Should Brits Be Able To Flout Australia's Bike Helmet Laws?

Australia's strict bike helmet laws made headlines around the world this week when Adelaide police stopped Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson from riding his bicycle without a helmet. Despite being caught red-handed, the billionaire business magnate was let off with a warning. This got us to wondering: do police have a separate law for celebrities, or are all UK tourists given more leeway when it comes to bike laws?

Photo: Getty Images

Today, we attended a Talent International event headlined by Sir Richard Branson that centered on how to create successful working environments and businesses through inspiring behavior, drive and self-belief (we'll be bringing you a full recap of Branson's insights soon). During his keynote address, Branson lightheartedly brought up his recent brush with the law:

I like to keep fit and healthy so I went for a bike ride [in Adelaide]. I didn't realise that you're meant to put helmets on in Australia. From now on I'll behave myself...I actually walked to the venue today.

The incident occurred on Thursday afternoon shortly after Branson left the Hilton Hotel on Victoria Square. After agreeing to wear a helmet, police let him off with a caution.

Interestingly, this is the second time in recent months that a bike-riding British celebrity has escaped a fine for not wearing a helmet: last year, Twilight actor Robert Pattinson was also stopped by police for riding without a helmet. He too was let off with just a warning.

We're keen to find out whether police are more lenient towards tourists in general, or whether it's just the rich and famous that get the benefit of the doubt. Have you or anyone you know ever managed to talk your way out of a helmet fine by claiming ignorance of the local rules? Let is know in the comments section below.

We suspect this could be a cunning life hack for non-helmet wearing cyclists: when the police pull you over, just adopt a thick Irish brogue. (Technically, you're not lying to police by putting on an accent.)

See also: How Much Safer Are Bicycle Helmets Really? | Should Queensland’s New Bike Helmet Laws Apply To All Australians? | Helmet-Free Cyclists More Likely To Ride Drunk | Bikes On Footpaths: When Is It Lawful?


Comments

    It's not just celebrities, although it likely depends on the cop who pulls you over.

    I remember when I was a kid one of my friends fathers was an avid cyclist and hated helmets, one day he was cycling with a French friend of his who was visiting and got pulled over. He immediately spewed out the little bit of French he knew and his friend quickly picked up what was going on and chimed in with a lot more. The cop let them off with a warning telling them he didn't know what things were like in France but over here they had to wear helmets.

    However while they weren't celebrities they were two middle aged white men in an upper class suburb, so that was likely in their favour.

      Yep, I got let off with a warning myself once, and I've lived here all my life.

      +1. I cycle every day and I've been pulled up exactly once by the police. I was on a footpath 20m before it turned into a bike path, and they let me off with a warning.

      The good police look for a reasonable excuse for your actions, the bad police pull you over and then try to find out what you might have done wrong.

    "Centered" is incorrect spelling. It should be "centred" in Australia.

      Sorry - I wasn't wearing my helmet when I wrote that.

    do police have a separate law for celebrities, or are all UK tourists given more leeway when it comes to bike laws? Yeah, Bransen is a mega millionaire and from pommyland so the first thing the cops going to do is slap him in cuffs and drag him off to jail. They are allowed to use a bit of common sense you know. Having said that, maybe they could have asked him to buy tickets to the policemans ball...? ;)

    The word is FLOUT not FLAUNT. This is a most embarrassing misuse of the language. Please have somebody competent in basic English proof read your material, Lifehacker, if you crave credibility.

      Technically, it's flout, not FLOUT. Then again, we're not so anally retentive here, so we'll let you off with a warning.

    Its pretty reasonable to give somebody a warning if theyre from another country where there arent helmet laws regardless of who they are. Any aussie would know you need one, but its understandable for tourists to make a mistake and be warned rather than punished

    Typically if you're polite when they pull you up on helmets, you'll get off with a warning unless theyve had a bad day. Just make sure you then walk the bike, and not hop back on and keep riding like a friend of mine did.. they didnt like that very much

    I've been left off warning before and I was riding with my wife and kids... the police explain that we really should have helmet even though I thought riding on the foot path was ok... it isn't.

    They typically only give you the fine if they see you continue to ride the bike.. When I was younger I had police stop and 'warn' me all the time when I had forgotten to put a helmet on.

      No they don't. They are vicious , especially since the fine recently tripled to $176 in Victoria. Before they'd rarely stop you. It wasn't worth the effort for $50. If you're a kid then a warning. The law is absurd. Worse, the major bike groups support it. Now you know why Australia has a wretched level of cycling and infrastructure.

    not all of Australia has the helmet laws btw

      That's the first I've heard anyone say that. Where are we free to ride without a helmet?

