycle in my favourite long dress (en ce moment, de rigueur à Sydney!) It was equally heavenly to tie up our bicycles outside the theatre, and then just hop on them at the end of the play and free-wheel down Belvoir Street before joining all the traffic in Elizabeth Street for our effortless journey back to Newtown - bliss!
(...and btw, the 'we' is me and Georgie, my youngest daughter, who is also revelling in her new European bicycle, naturally with the wind in her hair!)
Letters received so far: 1 from the Premier's Department of Tasmania (already noted), 1 from the Premier & Cabinet of the NSW Government, and 1 from the Member for Upper Hunter - all very polite and all full of promises of further representations and referrals...
...and guess what! Bicycle NSW also sent me a little email, composed by an advocacy team member who was at great pains to point out that he was not talking on behalf of the organisation, but that anyway he felt the helmet rules were OK and helped save lives - all well and good and I respect his sentiments but I'm going to take the 'moral high ground' here and ask why are my sentiments not respected and why must I be required to wear one? - why is it that groups such as Bicycle NSW cannot see that it should be a matter of choice and why aren't they advocating accordingly? - in fact exactly what are they advocating?
I stumbled across this proposed motorcycle helmet performance study and felt depressed - why is it that cyclists and motorcycle riders are always declared to be 'overrepresented in road casualty statistics due to the relatively lower levels of protection afforded to them than other vehicle occupants during a crash'? - oh dear! not that old chestnut again! - haven't these students read that there are recommendations 'out there' for motorists to wear helmets too? Australia cannot get out of this 'helmet rut' and we continue to subscribe to the dominant paradigm that cycling is not a safe means of transport, that it's dangerous and extreme, and therefore requires significant modification to the anatomy in terms of a medical device to surround the head - who is funding this project apart from the listed partners?
We would do well to read Malcolm Wardlaw's excellent journal article "Three lessons for a better cycling future" and consider the salient facts that cyclists do better when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles, that deaths of cyclists have increased since the introduction of helmets and that attendant safety campaigns destroyed cycling participation, compromised public health, increased risks on the roads, and decreased road skills for all concerned.
No! it is easier for governments to fund more of the 'same old same old' than to invest the millions required for a 'system overhaul' that would deliver in terms of safety and public health, as well as a reduced carbon footprint. Governments applaud such 'helmet' strategies because the costs are completely borne by the consumers - government is off the hook in terms of committment and dollars, but looks caring and devoted with the paternalistic legislation - it is so hard to shift a paradigm but shift it we must!!!! - because it is only cheaper in the short term.
... and just thinking further about the 'helmet rules' that the guy from Bicycle NSW loves, doesn't he think it's daft that regulation 256 subsection 2(a) mandates that a passenger on a bicycle that is moving, or is stationary but not parked, must wear an approved bicycle helmet securely fitted and fastened on the passenger’s head, unless the passenger is a paying passenger on a three or four-wheeled bicycle - so could that mean if we cycled the Danish Christianias and we creatively attributed our children's pocket money to fund the necessary jaunts around town that they wouldn't have to wear helmets?
Well! I made it to Parliament House with all the Sydney buses, taxis and regular rush hour traffic - and when we were all stopped at traffic lights, so many people talked to me - I can't tell you how many taxi drivers pointed out to me that I wasn't wearing a helmet(!) and did I know that there was a fine in this country(?) - loved the way they didn't think I knew that!!! Interestingly, the fine varied enormously from $50 at traffic lights near the 'Liverpool Street end of Elizabeth Street' through to $500 at traffic lights near the 'St James' station part of Elizabeth Street'.
But all in all it was an exhilarating experience and one that I plan to repeat as soon as I get back to Sydney, which will be this coming weekend because I'm doing a radio interview about bicycles & helmets & lack thereof & bike-share & everything wonderful about bicycles in anybody's life!
...and I was running late so I ended up tying up my bicycle to one of the bike hoops in Macquarie Street. I really fretted that it wouldn't be there when I came out of Parliament House - but big relief! it was. However next time I will ask them all inside where their bike shed is - they'd have to have one, wouldn't they?
