Guest post

by Freestyle Cyclists member Tom Nockolds

News yesterday that the NSW government plans to drastically increase the fines for bicycle related road offences has left many in the cycling community feeling shocked and speechless. Myself, I feel a great sense of loss as I now weigh up my options and give serious consideration to the unpalatable option of not riding my bicycle ever again.

I doubt that we’ll see a reversal of these fines in my lifetime; forevermore we’ll have fines for cyclists that treat us as though we are equivalent to motor vehicles on our streets. The reality is cyclists are in no way equivalent to cars or trucks and have a lot more in common with pedestrians in terms of speed, attitude and vulnerability.

So how did we end up with these laws? Well a short history lesson. For the last 30 years, there has been a great schism that has divided the world of bicycle advocacy. On the one side of this divide has been most of the english speaking world who have tended to subscribe to the Vehicular Cycling school of thought, while on the other side, dominated by most of continental Europe and exemplified by cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen sit the Segregated Cycling camp.

Vehicular Cycling, whose principal advocate has been John Forrester, has the belief that cyclists need only claim their space among motorised vehicles to remain safe on the road and that increasing cycling participation depends on nothing more than promoting this idea. While the arguments for and against Vehicular Cycling and Segregated Cycling are complex, the good news is that we don’t need to delve into these too deeply to see which has been the more successful strategy for promoting vibrant cycling cultures. As I mention, this schism has been in place for well over 30 years and we can merely look at the success of each side based on the outcomes they have achieved.

Amsterdam and Copenhagen have been for a long time the most successful cycling cities in the world. Indeed, the Netherlands have been widely recognised as being the gold standard for cycling participation and safety. Both these places have implemented Segregated Cycling policies for three decades or more. These ideas have been so popular that their policies have been copied by other European cities such as Paris and Barcelona. Good ideas tend to travel and even London, located behind enemy lines in Vehicular Cycling territory, has converted to the Segregated Cycling ethos. The results in these cities are dramatic and couldn’t be any clearer: separated cycling infrastructure that recognises bicycles as a third type of road user – neither car nor pedestrian – will see a dramatic increase in utility cycling across all demographics.

And what about Vehicular Cycling examples of success? Simple – there are none. There has been not one case of successful use of Vehicular Cycling as a way of increasing cycling participation in a city, country or otherwise.

Australia, sits at the extreme end of the Vehicular Cycling schism. In the early 1990s we were the first country in the world to boldly implement mandatory all-ages helmet laws. New Zealand quickly followed Australia’s lead and since then…well…no other country has followed our lead. As mentioned earlier, good ideas tend to travel, and this is one idea that hasn’t gone very far at all.

I want to repeat this, because I don’t think it’s appreciated by enough Australians: we, along with New Zealand, are the only countries in the world with mandatory helmet laws for adults. Everywhere else in the world makes it the choice of cyclists to look after their own safety; to make decisions like adults about what is safe and what isn’t safe when it comes to riding their bike. In other words, they are treated just like pedestrians.

Helmet laws do not make cycling safer and they do a whole lot to discourage cycling. As a direct result of our helmet laws, thousands of cyclists stopped riding their bikes and Australia now has a malformed cycling culture that is sports-oriented, male oriented and almost entirely devoid of everyday people using their bikes as a normal form of transport.

The end destination for Vehicular Cycling is to have bicycles treated the same as motor vehicles, creating the final barrier that will prevent almost everyone from hopping on their bike to make simple journeys. Sadly, New South Wales will arrive at this destination in March 2016 when new fines for bicycle offences are introduced – such as a fine of $425 for running a red light. This contrasts with the ongoing journey for Segregated Cycling – in Paris earlier this year new laws were passed making it LEGAL for cyclists to proceed through a red light.

I’m heartbroken. I have previously vowed that I will not wear a helmet while riding my bicycle. Partly because I don’t like the feeling of false security a helmet gives me; partly because I refuse to be a part of creating a false image that cycling is more dangerous than it actually is. A $320 fine for not wearing a fine is too hefty for me. Perhaps my best strategy is to set myself a yearly ‘budget’ for cycling fines of $320. If I get a fine in that year then I’ve blown my budget and will ride my bike no more. Or maybe I’ll just wear a helmet – but I know it’ll make me less safe because of the risk compensating behaviour I’ll undertake and it’ll do further damage to cycling by making it look like riding a bike is complicated and dangerous – something that requires special safety equipment.

