An article in today’s Courier Mail references the Barcelona study which we covered recently and compares it to Brisbane’s CityCycle scheme. Disappointingly they failed to cover the enormous overall health benefit of a public bicycle hire scheme – the main point of the study - in a country without helmet laws for its users!
The Courier Mail’s figures on subscription numbers are also misleading (annual subscription numbers can’t ‘plummet’ after only 3 months of operation). That aside, it is interesting to see that the helmet legislation is finally now being acknowledged as an impediment to potential users of the scheme, as Bicycle Queensland’s Andrew Demack states:
“Another barrier is helmets. In Australia, we have helmet laws and there is no getting around that. But we think not supplying helmets free is a barrier to casual use”
It is a pity that he claims that there is ‘no getting around’ the helmet legislation. This is simply not true and is quite a defeatist position for a bicycle advocacy group, particularly in light of the overwhelming evidence that helmet laws for cyclists do not actually improve cyclist safety. They need not be concerned about opposition as we are one of the few countries in the world that hold this position on bicycle helmet laws – we are the minority view. It is important that they get out of the mindset that opposing helmet laws is the same as opposing helmet use – it is not. Don’t forget our tagline.
Of course other factors are being blamed for the poor take-up (no on-the-spot signup, no credit card facilities) all of which have not been an issue for Melbourne, yet they’re seeing similar poor usage figures. We certainly welcome these changes to make it more accessible to casual users. The question is: how are they going to make it work with the helmet law?
What makes large, public bike hire schemes incompatible with compulsory helmet laws for bicyclists?
In Australia, in order to comply with the legislation and the standard (AS/NZS2063:2008) to which it refers, there are a number of technical challenges which make compliance with the law near impossible:
- the helmet must be the correct size (there is no one-size-fits-all helmet unfortunately)
- the helmet must be undamaged (even a minor impact leaving no evidence of such renders it illegal)
- the helmet must not be exposed to UV light for extended periods (it must be stored in shade)
- the helmets must not have any modifications to their design (ie. they can’t be legally ‘tethered’ to a bicycle)
While receiving much criticism, the solution offered by the team at Melbourne Bike Share at least complied with the legislation and the standard. They soon realised that they could not legally ‘recycle’ the helmets into subsequent use as they could not guarantee they were not damaged. Returned helmets are now discarded and not reused.