I am a criminal…

January 19, 2011 at 21:06 | Posted in bicycles | 8 Comments
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Well, it finally happened. I guess it was inevitable. Riding to work last week I given a ticket by the cops for not wearing a helmet. They were waiting at the foot of the steps at the north end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, handing out tickets to any cyclist not wearing a helmet. And there were a lot of them – just while I was there they nabbed another three renegade cyclists who dared to take to the streets on a bicycle without wearing a polystyrene hat.

This just seems to me a complete waste of police resources, and I daresay the cops on duty felt the same way. However, their local area command had decided to have a ‘crackdown’ on scofflaw cyclists, so there they were.

I did explain to the office why I don’t wear a helmet; in summary:
– they are unnecessary, as cycling is no more dangerous than walking
– they can actually make things worse in the event of an accident
– they make it more likely that you will have an accident
– there is no compelling evidence that they actually work
– they are hot and uncomfortable and put people off cycling

He listened somewhat sympathetically, but without disputing any of my points said he was there to uphold the law, and therefore he had to give me a ticket. Fair enough. I was of course very polite; funnily enough whilst I was talking to the officer another (helmeted) cyclist came by and started shouting at the police for being so stupid, and that what they were doing was ‘incredibly bad PR’.

I’m less worried about the police’s image than about the many cyclists who, having been given a ticket that morning, will now give up on cycling. This is a great pity for lots of reasons; however one of the most ironic is that fewer cyclists means cycling is more dangerous for those that remain (due to the ‘safety in numbers’ effect). Such is the effect of our ridiculous and misguided helmet laws.

The cops were there again the following week; however on this occasion a kind (helmeted) cyclist coming the other way cross the bridge warned me before I got there. I did consider continuing and getting another ticket (civil disobedience can be, after all, a noble thing). However, on balance I decided I could do without the hassle, so turned back and instead caught the ferry across the harbour – hence the picture. This made for a nice change, although the police had gone by the time I rode past.

So I now have a choice; pay the $57 fine (and get a criminal record), or contest the ticket in court. There is of course a precedent for this; last year a lady called Sue Abbott successfully fought her helmet conviction, arguing (to the satisfaction of a senior judge at Sydney District Court) 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. I’ll let you know what I decide to do…

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