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Mandatory bike helmet proposal divides cyclists

CBC News: Mandatory bike helmet proposal divides cyclists

CBC News Posted: Jun 19, 2012

A coroner's report recommending bike helmets be mandatory for adults in Ontario has divided cyclists in Ottawa, some of whom think a helmet mandate could do more harm than good.

The province's deputy coroner examined 129 fatal cycling accidents between 2006 and 2010 and found nearly three-quarters of cyclists killed were not wearing helmets. Only 27 per cent — or 35 out of 129 — of the cyclists killed were wearing helmets.

Many cyclists CBC spoke to said bike helmets are a good safety measure and recommended their use but some suggested legislating them is not a good idea.

"I think it should be people's personal preference. I can see the idea behind it but I don't know that we should be governed in everything," said Zoe Sutherland.

Helmet laws discourage bike use

Avery Burdett fought Ontario's original helmet law in the 1990s and said when laws were passed in Australia forcing adults to wear helmets, advocates initially trumpeted a decline in head injuries.

"Subsequent studies demonstrated that any reduction in head injuries was directly related to lower use of bicycles," said Burnett.

Cycling advocates also argue turning people off cycling will have more of an impact on overall health costs than the avoided head injuries.

Cycling advocate Alex DeVries agreed it is a dilemma.

"When there is a collision, then it can increase the chance of death. At the same time, though, what it does is it discourages people from taking up cycling. That's the downside and I'm not sure there's an easy way to address that," said DeVries.

Bike-sharing won't work with helmet law

DeVries also said mandatory helmet laws are incompatible with bike-sharing schemes such as Ottawa-Gatineau's Bixi. Similar schemes flopped in Australia because people were not willing to carry their own helmets around with them.

The coroner's report made 14 recommendations, including implementing a provincial cycling plan, launching a public awareness campaign and making changes to legislation to improve road safety, including establishing a "one metre" rule for vehicles when passing cyclists.

Cycling advocate Alex DeVries said many of them are what cyclists have been asking for.

"It's encouraging to see the coroner saying those things and having the research to really support it," said DeVries.