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Cyclists Protest Mandatory Helmet Laws in Australia with Helmet-Optional Rides

By Monica Buck

Australia became the first country to require cyclists to wear helmets in 1991. After a campaign from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, there was little doubt in general public about the risks of riding without one. Only three years later, however, adults in the Northern Territory were granted an exception. And there’s a lot of people who believe the exception should be changed into law in the whole country.

Freestyle Cyclists is the organisation that leads this movement. This time they organised “helmet optional” group rides, despite the fact that they expected to be met by the police. And that indeed happened in Sydney where the officers shut down the ride and fined the participants including the long-term campaigner Sue Abbott.

“We find that the mandatory helmet law is the single greatest barrier to the uptake of bicycle use in Australia,” The Freestyle Cyclists’ president, Alan Todd, told the Guardian. “It has created an image of cycling as a high-risk activity, and practically killed off the casual everyday use of the bike.”

“We accept that a helmet might help in the event of an accident … [but] you must distinguish between crash data and population data. It hasn’t had any measured safety benefit at the population level. Across population, the reduction in injuries was no more than the drop in cycling. It beggars belief that in the 21st century we take something as benign and beneficial as bike riding and we punish people.”

The president of the Australian Cycle Alliance Edward Hore admitted to supporting the protest.

“We think helmets should be a choice,” he said. “We’re not talking about banning helmets, we’re talking about making them optional.”

What do you think about the mandatory helmet law? Should it be enforced? Let us know in the comments.