A fine for not wearing a helmet in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, can be challenged in court. Sue Abbott successfully fought her helmet conviction in August 2010, arguing that wearing a helmet was more dangerous than not wearing one, and thus her actions were protected by a NSW state statute that says people are not compelled to follow laws when doing so would put their lives in danger. This is called the defence of necessity.
This newspaper article describes this successful challenge to a helmet fine.
The test for this has 3 main parts:
1. You must have an honest belief that complying with the law puts you at increased risk of death or injury
Helmets are not designed to protect against serious brain injury, and can make it worse from:
- Increasing the risk of accidents, as motorists have been shown to be less careful around helmeted cyclists, and helmeted riders tend to ride less cautiously.
- Higher chance of head hitting road from larger head size
- Soft shell helmets tend to grab the road surface & increase rotational acceleration, the main cause of serious brain injury.
There is plenty of research backing up theses arguments, some of it mentioned in this website, in here for example. Generally, you can’t quote research in a court case unless the author of the research is there to support it. However, the defence of necessity merely requires that you hold a belief on reasonable grounds. The peer-reviewed research pointing the dangers of bicycle helmets provide sufficient reasonable ground.
It may also worth mentioning the position of the District Court Judge Ellis who, after carefully examining the evidence, concluded that:
“”Having read all the material, I think I would fall down on your side of the ledger …
I frankly don’t think there is anything advantageous and there may well be a disadvantage in situations to have a helmet and it seems to me that it’s one of those areas where it ought to be a matter of choice.”
This is a personal thing, so you need to emphasize what’s relevant to you. For example combining regular exercise with transport considering a busy work and family life is a necessity to stay in good health.
No harm was caused from riding on that specific occasion. Instead, cycling provides health benefits as well as reducing traffic congestion and pollution. Wearing a hat instead of a helmet reduces the risk of skin cancer.
More details from Sue Abbott court case can be found here.
“Finally, I will leave it to your Honour to ponder the following absurdity. Riding a bicycle without a helmet is activity that delivers health benefits to the individual, reduces the healthcare tax burden on society, delivers economic benefits in terms of reduced road congestion, reduces the risks to other road users and benefits both the local and the wider environment. It is safe, has no appreciable negative consequences, and is considered entirely normal everywhere in the world where bicycle use is widespread. Yet this safe, fun, and beneficial activity is considered a criminal offence in New South Wales.”
“[The magistrate] reviewed all the evidence presented, and basically accepted all of it as factually correct; he also made some comments about the bicycle helmet law not being ‘helpful’ …It also highlighted the absurdity of the bicycle helmet law to the point where he was prepared to criticise it on the record.”