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Nov. 9, 2004. 01:00 AM
Helmets do save lives
Statistics show they can prevent the majority of deaths, brain and spinal cord injuries among cyclists

Proposed helmet law will cover all

Nov. 4.

On Nov. 4, I was in the Ontario Legislature at the request of John Milloy, MPP for Kitchener Centre who was shepherding Bill 129, a private member's bill, through its second reading.

I am a neurosurgeon and President of ThinkFirst Canada, a national injury prevention foundation and charity whose mission is to prevent catastrophic injuries, especially brain and spinal cord injuries. ThinkFirst's policy is: "Helmets should be worn by people of all ages on all wheeled activities on streets and roads." Thus, Milloy's Bill 129 is exactly what we want. It will definitely save lives. Statistics show that helmets can prevent the majority of deaths from head injury among bicyclists.

There are two key aspects of Milloy's bill: Extend the current regulations to riders of all ages from its current application to only those under 18; and extend it to all wheeled activities including bicycles, skateboards, in-line skates, roller skates and scooters from its current coverage of bicycles only.

In the legislature, the discussion of the new bill and the accompanying press conference were impassioned by the personal accounts of the catastrophes that can occur when adult bicyclists do not wear helmets. We heard that the lack of a helmet took the lives of bicyclists including MPP Michael Prue's brother. We also heard how a helmet saved the life of April Ferguson, now a young vibrant mother, speaking on behalf of the Ontario Brain Injury Association who was knocked off her bicycle one week before her wedding. With a helmet on, she survived her head injury and made an excellent recovery.

ThinkFirst's injury prevention program for elementary schools (TD ThinkFirst for Kids), given to schools free of charge due to support by TD Bank, stresses the importance of wearing helmets and teaches proper fitting and buckling up.

Also, with the help of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Recreation we have researched the incidence of these tragic injuries. We calculate that the new bill will prevent 50 catastrophic head injuries per year in adult bicyclists in Ontario. In addition to the terrible toll on families like the Prues, each major head injury costs society $4 million to $8 million for health care, rehabilitation and lost earnings.

Some provinces, like Nova Scotia, are to be commended for already having this type of comprehensive "all ages, all wheeled activities" legislation in place, but other provinces including Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have no legislation about helmets for bicycling or any other wheeled street activity.

The remaining provinces have less comprehensive legislation than what is included in Ontario's Bill 129 and currently in place in Nova Scotia, and so Ontario's initiative could spur the other provinces to wake up.

Speakers from all the major parties spoke positively about the bill in the Legislature. Let's get going in Ontario and pass this bill through committee hearings and third reading and get it out there to save lives. Many other provinces have work to do.

Charles H. Tator, MD, President,

ThinkFirst Canada, Toronto

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