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      Action Needed Now

      by Avery Burdett

      On October 1, 1995 it will be mandatory to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle on all roads in Ontario. It would have been a lot more effective if the Provincial government had made it mandatory for children to be given cycle skills training. Although a bicycle helmet is an essential piece of safety equipment which may reduce injury, a helmet will not prevent one single "accident".

      Most bicycle "accidents" are not accidents at all but rather crashes. 80% of the crashes involving children under 15 years old are caused by the children themselves. Such crashes are preventable. Correct and safe operation of a bicycle can be learned at an early age, starting on a child's first tricycle, but few children get the opportunity of cycle training. 95% of children in Ontario own and ride a bicycle. The vast majority acquire bad habits when young which places them at risk each time they ride. Last year a young cyclist was killed in the Ottawa region when he turned left from the far right of the road across the path of a car without checking over his shoulder. He was wearing a helmet. I hold the Ontario's Premier, Bob Rae and his government accountable for this cyclist's death.

      There's much hypocrisy related to bicycle safety. Parents, school authorities, and the Ontario government are not doing enough to ensure that children are given training in the operation and maintenance of a bicycle. Anyone who is satisfied with the status quo, and who thinks that clamping a helmet on every child's head is the answer, doesn't care about the safety of our young cyclists.

      Cycling is not inherently dangerous. The average cyclist (less than 1,000 km annually) is at less risk of a serious injury than the average motorist (20,000 km) annually. Anyone can acquire the road cycling skills in a few evenings of training through nationally sanctioned CAN-BIKE courses. The only prerequisite is the ability to ride a bicycle. For children, instruction covers basic bicycle handling skills, safety, maintenance, and equipment. For older children, instruction includes correct positioning among traffic, how to make vehicular-style left turns, and how to anticipate and avoid risky situations.

      A helmet is only an injury prevention measure as a crash occurs, and it cannot prevent injuries to other parts of the body. In comparison, a cycling course is a crash prevention measure. Prevent crashes and we prevent all injuries.

      The protection a helmet offers is limited. The certification test by the Canadian Standards Association simulates a fall from 1.5 metres. A helmet won't save your head if it is hit by a car travelling 20 km/h or more. Most helmet campaign literature exaggerates the protection afforded. It typically quotes bicycle fatalities, implying, without a shred of evidence, that 75% of these would have been prevented with helmet use.

      It's time the Ministers of Education and Transportation of Ontario and our boards of education took child cycling seriously; more and more children will be riding bicycles as school busing is reduced; action on the incorporation of bicycle safety into school programming is long overdue. Parents need to understand that a helmet on their children is not enough; if they want their children to avoid crashes in the first place, then they must get them into a cycle skills training course.

      (first published in the Nepean Clarion, summer 1994)

March 2000
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