Lawrence of Arabia – Helmet Law

11th October 2010: “Boa and I took the Newark road for the last hour of daylight. He ambles at forty-five and when roaring his utmost, surpasses the hundred. A skittish motor-bike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness. Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him”.

Original Source: Click Here

This 1000cc motorcycle was the prized possession of T E Lawrence, better known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, and the machine on which he was killed in May of 1935.

Lawrence’s Brough Superior was tailor-made by George Brough himself and cost 170 pounds in 1932.

This was the seventh Brough that Lawrence had owned. He named each in succession ‘George 1′ to ‘George VII’, and also referred to some of them, including this model, as ‘Boanerges’ or ‘Boa’ (Son of Thunder). His seventh motorcycle is on display at the Imperial War Museum.

The Brough Superior was the fastest and most expensive machine on the road at the time. It easily reached speeds of over 100 mph and was at the cutting edge of 1930′s design. The motorcycle was Lawrence’s constant companion on the deserted country roads of pre-war Britain. Long distance visits to friends such as Winston Churchill or Lady Astor were achieved in record time. ‘It is the silkiest thing I have ever ridden…’ Lawrence would famously say.

Original Source: Click Here

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935), was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18. The extraordinary breadth and variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in writing, earned him international fame as Lawrence of Arabia, a title popularised by the 1962 film based on his life.

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Crash From Lawrence of Arabia Film

At the age of 46, two months after leaving the service, Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle in Dorset, close to his cottage, Clouds Hill, near Wareham.

A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles; he swerved to avoid them, lost control and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later on 19 May 1935.

The spot is marked by a small memorial at the side of the road.

One of the several doctors attending him was a young neurosurgeon, Hugh Cairns.

He was moved by the tragedy in a way that was to have far-reaching consequences. At the beginning of the Second World War, he highlighted the unnecessary loss of life among army motorcycle dispatch riders as a result of head injuries. His research concluded that the adoption of crash helmets as standard by both military and civilian motorcyclists would result in considerable saving of life.

It was 32 years later, however, that motorcycle crash helmets were made compulsory in the United Kingdom. As a consequence of treating T.E. Lawrence and through his research at Oxford, Sir Hugh Cairns’ work largely pioneered legislation for protective headgear by motorcyclists and subsequently in the workplace and for many sports worldwide. (…).

Original Source: Click Here

It is ironic that Lawrence, a man so passionate about motorcycling was, through the manner in which he died, responsible for the Helmet Law.

Fred Hill and the Helmet Law

A former army dispatch rider during WW2, Fred worked for many years as a mathematics teacher before leaving to enjoy what he doubtless expected would be a quiet retirement. Incensed by the compulsory helmet law, Fred rode everywhere in an old beret and collected hundreds of tickets, which he stored in a large suitcase. Fred’s refusal to pay the fines for helmet-less riding constituted ‘Contempt of Court’ for which he was given thirty one custodial sentences.

With the passage of time, police in Fred’s neighbourhood frequently turned a blind eye to his indiscretions, though when he went further afield he would invariably be stopped. In order to cover the necessary distances Fred replaced his Honda 50 with a 250 and on one occasion, he battled all the way to the Gower Peninsula in Wales and back, a distance of about 500 miles in one day despite appalling weather.

Fred Hill was seventy four years old when in 1984 he died from a heart attack suffered whilst in custody in London’s Pentonville Prison. His final sentence of 60 days, proving too much to take, was half completed. The prison governor had warned Fred that the harsh prison environment could be the death of him, to which Fred replied that, ‘it didn’t matter where a man died but how.’

Original Source: Click Here

In 2010, the wearing of a helmet is considered a normal state of affairs in Europe and in most other countries throughout the world, with the exception of the USA where the helmet law is decided by state legislators and not all states have legislation making motorcycle helmets mandatory.

Within Europe there is however one organisation that still adheres to the principle of free choice.

Ian Mutch, President of the Motorcycle Action Group and editor of The Road, MAG UK’s members’ magazine explains the founding principle of this Riders’ Rights organisation in an interview in 2003.

What MAG started out as was something extremely simple, it was a bunch of people who didn’t like being told what to wear and the helmet law was really the founding issue. Up till then – I’d been riding bikes for four years then in 1973 and the helmet law came out. Now I wasn’t aware of any anti biker problems whatsoever, or there may have been some prejudice but I wasn’t aware of it. But when that came out it seemed to me like the end of the world, it was certainly a dramatic change in the world.

I used to wear a helmet probably 70% of the time, but on a day like today if I was riding around in the sunshine, slow old bike that I had then, I wouldn’t wear one and I still wouldn’t today even though I’ve got a much faster bike – although I don’t go that fast but this isn’t really the point.