For now, I’m going to get out on my bike as much as I possibly can before these new fines come in. It’ll be a few melancholy weeks through the autumn of Australian cycling, after which the long dead winter will begin. Nothing much will grow after these laws come into force. Vehicular Cycling has led us to this end. It will not lead us any further, so this is the end of Vehicular Cycling. We can only hope that one day in the future we’ll see green shoots start to show themselves – the shoots of Segregated Cycling advocacy. When we see these appear in Australia we’ll know that there can be hope for a vibrant and popular utility cycling culture to grow again in this country.


  • Guy K says:

    Very well written Tom.

    I share your sadness at the effect these laws will have on cycling in NSW.

  • Clive Andrews says:

    “For the last 30 years, there has been a great schism that has divided the world of bicycle advocacy.”

    I’m sorry but that’s just not true. There are many of us who can see value and weaknesses in both vehicular cycling and segregated cycling. Introductions like the one on this article might try to make this so-called schism more of a thing, but that’s an over-simplifiction that does no-one any favours.

    It’s a pity, because you go on to make good points about fines and helmets, but please don’t further division and in-fighting that really isn’t needed.

    • Martin T says:

      I agree with you entirely. Tom astutely condemns the dead hand of mandatory helmet laws, but his denigration of vehicular cycling as ‘the other’ just does not match the reality that segregated cycling is but a useful component of a good cycling policy.
      Of course the roads have to be safe enough to ride a bike on. Not even Amsterdam and Copenhagen have bike path systems that are totally isolated from the main road network. But for sure, separate infrastructure can encourage more people to ride, and give them a more comfortable environment when they do.

      • Tom says:

        You misunderstand the Dutch approach then. In merely brushing off segregation because ”there can’t be cycle everywhere” you seem to not appreciate that the Dutch provide what David Hembrow calls “near 100% segregation from motor vehicles” by building cycling infrastructure on main roads but also reducing the level of motor traffic on streets which cannot have cycle paths. There is no case of riding with heavy traffic in this system. To be honest Amsterdam and Copenhagen aren’t the best examples, despite being the most vaunted.

        • Clive Andrews says:

          And Tom – I don’t see anyone “merely brushing off segregation” as you mention. Not at all. Segregation is great. But my point is that believing in segregation shouldn’t and doesn’t mean a rejection of everything and everyone associated with the idea of vehicular cycling. I challenge the idea that the ideas are necessarily opposed to each other.

      • Bert Jansen says:

        Martin and Clive,
        As a Dutch man, I can assure you that if we had the system of vehicular cycling over here, most is us would not use a bike anymore.
        The streets where there is no separate infrastructure are streets with low speeds for cars and even low numbers of cars.
        It’s a pity that all the positive benefits of cycling; environmental, healthwise and just plain fun are absent over there.

        • Clive Andrews says:

          Bert – I’d suggest that vehicular cycling isn’t a ‘system’, but a mere point of view. It has its strengths and weaknesses, as does segregation. As others have observed, the Netherlands doesn’t have 100% segregation, does it? By combining the best of both points of view, we get a workable environment with increased practicality and safety. The insistence by some that this is a polarized one-or-the-other approach is unrealistic and unhelpful. The People’s Front of Judea, or the Judean People’s Front? We don’t need the in-fighting.

          • Tom says:

            I have to repeat what I said, there is no ‘vehicular cycling’. Infrastructure is there where it is needed and necessary, but everywhere else measures to reduce the volume of traffic are taken. Look at the link I posted above.

            I’d like to know, what are the benefits of the vehicular cycling approach over the Dutch system?

          • nik says:

            You could view the dutch “system” or experience as “vehicular cycling” on the streets without infrastructure but the “point of view” of vehicular cycling is that this is possible on all roads, including those with high volumes of fast traffic.
            The Dutch “system” doesn’t include mixing bicycles and fast traffic in the same space/time, whereas “vehicular cycling” advocates maintain it is possible, and for many of them desirable, to mix bikes and fast traffic, preferring to practice their “vehicular cycling” techniques on all roads. Bert’s point is absolutely correct, the number of cycling trips in NL would plummet if segregation was not provided on busy roads, a point often disputed by “vehicular cycling” advocates
            In unlucky cities where segregation is not provided on busy/fast roads, vehicular cycling technique can be useful for the brave and fearless, but it won’t be adopted by the masses – they simply won’t cycle.

