On Saturday, March 16, Sydney cyclists and other riders around Australia will take to the roads with bare heads in a protest bike ride against mandatory helmet laws.
The Helmet Optional Ride has been organised by bike riding advocacy group Free Cyclists, who claim Australia’s bike laws, which require cyclists to wear a helmet or face significant fines, are holding back the development of cycling as major form of transport. They say the ride aims to highlight this issue and the environmental and health benefits of pedal-powered transport.
The counter argument to dumping helmet laws is that the wearing of said helmets reduces injuries. A comprehensive 2016 report which analysed data from 64,000 injured cyclists concluded that helmet use reduces the risk of serious head injuries by 69 per cent.
But the effectiveness of helmets in crashes isn’t the question in the upcoming protest ride. What the Free Cyclists are questioning is if the legal requirement to wear a helmet, and the prospect of heavy fines if you don’t, actually encourages you to don the head cover, or to simply not ride a bike at all.
Australia’s largest bike riding organisation Bicycle Network also released a policy review in 2018 calling for a trial to make helmet use optional for riders over the age of 17 when pedalling on footpaths and on off-road cycleways.
But it’s these stipulations of where cyclists are riding which speaks to another pertinent question: does the infrastructure in Sydney and Australia more broadly cater to cyclists’ needs? While Sydney’s inner-city cycling routes are under development, completion of the city’s cycling action plan put forward in 2018 isn’t expected until 2030. The plan does note that rider numbers have boomed in areas with completed separate cycleways, which could be a positive indication regarding further development.
Both the Free Cyclists and the Bicycle Network also advocate for safer cycling infrastructure and driver awareness of cyclists.
The Sydney Freestyle Cyclists’ Helmet Optional Ride will start at the Newington Armory, Sydney Olympic Park at 10.15am.
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