The point is that what had been challenged was a fundamental civil liberty. Because what the government was saying was “We have the right to make you do what we think is right for your own good” but to neglect that proportion which we’re advocating is not going to harm anybody else and I couldn’t think at that time of another law which in the same way fundamentally attacked the civil liberties of an individual – not in quite the same way.

My feeling was then as it is now, for a law to be legitimate it really has to satisfy a number of criteria. Number one it has to be necessary and if you took a look at the situation just prior to the helmet law about 88% of people were wearing helmets voluntarily, so the number of people being affected was very small”.

Trevor Baird, General Secretary of MAG UK resigned in 2008 and in his farewell speech to the Annual General Conference said:

We talk about helmets and whether this debate still has a purpose for MAG. The way I see it, helmets keep out the cold; they keep out insects and the occasional pigeon. Whether helmets save lives or not, I don’t know, I ride because it gives me pleasure, and I don’t waste my time worrying about the consequences.

The principle of MAG’s objection to the helmet law is not an umbilical attachment, but a philosophy that underpins MAG’s existence. Thus, every action we have taken, every action we should take, centres around this one fundamental principle. It’s not about whether you wear a helmet or in fact any form of protection, it’s about whether you choose to do so. It’s a way of life that I share with my friends and fellow riders.

The culture of safety and security eats away at everything we do and dinosaurs like myself, find it harder to explain that each of us must stand up and be counted. Helmets, protective clothing, leg protectors, electronic safety devices may or may not save us. Our wits and God’s favour might. But in the end, we must have the right to live our lives as we see fit, respecting our fellow man, but in freedom”.

The death of Lawrence was a catalyst that had profound consequences for motorcycling throughout the world. From Lawrence’s death and over the years, doctors, policy makers, insurers and more recently, motorcyclists themselves, have decreed that safety legislation should now replace the freedom to choose whether we wear a helmet, how we ride our motorcycles and even what motorcycles we should ride: we must be saved from ourselves and consequently, we may see in the not too distant future that all that remains are our dreams.

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible”. (T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars Of Wisdom)

Elaine Hardy, PhD

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  1. What is absolutely fascinating is that the champion of the cause of liberty and freedom of choice regarding motorcycle helmets, was Enoch Powell MP (Rivers of Blood fame) – he fought against the helmet law.

    The link to the debate held in April 1973 here

    However below is part of the debate mainly focussing on Mr Powell’s intervention.

    Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
    It is a matter for censure, for censure upon the manner in which the House conducts its business, that we have been unable to avail ourselves of the opportunity provided by statute for having a proper debate upon these regulations, a debate which could be brought to a conclusion in a proper way. None of us can take any satisfaction from the fact that instead we are debating a motion in formal terms and that the Division which will take place will be a means not of deciding whether the regulations are to remain in effect, but of expressing an advisory opinion.

    Another ground for regret about this debate is that, for reasons which we well understand, the attendance in the House is not one which matches the importance of the issue, and is likely to be interpreted outside as indicating that we disregard either the opinions or the interests of a considerable section of our fellow citizens.

    All hon. Members have had considerable correspondence on this subject in recent weeks. Whatever conclusion they have reached, they will have been impressed with the responsible attitude which virtually all their correspondence showed, and by the fact that most of the people from whom it came were people who have had long experience of motor cycling and who place the strongest emphasis on example as well as personal practice in taking all reasonable precautions when motor cycling.

    § Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
    Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this has been compounded because a Prayer was tabled on the raising of the age—another important matter for motor cyclists—but that Prayer was not debated. Motor cyclists feel that they have been totally neglected by the House.

    § Mr. Powell
    I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern that we cannot debate issues at the time when we have ourselves laid down that they should be debated.

    The correspondence showed a greater grasp than many of my hon. Friends of the real principle that is at issue in these regulations. The writers of the letters realise that the law is making it a criminal offence for a person to behave in a way which endangers solely the person concerned and in no way places any other person at risk. At no stage, either in this discussion or on the previous occasion to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) referred, has it ever been suggested that a motor cyclist by wearing or not wearing a helmet increases or diminishes the risk to other road users.

    § Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Middleton and Prestwich)
    Does not my right hon. Friend agree that if another party is involved in an accident with a motor cyclist who is not wearing a helmet and that motor cyclist perishes, the other party might suffer considerable mental anguish for the rest of his life?

    § Mr. Powell
    I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is not trying to strengthen my argument. Certainly, his intervention must direct hon. Members’ minds to what precisely is at issue and what this criminal offence is concerned with. It is not concerned with the effect upon other people’s minds, upon their emotions, upon their feelings. The issue is whether any increase of risk whatsoever to any other road user is involved, and no one has claimed that it is.

