The Frustrating State of Australian Motorcycle Laws

Over the last year or so, Australian riders residing on the eastern coast of the country have had cause to celebrate with the legalisation of lane splitting finally happening in the three most populous states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria – something that the overwhelming majority of riders in the US don’t enjoy. But with these updated laws has come a hodgepodge of differing rules that have caused confusion and frustration for motorcyclists.

The main area of frustration has been in regards to helmet laws where it is now the case that a rider taking a trip from Queensland, through New South Wales and into Victoria could theoretically require a change of helmet three times in order not to run foul of the law in the respective state. Imagine if state laws weren’t unified on the type of vehicle you could have in each jurisdiction – and yet that is the current situation in Australia.

When Queensland introduced its filtering laws, they also updated helmet laws to allow residents to ride with helmets that met ECE helmet standards and not necessarily Australian Standards. That was fantastic news and something locals were wanting for years – but it left Queensland on its own and meant that should a rider venture from the Gold Coast through to Tweed Heads wearing an ECE and not AE compliant helmet, they could be fined for effectively not wearing a helmet at all – and the $319 fine that goes with it.

Thankfully, on 6 August, the Victorian Government adopted the policy of Queensland and allowed riders to wear ECE compliant helmets as well. As of the writing of this article, New South Wales still has not done so and riders from Victoria and Queensland going to New South with ECE complaint helmets are breaking the law. This is despite even the Australian Federal Government now relaxing import laws which previously prohibited the importation of ECE helmets for sale in Australia.

So while Victoria and Queensland have started applying logic to the types of helmet that can be worn, the same can’t be said for the wearing of action cameras on helmets in the garden state.

Police Radar Gun

For many years now – even if sporadically – riders have been fined for wearing GoPro’s or similar devices on their helmets by police in New South Wales and Victoria. In March 2014, Victorian man Max Lichtenbaum was fined $289 and lost three demerit points for failing to wear an approved helmet after being pulled over by police in Frankston, in Melbourne’s south-east. His helmet was not deemed approved because in the police’s eyes, it had been modified from the Australian Standard because he had fixed a camera to it.

If that sounds ridiculous, it gets worse. Malcolm Cumming of Maurice Blackburn took the case on pro bono due to the issue becoming a major issue of frustration for motorcyclists. His argument in court was that the Australian Standard only applies to helmets at manufacture – once purchased by an individual they no longer apply. Unfortunately, Mr Lichtenbaum lost the case and with the help of Maurice Blackburn is appealing the decision which will be heard in February of 2016.

That means as it stands, if you wear a GoPro, a Bluetooth intercom device or even replace your visor with a tinted one, you are deemed to be in effect not wearing a helmet in Victoria and can be fined accordingly. The absolutely bizarre interpretation of the law makes even less sense when you travel to Queensland or Western Australia, where not only will you not be fined for wearing any such device on your helmet – the police there actively wear such devices themselves.

In those states, the respective governments have effectively adopted the view that Maurice Blackburn was arguing in Victoria – that Australian Standards only apply at the point of sale – not after. It’s altogether more frustrating when the use of cameras by motorcyclists is a key weapon in the proving of innocence in accidents.

“The repeated feedback from motorcyclists to us is there’s a marked change and improvement in driver behaviour when drivers become aware that they are, or are potentially, being recorded,” said Malcom Cumming. “In our work supporting riders injured in road accidents, we know that video from helmet cameras is some of the best evidence you can have if you are in a collision.”

Maurice Blackburn should be applauded for their work in this matter, but it’s ridiculous that they had to get involved at all. Prior to Mr Lichtenbaum losing his case, there seemed to be a sporadic enforcement of the interpretation of the law in Victoria – what happens now though is anyone’s guess.

Helmets aren’t the only issue either. For example in Queensland, riders can ride on the shoulder of roads that have a maximum speed limit of 90km/h or more as long as the rider goes no faster than 30km/h – this is a wonderful way to travel on congested highways. Yet again however, Queensland is alone in this rule and a rider could be riding along the Pacific Highway in Queensland on the shoulder and upon crossing the border now be riding illegally.

Generally speaking, most road rules reach uniformity among states over many years, so there’s hope they will eventually equalise for motorcyclists in the near future. But given the outright hostility the Victorian and sometimes New South Wales police forces have shown for riders recently, don’t hold your breath.

Victorian Police