Should helmets be compulsory for all cyclists?

It makes sense for children to wear helmets as they can fall. But I don’t see any reason for adult helmets who know how to ride a bike. What’s the point? – Jim, Toronto

No matter your age, wearing a bicycle helmet is a no-brainer, says a Toronto emergency physician.

“There is overwhelming evidence that helmets reduce the risk of head trauma by 60 to 90 percent,” said Dr. Eric Letovsky, chief emergency medicine at Trillium Health Partners. “Cyclists are very vulnerable to catastrophic injuries. “

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Letovsky wrote a 2015 from the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians (CAEP) position statement calling for mandatory helmet laws across Canada.

Six years later, CAEP’s position has not changed, Letovsky said.

“As Canadian emergency responders, we are very attached to this,” Letovsky said. “We see the impact of people who don’t wear helmets all the time.”

Four provinces – British Columbia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and New Scotland – require all cyclists to wear a helmet.

Three more – Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario – require a helmet for cyclists under 18.

The other provinces do not require helmets. There is an exception for e-bikes, however – most provinces require anyone who uses an e-bike to wear a helmet, regardless of age.

Some cycling advocates are, well, stubborn when it comes to helmet laws.

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They argue that helmet laws discourage people from riding bicycles.

“We support and encourage the use of helmets by cyclists of all ages, but also recognize the right of an adult to make their own choice,” said Keagan Garz, general manager of Cycle Toronto. “More people will choose not to ride if they have to wear a helmet.”

But the most Studies show that any reluctance to ride a bike because of helmet laws is short-lived, Letovsky said.

“It’s not associated with a change in ridership,” Letovsky said. “And there is overwhelming evidence that people are more likely to wear helmets once there is legislation.”

Are helmet laws unfairly enforced?

There are also concerns that helmet laws are being enforced “unfairly,” said Kay Teschke, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia (UBC) School of Population and Public Health.

In Seattle, analysis out of 1,667 helmet-related offenses issued between 2003 and 2020, black cyclists were fined more than three times more often than white cyclists.

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This led to calls in Seattle to abolish the helmet law, which comes with a fine of US $ 30.

Some critics of helmet laws say the biggest problem is they don’t address the real cause of injury – roads that are unsafe for cyclists.

In a 2015 UBC hospitalization rate study for cyclists from 2007 to 2011, the number of head, head and facial injuries was not lower in provinces with helmet laws.

UBC’s Teschke, the lead author of the study, said she wanted emergency physicians to focus on “safe cycle paths that both reduce the risk of injury and encourage people to use this mode of cycling. healthy and safe transport “.

This means separate cycle lanes and lower speed limits, Teschke said.

“In countries like the Netherlands, where helmet use is rare but the cycling infrastructure is well designed, the rates of bicycle injuries and deaths are much lower than here,” Teschke said.

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Letovsky of CAEP said the evidence shows that building better infrastructure is “probably the most important way” to reduce crash injuries among cyclists.

But all cyclists should always wear helmets, he said.

“It’s important to remember that bicycle helmets are only one part of improving cyclist safety,” Letovsky said. “But they do reduce serious injuries.”

Some detractors of the helmet laws “twist the science,” Letovsky said.

“People are getting very ideological,” Letovsky said. “People say these laws infringe on their rights, but they also said that about seat belt laws. “

A question about driving? Send it to [email protected] and put “Driving Concerns” in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada is a big country, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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