    In creating this criminal offence we are doing something for which at present there is no parallel. There is no criminal offence to be found on the statute book the nature of which endangers the safety of the person concerned and no one else.

    Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) can quote innumerable cases—

    § Mr. William Shelton (Clapham)

    § Mr. Powell
    Suicide is not a criminal offence.

    § Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)

    § Mr. Powell
    I am aware of the point about drugs. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock can quote innumerable instances where an employer or a person who sells an article or offers a facility is required to behave in a particular way with a view to the potential safety of the employee or the purchaser or whatever second or third party it may be; but we shall look in vain for a parallel to this criminal offence where the individual himself is solely concerned and inflicts no risk upon any other.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) mentioned drugs, and I admit that this is the nearest we have come to establishing a criminal offence such as I have defined. Nevertheless, even there the nature of drug-taking in many cases is such that it cannot but inflict harm upon others. I am not saying that can be absolutely 759 stated, and I concede that we have an approach to this nature of criminal offence in the context of drugs; but certainly in no other area has a criminal offence of this nature been created. We are debating something which is new and which is a major departure of principle; and it is at any rate right that we should recognise that we are doing it and consider why.

    § Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
    I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is very courteous in doing so. He has sought to draw distinctions between industrial safety legislation, where the onus is laid upon the employer, and this proposed measure. Would he favour extending the law to, for example, employers of people in a motor cycle dispatch organisation—those employed by an organisation to carry messages?

    § Mr. Powell
    Certainly, where one person employs another, although I must look at the details, I am prepared in principle to say that it should be made an offence to employ a person if at the same time one does not provide for his health, safety, and the rest.

    § Mr. Whitehead
    And insure?

    § Mr. Powell
    And insure as far as an employer can. I am entirely with the hon. Gentleman in that. His intervention has helped to bring out the new character of what is being done here and the essential importance of the line which is being crossed.

    On what ground are we invited to do this? We are told, first, that avoidable accidents—and nearly all accidents are in one sense or another avoidable—increase the cost imposed on the National Health Service. That is a fallacy, because the cost is not determined by the demands on the NHS but upon the supply, by what we decide from year to year to spend upon the Service.

    But then it is said—and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said it in a previous debate—that it shifts the resources of the NHS from one sort of case to another. Of course we could enter into endless consideration of the reasons which brought patients to be treated under the NHS—all manner of avoidable accidents, unwise courses of 760 life, unwise behaviour of every kind. Are we to make all these criminal offences because the consequences might be to divert the use of resources inside the NHS?

    At other times the argument is broadened. We are told that every one has people who are dependent on him— most of us do—or linked with him humanly in one way or another, and that therefore we ought to create a criminal offence in order to punish a person for endangering the support or affectionate feelings of those with whom he is linked, or to prevent him from doing so.

    The House must perceive how far we shall be taken if we embark upon that course. There is hardly a single decision which a man can take, certainly no important decision, no decision even about what sport to engage in, without affecting potentially the welfare of his family, the interests of his friends and the affections of those with whom he is linked. If we do this thing on such grounds, we shall be laying the basis for a series of new laws which will reach right into every act, every form of behaviour, every choice of the average citizen.

    The last and the most beguiling argument—and I imagine it is the argument which operates upon those hon. Members who will reject my argument and that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South—is that if this crime is created there will be fewer road casualties from this cause. That is the most alarming argument of all that could be used in this House of Commons: that because by doing so we could reduce the number of deaths from a particular cause—not deaths inflicted by other people’s carelessness, not deaths resulting from the omission of precautions which those who manufacture articles or sell them could have been caused to take, but deaths resulting from private and uniquely personal decisions—therefore we can make it a crime to take that sort of risk.

    That argument is the most dangerous because it is the most beguiling. When one bastion after another of individual freedom, of independence, is breached, it does not happen in an unpopular context. It does not happen when the reasons for doing so are unattractive. It does so when sentiment and emotion and the 761 feelings of all of us are engaged. None of us likes to contemplate the notion of a young man whose life could have been saved being lost because he was not wearing a crash helmet. Our first natural instinct and reaction, having legislative power in our hands, is to use that legislative power.

    But that is where the danger lies. The abuse of legislative power by this House is far more serious and more far-reaching in its effects than the loss of individual lives through foolish decisions. [Interruption.] I say just that and I repeat that, as a Member of the House of Commons speaking to the House of Commons. The maintenance of the principles of individual freedom and responsibility is more important than the avoidance of the loss of lives through the personal decision of individuals, whether those lives are lost swimming or mountaineering or boating, or riding horseback, or on a motor cycle.

    We are sent here to make laws and to preserve liberties. If we allow this regulation to stand, we shall have failed in the duties we were sent here to perform.

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