A GROUP of 22 cyclists ditched their skid lids on Saturday to ride from Maylands to the CBD as part of a national protest against helmet laws.
Australia was the first country to introduce mandatory helmets in 1990 and there’s been ongoing debate about whether they make cyclists safer or simply put people off a healthy past-time.
The Perth protest was organised by Freestyle Cyclists WA, and Liberal Democrat MP Aaron Stonehouse joined them for the illegal ride into the city.
The 27-year-old is WA’s youngest MP and after being elected last year he declared war on the “nanny state”, in keeping with his party’s libertarian ideology.
“Mandatory bicycle helmet laws are perhaps the most glaring example of nanny state paternalism and finger-wagging in Australia,” the MP says.
“Adults should be free to manage the risks involved in a bike ride, and not have the government imposing laws to protect us from ourselves.
“I’m not arguing for people not to wear a bicycle helmet. I’m arguing for the right of adults to decide for themselves whether they need one when they ride a bike.” Mr Stonehouse says cycling rates in cities like Seattle have “plummeted” after the introduction of mandatory helmet laws.
“Helmet laws only strengthen the idea that bicycles are a dangerous mode of transport. That leads to a decrease to the number of cyclists, and that again leads to a decrease in road safety, because the more cyclists there are, the more other road users will consider them.”
The Perth protest was trouble-free, but in Sydney the police deployed seven patrol cars to crack down on helmet-free protestors who were riding around Centennial Park. WA cyclists can be hit with a $50 fine for not wearing a helmet.
A 2011 study in New South Wales found helmet laws resulted in 29 per cent fewer head injuries, and a 2010 study found helmet-free riders were five times more likely to have intracranial bleeding or a skull fracture if they fell off.
But health researcher Colin Clark argues cycling improves people’s fitness and reduces the burden on the public health system. Helmet-free supporters say extra cyclists would make drivers more vigilant and less likely to crash into them, while there’d be less traffic congestion and the government would be more likely to improve cycling infrastructure.
by DAVID BELL