Standards Australia has invited members of the public to participate in the helmet forum in Sydney to discuss changes to helmet laws (and MotorbikeWriter will be there on a special web link to report on the outcomes).
The forum is therefore a timely opportunity to bring some sanity to helmet laws.
There can be some optimism in the fact that State Government Transport Ministers around Australia have either indicated representatives from their departments will attend or that they will be considering the information presented at the seminar.
However, the agenda for the four-hour forum seems to be jam-packed giving little time for real discussion and the likelihood of being hijacked by attendees with vested interests in keeping the confusing, expensive and replicated standards testing system in place.
Issues that could and should be discussed are the extra Australian tests required that impose a higher retail price on helmets, consistent standards across all states and a clear decision on whether helmet cams and bluetooth units are allowed to be fitted to helmets.
And it would be good if the forum kept in mind that the helmet safety standards are there to serve the end user – we riders – not companies or individuals with vested commercial interests.
As the forum gets underway, it is an opportune time for riders to register their concern about the laws and call for uniformity and sense via the online petition.
Today’s forum was convened by Standards Australia and included representatives of state and federal governments, road safety groups, certifiers, retailers, distributors, importers and most importantly riders.
While riders are hoping for “harmonisation” of the helmet laws and their enforcement across state borders, one forum attendee did suggest a further step – global harmonisation of helmet standards!
Dan Leavy from the NSW Centre for Road Safety, says we should follow Queensland’s lead and adopt the international UNECE 22 standard.
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He says change is needed because the current Australian Standard is restrictive, limits choice and sizes, and has no quality assurance requirements.
He says there are no helmet manufacturers in Australia and we are a very small market in the globe without a lot of influence over helmet manufacture.
However, rather than surrendering control of safety standards to an international body, he says Australia can have direct input into furthering and updating this standard as we are a signatory to the relevant international standard treaty.
He says their centre has also compared the Australian standard with five other standards and found there are “no meaningful differences observed”. The only difference was in the penetration test which is particular to Australia and not included in UNECE testing.
“It’s to do with build quality and it’s not a risk to riders,” he says of the penetration test which consists of dropping a spike on to a helmet. “If this was a real risk, pedestrians would be walking around wearing chin pads.”
The centre has produced a public consultation paper on their proposal which they have postponed until after the forum, he says.
While the forum didn’t reach any conclusions, there is some hope that the arguments put forward by rider groups will be heard by the relevant state and federal bodies as there were several representatives for various ministers at the forum.
A representative for Federal Minister Bruce Billson says there is no timeframe for a resolution on the issue of helmet standards.
“Recommendations have been given to the minister, but he hasn’t made an indication,” he says. “However, he is interested in the outcome of this forum and he’s very well aware of what is going on.”
Australian Standards spokesman Adam Stingemore pointed out that they develop standards and it is up to governments to make a choice to use them.Helmet laws – helmet petition, helmet forum helmet forum
However, he acknowledged the problems of different laws between states. “If there was one standard there would be an expectation that you could use that standard and ride around Australia. At the moment you can’t,” he says.
He says they need agreement between eight state and territory governments and the commonwealth, plus road authorities, police and multiple regulatory authorities with conflicting objectives.
Australian Motorcycle Council helmet committee chair Guy Stanford says riders currently don’t know if a helmet complies and they “have no faith in the system”.
“The situation has been confusing and we need to resolve it without getting bogged down,” he says.
The AMC is “comfortable” with the UNECE 22 standard as it is adopted in more than 50 countries and is based on studies of crashed helmeted riders, not racing car driver helmets as is the Australian standard is.
Vice-chair Dr Bruce Campbell says the Australian product safety standard system for helmets “is broke”.
Speaking at the Australian Standards motorcycle helmet forum in Sydney today he said the current standard isn’t used by retailers, a fact verified by Simon Bell, a rider and assistant director of policy and standards with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. Simon said he could not recall one retailer being prosecuted for selling a non-compliant in the past five years.
Bruce told the forum: “Retailers are never asked to substantiate compliance prior to sale unless through a coroner. And all the coroner wants is to see if there is a sticker on it and then he’s happy.
“Riders have no faith in the compliance system in Australia. We do not know if they comply with a standard or not.”
He complained that police forces selectively and incorrectly used the flawed standard as a basis for regulation.
“We have riders being booked for tinted visors and cameras. This standard is being used to punish riders, rather than protect them.”
He called for regulatory standards on what is safe to change on a helmet or add to it.
“We need to prevent unsafe use and restrict unsafe modifications. The road rules must be consistent throughout Australia.
“We do not expect drivers to changes their seat belts every time they cross a border so why should riders have to change their helmets?”
He also addressed the issue of riders in some states being fined for a non-compliant helmet because they had fitted a tinted visor.
“We need them in Australia,” he says. “Sometimes I even wear sunglasses underneath a tinted visor for the glare.
“Wouldn’t it make more sense to have something in the road rules that say you shouldn’t use a tinted visor during certain hours of darkness?”
He also wants reference to communication devices and cameras being fitted to helmets included in the road rules.
“These in-service regulations must be separate to the helmet standards,” he says.
“Road rules on tinted visors and helmet cams should be separate to standards and then they only need to be updated once.”
Dan Leavy from the NSW Centre for Road Safety told the forum that they were doing a series of tests to see if helmet cameras are safe.
Professor Raphael Gzrebieta of the UNSW said a camera mounted on a helmet could exacerbate injuries in a crash by forcing your head to rotate faster.
A NSW police representative said they were policing for helmet cams because “our overall aim is to decrease the road toll”.
He said they were doing tests on the effect of helmet cams in a crash and pointed out that there was also an insurance issue involved, meaning an insurance company could refuse to pay for injuries if the helmet was made non-compliant by fitting a helmet camera.
However, another forum attendee pointed out that had already taken place. “What about the Queensland and WA police who wear helmet cams and have overcome Workcover insurance issues?”