  • David James says:

    I’m not sute on what grounds you’re making a link between vehicular cycling and helmet laws because most VC advocates I’m aware of oppose helmet laws. Indeed, the reason the Province of Ontario *doesn’t* have mandatory helmet laws (for adults) is due to the campaigning of VC advocates in the mid 90s. By contrast, the Province of British Columbia, where VC was never as strong, does have a mandatory helmet law.

    Opposition to mandatory helmet laws is about the only area of cycling advocacy where the two camps actually agree with each other.

    • nik says:

      I have to agree with David’s comment. In the case of the NSW anti-cyclist laws, the main culprit is the Amy Gillett Foundation, who are based on (I don’t say “represent”) sports cycling. They see a one meter rule as important because they ride on the road, with cars, at high speed, and as they wear helmets (in all countries) without the need of mandatory helmet laws, they don’t have a problem with that and are happy to impose it on other cyclists. In this they were joined by Cycle NSW, the peak sport cycling body for NSW. So it’s the sport cycling bodies agreeing with the anti-cyclist laws to obtain this possibly illusory benefit of a 1m rule. Note that a 1m rule is absent in high-cycling countries e.g. NL, DK, JP, CN etc. as it’s not part of mass cycling. Note also that Cycle Australia disagrees with their NSW affiliate and supports repeal of helmet law.

      Some people regard helmet law as creating the dominance of sport cycling in Australia, as it’s the utility cyclist who is most likely to be put off cycling by MHL, hence support for helmet law by Amy Gillett Foundation.

  • Francis says:

    A key indicator of sustainable transport policy is the number of school children who cycle to school.
    The best vehicular cycling training will not be able to encourage more parents to allow their kids to cycle to school. A protected bicycle route will do that easily.
    Focus the debate on the enabling condition for school kids, the future of us.

  • Parimal Kumar says:

    Sadly, this will not be the end that the VC ideology will inflict upon cycling in Australia. There’s mandatory insurance, “road tax” (or whatever the Australian equivalent is), actual licenses, mandatory registration (number shown on those mandatory helmets), MOT, etc etc. Basically VC ideology will not rest until it subjects Australian cyclists to complete parity in legal requirements and hassle as owning and driving a car. At the end of it all, Australian cyclists will be treated as drivers in every legal aspect, except the most crucial one – the actual practicalities of riding safely and conveniently.

  • Rhonda O says:

    Helmets are the only reason that two of my friends are: 1) still alive today and 2) living without brain damage following accidents involving their road bikes and a car (car driver’s fault both times). Totally disagree that helmets should be optional. Get over the bad hair day you might have for wearing one–you only have one brain! We have so many more issues wrt to cycling in this country. Changing the negative attitudes of drivers towards cyclists, and making sure cyclists do the right thing on our roads is needed way more than a no helmet law in my humble opinion.

    • Clive Andrews says:

      What’s a “no helmet law”, Rhonda?
      And though I can appreciate your feelings about your injured friends, the facts and science of this issue consistently stack up the show that helmet compulsion laws do measurable damage to society (remember, it’s absolutely fine to be pro-helmet, but anti-compulsion).
      If you’d like some further factual reading about bike helmets, I always find this site very useful:

    • Tom says:

      The best way to shield people cycling from dangerous driving is to protect them physically. This also makes cycling more inclusive, which probably goes some way in reducing the view of people cycling as an outgroup. Australia is doing the opposite of what is necessary.

    • louis says:

      Honda’s post is a total fabrication. Cases of cyclists deaths by head injury are very rare, less than 1%. Most fatalities are caused by internal damage. It is most unlikely, impossible I would say, that she has 2 cyclists friends who suffered fatal damage to their helmets. Even if true, as far as they “had” helmets no one can tell that without the helmets they would have had any head injury other than a swollen skull bone.
      I think you are a liar. But, let’s give the benefit of doubt and believe that the impossible happened. So what? People are adults, let them decide if they want to wear it or not. Campaigns to convince people is fine, but compulsory what for? I suspected the promoters of this imposition have interests in the helmet industry and that the poster is one of the involved in the scam.

    • louis says:

      Well, in a word, NSW gov wants to discourage cycling anyway. So it is up to the Australian cyclists to fight back and organise campaigns. I am glad I don’t live there, honestly.

