Are Helmet Laws Sexist?

Aussie woman says rules deter women from biking

Jun 2, 2014
Outside Magazine

Long hair, don't care? Think twice before you let it flow free on your morning bike ride.    Comrade Foot/Flickr

A 54-year-old Australian woman is making headlines after fighting a modest fine she incurred while riding her bike without a helmet. The reason? The woman, Sue Abbott, says compulsory helmet laws are sexist because they deter women from cycling.

"I firmly believe more people would ride bikes if helmets were optional," said Abbott, according to Australian publication the Advertiser. "A lot of women have maintained hairstyles and would end up with helmet hair—and women have told me that's one of the factors" for why they don't ride bikes. 

Abbott's fine—which she said is just one of a dozen that police have issued her for helmetless riding—came during an international cycling conference held in the southern Australian city of Adelaide. 

Kevin Mayne, a delegate from the European Cyclists' Federation (ECF), contextualized helmet laws for the Aussie cities.

"The width of the [Adelaide] streets provide great access for cyclists," he said. "Most European cities don't have this space to work with, but here you can find room for cyclists and pedestrian areas and make it a very livable city."

Mayne, who focuses on development for the ECF, said governments around the world need to devote larger portions of their transportation budgets to making spaces more cyclist-friendly and getting cars off roads. 

Stateside, Abbott would be an anomaly. May was National Bike Month in America, and while conversations about cyclist rights are more prominent than ever, they focus more on safety—which naturally includes helmet wearing. In fact, Boston University recently ran a bike-safety advertising campaign glorifying helmet hair in an effort to get more cyclists to wear protective gear.

That being said, trends don't entirely refute Abbott's claims. A 2013 study about the psychology of bad hair found that an unruly mop can leave someone moody and depressed for more than an hour. That could be why some inventors are trying to reimagine the helmet from the ground up. Last November, a Swedish company announced an "invisible" helmet that's actually a collar cyclists wear around their necks that deploys an airbag in the event of a collision. Earlier this month, an English innovator introduced the Morpher, a 1.4-inch-thick helmet that can fold to the size of a textbook and easily fit in backpacks or laptop bags.

But these solutions might not be available for a while, and they could be expensive when they do—the collar is expected to retail for upwards of $500. Until these products hit the shelves or your bank account swells to afford them, try techniques to reduce helmet hair, spend the big bucks for an "invisible helmet," or just suck it up and deal with your messy hair. Apologies, Sue, but if given the choice between neat hair and a healthy cranium, we'll choose an intact head every time.

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