The Hidden Punitiveness of Fines for Minor Offences: A Case Study of Bicycle Helmet Laws

Dr Julia Quilter1
1School of Law, University of Wollongong,, Australia

Australia adopted mandatory bicycle helmet laws in the early 1990s. In the context of a broader road safety agenda, the main aim was to improve safety for children riding bicycles on the road. Failing to wear an approved helmet became an offence in all Australian States and Territories, and enforcement is typically by on-the-spot fine. In 2016, NSW significantly increased the fine for this offence (from $73 to $330). This paper will examine the policing practices and effects mandatory helmet laws have had, with a particular focus on young people. It highlights how an apparently ‘insignificant’ and safety-oriented offence has been deployed as an additional police power. This includes the practice of invoking the laws to perform searches that would otherwise be unlawful and which often result in more serious charges being laid.

Dr Quilter is an Associate Professor in the School of Law, University of Wollongong and a member of the Legal Intersections Research Centre.



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