My Electra "Amsterdam" is beautiful & bought yesterday in perfect weather conditions - mid 20s drizzly, cool. Saturday and Sunday were melt down days and not for bicycle shopping! But yesterday I collected my 'truly scrumptious' bicycle - 3 gears, a skirt guard, chain guard (mud guards of course) and back pedal coaster brakes which have caused me no end of fun!!! There's actually only one brake on the handle bars, but the bicycle is built forever. Now with coaster brakes I've got to be ready to take off from any position - in fact wherever the pedals are when we stop because there is no 'shuffling-to-favourite-take-off' position like I normally do - I love it. I've cycled everywhere - Paddington, Glebe, Newtown, Central, Surrey Hills - and in two seconds time I'm putting on a pretty dress to head to Parliament House to watch a movie on the perils of Big Pharma and our somewhat over medicated younger generation - I wonder if Parliament House has somewhere nice to leave my stunningly beautiful bicycle? - I'll keep you posted!
In my very lowly opinion, the interpretation of regulation 256 of the Road Rules 2008 made pursuant to section 72A of the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Act 1999 clearly does not accord with Australia's obligation under the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Part III, Article 7. The current interpretation adopted by state governments fails to consider the premise which prevails that 'every statute is to be so interpreted and applied as far as its language admits as to be not inconsistent with the comity of nations or with the established rules of international law' (Jumbunna Coal Mines v Victoria Coal Mines (1908) 6 CLR 309 per O'Connor J at 363.
Yet despite the fact that at common law there is a rule of statutory interpretation that the courts will presume that Parliament does not intend to abrogate or curtail fundamental rights and freedoms (Coco v The Queen (1994) 179 CLR 427, 436ff (Mason CJ, Brennan, Gaudron and McHugh JJ), I am still required by law to wear a helmet whilst riding a bicycle when the evidence is so contradictory as to their actual benefits or potential dangers. I am an unwilling participant in a medical experiment, and even the Roads and Traffic Authority, in a memorandum dated 20/6/2008, has acknowledged that 'there is the possibility that some helmets, in combination with particular size headforms, may have a small disbenefit with regards to rotational acceleration.'
- come on, guys, give me a break! - let me choose for myself.
The thought occurred to me yesterday as I was tying up my bicycle on a wooden fence prior to hopping on the train to Newcastle (or given that this is Australia - the 'rail' bus, a ridiculous form of transport, costing taxpayers millions, and involving lots of 'clipboards & bellies' with no room for accompanying bicycles grrrrr!), that we have no sheds, or racks, or any type of secure place in Scone for bicycles. In fact I haven't really seen anything like that at any of the stations I pass through or get off at either - basically bicycle parking spots are rare, and the public bike shed appears to be extinct.
Then this morning reading Sarah Phillips's comment that it was an overprotective mother that stopped me from spending too much time around the bike sheds I was led to a new train of thought, and my early encounters with bike sheds, and in particular the one at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London which propelled me to my current life here in Australia!!!! - aaahhh! amazing who you might meet in a bike shed, those potential romantic opportunities. Bring back the bike shed! - and '3 cheers' to the one at Bart's!! (is it still there?)
...and completely unrelated to bike sheds, but in keeping with the essence of Sarah Phillip's article on young women and the global push to get them cycling, I note with interest the snappy little unhelmeted logo that Bicycle NSW uses in their "Gear-up Girl" project - unquestionably more inviting but highly illegal!! (PS still no 'talkies' with Bicycle NSW & me)
...however the Office of the Premier of Tasmania has written to me, expressing an interest in my quest and a request for me to keep them posted of my progress - yay! a start, albeit slight, but we (that is a state government and me) are chatting about bicycle helmets!
