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Legal implications of helmet cameras

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NSW Police helmet with camera

Bond University JD law student Kristoffer Diocampo looks at the legal implications of helmet camera injuries:

Ambiguous Australian legislation makes it difficult to determine exactly what constitutes an ‘approved helmet’ under motorcycle traffic laws.

For example, Max Lichenbaum in Victoria was fined $289 and three demerit points in Frankston for having a camera attached to his motorcycle helmet on March 2014. A decision on whether or not this really violates the law will not be determined until his twice-adjourned hearing date on Wednesday, September 16, 2015.

New South Wales police are following suit by warning riders that they will be fined $311 and three demerit points for specific helmet offences including the fitting of cameras.

But how can police expect to enforce these fines when the rules themselves are unclear? Until the courts can interpret the legislation, we are forced to consider the implications that can be drawn from the situation.

It is acknowledged that our road rules are made in order to address the safety of road users. Approved Australian motorcycle helmets are those that comply with the AS1698-1988 and AS/NZS1698-2006 manufacturing standards. In Queensland and Victoria, the UNECE 22.05 standard is accepted as well.

Yet, these standards apply to the initial manufacturing only and do not apply to third party modifications such as cameras.

Risk of injury

There has been no conclusive evidence to suggest that a significant increase of risk arises from wearing a helmet camera.

Veteran Formula 1 commentator and journalist, Jean-Louis Moncet, sparked controversy when he suggested that Michael Schumacher’s head injury during a skiing accident was exacerbated by a GoPro camera mounted on his helmet. However, he later stated on his Twitter account that the rumour was his opinion and not factual. GoPro is considering suing the journalist.

GoPro helmet camera - legal implications
GoPro camera

However, due to the uncertain nature and outcomes of a motorcycle accident, there continues to be a worry that mounted cameras may exacerbate an injury.

A research paper entitled, ‘The Mechanisms of head and neck injuries sustained by helmeted motorcyclists in NSW, Australia’ summarised the following:

“The attachment of Bluetooth and video camera devices to the outside of the helmet shell is a relatively new issue. This tends to go against what is prescribed in motorcycle performance standards, such as in AS 1698 which requires a smooth outer helmet shell to minimise friction or snagging that may promote helmet rotation. This study found a higher proportion of cases sustaining diffuse type intracranial injury when these devices were attached than when they were absent, although the difference was not significant.”

We also sought advice from Ed Becker, the chief engineer and executive director of the Snell Memorial Foundation that independently tests and sets a safety standard for helmets in the United States:

“We generally advise against post-market modifications to helmets in case they might interfere with protective capability. Helmet mounted cameras are particularly worrisome. They may become loading points for tangential forces and torques in crash head strikes and afterwards as the wearer slides across a roadway… the threat to the structural integrity of the helmet [may be] minimal…The concern is whether the shock and loading will degrade the helmet’s protective capability and allow dangerous levels of shock and loading to be transmitted to the wearer’s head and neck.”

Managing the Risk

The Motorcycle Council of NSW warns that riders wearing mounted cameras must manage the risk of diffuse axonal injury (DAI). This is why the exterior of a helmet is smooth so that it slides on a surface instead of rotating your head upon impact.

The risk can be managed by wearing a camera with a ‘break-away’ type of mount less than 5mm high from the helmet.

Research also suggests that a larger proportion of helmet impacts occur on the front and sides of the helmet. As such, it may be safer to consider a top-mounted helmet camera as opposed to a side-mounted one.

The Icon Airframe Statistic motorcycle helmet (pictured below) illustrates this well by showing impact areas by percentages with the lowest being on top (0.4%) and the highest being at the front and side (19.4%) where most people attach cameras.

Icon Airframe Statistic motorcycle helmet - legal implications


Legal Liability in an Accident

Motorcycle Lawyer, Tina Davis, from East Coast Lawyers says helmet cameras may be helpful to prove liability in a road accident as they can record data that may be otherwise unattainable in the circumstances. In fact, the previous Queensland Police Minister encouraged cyclists to wear helmet cameras for evidential purposes.

Tina says it should the rider’s responsibility to properly manage their risk if they choose to wear a helmet camera.

She also strongly advises against riders modifying their helmets or refusing to follow the helmet camera manufacturer installation instructions.