    • Michael says:

      Hi Rhonda O, everybody always “has a friend”, my friend who died of a heart attack is just as dead as your friend… get it…

  • The fines are outrageously high, point well stated. but this article conflates issues. what do helmet laws and bicycle driving (A.K.A vehicular cycling) have to do with one another? Nothing. There are numerous examples of bicycle driving advocates who oppose helmet laws, and vice versa. Also the claim of “segregated cycling” as the key element of success for cycling is excessive. A quick look at Google Street views of Amsterdam and Copenhagen will show many examples of where bicyclists and motor vehicles travel in the same space. There are many other factors including the extremely high taxes on motor vehicles and fuel, bicycle parking, compactness of the cities, etc. etc.

  • Nicole says:

    Rhonda should really take a look at and http;//

  • marc caruso says:

    I’m confused if you claim to be a vehicular cyclist why do you care if they raise the fine for running a red light on a bike to equal that of doing it in a car. you won’t be running red lights. you might encroach on one or two if it is defective and doesn’t detect you but that is different than running a red light.

    • Tom says:

      I think because it sets a precedent that a bicycle should be treated equally to a car, which is nonsense. This type of thinking is much more prevalent in anti-cycling countries.

  • Kevin says:

    Everyone seems to forget about Groningen.

  • Steve Taylor says:

    Tom, that you decide not to ride rather than wear a helmet says a lot about you. Personally I prefer to ride and with a helmet. Cycling has it’s risks, and head injuries are one of them. But it’s hard to function (relatively) normal if you end up with a brain injury because you didn’t do something to protect your head, whereas other common injuries aren’t as debilitating.

    My advice to you is to cycle and wear a helmet. You are already aware of the false sense of security, so that’s a non-issue for you. Cycling is dangerous to a point; you are on an inherently unstable platform travelling at speed with all sorts of moving and stationery hazards all around you. But that’s what makes cycling exciting. If you don’t want to pay the fine, wear a helmet. And if you don’t want the risk of injury then don’t cycle. Helmets aren’t as bad as you make out.

    Whether you ride or not, or others ride or not is not something that keeps me awake at night. Your “mileage” may be different of course, but given “the law” we all get to make our own decisions and suffer any consequences of not wearing a helmet.

    • Tom says:

      Well the evidence that helmets actually help against brain injury is inconclusive at best, so I don’t see why anyone should bother. I bet you don’t wear a helmet for other activities in which you risk head injuries. Why is that?

      I stand by my point that the safest country also has the lowest helmet wearing. The other things are just so much more effective.

  • Editor says:

    “Whether you ride or not, or others ride or not is not something that keeps me awake at night. ”
    It should keep you awake at night, worrying about how Australian governments are going to fund the increasing health costs caused by inactivity. Instead we fund more and bigger roads, while continuing to do next to nothing to encourage cycling. It’s keeping a lot of public health experts awake at night, and far-sighted fiscal policy analysts, etc etc.
    BTW thanks for you advice, but the police don’t “advise” they charge you with an offence which carries a fine and sometimes a criminal conviction. That’s for an activity (riding without a helmet) which improves your health and saves the health budget, overall. If it were only “advice” that we had to contend with, this site would not exist.

  • Steve Taylor says:

    You failed to grasp my point – cycling is not the only way people can improve their health via activity. It’s not for the government to promote cycling per se, but all forms of activity that improves health generally. And it can’t be mandated, unlike wearing a helmet (which clearly can be mandated because it has). I am more generally concerned that my taxes are being used efficiently across a wide range of government spending “initiatives” – we don’t need new taxes, we need less spending on useless programs. And quite frankly, where I ride regularly there are many cycle paths that extend for 100’s of kilometres with little interaction with vehicular traffic. And I am in the metro area.

    The police do have some discretion when dealing with helmet-less riders, but generally people refusing to wear a helmet know the consequences if stopped by the police and the police will respond to “attitude”. They are not charging you for the cycling activity, but for not wearing a helmet when performing that activity. Not wearing a helmet is not a criminal activity, but non-payment of fines is and therein lies the difference. I did not say the police are there to provide advice (though they can and do) – but I was offering mine, for which you said thanks and I say “you’re welcome”.