Once upon a time, in a land of wimples and pig-tails, where the muted sounds of lawn mowers and daisies babbled through the open sashed-windows on sunbeams, I opened my greek literature 'O' level exam paper (carbon-dating eat your heart out!!!!) and was presented with my first client for defence, the noble Clytemnestra. The problem question was very much couched in terms of 'prosecution' but here was a mother who had been coaxed to send her daugher to join the child's father out in the mediterranean, only to receive the news somewhat later that the bastard, Agamemnon, had ruthlessly murdered Iphigenia all for the sake of a puff of wind and the "Troy Cup" - mitigating circumstances for sure!
But what has this got to do with bicycles??? Well! on the weekend, I am going to buy an "Electra" (big 'sis' to Iphigenia!!). This "Electra" is a beautiful Dutch bicycle and I have spotted it in Wooly's Wheels, Oxford Street, Paddington. This beautiful Dutch bicycle comes with 3 gears, mudguards, skirt guard and chain guard, and the latter 2 features have flowers painted on them!!! bliss! - I am going to look so pretty!! Ahh! the classics - who says we don't need them?
...and talking of classics, I have just found a beautiful chocolate brown, 'mushroom-shaped' felt hat, relegated to the back of my wardrobe - it is my new favourite piece of bicycle gear. A milliner friend made it for me years ago, and I wore it to a couple of Scone Cups (if you haven't done a "Scone Cup" you haven't lived!!!!), but as with "Puff the Magic" dragon, my old hat had no longer been 'frolicking in the autumm mist'. BUT that is all about to change - it is the perfect cycling hat for a hot Australian summer because it is similar to wearing an umbrella - I am completely protected from the sun, and the magpies are cool with it, the tasteful creatures that they are!!
...and talking of hats, after pondering about my 'comment' being removed from the Foreign Correspondent guestbook, I have since received a lovely email from the producer - in fact it was so nice I probably ought to eat a hat (not the new the 'fav' one though!). The producer acknowledged the helmet issue here and the helmet position in Denmark, and helpfully provided me with Jan Gehl's contact details should I wish to contact him further on the matter. I really appreciated the contact, and the fact that someone had taken the time to read what I had to say and respond - thank you again, Foreign Correspondent!
In 2008 Civil Liberties Australia published an assessment of the mandatory helmet laws in our nation and concluded they were not justified. Colin Clarke's excellent "Assessment of Australia's Bicycle Helmet Laws" clearly outlines the negative impact the legislation had, not only on cycling activity, but on our health and the environment, in addtion to the extra burden of resources for law enforcement.
Given that there are only about 2 'cyclist' deaths per year per million population compared with about 2,000+ 'circulatory' deaths, the question remains to be answered whether the current helmet legislation is the best option for the health and safety of our nation.
I am fortunate enough to be a member of the Cyclists Rights Action Group (CRAG), and have been for almost 2 years. Ably led by Bill Curnow, CRAG is based in Canberra and is opposed to the compulsion of helmets and the attendant loss of civil liberties. Unquestionably, the group believes that individuals should have the right to choose whether or not to wear a helmet, without undue interference by governments.
CRAG firmly holds that "the role of government should be limited to advising its constituents, without bias, of the pros and cons of helmets rather than to compel their use by law whilst feeding false or faulty infomation to the public and brushing any negative effects under the carpet (as has been the case to date)."
CRAG was formed at a public meeting on the 30th January 1992 in a direct response to the introduction of manadatory helmet laws, and they have worked tirelessly for almost 18 years in a bid to oppose legislation compelling cyclists to wear helmets . Since 1992 they have kept us informed on how governments introduced helmet laws without significant proof of helmet effectiveness and without proper community consultation.
Unfailingly CRAG have alerted us to how democratic principles and standards were bypassed, and how many of the 'scientific' studies in support of the law have been proven to be flawed often due to limitations in data or methodology. Notwithstanding the evidence that the helmet law is fundamentally flawed and has failed in its stated aim of reducing head injury, the government continues to refuse to review it.
Encore pour moi? how lucky I was to find them! The encouragement from this amazing group of people has provided me with unceasing supportive correspondence, research, corrections, a 'cheer-squad', and some funding too - I am not doing this by myself; thank you, CRAG!