    It shouldn't really be the duty of the government to enforce this kind of law, in the end of the day people are going to make their own choices. I personally don't feel that when I am riding down a direct cycleway from my home to the supermarket at 5km/h with no intersections it's really terribly important to be forced to wear a helmet. I have come off a few times, but never anything serious - most times not even a bruise [and I have been riding a bike as daily transport most of my life]

    It shouldn't be the governments business these basic elements of our personal preferences in my opinion, if you're riding fast on an awesome bike or riding in traffic - a helmet is essential, and I know that both because it's obvious and because I was educated extensively on it at school. This is an appropriate use of tax dollars, having police spending their time "patrolling" basically makes them behaviour police.. Meanwhile as a bike rider i've had no fewer than 9 bikes stolen - 0 have ever been recovered. Thanks police, please find another way to fine me for living how I want to live.

    Sincerely,
    5km/h Rebel Bicycle Rider.

    Last edited 10/05/13 8:35 pm

      In Australia the police set up stings on dedicated bike path so even this safe cycling you are not safe.

        Nice double use of the word safe. Safe on my bike, but not safe from the cops. Ironic, no?

      I count myself as a libertarian, but in a country that provides free health care, I think its sensible to introduce laws that reduce the likelihood and expense of injury (much like the rules minimising places where one can smoke). I'll accept a happy middle ground where the Government can identify a list of pointless behaviours that waive your right to free healthcare for associated conditions. Would probably help reduce the health burden.

        Lets face it, if you're riding fast enough to get seriously hurt without a helmet when there IS a law requiring it (thus making you a criminal I suppose) - then you're probably going to do it regardless. All this really does is wastes everyone's time - the police handling it, and the guy who clearly doesn't care, law or not.

        Smart people will usually make smart decisions regardless of the law and wear a helmet if riding fast, or (in my case) in unfamiliar areas.

        Last edited 13/05/13 12:19 pm

          "Smart people will usually make smart decisions regardless of the law". Fair enough: smart people can make a solid risk assessment, and consequently don't need to worry about the risk of paying for head injuries under my proposed solution. This way we get the choice, but other people don't ave to pay for it we're wrong on a particular instance.

            *shrug* by the same logic, you could ban entire industries all together. Not wearing a bike helmet and then not getting any care for your freaking brain because you're a dangerous criminal according to the law, vs extreme sports people who DO wear a helmet but because of the law it's fine for us to pay for their ongoing care?

            I see what you're saying, but just because it costs an unfactored amount in tax dollars to treat some people who were in most cases probably involved in a freak accident, statistically more than likely not even to their head (you have to be going extremely fast and slam on the front breaks in my experience, and even then - most of the time it will throw you forward, not down toward your head) is no reason not to care for them.

              To an extent, I'm not sure that extreme sports injuries should be copped by the general public either. In fact, I think its completely unreasonable that people who risk their lives pointlessly should get free treatment. Nonetheless, I am wary of a slippery slope if we start saying what should and shouldn't be covered.

              The only middle ground, as I see it, is regulations covering relatively small imposts that can save a lot of money in the event of an injury. Like seat belts, a helmet is a relatively small impost for massive potential savings in the event of an accident. As long as the general purse is paying for health care, its reasonable to impose small imposts on peoples behaviours. With the NDIS about to be introduced, effectively covering people with traumatic brain injury for life, I think its even more reasonable.

              Your confusing the fact that its not likely to happen to you as an individual, with the fact that across 20 million people, it will happen to some and it will be expensive.

                I suppose you find it easier than me to assign a life a monetary value, or that some are more worthy than others simply because they wear a helmet. *shrug*

                  Yeah... I'm calling the debate in my favour, on the basis that you've deliberately misconstrued what I'm saying. In fact, your position is more consistent with assigning a life a value (you seem to think its worth less than the trouble of putting on a helmet) than mine.

          Michael, in many cases, the problem is not the cyclist but some idiot motorist, or some other idiot cyclist riding recklessly.

            If you're dealing with traffic, especially in either an unfamiliar place or a place you know you don't have good visibility for at least 10-15m in each direction in an area you need to cross a road (unless they're doing 200km an hour, you're going to be pretty safe, even rolling around at 5km/h) then you SHOULD be wearing a helmet.