    Your sophistry does not help your cause. I realise this is an activist website, but the deliberate twisting of words does you no favours and garners no support. I get it that people think MHL’s are an infringement on personal rights. I personally think the overall benefit in terms of safety outweighs any perceived loss of rights and so have no dog in this fight other than to point out the obvious when it comes to head protection – it protects the head! And on that point, I find “The Facts”on this website to be highly selective, emotive or lacking in relevance (e.g. overseas laws and experience are not Australian laws or experience, and individual studies may not be as objective as you think). Just something to ponder …

    • Tom says:

      “Not wearing a helmet is not a criminal activity”, uhm, yes it is. If you really want to see the Government using taxes more effectively it should quite with this nonsense and follow the Dutch policy which results in much better health of a population and reduced injury numbers from motor collisions.

      “I personally think the overall benefit in terms of safety.” That’s the thing, this has not been demonstrated at all.

      You also say that ”most cyclists comply.” The thing is, though, that most of those why cycle in Australia are the 20-40 males who use racing bikes or mountain bikes. This isn’t the utility cycling that you see in countries with a high cycling rate. This sort of group has much less of a problem with helmet wearing, and indeed in the Netherlands, for example, you still see people who cycling like this and they wear helmets.

      • Steve Taylor says:

        Tom, I spoke spoke to a Victoria Police member … not wearing a helmet while cycling is a summary offence, not a criminal offence. You do not get a criminal record for it. If you don’t pay the fine and it goes to court – well that is a different matter.

        I agree that Australia may not have the same participation in utility cycling as Europe – typically this would be because the distances people need to travel for work are greater, and the public transport system here doesn’t cater for cyclists as well as European countries. Sure, as cyclists we would want to see this improved, and it has over the last 20 years or so (except for bikes on trains). What has really changed is segregated cycling, and that is not a bad thing as it does suit the utility cyclist.

        I am 50-60, as is my wife and we both cycle and both want to wear helmets and understand we are better protected with the helmets we have chosen to use compared to no helmet. It’s not hard for us as recreational cyclists (though wife also commutes) to average 25km/hr over 10 km. We get fitter that way since we elevate our heart rates.

        Utility cyclists that don’t elevate their heart rates aren’t actually getting fitter despite cycling. It’s not the cycling activity per se that makes people fitter, it’s elevating the heart rate for a sustained time, getting the blood and oxygen flowing, using more energy than you’re ingesting. That people (e.g. kids) move from cycling with the family into the cycling sports like BMX, mountain bikes, road racing, cycle-cross, etc is a good thing from a fitness perspective. And there is no doubt that helmets are required for those sports because they work better than no helmets at all. It’s simplistic to talk about health benefits and participation rates unless you also link observable data like how intense people ride, what their diet is like, what other lifestyle factors (eg. smoking) are involved. Yes, cycling is better than being a couch potato, but cycling at 5 or 10km/hr for short distances, for example, really doesn’t have much health benefit in and of itself.

        As you say, “most of those who cycle in Australia are the 20-40 males who use racing bikes or mountain bikes”, and “This isn”t the utility cycling that you see in countries with a high cycling rate”, you are eroding your position for repeal of MHL’s and using the Netherlands as your showcase country. Clearly the two countries aren’t comparable.

        I’m sure it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise reasons for any reduction in participation rates – my thinking is that many people are concerned more about increased vehicular traffic (including bikes), the distance they need to go if cycling, whether their kids can handle the traffic while cycling, after-ride showers, storage, being seen as a MAMIL/MAWIL, etc more than they are concerned about MHL’s.

        I rode New Footscray Road yesterday … everyone wore a helmet, even guys older than me. Only a small percentage were the racing types you describe. It was a nice day. No-one was particularly worried about wearing a helmet – they all wore them. When I rode the same path 20 years ago, there were far less cyclists, and those that did cycle were more than likely the racing types. While this is just an anecdote, it makes me wonder if participation rates are all they are cracked up to be. Surely it’s also down to what the infrastructure can handle, because if there were too many more cyclists out there yesterday, there would be more accidents (in my opinion).

        As I’ve said elsewhere, if you adopted a “civil liberties” approach I’d be more inclined to think about supporting repeal of MHL’s … as it stands, I have no issue with MHL’s and so I’m not inclined to worry about them. There are more important things for me to worry about than whether or not “Tom” is wearing a helmet and if he’s going to cop a fine (or not). Because that seems to be the main issue people are concerned about – the fines. And that’s easy to solve.

        • Tom says:

          Ok fair point about it not being a criminal offense.

          “typically this would be because the distances people need to travel for work” perhaps could be a reason, but in no way is this the only explanation. Australia’s pitiful cycling rate is mainly due to lack of infrastructure.