(and btw, membership is open to all who subscribe to these aims)
Back in September and to great hilarity all round, the Court raised that 'my reasonably held beliefs' concerning helmets could extend to one that the moon was made of green cheese (oh chortle! chortle!); yet prior to that they were prepared for me to hold the 'bearded-bloke-in-the-sky belief' to bind me to speak the truth!
Oh dear...I am so much more a fan of evidence-based beliefs - boring I know!
The reticence to refer to evidence in the bicycle helmet debate is analogous to the cot death debate at the end of the 20th century.
It was recommended that babies should sleep on their fronts from the mid 1950s and this advice continued without reference to evidence, up until 1988, despite the knowledge that had been around for many decades that this very advice was ‘likely to be harmful’. A more rigorous review of preventable risk factors for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) would have led to earlier recognition of the harms of sleeping on the front (see Dr Ruth Gilbert – “How wrong was baby sleeping advice"
If we can get that so wrong why don't we have the humility to recognise that we can get the helmet debate wrong too? Helmet research has left many questions unanswered, and the lack of scientific rigour that is the current modus operandi for our governments is deplorable.
As far as I'm aware, the ABC was the first media outlet in Australia to raise this issue of cycling without helmets, if somewhat inadvertently; but this issue needs to be pursued - that is the debate on mandatory helmet laws.
If we hope to raise cycling numbers in a bid to spare the environment from our fossil-fuel dependent vehicles and their destructive legacy, we need to face why Australia, as a nation does not cycle. We have the perfect climate, we're outdoorsy (apparently) and yet we get fatter and fatter and we pollute more and more. Cycling is an important step to tackle this problem, and it should not remain in the domain of sports fanatics - anybody can do it and all you need is a bicycle - no lycra, no helmet, no weird looking gloves, maybe a couple of baskets front and back for shopping or picnic purposes or whatever, or then again no added extras at all - just a bicycle.
I loved 'Foreign Correpsondent' last week - it inspired me to keep on going with my quest to persuade governments (state and federal) to repeal these limiting, health and environment deficient laws - and I told them so in their 'guestbook' - however this helmet matter is a 'hot potato' and my remark has been 'moderated' into oblivion by the ABC moderator! - whoa scary stuff! - shame!!!
I just can't fathom why we're so blinkered as a community that we have accepted these helmet penalties for so long - the research is dodgy, and scant at best, but easily adoptable - why don't people see it for what it is? - adept marketing spin - in fact the Australian public at large have become "helmet soldiers" whether they cycle or not, and lecture me that I must, in the event of some personal cycling mishap entailing a cost on the community, pay for my own medical bills - yet should I raise the concept of comparable user-pay medical bills for obesity mishaps and attendant community costs, I am dismissed as ridiculous!!
...but on a more optimistic note, heaps of patrons at my 'local' last week who had seen 'foreign correspondent' told me they now realised what I was 'banging' on about; apparently it seemed to my fellow drinkers that the 'compulsory-helmet-equation' does explain why no-one cycles here, and everyone at the pub was keen to see more cycling happen!!!!!! especially if it meant more of the fairer sex on bicycles!...hmmmn
Exams are looming - in fact they start tomorrow with 'professional conduct' followed by commercial law next week - dreading the latter - just not my 'thing' - why is there so much emphasis on the 'money subjects' in law? - did you know that human rights and social justice are optional extras? - maybe i'm just naturally doomed to fail such a 'money-emphasised' course!!!
But in the meantime I await a response to my flurry of letters sent last week - and if nothing is forthcoming, I shall send round #2
...and STOP PRESS STOP PRESS: there are signs of hope in this 'rabid' car-culture - there really are. Spent the weekend in Sydney and hardly saw a helmeted head !!! - and what's more when we trotted off to the Newtown Festival, the City of Sydney had provided a secure free bicycle park in the one of the buildings nearby with the nicest of security guards - no comments were made about the lack of helmets - just lots of friendly guidance and a friendly safe bike park!!!! - and of course needless to say the Newtown Festival was awesome, if a little damp (but we can't complain about the rain, can we?)
