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Sikhs get helmet exemption, why not the rest of us?

April 25, 2013

When you impose laws that infringe upon civil liberties, injustices are created. When solving those injustices, the laws should go. In the ultra nanny state of Australia, discriminatory exemptions are preferred.  Following from a case in the state of New South Wales that saw a Sikh cleared of paying the fine for breaching the country’s near-unique mandatory cycling helmet law (the infringement itself was upheld), the state of Queensland is about to enact a “religious exemption” to allow those wearing head-dress by religious decree allowed to cycle without a helmet. This will match exemptions in other states, notably Victoria.

Such exemptions lead to a dangerous path of discrimination, favouring certain sectors of the community over others. You currently see that with the system of marriage and the fight for “marriage equality”. Now we fight for “cycling equality”. Normally exemptions to laws are made in the cases of the law not being necessary. For instance, in the Northern Territory, cycling on segregated paths requires no helmet. This makes perfect sense given all severe accidents happen on the road. In the case of religious exemption, it’s to grant certain people a special privilege, and that’s just wrong. If the cycling helmet law is so damn important, there should be no exemptions. Even by making such an exemption, it effectively says that cycling is not as dangerous as a mandatory helmet law implies. If that’s the case, repeal the whole damn thing.

The helmet law is the diarrhoea of a feel-good idea hijacked by obtrusive government. Transport minister Scott Emerson, in revealing the exemption, defended the overall law by saying “The evidence is very clear that bike helmets do make a difference”. This is not the issue. Helmets would make just as much difference, probably even more difference, on the heads of motorists, pedestrians, home handy-people or even just walking down the stairs or protection from assault on a Saturday night out.  Life-jackets would prevent countless beach drownings per year. Do you want to legislate there as well? If not, why not? Because that would begin to affect you? So you pick on a minority for your pathetic ego boost of “doing something good”? In terms of public health costs, all the above plus obesity, diabetes, smoking, boozing and skin cancer are all far more egregious than cycling – by light years. Ignoring them is just another realm of discrimination. Cycling, helmet or not, would actual reverse the health costs, thanks to increased exercise.

The real issues of the law are the consequences of it, and these are never addressed with politicians: 1) Do you want cycling banned for those that cannot or choose not to wear a helmet?; 2) Is the point of the law to encourage helmet use or punish those not wearing one?

Banning cycling for many is the result. Australia’s numbers are one of the lowest of the western world and have barely grown over the decades when measured against population growth. Infrastructure lags behind because governments believe enforcing a piece of foam on a cyclist’s head is enough to make them safe on the roads. The bike-share schemes in Brisbane and Melbourne are appallingly under-used – as much as 1/10th the patronage of schemes in helmet optional cities.

The law also punishes cyclists. In Queensland, the fine is $110. In Victoria, it’s a whopping $176 – the same as motorist caught speeding. How the two activities equate is the height of absurdity. If you were to ask these politicians about the penalty for such a law being broken, they’d probably say something like $20 or $30, and they probably believe ignorantly that it is that low. Initially it was before state governments saw a chance for greater revenue and to encourage police to book more cyclists. Before Victoria tripled the fines about 5 years ago, police were notorious for looking the other way.

Laws should only exist to address actual problems in society. The MHL is only there to intrude, since there’s never been a problem of masses of dead cyclists on the roads or hospitals full of head trauma to correct. In fact, the bulk of such hospital cases are from motor vehicle, pedestrian and general accidents, and criminal assaults. Yet no one calls for helmet laws there.  Contrast to activities like speeding and drink driving, which are major contributors to more accidents and deaths of innocent people, then you need laws to prevent speeding and drink driving. What does the helmet law most prevent? More people cycling.

The major cycling groups won’t even stand for cyclists rights;  petrified that they’ll lose government funding and sanction.  Bicycle Queensland added this drivel: “It seems a bit rich to have that law forced upon people, who for religious reasons, wear a headdress that makes wearing a helmet impossible”.  It’s a bit rich for a prominent cycling group to focus on the religious aspect being infringed, not the cycling one. Where’s the sympathy for those that say the heat makes wearing a helmet impossible? Or those that say the oppression of the law makes cycling impossible? Fight for their rights. You are Bicycle Queensland, not Religious Queensland. Do you want more people riding or not?

Again the question comes: Do you want cycling BANNED for a certain group of people? Do you want cyclists PERSECUTED with VICIOUS fines if they are not wearing a helmet? Do you want cycling perceived as oppressive and dangerous, rather than fun and safe? These are the issues at hand, not whether you believe “bike helmets do make a difference”.



From → Cycling Free

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