            I'm not some bogan who's just of the opinion that I don't have to follow some stupid law so I wont do it out of spite - I'm a rational human capable of making what I deem to be safe life choices. I mean you could make the same argument of anything- you'd better wear one walking around wearing a helmet on the sidewalk because when accidents happen, they very frequently mount the sidewalk and could hit you.

            Would you be happy to be forced to do so? Probably not. But if it's your safety choice, by all means you are free to do so.

              Guess I know too many cyclists who are in no way reckless who were downed by cars travelling a LOT less than 200kph. Cars think nothing of swerving to avoid a piece of wildlife even if it means hitting a cyclist, for example. Granted, that ought be the driver's problem, not the cyclist's, but given that the cyclist has the most to lose out of such a run-in, it pays to be a bit defensive.

    think it is just a case of "too hard basket", if you issue a fine and they leave the country without paying, no-one is going to track them down for a fine less than $100.

    "Flout". Not "Flaunt".

    I am German. I did not realize that helmets are required for riding pushbikes in Australia, when I first rode one over here. An Irish friend of mine was stopped by police over this and also let go with a warning (advice rather). I think the headline of this article is sensationalist and slightly anti-british, picking them out for no reason but ignorance on the issue by its writer. Helmet laws for pushbikes are not a common thing at all internationally and many visitors are bound to make this mistake, hence the relaxed attitude of police.

      Ignorance of the law does not qualify as a reason to break it.

        Obviously it qualifies as a reason, otherwise it would not happen in that case. You probably meant to write "justify", but thats beside the point I have made, which was about providing a simple explanation why A)the issue occurs often and across nationalities and B) the writer of the article is off the mark in his allegations. I never wrote that its justified.

      I think the reason Brits were singled out is because the story is about Branson and another UK .

    In my home state of New Jersey helmets are only mandatory for children aged 14 and younger. In Philadelphia I didn't own a car and used my bicycle for most trips - there are no helmet laws in Pennsylvania. When I rode with my daughter we always wore helmets. When I rode by myself I rarely wore a helmet. There's nothing inherently dangerous about riding a bike 16/kmh to go pick up a few groceries. The danger on a bike comes from high speeds, reckless riding or from cars. If you're doing 50kmh in a peloton then sure, you're an idiot not to wear a helmet but it's completely unnecessary for any responsible using bikeshare in Brisbane. I've been very reluctant to start riding here in part because people drive like maniacs, in part because of the helmet law and because of stories I've seen on the news about ticket blitzes for cyclists not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign or failing to signal a turn.

      The distance your head can fall to the concrete when your bike is stationary can crack your skull.

        And that distance generates a force greater than any cycle helmet is certified (or even able) to protect to.

          I need a reference on this. I'm not going to blindly believe that.

    Celebs certainly get cut some slack on rules. I was seated near Dr Chris Brown (Bondi Vet) on a flight recently. He was using his phone when it should have been off and the Qantas hostie looked right at him and never did anything. Probably because this particular hostie wanted to share a video of his dog with Dr Brown. Sometime after takeoff he swiitched it to flight mode but it stayed on the whole flight including landing.

      .. there's no LAW regarding using your phone on planes - even during take off or landing. It's their recommendations and they ask you to do so - but I always film take off and landing and have never been asked not to because in reality it has no practical effect on what they need to do, especially in flight mode..

        There is a law to follow cabin crew directions and they did say to do this. This was before we could leave them on in flight mode. Lets not second guess if we should or should not do things when there is any risk to other peoples safety. Of course I have no idea why I posted this comment on this thread in the first place. it has nothing to do with skid lids.

    Here in Brisbane recently man was stopped for not wearing a helmet. He explained that he was a Sikh and that his turban was an item of religious apparel and that he could not take it off to wear a helmet. The cops basically said "to bad", fined him and sent him on his way. He then took the fine to court and basically has forced a change to helmet laws so that all members of the Sikh community can ride bikes with out a helmet.

      Should be able to refuse on grounds of "Conscientious Objector"
      Works for immunisation.

    If he/they have an accident while riding, should they be able to use Medicare?

    Eugh, cant wait to leave Australia so I don't have to deal with these ridiculously backwards attitudes to cycling and helmet laws anymore.

    I'm glad you're not accepting it unquestioningly. It's all in AS/NZS 2063:2008 (Bicycle helmet standards). The standard is all about how the helmet reacts to the impact and takes little account of how the head, and more importantly the brain, reacts to that impact.

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