My youngest daughter and I are heading to "Wonderful Copenhagen" in January for a few days, and we are really looking forward to hiring bikes and cycling everywhere.
This programme raised an important issue with mandatory helmet laws and the effect that they have on cycling numbers, in particular on young women. The minimal numbers of young women cycling in Australia are directly related to our legislation - young women are the same the world over - don't want to be daggy or mess up their hair! Having grown up in Europe I do not understand for the life of me why our Parliament has so prescriptively decided that as a nation we must - so if we're minus helmets we're fined and criminalised yet if we're minus waists it's "no worries, just step right in, eat another burger and watch the telly while you're at it"
It was just wonderful to watch this show, and to feel so reaffirmed about my helmetless stance - Australia has a lot to learn, and we can certainly benefit by listening to the Danes.
Well Done to Mark Corcoran, ABC journalist of Foreign Correspondent!!
On my morning ride to the station, I came across a travelling wombat just before the streetlights start on the edge of town. He paused for a moment to check me out, but I was of no consequence to his journey and so our lives crossed in a quiet and unremarkable way - the pleasures of peaceful transport!
I have written to the PM, and copied in all the premiers, the 2 chief ministers, numerous journalists, my federal and state pollies, my local mayor and 'Uncle Tom Cobbley & all' - surely someone will write back?
I didn't ask for much - really it was quite simple - and very respectful, finishing up with:
..."that in the interest of social justice and the environment, you consider persuading the state governments to repeal their mandatory helmet laws, given that the Hawke government was instrumental in persuading the states to enact the laws in the first place."
- then i wished him all the best and lots of luck in Copenhagen - pretty cosy really!
...and how breezily the helmet issue is airbrushed into a little mention: "while regular users will be encouraged to use their own helmets, operators are yet to decide whether it will make helmets available" - really? This smacks of bureaucratic 'community consultation', flag-waving, and 'look-we-gave-it-our best-shot-but-it-was-always-going-to-fail' - how disappointing
How can a club of motorists possibly have the interests of cyclists (and the environment) 'at heart'?
PS: btw, following on from Monday's appearance in court, my appeal is set down for the District Court sittings starting next February 2010
Here in australia we cyclists are demonised and blatantly discouraged from using the roads. We have been told in newsprint that the 'roads are for motorists', and we watch our political leaders slavishly affirm committments to the oil industry.
In a week where the papers have been full of tales about one ill-mannered cyclist accompanied by attendant 'Pollyanna scoldings' that if cyclists wish to use 'our roads' they will have to learn to behave, we have been complicit in not recognising the true horror of the oil spill that has spread over 4,220 square kilometres off the West Australian coast well into its 10th week. The large number of whales, dolphins, turtles and sea birds that have been and are being destroyed as a result of this environmental disaster have been conveniently re-positioned to the back of 'the Choir' as we are encouraged to concentrate on odd angry cyclists who apparently 'instil fear like jackbooted Soviets' (no kidding that was the copy ).
The rest of the world seems to have acknowledged a link between cycling and the environment - for us in Australia it's one of 2 'elephants-in-the-room'. The other elephant is the bicycle helmet - if we repealed mandatory helmet laws, cycling would boom and new initiatives would start to flow into our country that just cannot happen whilst we're so constrained by our 'nanny-state' rules.
I am so jealous of your brilliant plan to bring back 'bobbies on bicycles'- sigh!
...for us down-under the 'bobbies' are in highway patrol cars and combat gear, and you're required to move away from the vehicle when they're booking you for the crime of 'rider not wear helmet' - beware that law! don't ever let it in come in - it is basically living proof of a supremely successful marketing pitch - wouldn't we all love to get governments to mandate for our products!!!
Anyway i'm off to the District Court tomorrow to appeal my criminal conviction of 'rider not wear helmet whilst riding a bicycle' - wish me luck, i certainly need it!