Challenging a helmet fine through the courts

Abstract

The defence of necessity allows people to ignore a law to avoid even more dire consequences. Bicycle helmets increase the risk of accident and can cause brain injury. To avoid these dire consequences, cyclists can ignore the helmet law.

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Sue Abbott challenged a helmet fine in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. She argued that wearing a helmet was more dangerous than not wearing one. District Court Judge Ellis concluded:

“Having read all the material, … 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.”

The defence of necessity states that people can break a law to avoid even more dire consequencesThe test has 3 parts:

1.  You must have an honest belief that complying with the law puts you at increased risk of injury

For example:
2. It was necessary to do the activity that led to the breach (ie., to cycle)

This is a personal issue. For example combining regular exercise with transport is necessary to stay in good health.

3.  You must show that no harm was caused by breaking the law.

No harm was caused from riding on that specific occasion. Cycling provides health benefits while 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.

 

Sue Abbott has challenged other helmet fines for herself and for her daughter.

Others have challenged helmet fines, like Dan. His defence ends with the following observation:

“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.”

Dan challenged four helmet fines in another court case. The magistrate recognised the risk of brain injury from wearing a helmet. He let him off with a token fine. Sue Abbott described the trial. An extract from the verdict:
“[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.”
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