          If heart rate isn’t elevated, so what? The health benefits to the population are still there. If it’s a choice between cycling casually or driving, it is clear which is the healthier option.

          ” you are eroding your position for repeal of MHL’s and using the Netherlands as your showcase country. Clearly the two countries aren’t comparable.” This doesn’t make sense. It’s precisely the infrastructure that allows a wide demographic to cycling. One follows the other.

          Then what is your argument? I am against MHL for the civil liberties reason, but the lack of evidence for its effectiveness does not help the MHL cause.

          • Steve Taylor says:

            Ok, so here’s the thing. If you don’t elevate your heart rate while cycling then you may as well be in a car. If you aren’t exerting yourself on a bike, then it’s only transport. Yes you might burn some extra calories – easily replaced when you hit the latte or have lunch. But without more wholesale changes to lifestyle, then your kidding yourself that casual riding is making improvements to your health. You need to sweat,and that means real exercise.

            From a civil liberties perspective, I’d be more willing to fight for your right to decide rather than some fanciful view that because the Netherlands is healthier than us it’s down to helmet laws (when actually it seems it’s more diet related). At least we live in a country where we can disagree – and I think repealing MHL’s is stronger on the basis of personal freedoms than it is on the supposed health aspects of casual riding or the perception that helmets are somehow inherently dangerous. The legislators and the other cycling groups don’t believe your position.

          • Editor says:

            See for link to study showing NL cycling saves 3% of GDP in health costs. That’s massive!

          • Tom says:

            Should we apply the same argument to walking since that does not raise heart rate and claim it isn’t beneficial and you may as well be driving? Somehow everything I’ve read on the matter states the exact opposite.

          • Steve Taylor says:

            So the 3% improvement must be down to cycling activities that results in positive health outcomes for the cyclist. But those cyclists who don’t exert themselves to the point where they don’t overcome their negative health and lifestyle issues clearly aren’t part of the 3%.

            The Netherlands has a cycling heritage different to Australia – distances are shorter, better separation of bikes and vehicles, lower car ownership, etc. Removing MHL’s in Australia won’t result in the same 3% improvement, and I would expect an increase in head injuries that result in death or permanent disability through brain injury should cyclists not wear helmets.

          • Editor says:

            3% of GDP is the saving to health costs. Not 3% of cyclists. 3% of GDP in a country where nobody raises a sweat while riding, and as you point out elsewhere, distances are shorter than here. This answers your assertion that cycling slowly won’t result in health benefits. Australia spends just under 10% of GDP on health, so 3% is 30% of all health expenditures. It’s massive. Each inactive person who switches to cycling and gets the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day saves the community $1000 in health costs, every year. That’s why helmet laws cost the health budget money.

      • Steve Taylor says:

        Oh, and the Dutch are healthier than us mainly because of their diet, not because they cycle. (see . They have also legalised marijuana too … what should we conclude from that?

  • Editor says:

    See also
    Sophistry? We don’t mention “personal rights”, but you repeatedly ignore all the health evidence presented. Have you carefully read the articles on this site?

  • Steve Taylor says:

    Yes, sophistry. Look it up.

    I don’t ignore the health evidence, but you only present one side of the debate. Head protection is just that – it protects the head. If I asked you to provide health evidence contrary to the evidences you provided, would do it? In any event, I don’t see a ground-swell of cyclists demanding repeal of MHL’s – I only see activists seeking repeal, and some of these are happy to give up cycling if it means they have to wear a helmet!! Most cyclists comply and are happy to do so. For most, the joy of cycling outweighs the supposed inconvenience (or un-coolness) of a helmet.

    And you don’t mention “personal rights”. I would have thought that was a much stronger argument for you position than the health evidence (the conclusions this site makes about participation rates improving, traffic problems being solved, health costs reducing, etc are spurious and lack logic). At least claiming personal freedoms in the fight against MHL’s makes much more sense, especially in the current political environment.

    No, this “cause” being fought is more about image, convenience and the cost of being caught without a helmet than it is about health costs and traffic concerns (for instance, where is the demonstrable causal link between participation rates in cycling and MHL’s, or between participation rates in cycling and the impacts on traffic infrastructure or health costs). And that’s OK. You’d be far better tackling this from a civil libertarian angle than you would with cycling participation rates, IMHO. I’d be more convinced if you did.