“With respect to contributory negligence, it is unlikely that a rider will be deemed to contribute to their own injury in an accident caused by another road user by simply choosing to wear a helmet camera,” she says.

Motorcycle Lawyer Tina Davis and Zak Pettendy, the 2014 Queensland 65cc Dirt Track Champion. - legal implications
Motorcycle Lawyer Tina Davis and Zak Pettendy, the 2014 Queensland 65cc Dirt Track Champion.

The Legal Future for Helmet Cameras in Australia

Clear precedent needs to be established on what the law defines an ‘approved helmet’ in Australia. Until this distinction is made, each state has a different approach on how police will tackle this issue.

Riders should manage their risk by assessing the inconvenience of a potential fine and even a confiscation of their helmet cams for evidence of a traffic offence, with the legal evidence afforded in case of an accident and the general enjoyment of being able to record a ride.

For more information on the legal clarifications of GoPros and other cameras, read this article.

  1. ‘New South Wales police are following suit by warning riders that they will be fined $311 and three demerit points for specific helmet offences including the fitting of cameras.

    Source for this?

  2. Senator David Leyonhjelm is presently chairing an enquiry into “nanny state laws” australia and new zealand are apparently
    the only countries with mandatory bicycle helmet laws, Evidence has been given that these helmets have little or no use in an collision with a car.
    Maybe we should be asking why we have helmet laws, seat belt laws etc anyway. As voting adults why are we having our
    rights to make the most basic personal choices removed from us?, And why are we putting up with it?

    1. That is a very insightful argument Pete. I do agree that with respect to ‘nanny states’, sometimes it seems that a lot of common sense gets ignored in favor of satisfying political correctness that has little application in our lives.

      That being said, if I may make a counter-point for the sake of discussion, I think mandatory helmet laws are not just put in place for the sake of protection on the road against cars. Many bicyclists get injured slipping on gravel, or being involved in accidents that are not vehicle related. I personally think that we must consider the full range of application for a bicycle helmet besides just the ‘worse case’ scenario of a car impact.

      I think where the most power from your comment comes from though Pete is taken from the idea that as adults, we are being coddled out of personal choices instead of having the option to be accountable for our own choices.

      The sad reality is that in a society with the compensation law system present in countries like Australia, Canada or the United States, it is very easy for an injured party to place blame on others involved with the accident (e.g. the negligent driver, the government for not maintaining a road, etc.) I think that these laws are put in place to minimize the impact of such lawsuits, and also to help clarify some of the liability issues that come into play. People who wish to be accountable for their own safety such as not being required to wear a safety belt are subject to legal defence of contributory negligence to minimize their damages.

      I think the law imposes these standards to ensure that we have a basic precedent to follow should a accident arise and require a resolution in court.

      1. I am riding bicycle all my life. The statement that helmet is useful when cyclist get injured when they slip on gravel is ridiculous.
        Also from my road incident I can confirm that the only question police was asking was I wearing a helmet. They were very dissatisfied with an answer that I was, so they repeated question about 20 times. BTW it is very hard by get insurance and this law servers only one purpose: to save money for insurance as if it is required by the law to have helmet and you did not then they do not need to compensate any damage.

  3. Many things that are supposed to be a safety device can kill or seriously injure you or others.
    Seat belts have decapitated and strangled children and some adults who would have survived the accident with little or no injury otherwise. Airbags have broken the necks of children, they have also knocked unconscious drivers who’s vehicles have gone on to run down pedestrians or collide with other vehicles resulting in more severe injuries or death.
    The A pillars that have become so thick to prevent the roof crushing in during a rollover are now cuasing such a blind spot that they are probably causing more injuries and deaths than rollovers ever did. And helmets can decapitate you, it mostly happens to race car drivers but the added weight of a helmet can snap the neck at the base of the skull leaving little to keep your head from falling off. Full face helmets can do this to motor cyclists if they land chin first . And over enforcement of speed limits results in more deaths not less.

  4. There are no provisions under NSW/Vic regulations empowering police to determine the AS1698 complience is void so all infringement notices should be contested and the rider associations contacted for further information on how to proceed

  5. $311 and 3 demerit points when nsw motorcycle police have 2 cameras fitted to their hemets so we are just puppets in a revenue state

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