Australia’s rules force us to wear dangerous helmets

150727_helmet standards

Australian riders are forced by law to wear potentially dangerous helmets that must meet “a standard that is in direct opposition of all known science in regards to the safest helmet design possible,” according to researcher Tim Kelly.

Our helmets are often too heavy, too rigid, and designed to protect us from being speared from above rather than from the kind of impacts riders are most likely to suffer.

Kelly has published a critique of helmet standard AS1698, which determines the legality of motorcycle helmets in Australia.

None of his findings are suprising to anyone who has paid attention to helmet safety over the pasty couple of decades: “Numerous researchers during this time have called into question the significant shortcomings of the AS1698 standard in regards to either [being]behind or in direct contrast to known science in the field of motorcycle helmet development research [and]Standards,” he says.

Back in the 1990s, when the president of one of the top patch-wearing bike clubs was responsible for helmet testing in NSW, I laughed at the fact that the primary test involved dropping an inverted helmet onto a spike to see if the point penetrated the shell. What the hell was the relevance of that? Defence against lance-toting drivers?!

Unfortunately, that insane requirement meant that the majority of helmets sold in Australia had thicker, heavier shells than foreign equivalents.

Weight and rigidity increase the likelihood if injury or death for riders, so in comparison, many Australian-spec helmets introduce unnecessary dangers to riders.

Kelly shows that this adds an average of 123 grams to the weight of a helmet here. As a result, 85% of assessed full-face helmet sold here exceed 1500 grams, a weight identified as a threshhold for increased risk of basal skull injuries. In Europe, the less than 50% of equivalant helmets exceeded 1500g.

The bike industry has long tried to have the rules changed. Official recommendations to modify aspects of the AS1698 standard were made almost a decade ago but nothing has been done. The only sensible change since then has come from Queensland, which says any helmet meeting some of the major overseas standards is now OK to buy and wear; the trouble is it’s illegal to sell them under federal regulations, and Queenslanders riding interstate will get booked for not wearing a complying helmet. You can bet the cops will be hot on that one, too.

It’s well past time that stupid standards like AS1698 were scrapped. Not modified, just scrapped. European standards are excellent, and we should simply follow suit. That’ll not just save time, money and legal hassles, it’ll improve safety for Aussie riders.

But in this country, safety takes second place to bureaucratic intransigence and law enforcement.

Read Tim Kelly’s full study here.