    But hey, I’m not running this campaign, you are. And so far, there’s nothing that’s been presented that convinces me you’re on the right track. As far as I am concerned, repealing MHL’s is a non-issue given the approach you’re taking.

  • Editor says:

    There are quite a few papers that use travel data to show helmet laws reduce cycling, some of which are linked from this site, but you don’t seem to want to read the available material.
    Personal rights aren’t the issue, otherwise there would be no seat belt law. It is an issue to criminalise an activity which benefit the person doing it and everybody else, viz cycling without a helmet. Cycling without a helmet (or with) are both beneficial and result in longer lives, lower health costs because the health benefits outweigh the risks (from all causes) by at least 20 to 1, you can find the “published papers” for yourself, hint, British Medical Journal. Sure there are other ways to get exercise. That’s not the point. People cycling to get places aren’t cycling to get exercise, it’s called “incidental exercise”. Given that most Australian’s don’t get enough exercise and this is the second largest preventable cause of death in AU (similar for the rest of the world), helmet laws harm health because they discourage exercise.
    You mention “image” and “convenience” and these could well be some of the reasons why helmet law puts some people off cycling. It doesn’t really matter what the reasons are, the public health damage occurs regardless of why people exercise less.

    • Steve Taylor says:

      As I’ve said elsewhere, if you are caught not wearing a helmet while cycling it is a summary offence, not a criminal offence. I agree that adopting cycling for the health benefits is a great idea, but for casual cyclists who don’t exert themselves there is no benefit – certainly not to the extent there would be a noticeable difference. For instance, I know a guy who cycles each day – but he hasn’t lost weight and still shows all the indicators and having Type 2 diabetes and risks heart disease. There are two issues here – the intensity of his riding, and his diet. Riding in and of itself is meaningless unless combined with changing other lifestyle factors. So participation rate is meaningless unless the lifestyle factors are also changed.

      You say “helmet laws harm health because they discourage exercise” … that’s just an excuse in my book, because a) it’s not HML’s alone discouraging exercise, and b) health is harmed due to lifestyle factors (including exercise of the right kind), not if a person “cycles” or not.

      So the alternative is to encourage people to change their lifestyles – cycling can help with that, but so can swimming, walking, running, dieting, weight lifting, etc. I’m all for improving cycling infrastructure, and participation rates can help achieve this, but don’t hang the albatross around the HML neck please. There are many more factors influencing participation rates than just HML’s alone.

      • Editor says:

        No, if you take your “summary offence” to a magistrate’s court they can decide to record a criminal offense. If you were following these issues you would know about the recent case in South Australia of Sue Abbott.
        “riding is meaningless”? Any additional exercise will improve health outcomes. That remains true regardless of other factors. Sure it’s “not MHLs alone discouraging exercise” but to the extent that they do so, they harm health more than they help. See paper linked to elsewhere on this site for specific calculations on this.

      • Editor says:

        If you take it to court, it’s up to the magistrate to decide whether a conviction will be recorded. There is only one sort of conviction in Australia, and that’s criminal.

        “for casual cyclists who don’t exert themselves there is no benefit – certainly not to the extent there would be a noticeable difference” supported only by your anecdote. In fact 30 minutes of vigorous exercise per day is recommended by health authorities, cycling provides this. See for evidence that cycling is significant in improving health outcomes on a population level. BTW weight loss is not the indicator, exercise by itself with or without weight loss gives the benefits – modern exercise science.

        ” Riding in and of itself is meaningless unless combined with changing other lifestyle factors” Incorrect. Exercise is protective regardless of other factors.

        “it’s not HML’s alone discouraging exercise” irrelevant. If MHLs discourage exercise then they are guilty as charged. Other factors may also be a problem, but that isn’t relevant to the bad effects of MHL.

        The point about cycling, as opposed to “swimming, walking, running, dieting, weight lifting, etc” is that our population doesn’t do enough of any of them, and government programmes to encourage these are failures. Cycling on the other hand, is “incidental exercise”. People in high cycling countries mostly don’t cycle to get exercise, they cycle because it’s convenient. Getting exercise as a side-effect is much more effective than “encouraging” the population to get exercise for its own sake. Removing MHL, improving infrastructure, changing laws, these are all things that have the desirable side-effect of improving health outcomes. Around 50% of the benefits of cycling infrastructure are health benefits, and that doesn’t include the benefits to non-cyclists from lower air pollution and less danger on the roads.

