Victorian motorcycle rider Max Lichtenbaum has unsuccessfully challenged a fine handed to him by police for using a camera attached to his helmet, setting an important legal precedent for riders in the state.
Mr Lichtenbaum copped a $289 fine and a three demerit points penalty, Victorian police using a technicality within the rules to argue the camera was an "unauthorised alteration" to an otherwise Australian Standards-approved helmet.
Items that protrude more than 5mm from the helmet surface are deemed illegal attachments, the police argue, and therefore render the helmet non-compliant with the Australian Standards.
In other words, as far as Victoria Police were concerned, it’s as if the rider wasn’t wearing an Australian Standards-approved helmet at all.
In all Australian states and territories, motorcycle riders must wear a helmet approved by Australian Standards while riding.
But Mr Lichtenbaum disagreed with the legitimacy of his fine, and took his case to Frankston Law Courts with the help of staunch motorcycle rights campaigners, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers - and lost.
As a landmark ruling by a Victorian court, the decision effectively bans motorcycle riders in that state from wearing helmets with cameras attached, regardless of the method used to secure them.
"This result is a disappointing outcome for riders and for motorcycle safety,” lawyer for Maurice Blackburn, Malcolm Cumming, said.
“Riders tell us they wear helmet cameras to improve their safety while on the roads and that drivers and other road users show more care when there is a camera in use. Riders should not be penalised for trying to improve the safety of their riding.”
Mr Cumming said the cameras were also ideal for capturing evidence during a collision, and that various irregularities in state laws had created a “dog’s breakfast” regarding helmet camera regulations.
So why does a nationally-binding rule - in this case, the Australian Standards for helmet safety - mean different things in different states?
While riders in Victoria are now fair game for police to start dishing out the fines, it would seem, New South Wales police has already been targeting riders in known motorcycle enthusiast areas and fining them for wearing cameras.
Riders in Victoria have also reported fines for wearing tinted visors - and all of these fines have related to technicalities over what constitutes an Australian Standards-approved helmet and whether the helmet can be ‘altered’.
But further north, police motorcycle riders in Queensland are not only wearing helmet cameras themselves, they’re happy to inform the public of that fact in the name of raising awareness of a road safety campaign (see video).
Ditto Western Australia Police; which also released video footage from helmet cameras worn by some of its riders recording motorists using mobile phones while driving.
In fact, police in Queensland and WA are themselves wearing cameras mounted to their helmets - the very act that has seen members of the public fined in NSW, and now, Victoria.
South Australia also has its own approach to motorcycle helmet cameras, with the state deeming them permissible provided the helmet itself has not been altered and still complies with Australian Standards.
Enforcing Australian Standards, says SA, effectively ends after the helmet has been manufactured and purchased.
The decision by the Victorian court also opens a can of worms with other helmet attachments.
Some of these have been in use since motorcycle helmet laws began, but now the legality of simple peaked visors, intercom microphones and receivers have been brought into question, along with more modern attachments such as Bluetooth receivers.
Mr Lichtenbaum’s fine was reduced and no conviction was recorded, but the remainder of the punishment stood.
Maurice Blackburn announced it would consider further legal avenues before deciding if grounds existed for an appeal.
Mr Cumming called on Australian lawmakers to standardise helmet laws which allowed riders to embrace new technology in the name of improving their safety.
Victoria Police declined to comment when contacted by the ABC.
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