  • Editor says:

    A recent paper (late last year) using standard metrics found that Dutch cycling levels lowered that Country’s health expenses by 3% of GDP. This is exercise that would mostly not be replaced as it’s incidental to transport, not done for exercise or health reasons.
    The Senate enquiry evidence (published in Hansard and linked to somewhere else on this site) included a survey by the Victorian TAC that recorded 28% citing helmet law as putting them off cycling. It’s a significant figure, even if it isn’t possible to extrapolate to an exact result if MHLs were removed.
    Encouraging people to “swim” etc isn’t an “alternative” because it isn’t an effective public health measure. Cycling works because people do it for convenience, speed, cost, etc so you catch the majority who won’t exercise to save their lives (literally).

  • Kevin says:

    Exactly. When I had to take my sedan to the rust repairer, I first drove my wagon (with my bicycle in the back) and parked it beside the lake, near the repairer. Then I rode home and drove my sedan to the repairer. Then I drove the wagon home. The following weekend, I swapped cars to have the wagon repaired. On the third weekend, I simply rode the bicycle to the repairer, put it in the back of the wagon and drove home. Sure, I could have dove into the Tasman Sea, swam south and through the channel (at The Entrance) and then swam southwest around Tuggerah Lake, but somehow the bicycle seemed easier.

    Then, when I moved from The Entrance North to Charmhaven, I drove to Charmy in the wagon with the bicycle in the back. Then I rode 17.5 km south to the old place and drove the sedan to Charmy. Then I drove south in the wagon and picked up the bicycle. Again, I could have swam 10 km down Budgewoi Lake and Tuggerah Lake but that would have made the bicycle a wasted purchase.

    Anyway, some people don’t live near lakes and they can’t swim everywhere even if they wanted to; but at least they wouldn’t need to wear a helmet!

  • Robert says:

    So here’s the thing. If you don’t elevate your heart rate while cycling then you may as well be in a car.

  • Sam Powrie says:

    Very interesting – if somewhat discursive – discussion. I am a multi-decade commuting bicycle user in Adelaide. Now retired and in my mid-60s. For the past 25 years I’ve been actively involved in bicycle advocacy at all levels. I wear a helmet, even when off-road on an mtb. My choice and never consider the laws I’m afraid. Just makes sense to me. In Copenhagen or Holland I might not – but that’s another scenario! Sometimes I employ vehicular cycling techniques – especially when approaching roundabouts and corners and when around commercial vehicles. Again, simply because it makes sense! But most of the time I really enjoy the opportunity to ride on Adelaide’s traffic-quietened streets and our developing system of off-road bikeways. Since 2006 – and mostly due to promotion by voluntary community advocates – the SA Government has pursued a system of ‘Greenways’ across the City and outlying centres. Largely off-road or on quiet ‘Copenhagenised’ streets these routes are mostly opportunistic – following rail and tram lines or new freeway construction. In terms of area Adelaide is an enormous city and these Greenways do not yet represent the ‘framework’ of a fully mature bike network. But they are a start! And indeed one that my own local BUG ( initiated in 2005 with our survey of a 14km route between Port Adelaide and Adelaide’s CBD and that we’ve been working on ever since! The point of this long-winded response is that nothing’s perfect and little can ever be gained by ideological battles. We have to be pragmatic – indeed we owe it to the coming generations to be so! We’ve found that it’s far better tp spend limited advocacy resources on building understanding and constructive relationships with Gov’t and the community than it is to beat them over the head with virtuous but inevitably pointless ideological argument! Have a look at the biggest gains for cycling infrastructure in your own local environment and ask yourself, ‘were they gained by ideological wrangling or were they the outcome of reasoned debate, persistence, relationship building & understanding?’ Our own practical experience is that there is need for both ‘segregated’ and ‘vehicular’ strategies across any cycling network, depending on circumstances! And we’ve found that such an approach is much easier for Gov’t to understand and support than arguments based on ideological extremes. The 14km Outer Harbour Greenway will be open for business by early 2018 – 6 cyclist-activated light-controlled main road crossings, 2 major new bicycle bridges over main roads, 1 major cycling underpass under a rail line and main road, long stretches of very scenic quietened streets & ‘bicycle boulevards’ plus a few km here and there of nice new off-road pathway. It only took 12 years of reasoned argument, incremental development & positive persistence. None of us could have ‘maintained the rage’ over that sort of period!
    Sam P, Secretary, PortBUG.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Take action today and start enjoying the ride! Read more